Southern California Road Trip: UC-Irvine

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You're about to spend four years of your life on a college campus; you need to make sure it feels right. So hit the road—we did! We took three typical road trips: East Coast, West Coast, and in between. By the way, college visits don't have to mean hours on the interstate. Use our Directory to locate schools near you and walk through the gates. You may find what you're looking for.

As a science school, UC-Irvine may not have the same prestige as UCLA or UC-Berkeley, the titans of the University of California 10-campus system. But students in the biological sciences at UCI say that's not necessarily a bad thing. "Here, the competition is not as cutthroat," says Nam Ho, a fourth-year student majoring in molecular biology and biochemistry. At Irvine, Ho says, students help each other study for exams and professors don't hesitate to take undergraduates as research assistants—and send them off with good recommendations for grad school.

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This is not to say that UCI doesn't present challenges. Students can easily get lost in some lower-division classes of 300-plus (one remedy: tracking down professors during office hours). Some also complain about inadequate access to academic advisers and trouble resolving issues such as scheduling conflicts (lining up all the required courses to apply for med school has sometimes been difficult). The university promises better tracking methods and classes and other forums to get students information about professional schools.

To its credit, UC-Irvine has made a big push in recent years to become a more personal and intellectually stimulating place for undergraduates. Every professor from the school of biological sciences now teaches a freshman seminar, and the university floods students with E-mails about opportunities for undergraduate research (such as workshops on how to approach a professor about his or her research interests). UCI likes to point out that 51 percent of students majoring in the biological sciences engage in research during their time there, compared with 24 percent of undergrads at other uc campuses.

The university also selects promising undergraduates for an honors program. Tiffany Tu, a third-year student majoring in biochemistry and molecular biology, says that program and her research project "make real for me all the stuff I learned in class." She has also made friends—a tricky endeavor in a school where most students commute and don't linger after classes. Instead, rowdy crowds of students head for nearby Newport Beach.

The calm that presides over the campus after hours has led more than one student to say: "It's insane how safe the campus is." (Translation: This place is boring.) But that is part of the appeal for students like Dusty Rose Miller,who transferred to UCI from a local community college. "I didn't need any help partying," she says. "I wanted an environment where I could focus and grow scholastically."

More About UC-Irvine

Plus factor: Every biological science major takes a freshman seminar.
Undergrad enrollment, fall '07: 21,696
Est. annual cost, '08-'09 (tuition, fees, room and board): in state: $17,822; out of state: $37,442

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