If you follow me on social media, it’s pretty apparent that I am head-over-heels in love with my alma mater. And if you don’t live on the West Coast, you’ve probably never even heard of it. So what’s the deal with the University of San Diego? It’s about time I tell you exactly why I’m so in love with the college that I attended.
The University of San Diego is a tiny private college perched on top of a hill in San Diego. The architecture on campus pays tribute to Spain with beautiful white buildings, plazas, and an excessive number of fountains. You can see the bay and the ocean from campus while you picnic on one of the green spaces surrounded by tropical flowers. It looks more like a country club than a campus, but I want to tell you about the heart of the college, what’s inside the façade, and perhaps even more beautiful…
1. Small classes & knowledgeable professors
Coming from a tiny private high school, I knew that class size was going to be an important factor in my college decision. There was no way I could have spent four years in lecture halls with professors who didn’t know my name and who assessed knowledge based on multiple choice exams. Not my style. So one of the things that I asked about on every college tour was the class size, and USD took the gold medal in this category.
The median class size at USD is 22 students and the faculty to student ratio is about 14:1. The largest freshman lecture I ever sat in on was about 37 and my smallest class at USD was just four.
Y’all. Those class sizes are absolutely unreal.
If you’re not thinking about class sizes yet, it’s time to factor this into your decision. If you like discussion-based learning, teachers who will know you (and know you well), and more creative assignments, you need to be looking at colleges with small class sizes.
USD also employs some of the most engaging professors I’ve ever met. Let me tell you about a few of my class experiences:
- I took a graphic novel class and a fantasy literature class as part of my English minor. Yes, we read the Hobbit for credit. Yes, our teacher gave us extra credit for attending a Lord of the Rings marathon over the weekend.
- I had a poetry professor who, when she decided to move to San Diego, faked her own death and threw her own funeral in an experimental drama performance. Some people in Chicago still think she’s dead. Lucky for us, she’s alive and making poetry very entertaining.
- I wrote my own autobiography (and helped classmates edit and revise their autobiographies) in a semester-long class dedicated to doing so. Our professor guided us through an introspective experience that had life-changing impacts for many students in the class.
- I took Buddhism with a professor who is a leading scholar on consciousness. It was so high level that I perpetually thought I was failing the class but it was so interesting that I also didn’t care. (Ok, I cared a little bit. But that’s only because I wasn’t meditating as much as I should have been.)
- I was able to attend both the Democratic National Convention and Presidential Inauguration for class credit. You can’t get more real-world learning experience than that.
- I took a team-taught class called Power & Politics that was all about gaining a competitive edge in business and life. Basically, it was a class on how to build an empire and, appropriately, it was taught by two married professors, both USD Law alumni, who coordinated outfits for every class and finished each other’s sentences. #powercouple
I’m not going to pretend that every single class I took was as remarkable as these, but I will say that passionate teachers and engaging classes are the norm at USD. There’s less time with your nose in a textbook and more time spent learning and applying that knowledge, which to me, is the purpose of higher education.
2. Over 100 study abroad options
In the increasingly global world that we live in, study abroad experience is more common and more important than ever. I’m not joking when I say that studying abroad is a huge resume booster. It tells employers that you’re independent, open-minded, and able to adapt quickly to new situations.
Okay, I’m going to hit you with the numbers again. Over 70% of USD students study abroad. And that’s entirely by design. The international center on campus puts in a lot of work to make it easy for students to get abroad.
USD has 135 established academic programs in 44 countries and 76 cities. That means courses are already pre-approved to transfer for credit back to USD, so all you have to do is sign up and show up. No hoops to jump through.
They are constantly adding programs, too. So if you show up freshman year knowing that you want to study abroad in a country that isn’t yet on the list, you can work with the study abroad office to get a program approved before you’re ready to go abroad your junior year.
I chose to study abroad in Australia, which was exactly as amazing as it sounds. Some of the most popular study abroad programs at USD include Semester at Sea, where students live and learn on a cruise ship while traveling around the world, and Prague, a more affordable destination in Europe.
I also did a lot of domestic study outside of San Diego. I spent one summer in Philadelphia earning class credit for learning and interning at the Democratic National Convention and I spent the following intersession in Washington D.C. doing the same at the Presidential Inauguration. I also spent three days in Sacramento for a political science class seminar where I made the contacts that led to my first job out of college.
For me, the ability to study abroad with ease was really important when deciding which college to attend. The very first school I applied to and was accepted to was the University of Wollongong in Australia. Obviously, I was itching to get out of the country and explore more of the world, and USD made it really simple to do.
3. Campus is 5 minutes from the beach
(and the city and the mountains and the desert)
Location was another big factor when I was looking at colleges. Much to my parents’ dismay, I could not be convinced to sacrifice location for academic prestige. A school too far inland would have sucked the life out of me. They brought it on themselves, really, by driving us two and a half hours to the coast every single weekend that I was in high school. We’re a family of beach bums at heart and I wanted to be able to sink my toes in the sand every day of the week.
Lucky for me, USD is only a four-mile drive ($11.23 Uber ride) to the beach. A lot of students rent beach houses to live in during the school year and although I didn’t, I had a lot of friends who did, so there was always a bonfire or beach to attend on the weekends.
Though not strictly a part of campus, USD does make the beaches quite accessible for students. You can rent surfboards, paddleboards, boogie boards, and snorkel gear for a few bucks from campus. You can also take a variety of classes for credit at the local aquatic center. During my busiest semester, I signed up for a mid-week paddleboarding class just to have an excuse to get in the water in-between my academic classes and internship.
And when I wanted to change it up from the 75 and sunny weather near campus, there was the luxury of easily being able to get out of town. The campus is only 6 miles from downtown, 20 miles to insane hiking trails, 25 miles and over the border to Mexico, 85 miles to the spring super bloom in the desert, and 145 miles to the closest ski resort. Sign up for Outdoor Adventures and you can spend your spring break backpacking at Havasupai Falls! Or if you want to get somewhere further away then that, you can drive 5 miles to the airport and catch a plane.
I chose to spend most of my time at the beach but there are plenty of weekend options at USD.
4. Academic freedom
Let’s go down the path of how I ended up with my degree, shall we?
I applied to college thinking that I wanted to be an oceanic engineer. Before I got to campus, I decided I’d be better as an orthodontist so I started freshman year on a pre-dental track as a biology major. Then, after a Medical Brigade to Honduras and a bad reaction to malaria medication, I couldn’t get far enough away from the medical track. But I really enjoyed the news report I did for our USD TV station covering the Medical Brigade, so I switched to Communication Studies. I picked up a Spanish minor and then dropped it when I realized it was less about the language and more about history. I added an English minor for fun and then found a late in college passion for political science, so I took that on as a minor, too.
Are you dizzy yet?
If you ask me what I studied, I’d sum it up as Political Communication, but the truth is that I explored every corner of campus. That’s the beauty of attending a liberal arts college. You’re allowed to be (perhaps even encouraged to be) flexible in your education. I never felt stuck and that freedom to explore is a huge part of the reason that I loved my college experience. Like Goldilocks, I was able to try on a few different majors and minors until I found the one that was just right for me.
I was also a part of the USD Honors program, which required taking Honors classes across a variety of disciplines. Completing the program also required conducting research and writing a thesis during my senior year, which was one of the most rewarding experiences. It was essentially doing the same work you would for a Master’s degree, presenting it to a panel of professors and peers, and then publishing it in the university archives.
My thesis, Trigger Words, examined social identities and cognitive dissonance in the gun control debate. After presenting it, I was asked to share my research in an interview on a local radio station and I was able to share the body of work with potential employers as proof that I could apply classroom learning to the real world. It took a grueling amount of work (and 1,863 shots of espresso) to complete but I was able to design and conduct the research based on my own interests and choose my favorite professor to act as my advisor, so I actually enjoyed it.
5. Friendly & accessible alumni network
This isn’t necessarily unique to USD, but it’s something I’ve certainly come to appreciate since leaving campus. Since graduation, I’ve moved to new cities twice, and both times I’ve been able to set up coffee dates in the new city with other USD alum. Those alums have all been generous in sharing their contacts with me to expand my own network and have even generously shared their professional services.
Just last week, I ran into a former USD student who is now a lawyer for small businesses. It was a happy coincidence because I was looking for help with a few legal documents for my own business and, to my surprise, he wrote and shared the documents with me the next day, free of charge. That’s the power of a small-school connection right there.
Coming from a small school, the alumni network is also a lot smaller, but it feels more tightly knit, too. Running into a fellow Torero is like running into a long lost friend because inevitably, you share a lot of the same experiences with this person. You at least have in common the four things I shared above, so the connection is natural.
If you absolutely know where you want to live and work for the rest of your life, I always recommend choosing a school nearby so that when you graduate, you can easily tap into the alumni network and land your first job. I probably wouldn’t run into many Toreros on the east coast, but I know that on the West Coast our alumni network is strong and growing, and I love reminiscing on the good old days with my USD friends.
Now you know exactly why the University of San Diego was the perfect school for me.
I love USD so much that I wrote this whole blog post just to share my experience with you. My only hope is, in reading this post, you have thought a little more about what your perfect fit college would look like. Maybe USD is your perfect fit, or maybe your perfect school is the exact opposite. Either way, you should have a little more knowledge to contribute to your own college search.
If you’re considering USD and you have any questions about my experience at all (literally nothing is off-limits) please drop a comment below or send me a direct message on Instagram and I’ll be happy to answer it.