How UC will you be?

Campus by campus, dive into clubs, classes and experiences you can only get here.

It’s that time of year. Millions of college-bound students in the U.S. are weighing admissions offers and deciding where to go to college. (If you’re among them, a huge congrats!)

If you’re thinking of coming to the University of California, you might wonder: What will it really be like?

The answer: Our campuses are brimming with opportunities that you’ll find nowhere else.

When you go to a UC, you get an experience that goes way beyond a prestigious degree. Every undergraduate campus is bursting with clubs, classes and programs that let you dig into your passions, follow your curiosity, grow your social circle and just have fun.

From an immersion in the Yosemite wilderness to building race cars, read on for a sampling of the thousands of  “only-at-UC” experiences that await.

Take — or teach — a class on Taylor Swift at UC Berkeley

Engineer the perfect cup of coffee at UC Davis

Launch next-gen rockets at UC Irvine

Build a race car at UCLA

Become a Yosemite ranger at UC Merced

Learn an Indigenous California language at UC Riverside

Dive deep into DIY at UC San Diego

Immerse yourself in the world of surfing at UC Santa Barbara

Track the trees at UC Santa Cruz

While you don’t have to be a Swiftie to enroll in “Artistry and Entrepreneurship: Taylor’s Version” at UC Berkeley, as the class founder warns, “you might become one.” The course is offered through the DeCal program (shorthand for Democratic Education), where undergraduate students propose and lead their own classes.

From expounding on the literary devices of Percy Jackson to practicing British parliamentary debate or even learning to play the carillon bells in Sather Tower, some 150 DeCals each semester delve into an eclectic range of topics. The pass/fail classes let students earn course credits while geeking out over shared interests or learning from their classmates’ unique experiences. And with 6,000 to 8,000 students partaking each year, DeCals are very Cal.  

The Taylor Swift class was the brainchild of Crystal Haryanto, who graduated with a degree in economics in 2023. A diehard Swift fan — her favorite album is Speak Now (Taylor’s Version) — Haryanto wanted to explore her idol’s pop empire through a business lens. She recruited a pair of current students, Sofia Lendahl and Miaad Bushala, to co-teach the class.

The class looks at all things Taylor, from her renowned lyricism to “Swiftonomics,” asking, among other questions: What makes a Swiftie? What are concertgoers really paying for? How can art and authenticity create a viable enterprise? And, just how big is the Swift empire?

“We wanted students to view Taylor as an entrepreneur who differentiates herself within a market, manages customer acquisition and sustains customer loyalty, and impacts multiple economies,” noted Bushala. “We wanted them to think about how, as future entrepreneurs and business leaders, to make their customers their biggest fans, like Taylor has done.”

Read more about the class.

There’s a good chance you might become an expert on coffee in college. And at UC Davis, that expertise is quite literal.

The Design of Coffee class, offered through the College of Engineering, started with 18 students back in 2013 as an experiment in finding engaging ways to introduce general education students to chemical engineering. It must have been a good brew, because today the class draws more than 2,000 students a year and has been voted the most popular elective on campus.

An intro-level course open to all majors, the class covers engineering fundamentals and asks students to apply problem-solving skills to real-world scenarios, namely roasting and brewing joe. Students learn about the laws of physics alongside the laws of flavor — for instance, engineering their coffee to take on fruity, floral or sweet notes without any additives. The class culminates in a contest where students compete to make the tastiest brew using the least amount of energy, a classic engineering optimization problem.

“Our main goal is to teach students that there is an engineering way to think about anything,” said course co-creator Dr. William Ristenpart, professor of chemical engineering. “The engineering skills and mindset we teach equally prepare students to design a multimillion-dollar biofuel refinery, a billion-dollar pharmaceutical production facility or, most challenging of all, a naturally sweet and delicious $3 cup of coffee.”

Read more about the class.

Students behind the UC Irvine Rocket Project have set their sights high — 13,205 feet high, to be precise. That’s the collegiate world record for a methalox rocket launch, and they’re determined to break it. 

The UCI Rocket Project’s Liquids Team is one of only a handful of undergraduate engineering teams working with methalox, a cutting-edge “fuel of the future” composed primarily of liquid natural gas and liquid oxygen. (A second UCI Rocket Project team works with solid fuel.)

Methalox differs from other propellants in that it can be produced even on Mars, opening the door for refueling “pit stops” on future space missions. It’s also cryogenic, which makes it particularly difficult to work with. But as Kyle Deck, the team’s operations lead explained, “We wanted to expose ourselves to the future of propulsion. Not to mention the blue flame looks a lot cooler.”

Last year, the team’s 20-foot methalox rocket blasted 9,300 feet into the sky, with over 13 seconds of burn time. Students designed everything from the rocket’s propulsion system to its fins. Most of the work was done in the UCI Rocket Project’s campus lab, but the team also made trips out to the Mojave Desert for “hot-fire” tests and, of course, the launch.

“When I started at UCI, I felt a little lost. But I knew I wanted to work in aerospace, so I made it my mission to get the hands-on experience to do that,” reflects the team’s project manager, Noelle Camanyag. “Coming out of the UCI Rocket Project as a senior, I’ve gotten that and so much more, including making really good friends, challenging myself as a leader and growing as a person in general. It's been the most important part of my college experience, and the most memorable, for sure.”

Read more about the team.

Whether you’re automotive obsessed or just race-car curious, UCLA’s Bruin Racing has a spot for you. Entirely student-run, the club creates three racers each year: an ultra-fuel-efficient Supermileage car that gets upward of 300 miles a gallon; the rugged off-road, all-terrain Baja vehicle; and a superfast, track-focused Formula race car. Students start from scratch, designing the cars, building them from the ground up and, of course, racing them in college contests around the country.

Housed in the Samueli School of Engineering, Bruin Racing is a haven for engineering majors but draws its 300-plus members from all kinds of backgrounds. In addition to the club’s own workshop, students have access to state-of-the-art tools in the Samueli Makerspace and machine shop. Aside from building some pretty cool cars, the club’s goal is to teach hands-on engineering skills to as many students as possible.

“We take pride that there are no barriers for entry to Bruin Racing,” says club President Vinay Nagappala. “No one has to apply or pay to be in this club. As long as you show up, we’ll teach you everything that goes into making a car, from designing in CAD to machining the parts, doing the electronics and using all the tools.” 

Like many other UC clubs, the benefits of membership extend well beyond the shop and racetrack, spilling over into a lively social world. “You really bond with your teammates,” says Ella Winett, the club’s external vice president and a four-year veteran. “For the Baja team, when we take our car out to the desert to test it we all camp out, sleeping in tents and hanging out around a fire, then getting up early in the morning to race our car.” 

“I’ve met so many friends and mentors through the club,” reflects Nagappala. “It’s kind of shaped my entire experience at UCLA.”

Read more about the club.

With its ancient trees, granite monoliths and awe-inspiring vistas, Yosemite is one of the crown jewels of the National Park system. Living an easy bus ride away, UC Merced students take full advantage of their proximity to this gem — no matter the season, you can catch students heading to Yosemite to hike, camp, climb and play.

In fact, UC Merced has many ties with Yosemite, maintaining the only university-run scientific research station in the park, for instance, and putting on the eco-themed Shakespeare in Yosemite every April. First-year students are invited to participate in the Week of Wilderness to camp and bond with classmates in the Yosemite backcountry.

The Yosemite Leadership Program (YLP) offers an even deeper connection. Free and open to all majors, this two-year program gives hands-on training in leadership, professional development and stewardship that sets up students to lead social and environmental change. The offshoot YLP summer internship invites students to live and work in Yosemite as rangers, contributing to projects ranging from engineering and archaeology to ecological monitoring and arts education.

Students say it’s a life-changing experience. “It’s defined me as a person,” said former YLP participant and UC Merced grad Rachel Krausert. “It opens your eyes and sets you on a less-traveled path than a lot of other students.”

You’ve probably heard that if you want to really understand a place, you should learn the language. At UC Riverside, that’s Cahuilla, the language of the Southern California Cahuilla Indian Nations.

UC Riverside, which sits on land where Cahuilla, Tongva, Luiseño and Serrano people have lived for thousands of years, has the distinction of being the only UC to offer an Indigenous language series that fulfills undergraduate “foreign” language requirements. The Cahuilla classes are open to all students, with no prerequisites at the intro level.

Doctoral student William Madrigal Jr., a member of the Cahuilla Band of Indians, helped create the series. “The interesting thing here is that Cahuilla is not a foreign language because it’s very much local and Indigenous to Riverside County,” he said. “Students are learning more than just the mechanics of the language. They are learning about a rich and vibrant culture.”

The classes are packed with opportunities to explore the Cahuilla culture and worldview, from attending regional Indigenous cultural gatherings and participating in the UC Riverside Powwow to holding class amid the plants in UC Riverside’s new Native American Garden and trying Cahuilla games and foods.

Victor Andrade, a UC Riverside senior of Chemehuevi descent, took the class as a way to get closer to his own Native California culture, whose language has become increasingly scarce due to colonization. “Being able to take this class helped me connect to my roots. Even though it’s a language that’s not my own, it’s a relative of my tribe’s language,” he reflected. “Beyond the language, it’s helped me see how much culture matters and how it’s connected to the environment all around me.”

Read more about the class.

A globally renowned center for marine, earth and atmospheric science, UC San Diego’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography sits at the water’s edge in La Jolla. The mini-campus is a 15-minute shuttle ride from the center of UC San Diego and holds public treasures like the Birch Aquarium and the Coastal Meander Trail. But only UC San Diego students get access to the Scripps Makerspace, aka the Sandbox.

Like other maker spaces on campus, you’ll find all kinds of DIY equipment in the Sandbox — 3D printers, a laser cutter, soldering and electronics equipment, digital design software and all manner of tools. But since it’s at Scripps, the Sandbox also has a wave channel, equipment for underwater instrumentation, a saltwater experimental tank and other specialized gear for making and testing things that go in the ocean.

Students can also take hands-on courses that use the Makerspace — one class recently calibrated the city’s oceanographic sensors in the Sandbox, while another built state-of-the-art, open-source ocean temperature and depth sensors from scratch.

After completing her first sensors class, fourth-year student Marisa Viola wanted to keep going. So in her spare time, she honed her skills on a fun side project, 3D printing a miniature Coleman cooler complete with a working hinged lid and a six-pack inside. As she described the Sandbox, “It’s a place to grow your skill set, no matter where you’re starting from. It's a really good place not only just to go work on things, but also to talk to people and build community.”

The Scripps Makerspace is a free resource open to all UC San Diego students, regardless of their year or major. Whether you have a specific experiment or pet project to work on, want to learn a new skill, or are just curious, the door is open. Students can also apply for a volunteer or paid job helping run the space. And yes, you too can make your own mini cooler.

Catching a wave is a serious pursuit at UC Santa Barbara. Located on bluffs overlooking the Pacific, the campus is famous for its surf appeal. Several beaches are within a stone’s throw of classrooms and dorms, and students can access the pristine shore at Coal Oil Point, protected land adjacent to campus that’s part of the UC Natural Reserve system.

But if you want to go beyond a dip in the water, the popular Geography of Surfing class takes the pursuit to another level. Developed by Stuart Sweeney — an assistant professor of geography and devoted surfer — the class gives students an integrated view of regional, human and physical geography through the lens of surfing.

Students learn about topics like wave forecasting, the economic geography of the surfing industry, “behavior under crowding,” territorialism and the diffusion of regional surf cultures. They team up for field research at local beaches and complete an assignment to plan a surf trip to a foreign country. Surfboard makers, pro surfers and photojournalists make guest appearances, and of course there’s always the opportunity for students to test out their theoretical learning on the real waves just beyond the classroom.

Read more about the class.

Students at UC Santa Cruz get a daily dose of California’s famed redwoods — groves of the towering giants are scattered across the campus, and there’s a high chance your commute to class will be along a meandering, woodsy-scented path. But students who sign up to work with the Forest Ecology Research Plot, affectionately known as FERP, get to know the trees on a whole new level.

A short hike from dorms and classrooms takes you away from the hubbub and into the peaceful wilds of the 789-acre Campus Natural Reserve, where the 40-acre FERP exists as the campus’ largest long-term research facility. Directed by Dr. Gregory Gilbert of the Environmental Studies Department, the project is almost entirely student-run. In a program that’s open to all majors, students can volunteer with FERP or sign up for an internship to earn class credit. Some even get paid to work as FERP crew leaders.

FERPers come to the plot for one six-hour shift every week. They’re trained in scientific methods for recording detailed data on natural ecosystems, then tasked with measuring and tracking plant growth. Their data feeds into ForestGEO, an international network that tracks how forests change over time. FERP student data even contributed to a breakthrough in understanding how climate change affects forests.

For some, a FERP internship is a hands-on dive into their chosen field, while for others it’s a weekly opportunity to do something entirely different while making friends and immersing themselves in the natural beauty of this unique campus resource.

Gustavo Nome, a third-year ecology and evolutionary biology student, has worked at the FERP for all nine quarters so far and leads a field crew there once a week. “I just immediately fell in love with it,” he says. “I couldn’t believe I was getting to do real fieldwork in my first quarter of college, and meeting so many amazing people.”

“We get to know each other pretty well, and we have a great time,” explains Nome. “And it’s absolutely gorgeous. There are huge redwoods, gnarled old oaks, a creek running through a ravine, wildflowers — all right on campus. There’s really no other experience like it.”

Watch a video about FERP.