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Educational Consultant on the Grad to Undergrad Ratio

Mark Montgomery, seasoned college admissions coach and educational consultant, speaks from the campus of the University of California in Santa Barbara about the ambiguity of the graduate/undergraduate ratio of a college’s student body. Dig a little deeper, talk to students, and find out what it really means in practice.


Today I’m here on the campus of the University of California in Santa Barbara. This is one of the nine universities in the University of California system, and a couple of things that differentiate this one: it tends to be one of the most liberal arts-focused of the UC system, but at the same time it’s a major Carnegie One Research University, with a lot of research output, one the top research universities in the country.

It was interesting learning today that there are 22,000 students on this campus and you can see a lot of them, there are just as many bicycles on the campus because this is how people get around on the campus. You can see all the pedestrians have to wait for the bicycles; they have the right of way. So you have 22,000 students here and 19,000 of those are undergraduate students. So only about 3,000 students are graduate students. So it was pointed out to us, both in the information session and in the tour, that that makes Santa Barbara a much different university and it’s really about undergraduates.

That’s definitely true in terms of the numbers. There are some universities, Harvard, for example, is about 65% graduate students and 35% undergraduates. So certainly with about 86% of the students here on this campus being undergraduate, it is an undergraduate-focused university. However, it was interesting also talking to the tour guide about, well, are there graduate students around? And the answer is, of course, yes, there is a Graduate School of Education, but there are graduate students in virtually every department on this campus, whether it’s sociology or biology or chemistry or whatever. And those graduate students, while they may be small in number per department, actually do still play a very important role as teaching assistants and graduate fellows, people who do a lot of the delivery of undergraduate teaching at the university.

Of course, you still have Nobel laureates, there are Nobel laureates here, I think they have six that are active teachers on this campus teaching undergraduate courses, maybe one course a year, maybe if you’re lucky you can get one of those, but it’s still very similar, despite the fact that the numbers are heavily skewed toward the undergraduate population, the structure of the delivery of the educational service, the classes, is still going to be given as a primary teacher, a professor, and then broken into sections for those larger classes, especially for the first couple of years.

So it’s always important when you’re asking, when you’re learning these facts from the admissions office, that well, this is an undergraduate institution, what does that really mean? So make sure that when you’re on a campus and you’re getting this information from these people that you’re actually asking students about their experience. Who is teaching their classes? How many people are actually in the classes that they’re taking? Do they have graduate teaching assistants in their classes on a regular basis? That’s really going to dictate or indicate more of what your experience would be as a student than the shiny, beautiful statistics that you get on the pretty PowerPoint slides in the admissions information session. So look underneath those statistics to try to get a better understanding of what the student experience is really like.

Mark Montgomery
Expert Educational Consultant

Reader Interactions


  1. well said Mark. I have a freshman at princeton with the same “undergraduate focus” in the numbers. I haven’t seen proof of it yet. Perhaps once she chooses her major. I hope so because you are right on with how it effects the student experience. Pretty misleading.

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