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The Whole "CSU vs. UC" Dilemma


Full Member
5+ Year Member
Aug 25, 2012
  1. Pre-Dental
As of late, I've been seeing more and more posts on these forums asking whether or not a student should choose to attend a CSU or UC campus for their undergraduate education and which will give them a "better" chance of getting into a professional (dental) school. As someone who went to a CSU for undergrad and is attending a UC for dental school, and as someone who has a sibling who attended a UC for both undergrad and medical school I think I have a pretty realistic perspective on the pros and cons of both systems. Anyone else who has anything to add please do so! Let's get started......

First and foremost, the common misconception that it's difficult to get into a dental school from a CSU simply stems from the fact that a fraction of CSU students APPLY to dental school compared to UC students. If you're lucky enough to interview at UCLA and UCSF for dental school, they will both tell you that they have fewer CSU than UC students simply because they have fewer CSU than UC applicants. If you look at the more important statistic, the acceptance RATE, you will see that the ratio of enrollee's to applicants between CSU and UC students is much more similar than common perception would have you believe.

In my own personal experience, given a chance to do-over my undergraduate education I would choose the CSU again 10 times out of 10 and here's why:

- Simply put - CSU's focus on high-quality instruction. In my biology degree, I NEVER had a course not taught by a full-time faculty with a PhD. Many of these faculty had their PhD's from Ivy League campuses, UC's and other prestigious universities, and because the CSU's focus far more on teaching the students than on research I feel that I learned a tremendous amount more than I would have at a UC. My teachers knew many of their students by name and were always available to talk in office hours. According to my many friends and sister who attended UC campuses this was definitely not the case - their classes were often huge, taught by grad assistants and they had a hard time forming meaningful relationships with faculty. Think about which option will be more beneficial when it comes time to get high-quality LOR's.

- The UC's are more "prestigious" than the CSU's because they bring in so much more money for research and other activities. This can be good and bad - and from an undergraduate perspective it's definitely more bad than good. The UC's attract plenty of talented masters and doctoral candidates, and often times their extensive resources go more towards helping them produce publications than it does to the quality of instruction in undergraduate courses. Because the UC's have so many prestigious graduate students, it's hard to get real hands-on research experience at a UC campus. This is definitely not the case at a CSU - we don't offer many PhD's and as a result, undergrads are often leaned on to do more hands-on research work than they would at a UC campus. Again, think about how this will impact your application.

All of that being said, there are certainly some distinct advantages to attending a UC for undergrad. First and foremost, some of the bigger UC's offer a much more fun "college experience" than the CSU's (minus SDSU of course). UCLA, Cal, UCSD, and UCSB all come to mind when I think of having a great undergraduate experience, and what they can provide in terms of having fun as an undergraduate is far more than most CSU's can offer you. In fact, a number of CSU campuses are primarily commuter schools with a large number of older and "non-traditional" students more focused on their own lives than enjoying the college experience like most 18-22 year olds would want to do.

I think another glaring difference between the CSU's and the UC's is that the AVERAGE UC student is far superior to the average student at a CSU and I think that plays a large role in the perception of why it's hard to get into dental school from a CSU. This can be both good and bad depending upon your personal point of view. In all honesty, you will be around many more bright, motivated, and competitive students at a UC than you would at a CSU. This could either fuel you to strive harder, or make it more difficult for you to stand out in a positive way. On the other hand, attend a CSU as a really motivated student (like I'm sure most of you that are on these forums are) it can be much easier to succeed and build a great resume for your applications.

All in all, if you're thinking about attending a CSU vs. a UC for undergrad I would strongly urge you to consider a CSU. In my opinion (and personal experience), as an undergraduate you will get a more personalized education and you will get it while paying about 30% of what you would at a UC (DO NOT UNDERESTIMATE THE COST). You will have to sacrifice a lot of the fun you may have at a cool UC campus with a real college environment but I think in the long run it would be worth it.
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Full Member
5+ Year Member
Dec 16, 2011
If you do well at a CSU school, with a strong GPA, you will be able to get into dental school no problem. Dental schools admissions do NOT care what university you went to. Going to a UC school will not add extra points to your application. Dental school admissions do NOT rank universities. Going to a UC school is not going to give the student's application an upper advantage over a CSU student. If you don't believe me, go ahead and call the admissions office of any dental school and ask them if they favor UC schools over CSU school - there is your answer - they will say no. (However, there is a difference between community college and university - please do keep this in mind. The majority of your credits should be from university, not community college).

I have the utmost respect for students who go to either a UC or CSU school.

@HaverfoodsDDS - what you said about the graduate students teaching undergraduate lecture classes at UC schools is wrong. A lecture course at a UC school is taught by a professor who often is tenured faculty and does have a Ph.D. I think that you might be mistakenly referring to discussion sections. Discussion sections are usually one hour sections OUTSIDE of lecture where graduate students (called TA) teach a small group of students from the larger lecture class. Students at UC schools usually attend the weekly discussion sections that correspond to the main lecture.

Another HUGE difference between a UC school and CSU school is the research. 90% of UC students engage in some type of research. It is very easy to find a good research professor/position at a UC school - because UC schools are research-based institutions. However, only the top 10% of students at a CSU school are able to find a research position. It is very difficult to find a good research position at a CSU school. - And remember - on the application into dental school or medical school - there is an entire section that allows you to list your research in college - research is HUGELY important when applying into dental/medical school.
Last edited:


Full Member
7+ Year Member
Apr 12, 2011
  1. Dentist
Actually, the research section on aadsas is a very small part of the application.
I forgot how many lines were given, but it wasn't much.

I did 3 years worth of research and had multiple publications. This was only brought up at one of my interviews. Interpret it anyway you want.

I highly doubt 90% of any campus is engaged in research tbh. Even at places like MIT or cal tech. I don't know where you're getting your numbers.

I too attended a csu and had a great experience. I mainly did it for financial reasons, and would make the same decision if I had to do it all over
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