Berkeley vs Santa Cruz?

Here’s a question that has nothing to do with comics (or sports, for that matter*). It’s a family dilemma.

Sky just got accepted into two universities she likes and is having a tough time deciding between them.

The choice is between two University of California schools; UC Berkeley and UC Santa Cruz.

We have plenty of basic information. We know their rankings (edge to Berkeley) and Ivy and Sky have visited both and will make return visits soon.

Sky likes both schools for a lot of reasons, but every time she starts leaning toward one, the other starts gaining on it again. It’s driving her bananas.

So, I figured I’d risk embarrassing her and crowd-source this one a bit. What do YOU think? Any experience or opinions about these two schools?

Sky is visually impaired (pretty significantly, though her peripheral vision is good, so she can get around well). She’s a socially-lefty nerd (like her parents), a vegan (unlike her parents — sorry), and would like to study film and video with an eye toward making same in the long run (possibly after two years of post-grad at a place like USC).

Big questions center on the relative quality of their film departments and related media studies, academic culture, disability services, neighborhoods, local art and culture, faculty strengths and weaknesses, equipment, housing and food services, and anything else you might have an opinion on.

(And feel free to email me instead if you’d like to share your thoughts in a less public way.)

Thanks for your help, The Internet! Back to our regularly-scheduled comics blogging tomorrow.


*’Cause that would be just sad.

Discussion (52)¬

  1. Kiara Domit says:

    Berkeley sounds better, not that any opinion coming from a brazilian girl would actually help. I just researched about both options and it’d be the one for me, at least!

  2. Pretty Jeff says:

    Being firmly planted in the Midwest, I don’t have much experience with either school, but I can tell you that when I was looking at colleges, I had a difficult time deciding between Otterbein College and Ohio Northern University. They were both the same size, approximately same cost, same kind of art program, etc. My parents ended up putting down the deposit for both schools to buy me some more time to decide.

    I ended up going to Ohio Northern because of its marching band (which I quit after one year). So I guess you just have to latch onto something that one college is clearly better at and make your decision based on that.

  3. Ben V. says:

    Hmm…I don’t know anything about those schools, but as an academic adviser, I know that a large number of college students change majors multiple times. So I’m not sure how highly that priority needs to lay. She may take a gen-ed history class that changes her life, haha!

    Granted, as prepared as she sounds, that’s not likely to be the case. It’s just my experience.

  4. ERIC CRAWFORD says:

    I attended both for a couple of years, graduating from UCB. Santa Cruz is more isolated, intoxicatingly beautiful, a true ‘city on a hill’. I loved it when I was 17 but never settled into a major there. UCB gave me a million options and was more worldly, great when I was 21. It was also more anonymous, rules- and grades-driven, and more crime. Both are wonderful places. Ideally, UCSC for undergrad and UCB for grad school (not that I went that far.)

  5. Monterey Bay says:

    Having attended Berkeley and lived in Santa Cruz for the past three years, I would say if she wants the best academics, interesting cultural environment, liberal politics, good restaurants, and proximity to San Franciso: UCB. If she’s into drugs, degenerates, jacked-up pickup trucks, and surfing, go Slugs.

  6. M.E. Baz says:

    Hello! I myself applied to both many, many years ago. (I ended up choosing UCLA to stay close to home.)

    I think Berkeley would be the more challenging school by far. The number of Nobel laureates who’ve taught there is quite impressive.

  7. Shea says:

    I’d say come here to Santa Cruz. The drug population on campus is a bit . . . large, but the education is amazing and the area nothing Berkeley could dream to have. The beach is a step away from campus, giving her plenty of things to do on her weekend. Santa Cruz also has a high vegetarian population, so her vegan tastes would be real easy to satisfy.

  8. Karl Zimmerman says:

    No knowledge of the merits, just a couple o’ thoughts.. Does Sky prefer (or do better) in a stimulating environment? After reading Ivy’s post, I’d’ve chosen UCSC for myself, ‘coz deer are about the right degree of stimulation for me when studying; UCB would have too many distractions.

    Looking ahead, I recall being told that it’s a good idea to post-grad somewhere other than your undergrad . Don’t know that from personal experience, but it makes sense to me.

    • Scott says:

      If it weren’t for the problem with her eyes, I think Sky would fall into the happily-stimulated category, but she’ll be working overtime just doing things we take for granted, so Santa Cruz’s potentially less frenetic pace has that going for it.

      I agree with the far-away grad program philosophy. In Sky’s case too, a program like USC’s would be more hands-on and closer to the industry (i.e., here).

  9. James says:

    If you’re looking for a city that’s friendly to liberal nerdy types, Berkeley fits the bill. The campus is full of them. The city also is not lacking for vegetarian restaurants (I’m pretty some are also vegan; I’ve only personally eaten vegetarian).

    The campus is also very disability friendly. One of my friends worked in a program that assisted the wheelchair bound at home. As a TA, part of my job is making accommodations for students with learning disabilities.

    Berkeley students are fairly ambitious and competitive. I’m a grad student, but I’ve taken classes with and taught undergrads, and most of my friends through the ballroom team are undergrads. Standards are high, students push themselves to take heavy loads in addition to extracurriculars and having a social life. (As a teacher, I wish they took fewer classes and learned the material better…) Not surprisingly, stress and lack of sleep are common in Berkeley.

    First years generally live in dorms. Most people I know are generally positive about their dorm experience: no complaints about food, they get along well with their floor. The meal plan is pricey, but no one starves (most people have too many points leftover at the end of the semester). Second year onward, most people move into apartments/houses in the surrounding city. There are safe neighborhoods and not so safe neighborhoods.

    I cannot comment on the film and media studies department (sorry, engineer), sorry. Local art and culture kind of depends on what you’re interested in. If you have further/specific questions, let me know.

  10. Kenneth W. says:

    Since it is a tossup I would recommend Berkeley. Unfair as it may seem the two degrees are not equal, no matter the quality of the program. when human resouces or grad school admissions officials see the Cal degree Sky would have the edge over a Santa Cruz grad. I was in the same boat I narrowed my choices down to Ohio State and U. of Akron, while Akron is a great school I have found my self at a disadvantage when competing against graduates of more “prestgious” schools.

  11. James says:

    Berkeley has an awful lot of culture and food and personality, but it’s also basically unsafe. It’s gritty and urban, halfway in character between relaxing SF and violent Oakland. Santa Cruz is a druggy surfer school. UCB is patently a better school, especially for a lefty or a hippie (and I went to Stanford and I’m saying that!) and has many better options than UCSB. As far as film, the one you probably wanted was UCLA . . .

  12. Moses says:

    If she can deal with the pressure,Cal is almost certainly the way to go. Imho you generally want to start with the higher ranked option and work your way down to the institution that both accepts you and that you feel comfortable with, especially if you’re attracted to areas where lots of higher education is common. This is not meant to be a knock at Santa Cruz. Berkeley’s just more intense (pretty much in every way, but especially academically). As a vegan she should be fine at either, although veganism can generally be a challenging lifestyle choice for an under grad.

  13. Scott Bieser says:

    One dad to another: All other things being roughly equal, I’d look at the safety of the environs. No place is perfectly safe, of course, but unfortunately this needs to be a concern for young women.

  14. mamariley04 says:

    For what it’s worth, I dreamed of going to Berkeley. We didn’t have the money (at least I thought not) or resources…

  15. Zack RD says:

    I completely agree with Kenneth W.; if everything else is equal, a degree from Cal (UCB) is just respected so much more than a degree from UCSC that it should have a real edge. I love UCSC, but keep in mind that even the people who are advocating for it in this thread are putting drug and the like caveats around the school’s reputation. Note that that doesn’t mean drugs, and parties, and plenty of great times, aren’t available at Cal as well; just that the school is much more respected.

    Additionally, I like the town-gown interaction between Cal and Berkeley much more than UCSC and Santa Cruz, which always feels strained to me. But, I also like the Bay Area more than Santa Cruz, in general.

    Finally, keep in mind her experience will be as much, if not more, about the extra-curriculars, clubs, and activities, than the classes. When on the campuses, make sure she eats at the dining halls; talks to the students; see what makes them excited to be there.

    Both are great campuses, and a person can and probably will be very happy at both – but I recommend Cal.

    • Zack RD says:

      I should add, completely unrelated, I ended up on your blog because I love your graphic novels, including the one about how to MAKE graphic novels.

  16. Josh Shaine says:

    Given her vision impairment, is a visit to the disability services office in the plans? Both of them have such an office. My sense has been that Berkeley has somewhat stronger support, but that UCSC does a better job of letting the prospective student know what is going on.

    Of course, I am not sure how much, if any, support she will either need or want (or put up with).

    • Scott says:

      She’s gotten a lot of info on that score already and will be learning more soon on subsequent visits. Right now the picture seems pretty bright at both. Things like providing machine readable versions of texts will help A LOT.

  17. Andrew Farago says:

    Shaenon and I are down the street from UC Berkeley, which is either a plus or a minus. Free crash space for any Wandering McClouds (which sounds like a Traveling Wilburys splinter group), and we cook some pretty mean vegan dinners when we have to.

    • Scott says:

      I consider it a plus. Thanks! ^^

      Do you think the crime concerns re the Berkeley area are over or under-stated btw?

      • Andrew Farago says:

        As far as crime goes, precautions like not going out really, really late at night by yourself will help you avoid the majority of potential problems. Telegraph Avenue gets a little bit dodgy late at night, but the campus itself is well-lit, and I’m sure that the school can answer any questions about campus security.

        I think it’s at least midnight before the campus clears out enough that I’d be worried about muggers or street crazies, but really, that’s an issue after midnight in any city.

  18. Rebecka says:

    Hey Scott! Happy UCSC grad here, as you may or may not remember. However, that was some time ago, so my experience isn’t at all current. I am positive that Sky would fit in beautifully at Santa Cruz, and she’d get a great education with lots of personal attention from actual professors, rather than grad students. There is a lot of opportunity for small classes at the undergrad level, which encourages creative-minded students (like Sky) to stretch themselves, imo.

    I don’t have any idea what the film and/or media department specifically offers at either institution, but I also tend to think of college as a time and place to be exposed to new ideas and people, and to check out a variety of disciplines with an open mind. (I ended up going interdisciplinary — American Studies — so at least I’m consistent.) The people that she meets and works with will probably be more important in the long run than the specific classes that she takes or the equipment that she uses. The musicians, artists, academics, and journalists that I met there are still a big part of my life, decades later. There is definitely a sense of community and nurturing at UCSC. Also, there’s no sports, and no frats, which were both in my plus column. (I think those are still largely true, fencing and ultimate frisbee aside.)

    Some grads from around my time that might ring a bell with Sky: Marti Noxon (showrunner), and David Lowery (Camper van Beethoven, Cracker).

    The druggie surfer school characterization is absurd to me. I know hundreds of UCSC grads, and not one of them surfs. ;-} (I don’t think drugs are an issue for any kid at any school…unless they are. Sky strikes me as self-aware enough to know the score.)

    Congratulations to Sky on being spoiled for choice! Come see us in San Francisco on your Berkeley run, girls! Mario says, “Howdy!”

  19. Foodveyor says:

    My two cents here: Both schools are wonderful places for someone of her socio-political and dietary predilections, but I would lean toward Berkeley. I say this because her interest is in film and video and the Bay Area would give her access to a really vibrant, top-shelf cinema scene, both in the East bay and in San Francisco. I live in SF and the place is crawling with amazing venues (ATA, PFA, Cinematheque,) artists (the Kuchar brothers are my neighbors,) and community resources (BAVC, SF Film Society.)

    As for safety issues, a bit of street smarts is necessary for both places. Santa Cruz can be pretty gnarly sometimes, too.

  20. I graduated from UCSC in 2009, and I can’t speak more highly of the school. I did my undergrad there and worked for Stevenson College for three years, and I loved it. I really like the way the school is organized (it’s broken down into 10 sub-colleges to make the college experience more personal, especially in the first year), and the environment is beautiful. They have vegetarian and vegan options for every meal in the dining halls (although maybe that’s standard at universities these days; I’m not sure). I don’t know much about the film program there, but I had a good time with the art major. I would have gotten more out of it if I’d known that I wanted to be an art major coming in or if I’d figured out earlier exactly what kind of art I wanted to do, but I can’t really blame that on the department. Overall, I had a fantastic time, made some great friends, and learned a lot. I’m not sure what the full extent of our support for the vision-impaired is, but if you have any specific questions I could put you in touch with a blind student who currently attends UCSC. She’s in my friend’s acapella group, and I bet she’d be happy to help. 🙂

    I also think that the town of Santa Cruz is great. The redwoods and beaches are beautiful, and the Long Marine Lab is a really fun place to visit. There are lots of bookstores and restaurants and three or four movie theaters downtown. The Catalyst club has good shows, too. I always felt very safe around the city, no matter what ungodly hour I was out and about.

    A lot of commenters have brought up the drug issue, but to be honest I didn’t find it to be a central issue during my time at UCSC. If you go looking for drug culture, then, yeah, you’ll find it…but I think that’s standard for most colleges. If you don’t want it to be part of your experience there, then it doesn’t have to be. There are plenty of talented, driven people at UCSC that defy the shiftless stoner stereotype often attributed to us Slugs.

    Obviously, I’m pretty biased, but I wish Sky the best no matter what she chooses! 🙂

  21. Pete Bangs says:

    Just a thought, if the places are that close in all the things Sky wants from a college, check out the eateries and restaurants. See who’s got the best vegan shops, eateries, grocery stores etc. All things considered being Vegan is the thing least likely to change during her time at whichever University, so make that the deciding factor.

  22. Pat Murphy says:

    I’m a UCSC grad from many years back, and I taught there for a while in the 90s. So I have a definite bias, but limited recent experience. I think there’s a big difference between the schools in terms of culture. UCSC, with its small dorms and college system, is designed to keep folks from getting lost in the crowd. The original pass-no record grading system tempered competition and fostered cooperation. Berkeley’s dorms used to be gigantic (don’t know about now). There is tons to do, but it’s easy to get overlooked/overwhelmed. And the culture in classes is more competitive.

    I think that the culture at Santa Cruz was perfect for me. I was encouraged to experiment and took classes I wouldn’t have even considered taking in a more competitive environment.

    Tough choice. Good luck with it.

  23. Amanda says:

    If she has the opportunity, I always recommend arranging a stay the night with a current student thing. You get a real feel for the campus and it’s inhabitants without the parents around – that’s how I fell in love with my alma mater (DePauw University) – I liked it from the tour, but I knew I could live there from the overnight.

  24. Paul Cline says:

    Scott, Without reading the comments above. I apologize for any repetition.


    Pick the school that will either build on or create the highest number of quality relationships. The school where your peer group will have people better than you at who you want to become.

    Also, remember that your education is not a race. Take a year off and make a film about the sherpas hiking Machu Picchu or go to RISD or work at ILM. The ideas is that quality experiences are more important to a life of a creative than an excellent program at a particular school. (Although, don’t be naive, a quality program will attract a quality peer group.)

    You will make the right decision.

    Best wishes,

  25. Alyssa McKillip says:

    Sorry I can’t advice, Scott. I went to a private liberal arts college in Wisconsin, Lawrence University, and had a wonderful experience. I’m just checking in to see what Sky’s feedback is to your blog post. Has she read through the comments? Cheers!

    • Scott says:

      Hi, Alyssa!

      Yeah, Sky is watching all data streams carefully and we’ll be sure to post her decision once made.

      Thanks for checking in. ^__^

  26. Kate says:

    By visited- what do you mean? Has she been to see the campus, or has she met the department faculty? I don’t know the size of either school’s film departments, but as far as my own college experience was concerned, the faculty and staff were the most important part of the deal, because they were the part that mattered from an educational standpoint.

    Do professors actually teach classes? Is your adviser in your department? Do you have time to actually form a relationship with these people (I don’t mean go out drinking with them, rather, will they give you the time of day and discuss things outside class), or are they just there to hand you a grade?

    What’s their philosophy on making art, and does it match or challenge Sky’s? Or is turnover so high that it doesn’t even matter? When did they last re-vamp their curriculum? Are they likely to do it again soon? If she doesn’t jive with the faculty, all the convenient dorms in the world aren’t going to make things better.

  27. susan west says:

    Ruby has friends that started both @ UCSC & Berkeley this past fall. Her nerdy friend Lizzie is shockingly happy at Berkeley (also a vegan). Is amazed at the community support she gets there and the sympatico nerdy friends she made pretty quickly. She worried that it would be too heady and boring, but it seems to hit a sweet spot of engagement–at least for her. Nikki, at Santa Cruz, is also happy but hasn’t expressed that same sense of community that Lizzie at Berkeley has. I can see Sky happy at Santa Cruz in sort of a free formish kinda way, and some of my favorite people went there (eg: Lori). I think its a structure call, really. If she wants intellectual rigor it’s Berkeley. If she wants experimentation, it’s Santa Cruz. And the drug culture is everywhere—-it is no better or worse in either place.
    It’s a big coup to get into Berkeley–so congrats to her for that alone! Can’t wait to hear where she goes!

  28. Carol says:

    OK – I have four daughters (two college grads, one in college, one in HS) here is what she/you do. Go see BOTH again and have her talk to THE film department head, have her get a feel for that building she would be in ALL the time and let her FEEL the vibe. It will hit her – one or the other – which feels like her future – for challenge, comfort, the type of students, internship successes, post graduate support/ career exposure. ONE will shine – LET HER say YES! YES! and don’t let her look back!

  29. Dan says:

    Scott, I really think the crime/safety issue in Berkeley is being overstated. My wife is a Cal alum, started there at the age of 17 and stayed in the city of Berkeley for many years after graduating. She never owned a car or had a driver’s license during that time, walked all over town and never felt unsafe at all on campus or in the city in general. Do you cruise on down to west Oakland for the evening? No, of course not. But Berkeley itself is no more or less unsafe than any other city of comparable size and situation.

  30. Mike Leung says:

    Go where there are more kitchens, and arrange for rotating-dinner-duty.

    • Mike Leung says:

      Also, regarding safety: do y’all know to make eye contact with people when you cross their paths? When predators look for victims, they look for people who have already been broken. So someone refusing to make eye-contact is a white flag for them. Pay attention to how much or how little eye contact you make with people when you are out.

      Also, so I know I’ve said it somewhere: you know that scene in True Grit where Josh Brolin drags that girl out the creek? That girl should have sat herself down in the water. That is a real thing to remember. Strangers will walk up to vulnerable women, pin down their arms by wrapping theirs around them, and pull a baffled victim off somewhere isolated.

    • Mike Leung says:

      Also, during that ride, the marshal should have said to himself sometime, “if I have to, I’m going to be able to carry this girl only so far” — and decide to get off the horse sometime before he rode it to death. I’ve never ridden a horse in my life, and I was wondering that very thing watching it on the screen.

  31. Kalina says:

    I’m a Berkeley art grad. I’ve only visited Santa Cruz briefly so can’t speak to its qualities much, but can speak to Berkeley’s. I got to see the Dalai Lama speak. In person! For free! I attended a lot of fantastic “Art & Technology” lectures – that was just one extra curricular activity that was available to me. I listened to bystanders engage in rhetorical battle with the polka-dot-slip-wearing Hate Man, just one of Berkeley’s charismatic crazies. I saw the Pink Man go by on his unicycle, crying out “I am Pink Man.” I walked and biked everywhere, was occasionally vegan, had lots of unexpected conversations with interesting people at cafes, and spent many summer afternoons lounging on the green meadows of campus, sketching or studying.

    The level of expertise available at Berkeley, the honor of being a Berkeley grad, exposure to a lot of ideas from within and without your major, access to lectures and events and art, and easy public transit access to the entire Bay Area are tough to beat.

    The only thing I don’t know about is the actual film program.

    Good luck and congrats to Sky!

  32. Scott says:

    Thank you EVERYBODY for your very helpful information and suggestions!

    Sky won’t be making her final decision for a few weeks but we all appreciate your help. We’ll let you all know when she’s finally hit the button.

  33. Tim Mallos says:

    Ultimately the quality of the education Sky gets is up to Sky and the effort she put in. Universities offer a great set of resources (which includes fellow students). The “value” of a degree is pretty subjective. Most value lies in which institution has the most alums working in the industry you want to be in.

    Ultimately, the choice is going to come down to a feeling and a guess. She’ll do great either place!

  34. Gerald says:

    It seems to me that this is an impossible question, because you’re asking which school is better now and not which school will be better once Sky is there.

    Whether UCSC or UCB is the better school depends almost entirely on Sky’s decision, because whichever one she attends will automatically improve due to her presence.

  35. Pancha says:

    Another UCSC grad here, from the creative writing department. I really loved my time at Santa Cruz. The campus is beautiful, and I liked the way the residential colleges are set up. Each college has a specialty, so right off the bat you are surrounded by people who have similar interests. I went to Porter, the art school. The town is great too, lots of veggie and vegan friendly restaurants, fun stores for window shopping. There’s a wonderful community spirit that is especially evident at Halloween and New Years, when everyone gathers downtown to parade around in costumes and have fun. Plenty of interesting things you can get involved in on campus too. I’m not familiar with the film school, but UCSC in general is a great place for a creative mind. It has a quieter feel than the Bay Area, but it is only “over the hill,” so it’s not out of the question to make a day trip up to the big cit(ies).

  36. Dave Chua says:

    As a Berkeley grad, I still think it’s a great campus, with lots of opportunities to go beyond your major. I was Electrical Engineering and Comp Sci but the Literature and Anthropology courses I took opened my mind.

    I think crime in Berkeley is overstated; I was there 3.5 years from 90-94 and never suffered any problems, though I did have friends who were mugged and carjacked.

    Good luck and all the best. I don’t think there’s any wrong decision here in any case.

  37. I attended UCSC as an undergrad and Berkeley as a grad student, and grew up in Berkeley. They are both good for different reasons, but with her interest in film I would stick close to PFA and Larry Rinder, the excellent director of BAM/PFA. Its RIGHT THERE next to campus and you can see amazing films every day with almost no effort. I did love my first two years at UCSC as an undergrad: it was a very safe place to figure out who I was, to have small classes at a big school, and take long walks in the woods. Berkeley on the other hand is big, exciting, rigorous and also has proximity to Mills and CCA. Mills has fabulous public arts programming and was, when I was at CCA, open to cross registration for their classes. So I’d recommend Berkeley, and if she needs the small campus feel, meet some kids out at Mills and hang out over there.
    What an exciting time. My kids are 7 and 9. I know this is right around the corner!

  38. Mark Clegg says:

    I loved my four years at UCSC. I don’t know if that is a plus or minus for you or Sky. My experience is also 33 years out of date, but visits to the campus indicate it hasn’t changed much except for the technological advances (and that they now give grades instead of evaluations). If she lives on campus, make sure she lives at Porter College. Their film studies program wass excellent, but they no longer have the great Janey Place, and I don’t know their current instructors.

  39. […] And one last unrelated, but important note: Sky has decided. Santa Cruz it is! Posted in […]