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Apr 23 2017
by Jessica Vuong

A Freshman's Guide to the University of California, Davis

By Jessica Vuong - Apr 23 2017
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When someone mentions UC Davis, most people's minds tend to think of cows, squirrels or wonder what an "Aggie" is (it stands for "agriculture," by the way). I promise you that UC Davis is much more than just cows and grass. The University of California, Davis is the largest UC campus, abundant with bikes, friendly people and student organizations. Here's some knowledge to help you navigate your way through the next four years of your life!

1. Bicycling 101: The Bike Barn and TAPS

Jessica Vuong

When you first arrive on campus, it might seem like half the school is taken up by bikes and the other half by people. No matter where you're standing on campus, if you take a look around yourself, you will be able to spot a bike. Being the biggest UC campus, UC Davis is known for its bike culture and small town feel. Davis' wide streets and extensive bike network of bike racks throughout the city is catered to bicyclists.  If you're planning on attending UC Davis, you don't have to feel pressured to get a bike, although I do recommend one because it becomes really useful when you have back-to-back classes that aren't within walking distance of each other. Since UC Davis is quite large, it would be beneficial to get used to the campus map so that searching for your classes goes smoothly.

Once you and your shiny new bike arrive on campus, don't forget to register to get a bike license. Yes, you will need a California bicycle license because that's how seriously UC Davis takes their biking system! You can obtain one for $12.00 at TAPS (Transportation and Parking Services) and it will last you a solid three years. TAPS is also the place to go if you need commute options, a parking permit or anything else related to transportation.

The Bike Barn is like the campus bike hospital. If you're ever in need of bike touch ups, repairs, replacement parts or accessories to spruce up your ride, the Bike Barn has it all. Each bike service requires a decently priced fee and should be done on the same day or the next. UC Davis also has a bunch of bike pumps and repair stations sporadically located around campus so you never have to worry about having a bumpy ride.

2. Student Housing: Segundo, Tercero and Cuarto

Jessica Vuong

The UC Davis student housing dorms are separated into three areas, with Segundo and Tercero being on campus and Cuarto being slightly off campus. Segundo, Tercero and Cuarto each have their corresponding dining commons in their housing area (although Cuarto is rumored to have the best food out of the three). When applying for student housing, you have the option to choose which of these three areas you'd like to live in and your special preferences (e.g., female roommate, co-ed building, quiet noise levels, etc.). Choosing a roommate, or roommates, can be a stressful process but the UC Davis housing application makes this easier by matching you up with potential roomies based on your preferences.

Let's start off with Segundo. I lived here my freshman year and absolutely loved it because it was close to my classes, close to the ARC (Activities and Recreation Center) and near the Memorial Union/Bookstore. Segundo is further split up into its individual residence hall buildings, which you will be assigned to based on your specific preferences. Segundo is near The Junction, which is a little convenient store in the center of the dorm buildings, right next to the Segundo Services Center, where dorm residents go for printing, checking the mail and peer advising.

On to Tercero, most students who choose to live in this area are science majors because the buildings surrounding Tercero are the chemistry, engineering and biology facilities. Tercero is set up like Segundo, with its own dining commons, services center and Trudy's convenience store. It's also very easy to spot since its buildings are bright hues of yellow, orange and brown, making it look like it came out of a children's book. Another perk of living in Tercero is that it is close to the Arboretum so for those of you who love nature, you can talk long walks along the many trails and waterways while befriending the squirrels you're bound to run into. While Segundo has the Memorial Union close by, Tercero has the Silo, which is a barn turned into an eatery.

Cuarto is a little isolated from Segundo and Tercero in that it is slightly off campus, but a short bike or bus ride will get you to and from Cuarto and campus in no time. Same as Segundo and Tercero, Cuarto has its own dining commons with it's convenience store, Crossroads, right next door. To compensate for it being slightly off campus, Cuarto has on-site pools and spas for times when school gets overwhelming. 

3. Aggie Cash, Meal Swipes and the Dining Commons

Jessica Vuong

So now that you know your living space choices, it's time to get to the important part: food. Each of the three dining commons operate the same way in that you will swipe your ID card to enter and after that, it's basically like an all you can eat buffet. First things first, the dining commons (DC) uses meal swipes, which you purchase when you're filling out your student housing application. You have these options on how many swipes you want loaded in your ID card each quarter. Each meal plan automatically comes attached with $100 Aggie Cash, but you can add more Aggie Cash to your meal plan if desired. Think of Aggie Cash in your ID card like a debit card. Aggie Cash can be used in most locations on campus, such as the convenient stores, the campus Starbucks, the Memorial Union Coffee House, the Silo and several food trucks parked on campus. A benefit of using Aggie Cash is that you get 10% off your total purchase. Aside from Aggie Cash, meal swipes can be used in the Silo, DC, convenient stores and some food trucks. A meal swipe is worth $5.00 so if you buy a meal that's under $5.00, a simple swipe would do the trick.

4. Classes and Academic Advising

Kevin Tong via Flickr Creative Commons

UC Davis offers a wide variety of classes, from Dinosaurs to Beer Brewing to Coffee Brewing (which I took my freshman year and highly recommend if you enjoy making and tasting coffee). With the many course options that UC Davis offers, it's easy to feel confused about what classes you should take for your major and which classes to choose for fun. Let's break down the class choosing process step by step!

Let's start off with the UC Davis general catalog, which is a collection of all the courses offered during various quarters, what requirements they satisfy and a little overview about what the course entails. It can take some time understanding which requirements satisfy what, but don't worry because your orientation leaders will go very in depth about this during orientation. 

So you've decided what courses you'd like to take. Now what? It's time to go on Schedule Builder to register for your classes. Once again, your orientation leaders will take you through the entire class choosing process during your orientation, but here's a little overview. Schedule Builder allows you to build your schedule and see how all the classes come together. It also allows you to see how many seats are available, how many units the course is worth, who the professor is and all the other fun little details. The very first time you register for classes will be with your orientation leader during orientation, so everything should go smoothly. After that, usually in the middle of each quarter, you will be assigned a pass time, which is a time slot for you to log on to Schedule Builder and register for your classes for the upcoming quarter. After everyone's initial pass time passes, there will be open registration hours so you can log back in to adjust your schedule if you're not happy with it. After that, there will be a Pass 2 for more schedule adjustments and waitlisting options.

Jessica Vuong

UC Davis goes by the quarter system, which means you will have a new schedule every three months, for fall, winter and spring quarter. When the new quarter begins, you will have the option to drop a class during the 10-day drop mark or the 20-day drop mark depending on what your specific class allows. The reasons for students dropping classes are that they got into a different class they waitlisted for or they feel that the class they signed up for is not suitable for them. Most students take time during the first week of school to audit classes and drop or swap classes based on how they feel about the course and instructor. When it comes to dropping classes, keep in mind these following details. In order to be considered a full-time student and to be eligible for financial aid, you need to be enrolled in at least 12 units per quarter. To meet minimum progress for the year, you need to have completed at least 39 units in a year. Technically speaking, enrolling in the minimum 12 units each of the three quarters won't get you to a minimum progress of 39 units per year. When constructing your schedule, pace out your planned courses and how many units they're worth so that you meet the requirements.

UC Davis uses Canvas for uploading grades, turning in assignments, professor announcements and assigning course work. OASIS is a site for you to check up on your academic progress, grades, GPA and to put in any academic request forms. This brings me to the next important point: go to academic advising for your major! Each major or college division has their own peer advising services where you can get help planning what classes to take to satisfy your requirements and graduate on time. This is an extremely helpful resource and I recommend everyone to try it (even if you know which classes you want to take) just for an academic check-up and a little guidance. 

5. Navigating through Town: Unitrans, Safe Ride and Tipsy Taxi

Jessica Vuong

Unitrans is the UC Davis public transportation system and is very easy to spot because the buses are shiny and bright red! Unitrans has two campus pick up and drop off locations, one at the Memorial Union and the other at the Silo. The buses circle around Downtown, North, South, East and West Davis to bring students to and from campus. Unitrans is free for all UC Davis students, by showing your ID to the driver when getting on the bus. You can access the bus schedule through the Unitrans site or by downloading the NextBus app. If you're planning on living off-campus and commuting to school (because UC Davis does not require first year students to live in the dorms), then getting the NextBus app is a definite must. In the case that the buses are slightly off schedule, the NextBus app gives you the schedule in real time so you can make sure you get to where you need to be.

Safe Ride is a service set up by the UC Davis police department, which offers you rides to and from campus to provide you an alternative to walking alone or walking at night. This is a great service to use if you don't feel safe walking by yourself after late classes or if you and your friends need a ride late at night. Think of Safe Ride like the university's super safe (and free) Uber system. Just download the TapRide app to request a ride whenever necessary. The TapRide app also lets you access another great UC Davis service: Tipsy Taxi. The name itself is pretty explanatory; it's like Safe Ride but for those who have had a bit too much to drink. This service is offered every Thursday, Friday and Saturday night, and charges a flat rate of $3.00 per customer. 

6. The Memorial Union, CoHo and Silo

Jessica Vuong

The Memorial Union (MU), sometimes called The Quad, is usually where all the major events take place, such as Picnic Day, career fairs, the Powwow, etc. It's also where the CoHo (Coffee House) and MU Bookstore are located. The CoHo doesn't only serve coffee, but sells a wide variety of cuisines as well. With an aesthetically pleasing interior and an upstairs patio, the CoHo is the perfect place for grabbing a bite to eat while you wait for your next class. 

The MU Bookstore was recently renovated and is now bigger and better than ever. You can buy everything from phone cases to stuffed animals to jewelry to MacBooks. The MU Bookstore's downstairs department is where you go to rent, buy and return your textbooks at the beginning and end of each quarter. The Bookstore has an endless supply of Aggie merch, and each first Friday of every month, the Bookstore has their Aggie Pride First Friday Special where you get 25% off any UC Davis imprinted clothing. Time to stock up on oversized UC Davis hoodies!

The Silo has a rich history in that it was one of the first buildings built on UC Davis ground and was originally a Dairy Barn until it was later converted into an eatery. Within the Silo, you can find food services like Taco Bell, Pizza Hut, Carl's Jr., a legit French crepe cart and Starbucks, which has a crazy long line at all times during the day. 

7. Shields Library, Eggheads and Weird Art

Jessica Vuong

There are several small libraries located around campus, but the biggest and nicest library is Shields Library, the main campus library. Shields Library is a huge, brightly lit building with numerous study spots and cubicles to get comfortable in. This is the place to go when you need to pull an all-nighter (there's a 24-hour study room), rent books, or look at art. Yes, Shields Library actually has quite a unique collection of art ranging from food sculptures to a map collection. If you're ever tired of studying all day in the library, refresh your eyes with some aesthetically pleasing and mind stimulating art. In fact, the entrance to Shields Library is where the infamous "Bookhead" sculpture of an egghead with its nose inside a book lies. Speaking of eggheads, there are actually five sets of egghead sculptures scattered around campus. Next time you're visiting campus or searching for classes, see if you can track down all the eggheads!

8. Student Facilities and Recreation

Wikimedia Commons

UC Davis offers a variety of student facilities, so let's start off with the the ARC. The ARC (Activities and Recreation Center) is located near Segundo. Within the ARC, you have Starbucks, the gym, the Aggie gift shop, a study lounge, a rock climbing wall and locker rooms. Admission and usage of the workout areas are free for students. For a small fee, you can sign up for ARC classes to learn dancing, martial arts, rock climbing and even personal training. If you're not the type of person to workout in a gym, go run a trail at the Arboretum. The Arboretum is located at the South end of campus and is 100-acres of beautiful nature. With flower gardens, waterways and a wide collection of plants, the Arboretum is basically a giant scientific research center. Students come here for certain science classes, for research projects, or simply for picnics and romantic dates.

Working out at the ARC or taking a peaceful walk in the Arboretum are excellent ways to destress from overwhelming course work, but if you need that extra push towards relaxation, make an appointment at The Mind Spa. The Mind Spa is located at two locations on campus, one near the MU and the other in the Student Health and Wellness Center which is a little past the ARC. With an appointment, both of these locations offer massaging recliners, chair massages done by a massage therapist and peer support. What if their schedule is all booked up? Head over to the The Quad and chill out on one of the many hammocks located on the grass field. On special occasions throughout the quarter, UC Davis will have Therapy Fluffies at the MU, a free event where you can go play with a group of dogs. It's as simple as that!

9. Exploring Davis: The U-Mall and Downtown Davis

Jessica Vuong

Contrary to popular belief, there are actually many fun things to do in UC Davis besides cow-tipping. The University Mall (U-Mall) is across the street from the edge of campus and features Trader Joe's, Starbucks, Forever 21, Sno-Crave Teahouse, Rite Aid, a gas station and a bunch of food places. With its close proximity to campus and its super close proximity to the Segundo dorms, take a short walk to the U-Mall to satisfy those late night food cravings.

Jessica Vuong

If I were to describe Downtown Davis in one word, it would be: LIT. Because, at night, Downtown Davis is literally lit with string lights around trees and along buildings. Downtown Davis is a treat all in itself. It's home to the Farmer's Market and numerous boutiques, cafes, restaurants and bookstores. The Farmer's Market is held every Wednesday during the Fall and Spring quarters and features locally grown fruits and vegetables along with food booths, art vendors and musicians. I'd be lying if I said that you don't experience Gilmore Girl vibes as you walk through downtown, where the shops and cafes have a warm, small town feel to them. 

Now that you're well equipped with all the knowledge you need to have the time of your life at UC Davis, the only thing left for you to do is get excited. Your first year in college is a time where you'll learn a lot about yourself and your capabilities. It's also a chance for you to grow and experience new things. I've really enjoyed my time at UC Davis so far and I know that all you incoming freshmen will too!

Lead Image Credit: Jessica Vuong



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Jessica Vuong - University of California, Davis

Jessica is currently attending UC Davis and majoring in Managerial Economics. She was vice-president of teensReach, a community service organization, and has competed in several SJPL art & design contests. She loves coffee, sarcasm, and rainy weather. Follow her on instagram: @jsscvng | pinterest: jessvjess | VSCO: jessvjess

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