LLM GUIDE Focus on Student Life: California

Beyond the beaches: Essential information for California-bound LL.M. students.

While popular conceptions of California conjure up images of earthquakes, movie stars, and bleached-blond hair, peeling back those stereotypes reveals diverse metropolitan areas and global seats of technology, industry, and international trade. And of course, there are the beaches!

Covering almost 5,000 square miles, the Los Angeles area can feel overwhelming because of its vastness. But to simplify things, one can think of it as a collection of unique neighborhoods. Near UCLA there are the high-rise apartment buildings of Westwood or the foamy surf of Santa Monica. Closer to the University of Southern California (USC) are the bohemian districts of Echo Park and Silverlake; and of course, there’s the celebrated Hollywood.

With this huge variety of areas comes a range in living expenses. UCLA estimates that a student living close to the campus should expect to pay over 1,100 dollars per month for room and board. However, if you have access to a car and a willingness to commute from areas a bit farther away, you can save around $500 a month on rent. But don’t forget to factor in the added cost and stress of driving on those notoriously jammed Southern California highways!

Considering Chapman University? A shared apartment in Orange County (in the southeastern part of the Los Angeles metropolitan area) will run about $300-600 per month, according to the university.

For those seeking culture, the whole Los Angeles area is home to countless art museums, live music venues, and sports venues. On a typical evening, a student could face the impossibly difficult decision of going to a rock concert, a Laker game, or having a nice meal at any one of LA'’s thousands of world-class restaurants. 

To the south, San Diego may feel a bit cozier than Los Angeles, but it still retains much of the metropolitan feel of its big sister. The presence of manufacturing and technology firms make it the fifth-wealthiest city in the United States, according to Forbes.

Still relatively affordable, monthly rent in San Diego —even in areas close to the beach—can be as low as $700. And both the University of San Diego (USD) and Thomas Jefferson School of Law are easily accessible by the city’'s modern mass transit system. Popular neighborhoods for students include the funky, surfer-friendly Pacific Beach, the hip and colorful Hillcrest, and the densely urban North Park.

Those seeking outdoor activities in their spare time will find paradise in San Diego, which has over 70 miles of coastline, easy access to the mountains, as well as places like the world-famous San Diego Zoo. These attractions, coupled with almost perfect year-round weather, provide invigorating (or distracting) diversions from law school life.

Up north

It'’s easy to see why Tony Bennett left his heart in San Francisco – from the Golden Gate Bridge to Pier 39, the city practically glows with culture. Or that just might be all the fiber optic cables: the city’'s proximity to the Silicon Valley makes San Francisco one of the most high-tech cities in the United States.

It’'s also one of California’'s pricier cities – the University of San Francisco (USF) estimates that room and board can add up to over $1,100 a month. Or more: a one-bedroom flat in the chic Sunset District might run more than $1,300. Fortunately, the city has one of the best public transportation systems in the country; and street cars, busses and a light rail system blanket the neighborhoods – so it'’s easy to get around, even without a car.

San Francisco is also home to a world-class symphony, opera, and ballet; as well as a host of film and music festivals, for those looking for some down time from studying.

Berkeley lies just across the bay from San Francisco, but its nearby location belies its differences. Where San Francisco is dense and urban, Berkeley is smaller and maintains more of a natural feel.

It’'s also more affordable than San Francisco: UC Berkeley estimates that off-campus housing and utilities should run about $900 monthly (or cheaper if you look in the nearby communities of Oakland or El Cerrito.) And getting around couldn’t be easier: the entire East Bay area has a fantastic mass transit system (which includes convenient, under-the-bay train access to San Francisco.) Additionally, the typically nice year-round weather and ubiquity of bike paths make bicycling around the East Bay an absolute pleasure-So be sure to budget $100-200 for a used bicycle!

South of San Francisco, the Silicon Valley is home to countless technology behemoths like Google and Intel, as well as first-rate universities, such as Stanford and Santa Clara University. And even though the name of the valley may bring to mind technological artificiality, its varied environments could not be more naturally beautiful. Walking down the tree-lined streets, or watching shorebirds graze one of the valley’s many estuaries, one may completely forget that Hewlett-Packard’'s and Yahoo'’s headquarters are right around the corner.

Stanford makes it easy for students to get on-campus housing, although at a price. The estimated monthly cost of housing for a graduate student living on-campus is about $1,400 a month (including meals.) Off-campus housing can be found in nearby Palo Alto. Santa Clara University also makes allowances for international students to live on-campus, and the estimated cost of room and board is about $1,150 per month. 

For students looking inland, Sacramento may fit the bill. The seat of California’s government, Time magazine has called it “America’'s most diverse city.” Students interested in California history should visit downtown Sacramento’'s cluster of authentic 19th-century buildings turned into shops. Nearby Davis is very student-friendly, with a centralized downtown and 95 miles of bike paths. Best of all, both Davis and Sacramento are more affordable than their coastal counterparts – a room in an apartment can be found for as little as $400.

More practical information:

  • Most international students enter the U.S. on an F-1 visa, which requires a visit to a US embassy. For more information about student visas, click here.
  • Many universities will help incoming international students with the visa process – so make sure you contact the admissions department for information!
  • Craigslist is a popular (and free) place to find off-campus housing, jobs, used furniture, etc. There are different sites for different areas, including the San Francisco Bay Area, Los Angeles, San Diego.

Image: The Golden Gate Bridge and San Francisco, CA at sunset by Rich Niewiroski Jr. / Creative Commons (cropped and rotated)


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