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During the final night of my senior year in high school, I jokingly asked my classmate what brought him joy in life. Sarcastically, he responded, “The fact that you’re going to the University of California, Riverside (UCR).” I was taken aback. I hadn’t expected someone to knowingly and casually strike me where I was insecure. As someone who had gone to a college preparatory school and planned to attend UCR in the fall, I couldn’t help but feel less than my classmates who had snagged spots at more selective schools.

I think most incoming or prospective Highlanders can be divided into two categories: those who applied and were pleasantly surprised about getting in and those who carry the same insecurities I originally did about the school. Frankly, the reality is that acceptance to UCR usually comes alongside multiple applications and rejections from other selective sister University of California (UC) institutions. While this situation was not ideal, I believe this is a humbling experience that creates a student body composed of some of the most adaptable and memorable people I have ever met. 

Once the initial drama of not having a flashy brand-name university wears off, you will find that you are a part of the world’s leading public research university system and are receiving an excellent education. Due to our relatively small student body for a public university, classes tend to run smaller which allows students the opportunity to connect with professors on a more personal level and engage with their classmates in lectures. 

Socially, the opportunities are endless at UCR. While it is possible to spend all your time in your dorm studying and scrolling on your phone, your social life at college is what you make of it. Yes, there are plenty of opportunities for partying and meeting people here. Yes, you can get the “freshman college experience” equivalent in caliber to other large public universities. The only catch is that you must build this experience yourself. Creating meaningful relationships and connections is the pathway toward a fulfilled life here on campus and can only be accomplished if you make the effort. 

Although UCR may not be as large as other universities, the campus is beautiful. Enclosed within a ring of mountains, there is a feeling of security. Greenery is everywhere from the  Botanic Gardens to the orange grove trees. During their season, oranges and kumquats spring from many of the trees on campus filling the air with their sweet scent. Citrus is so central to UCR’s campus life that we even created a second mascot, Norm the Orange — one of the funniest and most original college mascots. 

Wildlife visits are also a common experience at UCR as a herd of mules is always on the go, walking campus streets and trails to reach their destinations. Raccoon sightings at UCR are a dime a dozen — there is even an Instagram account dedicated to on-campus sightings. Bonus points if you feed the raccoons. 

With an active Greek life and many pre-professional and recreational organizations, you are bound to find some niche within the community that you belong to. UCR’s diversity and sizable student body means that there is a place for everyone here. Even if UCR was not your first choice of a university, it is an excellent school that has everything you need to create the perfect college experience.