When UC Merced began classes in August, more than 1,000 new students entered campus. Each student has a story to tell; each is unique in his or her own way.
But this year, there are 15 students who stand out from the rest.
Those students are the recipients of UC Merced's Regents Scholarships, the University of California's most prestigious scholarship. Awarded to freshmen or transfers with outstanding academic records and personal achievements, the scholarships are renewable for up to four years.
Regents Scholars at UC Merced receive preferential housing on campus and a gift-aid package of up to $25,000 per year as long as they maintain their academic success.
For Ronald Magpantay, 18, of Norwalk, that brings peace of mind that his time at UC Merced won't come to a premature end.
Basically, it's mine to lose, he said of the scholarship. It's lifted a huge burden from my shoulders to know that I can afford to be here this semester and in semesters to come.
Christa Caneda of Sacramento agrees.
I have a sister attending UC Santa Cruz, and my parents have lost their jobs because of the economy, said Caneda, an 18-year-old freshman microbiology major. Before I received the Regents Scholarship, my mom sat me down to explain that I wouldn't be able to go to a UC. They just couldn't afford it. It's been a godsend for us.
The Regents Scholarship isn't a make-or-break offer for all students. Some scholars were UC-bound no matter what. The scholarship is merely icing on the cake.
Jessica Clayton, 20, of Lincoln, is one such scholar. The mathematical physics major transferred to UC Merced from Sierra College. She was also accepted to UC Davis and UC Berkeley.
The University of California is internationally known for its high standards and all campuses are well respected, she said. I knew I would go to a UC; it was just a question of which one.
Visiting the UC campuses gave her all the information she needed to make her decision.
Classes at Berkeley seemed impersonal with hundreds of students in stadium-like classrooms and little interaction with professors. UC Merced felt more like home.
William Dunbar of Escalon also knew he'd spend his undergraduate career at a UC but wasn't sure which one. His parents didn't have a strong preference toward any campus. They just wanted him to be happy with his choice.
Like many students offered Regents Scholarships, the 18-year-old freshman had a lot of campuses to choose from. He was accepted to every UC campus where he applied. Ultimately, he found himself deciding between UC Berkeley and UC Merced.
Though he admits the extra $3,000 in gift aid UC Merced offered made it a bit more attractive, Dunbar says that it was the campus' atmosphere that sealed the deal for him.
UC Merced has a small-town feel that no other university can match, he said. There's a sense of community here; everybody knows you and everybody cares about you. Being chosen as a Regents Scholar made me feel like UC Merced valued me. I'm not just a number here.
All of the scholars credit campus visits with helping them decide the best university to attend. Prospective students are welcome to attend Preview Day on Oct. 17 for a taste of what life is like at UC Merced. The fall open house is a great way for high school and community college students to check out the university before the priority filing period for fall 2010 begins on Nov. 1.