The Elite schools in Southern California all have admit rates under 20%, making admissions to them a virtual lottery. UCLA gets over 100,000 applications a year that they have to process in four months. Do you think they might make a few mistakes! These schools are as different as snowflakes. The student who is happy at Harvey Mudd would probably struggle socially at USC. The Poli-Sci major at Claremont-McKenna who loves to debate in class, would wilt waiting to get called on in a mega freshman politics class at UCLA. While colleges all obfuscate their class sizes, my rule of thumb is: "If they have graduate teaching assistants, they have large classes."
UCLA – UCLA for all intents and purposes is not a state college. It is a large elite university located in Los Angeles that gets its funding from several sources, one of them is the state of California. And like all large donors, there are strings attached to the money as the state insists the school gives the impression they are a school for Californians. UCLA admits about 9,000 Californians and 6,500 non-Californians. Less than half of admitted students actually attend UCLA, so if 1,000 more Californians said no and a 1,000 more non-Californians said yes, Californians could be a minority at UCLA! UCLA and Berkeley used to be the flagship universities in California, just like the University of Oregon or the University of Kansas. Now the real flagships are Davis, Santa Barbara and Irvine. Walking around UCLA I realized it is a big, diverse research university that touts the work of its graduate departments and thinks of itself as Harvard with a football team. While it has every conceivable major, I couldn't help but thinking everyone is a film major, or wishes they were! But then this is true at most southern California colleges. You should put UCLA on your college list if it includes schools like Tufts, Vanderbilt, Northwestern, and Princeton. Do not think of it as "one of the UC's." It has grown up and is now playing in a different league.
USC – USC is for smart smiling people. The campus is beautiful, spotless like Disneyland, and it seems everyone must have won the award for "best school spirit" in their high school. This is not the school for students who want to stay in their dorm rooms. Their engineering and business undergraduate schools are first rate and the USC alumni take care of their own when it comes to jobs. Most impressive is the film school. I was a television-film major in college, worked in the industry for 16 years and I was intimidated by the resort-like buildings of the film school! You can't miss the huge arches in front of the Steven Spielberg and George Lucas buildings. USC is for you if you want to join a sorority or fraternity, get involved in campus life and can manage to keep your grades up in competitive classes amid all the merriment. For the film school, if you are an accomplished auteur and have won a few student film festivals, come here to take your art to the next level.
Harvey Mudd and Claremont-McKenna
These are two schools in the Claremont Consortium. (See Pomona blog post). While they attract two entirely different student bodies, they share the same science classes and labs and join together as one NCAA entity for varsity sports. They are small schools that are nearly impossible to get into and a different blogger might have put them in the "Ivies" category.
Harvey Mudd – With a name like Harvey Mudd you know it's got to be really good just to overcome the name! This is a small (800 total students) liberal arts school for scientists and engineers. I asked an admissions officer what the difference was between Harvey Mudd and MIT and Cal Tech, and he said that Harvey Mudd doesn't have grad students, everything at Harvey Mudd is focused on undergraduate education. The pranks are different too. Cal Tech likes physical pranks. Harvey Mudd likes hacking pranks. They hacked their way into contest for a free Taylor Swift concert and won, beating out all other US colleges. Harvey Mudd is a great school for girls who want to study STEM subjects. Their president is a woman, and admissions office told us that 40% of their faculty are women, and more women than men graduated with an engineering major last year. This year's freshman class had 114 men and 103 women. This is probably not the place for one of those engineering macho types, who takes the red-eye back from a prank at MIT, stays up for three days developing a new operating system and then tries to ace a physics final without studying. This school is for you if are a thoughtful boy or girl math whiz who is headed to being a world class scientist or engineer, but you don't have the need to remind everyone you're the smartest, cleverest person in the room.
Claremont McKenna (CMC) – USC's money comes from Hollywood. CMC's comes from Wall Street. The biggest building which houses many campus offices and classes is the Kravis Center named for investment banker Henry Kravis. He and fellow Claremont McKenna student George Roberts founded the investment banking firm KKR. This is a school for those who want to turns their smarts into worldly success. This is where a future presidential candidates will meet their campaign financiers. This is a first rate liberal arts school with all the typical majors serving the many students who are not headed to Wall Street or Washington. However, attending CMC for politics or business is a lot like attending USC for film school, it is for those who are already driven for success and not for those using college as a nice place to hang out to discover who they are. This is a school for 4.0 students who live in the real world and don't want to head east to a small liberal arts school like Bowden or Middlebury.
The next blog in the series will focus on the highly selective residential liberal arts schools.