Not to sound so general, but the best thing about UCLA really is that it’s so well-rounded. I would challenge you to find another school that features such a high concentration of academics, athletics, social life, and networking. The size of the school is actually a huge advantage; more students means more interests, and it’s guaranteed that every individual will find students with similar goals. Once you realize that size translates to diversity, it’s very easy to make the school feel as small or large as you’d like, as we’re large enough to offer resources to support the smallest groups. If pressed, I’d change the distance between the apartments and classes, because to get from one end of campus to the other requires a good 25 minutes, which can be a pain if you’re running late. Something I didn’t realize until getting here was the reputation that the name “UCLA” carries; it’s very impressive without being unapproachable.
Honestly, the only thing I find myself complaining about is the length of time it takes to walk to campus, as it’s so large, and the residential part of campus is really separate from the classrooms. But, I’ll also be honest, the 20 minute brisk walk also often serves as my excuse for exercise.
A major selling point is the area—as it should be. Westwood sets the bar high for “college town”, with shops and restaurants catering (sometimes literally) to the collegiate lifestyle, both in their prices and hours. It’s a convenient and comfortable town that adds to the “home” feeling of campus by eliminating the pressing need for a car and creating an environment outside of the immediate campus that students can still feel connected to. Every UCLA student feels a sense of ownership over Westwood, relying upon it as much as it relies upon us.
The campus itself boasts an impressive set of buildings and common areas, and the sort of brick and ivy ambience that I think a lot of West Coast schools lack. I like that there’s enough of a variety of spaces to spend time in, like coffee shops if you enjoy noise and company, or quiet lawns if you like peace and quiet. You never quite feel as if you’re on your own, though, which is a comfort to me although it might be an oddity for some. Thankfully the weather not only accommodates but encourages me to spend gaps in my schedule outside, on a bench or a lawn catching up on some reading or napping. It’s not uncommon for students on campus to feel very at home, comfortable enough to fall asleep in such a public place—is it the anonymity afforded by such a common-minded but large public?
I’ve never experienced any problems personally with the administration, but if there’s any area in which the size of the school might get in the way it would be the bureaucracy. Like any formidable administration, though, it’s just a matter of doing a little research ahead of time and making appointments with those you need to reach.
Undoubtedly the largest recent controversy was the Taser Incident. (A student was tasered in the library, by campus police, after refusing to cooperate, and the event was caught by a student cameraphone, causing an outbreak of debate over police brutality and student rights). I think the biggest problem resulted from the flood of gossip that prevented many of the students from getting a clear picture of what actually happened. I was fascinated, if not extremely surprised, though, by how quickly a spectrum of opinion appeared—and on Facebook, of all places. I saw a flood of groups formed to discuss the incident, half of which supported the actions of the police and half of which called for their reprimand. Personally I found myself torn; I do like to know that the campus police take security seriously in a city where crime and danger can be pervasive stereotypes, but the response seemed alarmingly disproportionate, and that kind of display was a sobering reminder that campus police are, in fact, regular police, and not necessarily there to accommodate student comforts.
Undoubtedly the majority of school pride stems from our athletic program, and feeds off our crosstown rivalry with USC, but such pride and rivalry can only thrive in a place where there’s more to be proud of than simply sports. I’m extremely proud of our basketball team and it’s reputation, to be sure, but I’m also proud—and I feel my fellow students are too—of other equally impressive things that make up the blue and gold, like our campus, our library, our band, our school paper, and above all our academic reputation. Again, it’s all about our well-roundedness; there’s something at UCLA for everyone to be proud of, not just the all-star athletes. Our school pride goes beyond most.
The most unusual thing about UCLA is its versatility, resulting directly from our size, because there’s no single point about the school that stands out from the rest enough to define us. We don’t necessarily specialize in anything, because we seem to specialize in everything—which makes UCLA a better place for the student who isn’t done exploring yet. There are plenty of places you can go if you’ve got a specific interest, places that cater directly and singularly to those interests, but there aren’t many other places you can go to explore everything. Because of this diversity, I think the right people end up here, i.e. the ones who haven’t made up their minds yet and want a place to do it. Many students come here because UCLA allows for such a wide spectrum of possibility, and we come here with very open minds, which are difficult things to disappoint.
I do hear a lot of complaints about the enrollment process, and the difficulty of planning a schedule or getting into specific classes. Unfortunately, this is one of the drawback to a school of our size; space can be limited. But this can usually be avoided by some planning and foresight, such as designing multiple possible schedules and perhaps simply emailing a professor—they are very good about responding, and usually very quickly—with questions about enrollment capacity or waitlists.