Located near Yosemite National Park in the San Joaquin Valley, two hours from San Francisco, UC-Merced is the smallest and newest campus in the University of California system. Only 12 years old, UC-Merced has just over 6,700 full-time undergraduates in three schools: Engineering, Natural Sciences and Social Sciences, Humanities and Arts. The university plans to open a School of Management and make room for as many as 10,000 undergraduates by 2020. Ninety-three percent of UC-Merced undergraduates come from California; the rest are international students.
It’s not hard to get into UC-Merced, compared to other UC campuses. But the academic profile of the students continues to become stronger, even as the student body becomes larger. Two-thirds of the more than 25,000 students who applied to be in this year’s freshman class were accepted. And, UC-Merced also accepted just over half of all transfer applicants from California community colleges.
Although UC-Merced is only twelve years old, its freshman retention and graduation rates together are better than all but two schools in the California State University system: Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and San Diego State. UC-Merced also has higher retention and graduation rates than Oregon State University, another public school often considered by Californians.
UC-Merced offers 23 majors and 25 minors, and some programs are ones you are more likely to find at one of the large UC campuses such as Bioengineering, Cognitive Science, Earth Systems Science, Environmental Engineering, Materials Science and Engineering and Public Health. And, since UC-Merced has few graduate students—less than 700 compared to thousands at other UC campus—there are more opportunities for undergraduates to do research with faculty, especially in the sciences and engineering. It is likely that you will start your education at UC-Merced with smaller classes than you might at another UC campus—less than ten percent of UC Merced’s classes have over 100 students.
While UC-Merced is too new to have established campus traditions, aside from a Family Weekend as well as a Welcome Week, it may well be the best UC campus for students who have a serious interest in sustainability. UC-Merced is the only college in the country to have all of its campus buildings “built green from the ground up.” All campus buildings are or will be Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certified, cooled using recycled water. Recyclable materials are used in constructing campus buildings. UC-Merced is also a nice option for those who enjoy outdoor recreation. Among many programs, the university’s Outdoor Experience office offers a Week of Wilderness, inviting incoming freshmen and transfer students to backpack and camp in Yosemite National Park!
A decision to attend UC-Merced is more of a bet on the university’s future than it’s present. But this is the only “small/mid-sized” public college in California that is building a true residential campus community while offering academic programs that undergraduates are more likely to find at a larger school. My view is the bet will pay off bigtime!
This article is the fifth in a series about the University of California. Going alphabetically, the first article was about the top-ranked UC-Berkeley, the second was devoted to UC-Davis, then UC-Irvine and UCLA. To read those profiles click here.