How to Succeed at UC San Diego (when you’re already trying)

With a permanent space in Geisel Library, the Teaching + Learning Commons is ready to make a difference for UC San Diego students.

If you think it’s hard to get into UC San Diego, you’re right. Only about one-third of freshman applicants were admitted this past fall, with an average GPA above 4.0. But as any Triton who’s survived a quarter will know, getting in is just the start of the work.

“Students admitted to UC San Diego have robust academic credentials but differ widely in their personal background and classroom experiences. Teaching effectively in the face of this variation is challenging,” says Gabriele Wienhausen, faculty director for the UC San Diego Teaching + Learning Commons, which recently received a permanent space in Geisel Library.

The campus launched the Teaching + Learning Commons in 2015 to improve and advance how we teach and learn. For undergraduate students, access to a suite of learning tools and services helps ensure their success at our campus, and beyond.

Stop by The Commons on most afternoons, and you’ll see a blur of activity. There are tutors—all of them students themselves—working one-on-one with undergraduates seeking help with math and writing, peer-facilitated study groups to boost achievement in challenging courses, and new study coaches being trained to handle the growing influx of students. Since fall, The Commons has booked over 14,000 appointments and visits from students taking advantage of the services.

“We admit smart students,” Wienhausen adds, “and now we have built a structure to continue their success at the university level.”

A big part of that structure relies on students themselves—those who have proven proficient in certain subjects are made available to help their peers. Known as the Supplemental-to-Instruction program, these peer-facilitated study groups are resounding with students who like the approachability and personalized attention.

The program is a complement to all lower-division math courses—courses that a majority of UC San Diego students must pass. Undergraduates who have been successful students in math are trained to be peer facilitation leaders and guide other students in strategies for learning course content.

“It’s not a program for struggling students. It’s a program targeting challenging courses,” says Susan Renaldi, director of the Triton Achievement Hub, which oversees the program.


Beyond the classroom, The Commons uses new, innovative tools developed by UC San Diego that help students make the most of their college experiences. As the first university in the country to offer such resources, UC San Diego created a unique family of four Engaged Learning Tools that is changing the way our campus educates by offering learning opportunities inside and outside the classroom, and by providing a means to showcase the skills employers look for when interviewing candidates.

One of the most exciting new tools is the Co-Curricular Record, which captures activities as part of a student’s official printable transcript, encouraging students to get involved beyond the classroom as they develop transferable skills. An additional tool called the REAL Portal offers an easy way for students to discover such skill-building opportunities, like internships, research projects and international learning experiences in one source.

A novel Enhanced Electronic Transcript combines traditional academic transcripts with course descriptions, instructor information and embedded data. And Portfolium, an online platform developed by UC San Diego alumnus Adam Markowitz ’08, allows students to build and share an online profile that can showcase their varied experiences, skills and work within and beyond the campus.

Be it inside the classroom or out in the world thereafter, the goal of The Commons and its resources is to give students lifelong learning skills and practical tools that help them thrive in a world that is rapidly changing. “Whether their next steps are jobs, graduate schools or other avenues, students need to be critical thinkers who work well in a team, understand diversity and can communicate,” says Wienhausen. “In the end, our most lasting and important impact is on the people we are shaping and growing here.”

Learn more about UC San Diego’s Teaching + Learning Commons at