[originally written in 2004]
Since it's May already, I'm rushing as fast as I can to finish this review for those of you in the entering class of 2004. And if you can sense by my tone that this is more likely a warning than an enthusiastic tribute, you're probably overqualified to go to UCR.
I remember a 1999 New York Times article in which the journalist asked the million-dollar question "So how bad is it to go to Riverside?" He didn't provide as definitive of an answer as I'd have liked, but then, he was never personally subjected to the horror and embarrassment of spending 3.5 years (I got out ASAP) here. The short answer is: listen to the science majors, not the humanities majors, who have spoken before me further down this page. This "college" is everything they said, and less.
If you're browsing this site at all, you're probably the type to give thought to your future and education. After all, rational people go to college for at least one of two reasons: for the benefit of the school's reputation, and to learn something. About the first reason, you probably already know that the reputation attached to a UCR degree is a joke -- one that you become the butt of as an alumnus. As for the second, keep your expectations at the same level, because this is one case where reputation and educational quality have a perfect correlation.
Starting off, UCR actually makes a decent first impression. Fun, easy General Education classes make for fun, easy A's, and living in a hall with 40 horny 18-year-olds is a guaranteed adventure. But once you get used to it all, you start to look back at the first year of college like the first month of a relationship: everything was fun mainly because it was new. The dorm scene vanishes after a year, and is universal to all colleges anyway. You also start catching on that those A's are coming a little TOO easily (feelings of reward fade accordingly), and once you run out of GE courses to BS your way through, the supply of interesting subject matter comes to a screeching halt. Before I go on, know that I'm mainly speaking for non-technical majors here. Like 22% of the student body, I picked Business Administration, whatever that is.
UCR's first educational flaw is how every class is dumbed down to the lowest common denominator, straight at the bottom of the IQ barrel. A big share of entering freshman start out in remedial 9th grade English and pre-precalculus math (a.k.a. algebra). Riverside has the highest failure rate among all UCs on the Subject A exam, which in my opinion sets a pretty fair standard for writing proficiency. Admissions standards are also pretty far down there, with an SAT average of 1060 -- roughly 250 points below Berkeley's and almost equal to the national high school average. Classes are structured accordingly.
You could say it's unfair to criticize a school for catering to its student body, or criticize people for the way they are. Maybe, but a few things take the guilt out of this. The first might be called false advertising: with pseudo-facts like "only the top 12.5% can attend UC!" thrown around by the statistically creative marketing department, a natural reaction is "how bad could it be?" (Big mistake.) Another is that the mostly Southern California-sourced students are so shallow, uninteresting, and work ethic-free (at least by the Palo Alto standards I'm used to) that it hardly feels like we're talking about human beings.
In any case, it's perfectly fair to expose the education for the sham it is, so let's start there. Don't expect to learn anything useful at UCR; few professors even try. In my memory, the most typical class goes as follows: you pay for a $90 textbook (that the UCR bookstore later offers to buy back for $15) that's full of useless crap. The nightly homework consists of reading this useless crap, while the daily lectures consist of the professor reading aloud book-sourced PowerPoint slides that exactly repeat the same useless crap you'd read the night before. Finally, the book-sourced multiple choice exams test your capacity for memorizing the sheer volume of all this useless crap over the course of ten weeks.
"Useless crap? Useless crap? Elaborate!" you cry. Fine. Please tell me what can be gained by memorizing a fact like "The 4 Ps of Marketing," which are Price, Place, Product, and Promotion. You may be asked a True/False question on whether or not those are indeed the 4 Ps of Marketing. You may be asked to fill in the blanks of the 4 Ps of Marketing. You may be given a list of five Ps of Marketing and asked to identify which of the five does not belong. The point being, WHO GIVES A MOTHERFUCKING SON OF A CRAP? Not only are you learning nothing but knowledge (as opposed to ideas or insights), but the knowledge is of the most useless kind: simple common sense wrapped in cute new terminology. Just so we're clear, this isn't just a matter of classes being too simple. The crime here is that of a school teaching knowledge of ZERO PRACTICAL OR INTELLECTUAL VALUE -- for a fee of 4 years and $40,000 -- which I think is a seriously fucked up offense that speaks volumes about its educational ethics.
Here's a few more questions taken from my exams:
1. A family seated at the dinner table enjoying an advertised product would be an example of what type of advertising?
A. slice of life B. lifestlyle C. mood or imagery D. personality symbol
2. Taco Bell has found that the customer lifetime value is about $12,000. This is a valuable customer indeed. The key to customer retention is:
A. offer the lowest prices B. constantly advertise C. offer superior customer value and satisfaction D. offer a variety of products
3. When a brand has achieved an impressive reputation for loyalty, performance, and quality, it can be said to have:
A. brand endurance B. brand equity C. brand bonding D. brand prestige
Roughly 30% of the classes in my curriculum were based entirely on questions like these. No joke.
As another fine example, all Business majors have to take a class called Computer Science 8. The first day consists of the professor telling you what a keyboard and mouse are. (If you find that confusing, don't worry, he draws a diagram of each.) The rest of the quarter is spent learning Microsoft Word, Excel, and PowerPoint, and the method of teaching is via 90-minute narrative lectures (taught by chalkboard, not computer) telling you exactly which menu to click on to find this command, or what key combination is the shortcut for that command (i.e. Ctrl-X to Cut, Ctrl-V to Paste) -- followed by weekly THREE-HOUR LABS devoted to honing these cutting and pasting skills to masterful perfection. Basically, the objective of this "computer science" course is to read every page of the instruction manuals for three programs most of us already know, then test you on how well you can memorize a 200-page list of commands (the premise being, I guess, that difficulty equals legitimacy).
The Princeton Review recently rated UCR #3 in the nation in having the "Least Happy Students." Imagine how miserable they'd be if they actually cared about learning.
Business classes actually get worse as you ascend (descend?) farther into upper-division, though at least you won't have to worry about things getting harder. In the 7th week of my junior year Economics class, the professor started class by drawing two parallel lines on a graph and asking "who can tell me which line represents the greater quantity?" (I hope you're getting the drift of how goddamn insulting every day at this school can be) There is one upside, however: because most classes are curved and your competition is brain-dead, you can coast right through with D-level grades (i.e. 65%) and walk out with a B+ after the curve. The only emerging challenge is paying attention to such increasingly torpid and dull subject matter as the years go by.
And UCR can get exploitative. The school is more than happy to co-sponsor programs by corporate America that abuse students for free labor. I was one of the unlucky few to have qualified for the General Motors Marketing Internship, which was essentially 20 weeks of such activities as walking up to strangers in parking lots to shove surveys in their faces, handing out sodas and flyers at booths on 90-degree Saturdays, and playing parking lot traffic copâ€¦ all for 4 units of credit. Sometime around third year, you start missing all the silly GE classes you took freshman year. At least those were fun.
Other education-related issues: pretty damn few TAs in the business program are English-proficient -- a disease that's quickly spreading to the business professors. And speaking of backgrounds, there's a fair share of immigrant professors from foreign countries (especially India and East Asia) here. In case you're not Asian (I am), here's what that means: assholes who are as stingy as possible, irritating to listen to, talk down to you like some kid (possibly one of theirs), and assign you a lower grade than is deserved or justified, since they're older and wiser and therefore above justification.
One of the most screwed up aspects of UCR education is the next natural topic of discussion: the students. If you want to enrich your mind, surrounding yourself with dumbasses isn't exactly conducive to that end. Few people at Riverside have any aspiration in life besides "making bank" (as they say in SoCal), and even fewer have the talent to achieve it. This is an extremely apathetic student body. Attendance for lectures ranges from 1/3rd to 2/3rds. For discussion classes it's 1/3rd to 1/2, and seeing a raised hand in any class is a rare sight. A scant 40% of the student body graduates in 4 years. The freshman dropout rate is a jaw-dropping 16% -- highest among all UCs despite the lowest entrance requirements. Of the 40 people on my dorm hall, 7 failed to return for sophomore year (I think more failed down the line), mostly because they never went to class. And don't think you won't have to deal with these film-flams, because you will, if only as class partners. Remember those high school projects where five people got assigned to a group and there was always one free-rider? UCR is like that, except that in a 5-person group, the free-rider tally hovers around 3. I spent almost every project of my college career doing all the work on my own, either because no one else felt like doing anything or had nothing of value to contribute. Sure, everyone else gets credit for your A's, but you'd better get used to it if you want to keep your GPA out of the toilet.
It's also hard to relate to most people here on any deep level, probably because not much lies beneath the surface. Meaningful conversation is in depressingly short supply. Personally, my greatest interest is cars, and I usually get excited when I meet fellow gearheads. But at UCR, the philosophical limits of most guys I met rarely went beyond what size/brand of "rims" to buy for pimping out their poser-ricer Honda Civic. Everyone is obsessed with image and appearances here. For girls, it's spending every dime on looking as trendy as possible (the result being they all look the same), while the guys blow their bucks on making their sorry economy car appear fast (instead of actually MAKING it fast, or buying a real car for the same money). Way too many student conversations de-evolve to looks, labels, clothes, body image, etc. A fair share of non-black students speak unconvincing gangsta Ebonics, despite years of practice. Dorm dwellers spend hours standing in the hall to gaze at themselves through the full-length mirrors. And from what I can tell, any girlfriend you find will have two overriding concerns: her looks, and how good you make her look as an accessory.
There's one class required by all students that does an excellent job of revealing some of the most depressing truths: Ethnic Studies 1. First, a little background info. If you've ever peeked at those college review books, you've probably seen quotes from supposedly real students praising UCR for having such great diversity. But let's be honest: the evolution of race relations over the past century is mostly limited to a decrease in the rate of killing one another. Do enough research and you'll find that this pattern is universal across all colleges. Even California's.
The embarrassment specific to UCR, though, is the ideas coming out of people's mouths when subjects like race arise. When Ethnic Studies 1 isn't putting you to sleep with its memorization-based nature and textbooks full of trivialities (there we go again), it ventures into open student discussion, but "discussion" ends up being as much of a euphemism as "diversity." Basically, the lecture hall was a daily battleground for small-minded whites to bicker with small-minded blacks. This is the kind of school where black students feel compelled to shout into the microphone "CAPITALISM IS WRONG!" or "whites are the only people capable of racism!" Ah, but the real action begins when it's time for the student presentations, comprised of members of every ethnicity giving their two cents (clearly an overvaluation) about racial dynamics.
Want to know what happened in my class? Naturally, the blacks went first. Their thesis: EVERYTHING IS WHITEY'S FAULT! The perfectly sane Hispanic presentation gave me some hopeâ€¦ but that hope vanished when the Asians took the stage. Basically, their presentation came down to a bunch of air-headed ditzes dressed in kimonos whining about things like "everyone thinks we're smart, and drive nice cars!" and a video of them shoving a handycam in people's faces to ask "HI, what do YOU think about Asian-Americans?!?" (This video, by the way, included a tour of Chinatown. Priceless.) The whites, who went last, basically tried to convince the class that racism is some silly anachronism that died a generation ago. The ironic thing about a class like this is it made me want to LYNCH EVERYONE OF EVERY RACE for the exact same reason. I guess you could say, then, that it promoted equality.
Outside of class, students continue to typify the worst behaviors of each group. Whites act as if non-whites are invading their rightful property, and claim to be society's "real" victims. Blacks feel entitled to say anything to anyone. Mostly, everyone's simply clannish, though I can verify an interesting comment I'd read before: minorities of different races associate somewhat more often than minorities and whites. This is also the kind of school where you can hear brainless Christians, who unfortunately seem to dominate campus, talk about gays with "I can't BELIEVE people do that!" (insert facial expression of condescending disgust). The bottom line is that anytime someone opens their mouth on race, religion, or sexual preferences, any normal person would want to punch them in the face.
If there's a connecting theme to the UCR experience, it's that mediocrity has a domino effect. As this unfunny joke of a college experience comes to a relieving conclusion, you'll face incompetence one last time at the career center. I spoke with not one, not two, but three different career counselors. The first simply tried to get me out of her office after giving me emotionless replies. The second was friendly, but knew little about the careers I was asking about (i.e. really enigmatic, obscure endeavors likeâ€¦ journalism) and seemed to make things up as the conversation went along. The third, when I was asking for resume advice, offered such blinding revelations as "you have to put your name in BIG FONT!" and "INDENT THESE LINES!"
Likewise, loser schools apparently attract loser companies. Go attend a UCR career fair and count on your fingers the number of companies whose names you recognize. Chances are, you can leave your hand at home. UCR's godawful reputation is obviously the main culprit, though part of the problem might be that UCR largely works with companies in the surrounding area, which holds few opportunities for college graduates. It's a well-known fact that the only educated members in Riverside County are the ones who work in Orange and San Diego Counties (just check out the eastbound 91 freeway at rush hour), and once you start talking about jobs more than half an hour away, any rational company would rather pick among the more desirable pool of UCLA or UCSD (or even UCI) candidates. Face it, Riverside is one of the most strategically unwise home bases for launching a career. That could be why 9 out of 10 UCR students leave the county upon graduation -- a statistic the school would no doubt rather keep secret.
Since there's nothing to learn and no one worth talking to, we might as well explore the superficial subject matter. The dorms were ghetto when I was there (98-99), though they're probably fine now that they're all Internet-ready and a third dorm called Pentland Hills sprung up. But they are very cramped for slots, so there's a high chance you'll be squeezed into a triple-occupant room, and it's a given you'll be kicked out after freshman year. In any case, don't expect much in the way of edible food. The morning eggs are fake eggs, which isn't surprising since the batter looks like a huge tub of snot. The bacon ain't real either; it's turkey bacon. Most of the meats taste lame and lackluster, and you'll be tasting them one more than once. Typical scenario on Monday: fried chicken! Tuesday: take the leftovers, sprinkle on some herbs, call it Herb Chicken! Chop it up, dunk it in water and presto, Wednesday chicken soup! Those of you who signed up for the overnight summer visit are in for a treat: two straight days of filling, tasty meals and prime cut meat. Clever tactic, eh?
Opinions differ about the campus, but I like it well enough. It's modern-looking, and since it's about the size of your high school, squared, you can walk across one end to the other in ten minutes. But if you wander more than 500 feet from campus, prepare for some serious eyesores. Another reviewer summed up Riverside as "a metropolis of trailer parks and fast food joints," but let's go deeper. Really, the Inland Empire (defined as Riverside and San Bernardino Counties) is a dead, hideous wasteland with high crime, low literacy, George W Bush-worshipping republicans, and somewhat accurate stereotypes about being the mecca of crystal meth labs (as a bonus, real live prostitutes can be found on the streets just outside a half-mile radius). Everything is run down, dirty, and according to statistics, dangerous. During my freshman year alone, a couple of redneck cops shot and killed a 19-year-old black girl sitting in her car (look up "Tyisha Miller"); another girl got raped in UCR's own Rivera Library. The distinct smell of cow dung (from neighboring city Norco) permeates the atmosphere about twice a week, and the weather in spring quarter (April-June) is hell, with half the days above 90 degrees and more than a few above 100. The smog during these months will have you reevaluating old beliefs like "the sky is blue," and studies have shown that children from Mira Loma (West Riverside) grow up with reduced lung capacity for that reason.
Even if you've heard of rumors about cheap rent from aging alumni, that information is outdated. Because of UCR's UCLA-wannabe mentality, they've been absorbing an additional 1,000 students every year since the late 90s (now 14,000) without building a corresponding amount of housing. Back in 2000, my little 250 SqFt, kitchenless, ghetto studio at UCR-owned Bannockburn cost $325. Here in 2004: $618. Meaning more expensive per square foot than many places in infinitely nicer Orange County.
If you've been waiting for an upside to this portrait of objectivity, sorry for making you wait so long to say this: there is none. Seriously, based on what I know now, I can't think of one reason to go to UCR by choice. The education sucks, the professors and classmates suck, the surrounding area sucks, and considering a Berkeley education costs the same amount, it's an extremely poor value. The only real prize waiting for you at the end is several thousand dollars in student debt, and with the second-rate job you'll probably end up with (due to your shameful degree) it will probably take years to pay it back.
If you think I'm exaggerating, here are some fun facts to chew on: at Berkeley's Business school, MBA grads and BS grads enter the world with starting salaries of $90,000 and $55,000, respectively; UCR equivalents start at $50,000 and $35,000 (read that again: a Riverside MASTER'S is worth less than a Berkeley BACHELOR'S). And for whatever anecdotal evidence is worth, most classmates I heard about ended up in extremely ordinary-sounding jobs, some of which require no college education (i.e. insurance, retail, bank teller, low-level marketing, minister). I can also testify that the response rate to my applications is pathetic (not even 5%), and I have strong grades. Just something to think about as you assess the real world value of a UCR degree.
Here's the bottom line: if you know, deep down, that you're good enough to handle life at one of the four respected UCs -- Berkeley, LA, San Diego, Davis -- yet for whatever reason just didn't qualify the first time (maybe you were like me: too immature in high school to care about academics), I strongly advise taking a second stab via community college and transferring in. Two colossal benefits exist with this strategy: you save at least $30,000 over two years (borderline free tuition + free rent from mom), and your chances of admission go way up, because CC transfers get distinctly higher priority than inter-UC transfers. Yes, it will feel geeky for two years, but trust me, it's ten trillion times smarter than staining your resume and reputation for life with a mark like "RIVERSIDE" just so you can tell your quickly-forgotten high school peers that you got into some college.Do yourself a favor: think long-term. The "R" in UCR is known to stand for rejects, or retards, for a reason.