Studying Abroad

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USA Study Advice & Tips 8 - California!

Wed 13 Jul 2016

California is the top study destination in the United States, and for good reason.  California has had a huge influence on global popular culture due to being the birthplace of the film industry, and also has a huge economy centered on technology, finance and the health sciences.  California as a state alone would be the world’s 6th largest economy. 

I have often talked about this element of practical learning throughout my blogs – as I remain firm in my belief that American companies are second to none around the world.  And the data backs this up.  So if students and families are like mine was – short on finances but long on practicality (get a good job and pay me back) then the US becomes a premier destination.  Whether it is banks or hotels or fashion or technology or the sciences – America is the place to get work experience and parlay that into a good job upon graduation.  The extended Optional Practical Training ‘OPT’ duration to 36 months for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics majors is a key part of this.  This means that students studying these ‘STEM’ majors can stay and work full-time after graduation for up to three years.  This is key to building a career.

Northern California – Geography and Technology

I opted to move West after studying at Boston College to explore a different way of living.  Dynamic, diverse, thriving – the San Francisco Bay Area is the center of America’s creativity and advancement.  I lived there for five years and it is still my favorite place on the planet. 

Sacramento is the state capital in the Northern part of the state, with the North also being home to Lake Tahoe and the famous mountains bordering the state of Nevada.  The inland Central Valley part of the state is a key agricultural and fruit production location in America. San Francisco is the economic and cultural hub of Northern California.  There are actually 3 cities – San Francisco, Oakland and San Jose – that form the ‘Bay Area’ and makes it the fifth most populous city in the nation with almost 9 million people. 

The lifestyle is high – as the Bay Area is known for its geographic beauty, constant moderate temperatures, and diversity.  The city consistenly ranks at the top of US livability rankings and surveys.  The Bay Area is known for its ‘micro-climates’.  In the city of San Francisco itself, it can often be windy and foggy as moisture blows off the bay and shrouds the famous Golden Gate Bridge.  Oakland, in the East Bay can be 20 degrees Fahrenheit warmer on a summer day with San Jose and Silicon Valley another five degrees warmer.  Then head north to Napa Valley, known for its well-known wine country, and it will be 35 degrees warmer than San Francisco.  In all, the sun is shining most all of the time and the whole area is beautiful.

San Francisco’s economy has continued to diversify and move towards high tech, biotechnology and medical research.  Technology jobs accounted for just 1% of San Francisco’s economy in 1990 and has now risen to nearly 10%.  Everything happens in the Bay Area and Silicon Valley – the technology and startup capital of the universe.  Silicon Valley comprises the area between San Francisco and San Jose to the South and is home to iconic tech companies like Google, Apple, Cisco, Pixar, Facebook, Oracle, HP, Logitech, Adobe……and many, many more. 

So it’s safe to say as a student interested in computer science, technology or even things like video game design, programming or cinematic animation and the arts, this is the place to be.  I firmly believe that location is one of the most important and underrated aspects to choosing a school, and this is especially true in America.  Practicality! 

Beyond just computing and tech, the Bay Area is a huge center for sciences.  Particularly, biotechnology/biomedical companies and laboratories.  Genentech, Kosan, Gilead and Chiron are large employers of workers.  Aerospace is also a massive industry requiring expertise and college graduates at companies like AE, General Dynamics, Lockheed Martin and Northrup Grumman.  Yes, the Bay Area is home to the hip and fashionable too.  Levi’s Jeans and the Gap were started here.  Dark suits?  That formal business attire is more for New York City!

Southern California – Geography and Entertainment

Southern California, or SoCal for short, is all about entertainment and media.  Los Angeles, or just LA, is home to the motion picture, television and music industries.  Look for the big white Hollywood sign in the hills.  Headquartered in SoCal are The Walt Disney Company, Sony Pictures, Universal, MGM, Paramount Pictures, 20th Centry Fox and Warner Brothers.  This does include the countless smaller music and media companies! 

Endless sunshine and palm trees cover the hills and valleys of SoCal.  The beaches are perfect and this weather is reflected in the city’s cool and laid-back atmosphere.  All of the support industries to the media companies above thrive too – arts, fashion, make-up design, music…anything creative.  People sometimes forget that these creative fields are home to huge businesses too – so I am often fond of asking students:  “So what industry appeals to you the most?”  Most students want to study business, like me, but they often don’t think enough about what type of business they want to work in.  All businesses, even Apple or Walt Disney, need finance, marketing, strategy and accounting. 

California State University

California State University is a public university system in California which has 23 campuses and over 450,000 students, making it the largest four-year public university system in the United States.  It is one of three public higher education systems in the state, along with the University of California system and the California Community Colleges System.  With locations in all of the major cities in California such as San Jose, San Francisco, San Diego, Long Beach, East Bay and Fullerton, CSU gives students plenty of options in location and major choices. 

The first year ONCAMPUS program is located at Cal State University – Monterey Bay.  CSUMB is a one of the smallest and newest campuses located in a beautiful area right on the Pacific Ocean coast.  Less than two hours from San Francisco and less than an hour from San Jose and Silicon Valley, CSUMB is a good spot for those students looking to enter into the massive state of California and the CSU system.  The small supportive program guides international students into American study life and students then progress straight into Year 2 at CSUMB or it is possible to move within the CSU system after two years to another location.  As you would expect, CSUMB is extremely strong in biology (Monterey Bay has a huge, world famous aquarium), computer science and cinematic arts and technology.  With reasonable tuiton fees of $25,000 and scholarships available this is rapidly becoming a very popular entry choice for international students. 

I hope this gives you a bit of an overview on California and its appeal to international students.  Next time I will focus on another large and important state in America – Texas. 

Until then,


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