Looking Beneath the Surface, Freshman Finds Superior Experience at UC Merced

Looking Beneath the Surface, Freshman Finds Superior Experience at UC Merced

Jason Castillo is a guy who knows how to look beneath the surface — especially when making an important decision like which university to attend.

"In high school, especially if you're achieving academically and very involved in activities, there's a lot of emphasis on reputation," he said. "Students need to look at what's actually offered and the experience they will have, not just the size and location of a school."

Castillo should know. This tennis player, swimmer, student leader and high school valedictorian with a 4.5 grade point average was accepted at Stanford, UCLA, UC Davis and UC San Diego. He was even offered a Regents' Scholarship at UC Berkeley. He turned them all down to join the 875 founding students at startup UC Merced.

"When I went to admit days at other universities, I realized I would be just one freshman," he explained. "I wanted more opportunities to make myself known and become a leader."

Castillo, a freshman from Clovis majoring in biological sciences, plans to become a doctor and believes his full slate of activities at UC Merced will help him stand out among medical school applicants. "I've been able to help write the student government constitution and become an officer in clubs," he said.

His academic experience is also enhanced by UC Merced's small size and unique dedication to student success. Even when there were difficulties in an organic chemistry lab, Castillo found that the professor was patient and an excellent source for helping him understand the lab.

"This is not as easily found on larger campuses as at UC Merced," he said. "Here, I think the professors actually want you to learn. They have office hours almost every day. Some have given us their cell phone numbers. The classes are small, and we're taught by renowned professors, not teaching assistants."

With almost a full academic year behind him, Castillo is happy with his choice. "UC Merced is a better move for people who want the best college experience," he said.

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