University of California, Merced

You might be surprised to read that the first commencement speech delivered by Michelle Obama as First Lady took place in the San Joaquin Valley, a locale long associated with farming and cattle. In 2009, the graduating class of UC Merced, which is located in the valley, sent hundreds of letters, videos, and even Valentine’s Day cards to convince Obama to choose their campus for her speech. Now that’s school spirit!

Opened in 2005, UC Merced is the tenth University of California college campus. Its newness, coupled with a small student population of 6,000, leaves UC Merced off many prospective students’ radars. This is pretty unfortunate as UC Merced does have a lot to offer, and can prove to be an ideal fit for the right student.

There are numerous pros and cons associated with attending a relatively new university. The first thing to come to most people’s minds is the question of reputation. UC Merced successfully manages to quell this concern through its association with the University of California, a public university school system that is widely recognized as one of the best in the country, if not the world. That affiliation has also helped the Merced campus to attract and keep a distinguished faculty with an impressive record of research accomplishments, an important factor in evaluating the quality of any higher learning institution.

Perhaps UC Merced’s most notable appeal is its offer of research opportunities to undergraduate students. At most universities, lab research is reserved for graduate students. But at Merced, undergrads can and do actively contribute to faculty research projects. The university prides itself on making undergrad research a priority, one that is integral to the school’s approach to research and isn’t just a result of having a small student body.

Of course, attending a small and somewhat rural campus isn’t for everyone, but doing so comes with some definite perks that are worth considering. Lecture halls at Merced are capped at 300 students, half the size of halls at other UC campuses, and smaller discussion sections hover at around 20 students. This translates to more intimate learning environments, a big draw for students who want specialized attention and more one-on-one time with their instructors.

Being a part of a new but steadily growing university campus can also give students the room and flexibility needed to make lasting impacts. Students at UC Merced have the chance to develop and launch new clubs and organizations, thereby shaping the university’s campus life for future students.

Located in a city with a population of 80,000, the newest UC campus is not for those seeking a bustling city experience during their college years. But with Yosemite National Park about an hour east, the campus is a big draw for outdoor enthusiasts who would enjoy camping, kayaking, whitewater rafting, and mountain climbing on the weekends.

So if you’re looking for smaller classes, a relaxed atmosphere, and a regular dose of nature, this college is definitely worth checking out. For more

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