I tell this story all the time. I got into both schools and was set on UCSD, being that it was the more difficult school to get into, and thus viewed as “better.” When I visited UCSD the fog was insanely thick. Students trudged to class, stacks of books in their arms and sullen looks on their faces. The next day, on the way home, we stopped off at UCSB just to check, even though I had no intention of attending. We walked the campus as students skateboarded to class and girls laid out on the lawns in bikinis reading their textbooks. Sorry, I was 18 and this was utopia…hahaha. Add to the fact that my dorm room was a 5 minute walk to the beach at Campus Point allowing for quick surf sessions when I had more than an hour between lectures (all the schools I applied to were less than 10 miles from the coast. Having surfed since I was 3 this was not negotiable).
Both schools are great. UCSD is arguably better for a surfer even, getting much more swell than the island shadowed Santa Barbara coast. Something about the compact campus, proximity to off-campus housing (I skated to class everyday), the infamous Isla Vista night life, all led to a college experience that was more lifestyle than simple college degree. I changed majors 3 times, so department strengths weren’t a lofty consideration. Both schools had excellent Marine Biology programs, which was my initial intent, and both offered many other degrees to allow a wandering intellect room to explore. A B.S. in Biopsychology, a Minor in Philosophy, and I would have had a minor in Religious Studies, but the department only allowed major degrees – excellent classes in music theory, drama, and environmental studies all stand out as reasons to choose a larger school, which all UC campuses offer.
UCSB sold me the California dream. The young me chose bikinis over soggy text books. The slightly older me wouldn’t change a thing, for all the other reasons. Sometimes the Feng Shui of life lines up to show you where to go, even if it is for superficial motives at the time.