Some readers of my blog and e-mail posts have been asking where my son will be going to college.
He filed his “Statement of Intent to Register” (SIR in UC jargon) and paid the deposit for University of California, Santa Barbara.
This post is a partial explanation of why he chose UCSB. I’m somewhat constrained, as I’ve been asked not to detail precisely where he did and did not get accepted. Suffice it to say that the number of acceptances was not different enough from the expected number to reject the null hypothesis that acceptances are random based on the probabilities inferred from the Common Data Set. (Of course, with a sample size of one, that is not a very strong statement.)
As a family, we’re all pretty happy with UCSB as a choice, despite its reputation as a party school, the conservative community, and the difficulty of reaching it by air from northern California. What sold him on UCSB was the College of Creative Studies (CCS), which seems to be the best honors program in the UC system.
His major will be computer science, but it will be computer science in CCS, rather than computer science in engineering. What this means is that he basically crafts his own degree together with a faculty adviser. In his first quarter, he’ll take a special CCS freshman seminar with the other 10 or so CCS computer science freshmen, during which the instructor will try to assess the current level of expertise of each student and fill any holes they have in their prior learning, to place them in the right CS courses in future quarters. The class is tiny (usually around 10 students) so the instructor doesn’t have to do one-size-fits-all teaching or advising. Because my son has already had UC-level applied discrete math (through concurrent enrollment at UCSC), he’ll be able to take upper-division courses like formal languages and automata theory right away. In fact, I suspect that he’ll end up skipping almost all the lower-division courses in CS. He may end up opting to take some of them for review, or so that he’ll have an easy course on his schedule so that he has more time for research or acting, but he won’t be forced into huge lecture classes that have nothing new for him in them.
One strong plus is that he’ll be able to join a research team his first year—CCS makes a concerted effort to get their students into research groups (in fact, one faculty member he met with when visiting UCSB has already tried to recruit him to a project). The UCSB computer science department is pretty good (their website claims top 10 for grad programs, but even allowing for hype they are probably in the top 20), and the department is fairly large with 32 tenure-track faculty, so there are a lot of different research projects he could join. Computer engineering is lumped with EE in Electrical and Computer Engineering at UCSB, so there are more faculty and more research projects he could join there.
Another plus of the CCS program is a relaxing of the often bureaucratic nit-picking of general-education requirements. The CCS general-ed requirements are
- two courses in fields related to the student’s major, as determined in consultation with a CCS advisor;
- eight courses broadly distributed in fields unrelated to the student’s major, as determined in consultation with the advisor. These may be selected from courses offered by the College of Creative Studies, the College of Letters and Science, and the College of Engineering.
One of these courses must fulfill the Ethnicity Requirement: a course that concentrates on the intellectual, social and cultural experience, and history of one of the following groups: Native-Americans, African-Americans, Chicanos/Latinos, Asian-Americans. This course may be selected from a list of courses that fulfill the Ethnicity Requirement offered through the College of Letters and Science, or it may be a College of Creative Studies course that is classified as such.
Students also have to satisfy UC-wide requirements:
- entry-level writing (satisfied by his SAT writing score)
- American History and Institutions (satisfied by his SAT 2 score in US History)
The reduction in bureaucratic bean counting means that he can probably satisfy all his general-ed requirements with fun courses in theater, linguistics, physics, math, and so forth. The only rather arbitrary course is the Ethnicity Requirement, and he can satisfy that with any of several courses, including some theater ones.
One minor problem (shared by almost every college he applied to) is that he gets little relevant credit for his Advanced Placement exams. He’ll probably get 18 credits toward graduation (out of the 180 needed to graduate), but not all the units count towards his major requirements. He gets full credit for the calculus BC, but physics gives only useless non-STEM physics credit for the Physics C exams, the AP CS exam credit is pretty useless, and I’m not sure about chemistry (the page says “Natural Science 1B”, but there does not seem to be such a course—if they mean “CHEM 1B”, then it is useful credit towards his science requirements, assuming he does well enough on the exam in 2 weeks). Because he is interested in taking some modern physics (quantum mechanics), he’ll probably end up either retaking calculus-based physics or talking his way into the more advanced courses and bypassing the huge lecture courses.
He should also get transfer credit for the community college Spanish courses and the UCSC math courses he has, which could mean another 16–18 credits. These extra credits will not significantly speed his graduation, but they may give him the flexibility to avoid taking a heavy load some quarter, or to take an internship or study-abroad opportunity without falling behind. One normal benefit to having more credits is getting registration priority, but he already gets that as a CCS student, so that is less of a benefit for him than for others.
One little bonus for us as parents—UCSB is substantially cheaper than the private schools he also applied to, and we have saved enough in his 529 plan that we won’t need to take out any loans and he won’t have to work a meaningless job—he can spend his spare time doing research projects at the University or working on engineering projects for the startup company he and his friends are forming.