Campus Overview

About UC Santa Cruz

The University of California, Santa Cruz, was founded in 1965 as a bold experiment in higher education, blossoming in short time into a global research university and a creative powerhouse. 

A campus with world-class facilities and one of the most visually spectacular settings in higher education, UC Santa Cruz offers rigorous academic programs and cutting-edge research opportunities that guide students in how to think, not what to think.

United by the pursuit of social and environmental justice and driven by passion and curiosity, our students, faculty, staff, and alumni innovate across disciplines, seek to push the envelope of knowledge, and deploy their expertise and voice to advocate for transformative change. We are bold in our ideas, determined in our pursuits, and distinguished for our societal impact.

From 652 students in 1965, the campus has grown to its current (2020–21) enrollment of more than 17,000 students. Undergraduates pursue bachelor's degrees in 66 different majors supervised by divisional deans of arts, engineering, humanities, physical and biological sciences, and social sciences. Graduate students work toward graduate certificates, master's degrees, or doctoral degrees in 64 academic programs under the supervision of the divisional and graduate deans.

Undergraduate academic life and the residential colleges

All undergraduates, whether they live on campus or off, are affiliated with one of the UC Santa Cruz colleges (Cowell, Stevenson, Crown, Merrill, Porter, Kresge, Oakes, Rachel Carson, Nine, and Ten [transitioning to John R. Lewis College in spring 2022]). Students may take classes in any number of colleges and academic units throughout the campus; core courses within each college provide a common academic base for first-year and transfer students.

In addition to their coursework on campus, many UC Santa Cruz students participate in fieldwork or field study programs. Off-campus internships are an integral part of programs in community studies, economics, environmental studies, health sciences, Latin American and Latino studies, psychology, and teacher education. Visit the UC Santa Cruz Career Center for more information about academic field study programs, as well as other available internships off campus..

Students also can arrange to study at other UC campuses, at the University of New Hampshire or the University of New Mexico, in Sacramento, in Washington, D.C., or at host institutions affiliated with the UC Education Abroad Program.

At the conclusion of work in their major, all UCSC seniors must pass a comprehensive examination or, in some majors, complete a senior thesis or equivalent body of work.

Expanding programs in graduate studies

Graduate study began at UC Santa Cruz in 1966 with programs in astronomy, biology, and history of consciousness, a program that combines the humanistic disciplines with links to the social sciences, natural sciences, and arts. In 1967, the campus introduced graduate programs in chemistry, literature, and Earth & planetary sciences.

Today, UC Santa Cruz offers graduate study in 64 different advanced-degree programs. Please see the Graduate Studies website for additional information.

Expanding programs in engineering

Founded in 1997, the Jack Baskin School of Engineering is growing rapidly, with globally recognized graduate programs and highly sought-after undergraduate majors.

Born in the age of the internet, the engineering school envisions a world elevated by bold and socially responsible innovation. Leading in the areas of health engineering, climate and sustainability, machine learning, artificial intelligence, games, human computer interaction, materials, devices, instruments, computing, and engineering math, Baskin Engineering offers 13 undergraduate and 17 graduate programs in 6 departments: Applied Mathematics, Biomolecular Engineering, Computational Media, Computer Science and Engineering, Electrical and Computer Engineering, and Statistics.

Baskin Engineering programs include the world recognized UC Santa Genomics Institute, home to biomedical engineers who first assembled, and recently completed, the human genome. The school’s computer game design major is ranked in the top 10 undergraduate degree programs, and top 20 graduate programs. The school is committed to inclusive excellence, with innovative efforts in place to support its diverse students. Among the affiliated faculty, dozens hold fellowships in organizations such as The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, the National Academy of Engineering, the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence, the International Society for Computation, and the National Academy of Inventors.

In addition to the exemplary teaching, research, and student experiences on the residential campus in Santa Cruz, Baskin Engineering facilities at the Westside Research Park in Santa Cruz host the Genomics Institute, Smart Power, and Materials Science programs. Our Silicon Valley campus, located in Santa Clara, is home to faculty and Ph.D. students conducting innovative research, and professional master's programs that serve the surrounding technology industry. And the school’s drone-based research and training is centered at the Monterey Bay Education, Science and Technology center, a developing hub for community engagement and research partnerships in Marina, California.

World-class research and grant funding

In conjunction with graduate teaching and intellectual inquiry, the campus is home to three Organized Research Units: the Genomics Institute, Institute of Marine Sciences, and Santa Cruz Institute for Particle Physics. The University of California Observatories/Lick Observatory is a Multicampus Research Unit headquartered at UC Santa Cruz. UC's Institute of Geophysics and Planetary Physics (IGPP), a Multicampus Research Unit, includes a branch on the UCSC campus established in 1999.

UC Santa Cruz also is one of several UC campuses sponsoring the Institute for Quantitative Biosciences (QB3), and the Center for Information Technology Research in the Interest of Society (CITRIS), two of the California Institutes for Science and Innovation established in 2000–02. The research programs website has more details and a complete list of research groups.

Over the years, UC Santa Cruz researchers in these units have been generously supported by contracts and grants — speaking to the value of their research activities. In the past five years (2011–12 through 2015–16), support in this form totaled $680 million.

Private support

The 10 UC Santa Cruz undergraduate colleges — each a separate community with its own buildings and administration — are built around a core of shared university facilities. These include the main and science/engineering libraries, performing arts buildings, visual arts studios, classrooms, computer facilities, and a complex of highly specialized buildings for the physical and biological sciences, and for engineering. Both the east and west sides of the campus feature athletic facilities.

Donors provided significant private funds — gifts to the campus valued more than $75 million in 2015–16 — to build or enhance academic, student-life, and other facilities at the campus, as well as fund programs, research, and scholarships.

In the fall of 2013, the campus publicly announced its first-ever comprehensive fundraising campaign. The effort raised more than $335 million, surpassing the $300 million goal in 2016, well before its planned conclusion on June 30, 2017.  

Architectural history

The campus was planned by architect John Carl Warnecke and landscape architect Thomas Church. Ralph Rapson designed the original Theater Arts Center. Antoine Predock of Albuquerque was the architect for the award-winning Music Center, and SRG Partnership of Portland, Oregon, for the Seymour Center at Long Marine Lab. The Engineering 2 building, which was dedicated in fall 2004, won a merit award for design from the American Institute of Architects, Los Angeles Chapter. Anshen + Allen Los Angeles was the architect for Engineering 2.

The architects for the residential colleges were as follows: Cowell — Wurster, Bernardi & Emmons; Stevenson — Joseph Esherick & Associates; Crown — Ernest J. Kump Associates; Merrill — Campbell Wong & Associates and Wong & Brocchini; Porter — Hugh Stubbins and Associates; Kresge — MLTW/Moore-Turnbull; Oakes — McCue, Boone & Tomsick; Rachel Carson College — Simon Martin-Vegue Winkelstein Moris; College Nine and John R. Lewis College — Esherick Homsey Dodge and Davis.

Institutional growth and academic opportunity

UC Santa Cruz is increasing both its enrollment and resources and diversifying its educational and research opportunities. The campus considers and adds new academic programs when desirable and feasible. Its physical growth is guided by the 2021 Long-Range Development Plan, which the UC Regents approved in September 2021.

The campus has begun or undergone a number of construction projects in recent years, including renewing Kresge College and the Science and Engineering Library, and completing major upgrades to the campus bike path. A restored and updated Quarry Amphitheater reopened in fall 2017.

In 2016, UC Santa Cruz established its Silicon Valley Campus, a multidisciplinary teaching and research hub that is home to a master’s degree program in games and playable media, engineering faculty,  SVLink incubator-accelerator program, the office of Industry Alliances and Technology Commercialization, UCSC Silicon Valley Extension, and UC Scout.