UC Santa Barbara: To Party or Not to Party?

Having students who now attend every major college in Southern California, I decided to stay two nights at UC Santa Barbara. My primary goal was to show one of my current students around, but also to personally investigate the extent of the party reputation the school is known for. Here’s what I found.


Isla Vista: The Heart of the Party

Also known as IV, Isla Vista is a square mile that looks to be imported from Bourbon Street, New Orleans. During the day, there wasn’t much happening in IV, as many students were either asleep in their apartments or in class just a block away. But at night, IV came to life. As I enjoyed my ice cream sandwich over conversation with my students at IV Drip, a local favorite, a man in his mid twenties took a seat beside us. Glassy eyed and unknown to us all, he began to talk, but it was evident to all of us he was drunk, high, or a combination of both.

This summed up the first night at UCSB. I later learned that this was a quiet night, as the new semester was just getting started. However, all that would change during Deltopia, an annual unsanctioned street party that I had the privilege of experiencing during my time there. With thousands of students jampacked on a half-mile stretch overlooking the beach, I learned how UCSB had earned its reputation. The skunk-like scent of marijuana, open beer bottles, and the sheer lack of clothing for the sake of tank tops and bikinis. As I admired the clifftop view of the ocean, I looked over my shoulder to see the second student I had witnessed being arrested. There were, after all, a collection of police officers every 10 yards, the only eyesore in the Hollywood-like scene borrowed straight out of the Neighbors.

But Not All Students Party Hard

In fact, most students at UCSB choose to stay away from IV. Like every school or workplace environment, 10% of students try, 10% of students don’t, and then you have everyone in between. From my conversations with other students and alumni during the trip, roughly 80-90% of the student population chooses to take a pass on the IV antics in order to go hiking, spend time with friends downtown or at the beach, or explore other regions of SoCal.

As UCSB alumnus and a close friend of mine puts it, you don’t have to go to IV. As an avid volleyball player and now a kickball enthusiast, she spent most of her time focused on studies in the school’s prominent Biology program, and today, she is employed at one of the many startups blooming in Santa Barbara. Like many other students I spoke with, in fact, she experienced IV during her Freshman year and said that was enough. The beers, the bikinis, and the balconies got old. Really fast.

Furthermore, the school is investing heavily in its student body and infrastructure, especially for its popular programs. There is now a brand new Biology building, which rivals any I’ve seen in my campus visits around the nation, and there are signs of construction all around campus. At the same time, the school isn’t known for being a hardcore study environment, as it offers social gatherings like music concerts to allow students to unite and engage together.

The Verdict

It is what you make it. For those who know they want a party, UCSB is heaven on Earth, but for those looking for strong programs and an intelligent student body, UCSB offers great balance. In fact, the school recently outranked even UCSD, which was enough to raise a few eyebrows from the parent community. All in all, I recommend UCSB for students who have self control and are looking for a life outside of just school.


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