Outside University: 12. University of California, Santa Cruz

Santa Cruz, California

University of California, Santa Cruz.   

When you step onto this fairytale-like campus, don’t be surprised to see fawns prancing around the greenery, backdropped by sprawling views of the Pacific.

UCSC sits perched on life-filled Monterey Bay, with the jewels of this California coastal region all around: Big Sur, Big Basin, Año Nuevo. This is the heartbeat of the NorCal surf scene, complete with Maverick’s deadly waves—and the human territorialism that comes with.

The university offers five levels of SCUBA classes, and for good reason: there’s an incredibly deep submarine canyon here that brings forth an explosion of all strata of sea life; Carmel’s clear waters give an excellent view of it all, as does the Monterey Bay Aquarium, where the parade of swimming things stretches the bounds of imagination.

Needless to say, the marine biology department is popular. Its students work with the federal agencies stationed here, including the USGS and U.S. Fish and Wildlife. The research reaches high calibers: Just this year, a student- and faculty-run data-gathering project won a NASA award.

As well as touching the sea, the Banana Slugs’ campus also neighbors the redwood-and-fern-filled Santa Cruz Mountains. The rec and phys-ed programs take full advantage of both biomes, offering a range of classes and trips, from surfing, sailing, kayaking, and rowing to hiking, backpacking, camping, and climbing. Equipment rentals are affordable, and the free bicycle library teaches students to fix their own wheels.

Incoming freshman can go on a wilderness orientation “to form new friendships and discuss their hopes and fears for the upcoming university experience.” It’s either a 10-day backpacking trip in the Sierras, or an eight-day kayak excursion on Tomales Bay.

Before you matriculate, though, you should know that the Santa Cruz culture is aggressively environmental—and all other kinds of liberal too. The library maintains a Grateful Dead archive and you can major in History of Consciousness—one person who did was Huey P. Newton, a Black Panthers co-founder.

CONTACT: (831) 459-0111, ucsc.edu
STUDENT BODY: 15,668 undergraduates, 1,507 graduates
TUITION: residents $14,727, nonresidents $35,211, room and board $12,333

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