Is Studying in California Worth It?

portrait of Tessa Cooper
by Tessa Cooper
Published on November 16, 2021

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With scenic beaches, deserts, forests, and cities, California is an appealing place to attend college. Not to mention, this state offers economic opportunity. However, a perfect place does not exist. Factors like the high cost of living and overpopulation may deter some students from relocating to this state.

In this guide, we discuss the pros and cons of moving to the Golden State. We take a look at positive factors like the state's diversity and negative factors, like transportation issues. So is studying in California worth it? Use this information to make a personalized, informed decision.

What Are the Pros of Studying in California?

Excellent Academic Opportunities

Many quality colleges and universities operate in California. The state is known for some of the strongest public college systems in the United States, including the University of California system and California State University system. Private colleges such as Stanford and the California Institute of Technology are also popular options for students around the country.

The state hosts forward-thinking and popular programs. Historically, California has been known as an excellent place to pursue majors in tech. Some academic programs connect students with businesses headquartered in the state, like Google and Apple. In general, the state offers excellent academic opportunities in STEM. In fact, the state even prioritizes STEM education for K-12 education.

Two-year community colleges in California can offer an affordable way to pursue a degree in the state. In fact, 116 community colleges operate in California. California community colleges even partner with Google to offer IT programs.

Employment and Economic Opportunity

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) breaks down economic data in California by region. For example, unemployment in Napa Valley only measured 4.6% in September 2021. During the same month, unemployment in Los Angeles and Long Beach-Santa Ana was 7.4%.

The BLS also highlights the projected job growth by industry in California. For example, manufacturing, mining and lodging, and construction are seeing strong economic growth currently.

California is the largest state population-wise and the third-largest state land-wise. The state has a bustling economy to keep up with its large population.

Two of the fastest-growing careers in the state are solar photovoltaic installers and occupational therapy assistants. Some of the highest-paying jobs in the state include lawyers, air traffic controllers, and nuclear engineers.

Access to Extracurriculars and Resources

California has a dense population in most areas. Fortunately, more people means more diversity in interests. Schools in California not only offer unique majors as a result, but they also offer unique clubs. For example, California State University, Northridge, hosts a healthy eating club and a table tennis team.

Schools in California also host on-campus food pantries. Students may also qualify for state-funded healthcare. California is known for its additional resources for unhoused individuals as well.

Sunny Climate and Stunning Geography

With an average of only 35 rainy days a year, many people love California for its sunny climate. However, the northern section of California experiences more rain and slightly colder temperatures.

Wherever a person chooses to settle in California, it only takes a short drive to reach beautiful scenery. Yosemite National Park and the Redwood National and State Parks attract many tourists each year. The state also includes 3,427 miles of shoreline.

Tolerance and Diversity

Historically, California has been a more diverse and tolerant state. In 1978, Harvey Milk became one of the first openly gay elected officials to take office in America. The state has been a frontrunner in LGBTQ+ rights since. So, it should come as no surprise that many colleges have taken strides to create welcoming campuses for LGBTQ+ learners.

By some measures, California tops the list of most diverse states in the U.S., and many California schools include diversity learning outcomes.

Outdoor Recreation

Learners can take advantage of the state's great outdoors on their own time. California offers easy access to outdoor recreation activities such as surfing, skiing, hiking, climbing, and camping, often within a short drive of major cities. Many schools in California provide opportunities for students to get involved in an outdoor recreation club.

For example, Humboldt State University in Arcata offers outdoor cycling, fishing, and archery clubs. Other schools host rock-climbing and hiking trips. Certain campuses even include on-site fisheries and walking trails.

What Are the Cons of Studying in California?

High Tuition Rates

Unfortunately, attending college in California comes with a high price tag. And the cost will continue to rise. Even schools that historically avoided raising tuition raised their costs in 2021.

For example, the University of California had not raised tuition costs since 2017. Yet, they raised them for the 2022-23 school year. This school system cites inflation and pressure from lawmakers to reduce the number of nonresident students as contributing factors to the rising costs.

In-state and out-of-state tuition in California varies. The same goes for costs international students have to pay. The University of California estimates the average tuition and fees for nonresidents and international students is around ​​$43,900 per year.

Schools justify charging out-of-state students more because their families have not paid tax dollars to the state. These tax dollars often contribute to the schools' operating costs.

Certain schools in California charge less than others. For example, attending a state school or a community college can help learners save on tuition. Private universities may feature smaller class sizes, but higher tuition.

In the next section, we discuss another contributing factor when it comes to the cost of college in California.

Expensive Cost of Living

California has a high cost of living. The 2020 Cost of Living Index found the average city in the state has a 38% higher cost of living than the average city in the rest of America. However, the exact cost of living ranges greatly depending on the location in the state. In general, cities cost more to live in than rural communities.

Many factors influence the high cost of living. For starters, housing availability has not kept up with the demand. California also places regulations on new developments to prevent increased carbon emissions.

Regulations also impact the cost of gas. In fact, a gallon of regular unleaded gasoline averaged over $4.50 in California as of November 2021. This is over a dollar more than the average for the rest of the nation.

Large Class Sizes

Students who want smaller class sizes may prefer to attend a private college in a smaller city. Due to the high population and popularity of studying in the state, California students should expect larger class sizes.

Many California colleges list their student-to-faculty ratio online, and class size matters. Smaller class sizes mean more opportunities to connect with professors. It may mean more one-on-one help. For perspective, we factor in the student-to-professor ratio in many of our rankings.

Overpopulation

California classifies as overpopulated. There have been more births than deaths over the last few decades. Additionally, more people have been moving to the state than leaving the state. The state's population rose from 24.29 million in 1980 to 39.51 million in 2019. This creates an imbalance in supply and demand for housing and food, which leads to higher prices.

However, issues like the high cost of living and overpopulation may actually be driving residents out in record numbers. The pendulum could swing in the coming years, with a decreasing population leading to lower prices in the future.

Transportation

Aside from the higher gas prices, other factors affect commuting. For example, traffic congestion and lack of adequate public transport can make getting to places difficult. Learners who live off campus typically need a car to commute to class and get necessities like groceries. These students must budget for car upkeep, insurance, and gas.

In terms of traffic, LA drivers spend an average of 119 hours a year stuck in traffic. Learners can minimize commuting costs by living on or near campus. Living in a nearby suburb may save money on living expenses, but it will cost more in gas and time.

So, Is Studying in California Worth It?

Aspiring students should weigh the pros and cons before choosing to study in California. The best choice varies by situation. For example, aspiring film, renewable energy, or tech field workers may enjoy studying in California. Schools in this state help learners connect with local industry professionals during their studies.

Aside from industry, personal preferences and budgets also influence the best choice. Learners on a tight budget who don't qualify for many scholarships may benefit from attending school in a more affordable state. Learners who want smaller class sizes but can't afford a private college in California may want to attend college elsewhere.

Additionally, out-of-state students should remember that they must pay more. To experience living in California without expensive tuition, students can choose an online program from a school in their home state. They can temporarily relocate to California while they study.

Additionally, some California schools charge in-state tuition for online classes, so make sure to look into that option if you're open to learning online.

Although the cost of living, as well as tuition, is high in California, some individuals find the state's beauty and higher wages outweigh the negatives.

Frequently Asked Questions About Studying in California

Is California a good state to go to college?

Many learners find attending school in California enjoyable. While the cost of living and tuition are higher than in the rest of the nation, the state offers opportunities for high-paying jobs. Aspiring tech professionals may benefit from attending schools near Silicon Valley, for example.

How much does it cost to study in California?

The price of studying in California varies depending on the school and location. Available scholarships and financial aid also contribute. For example, the University of California charges in-state learners who live on campus $36,700 for education and living expenses. Out-of-state learners pay $67,400.

Is living in California expensive?

Compared to the rest of the nation in general, California living costs more. Learners moving from other areas with high living costs such as Seattle or New York City may not notice a difference, but students from Midwest cities or rural communities may find the cost difference stark. Living off-campus may save money, especially if learners choose to live with roommates in a suburb rather than in the center of a city.

Can a student live in LA?

Any student can live in LA, but it may not work as the best financial decision for every student. Cities notoriously cost more than suburbs and rural areas. While students can use most types of student loans for qualifying living costs, keep in mind loans charge interest. Learners moving to the city should compare rent costs in different regions of the city, as well as commute options.

What are the best colleges in California?

Our 2021 ranking of the best colleges in California named Stanford University the best college in California. We use data like graduate retention rates, cost, and student-to-professor ratio to calculate our rankings.

However, Stanford University only accepts 4% of applicants. The state hosts many other quality schools with higher acceptance rates. For example, Pomona College ranks No. 2 and accepts 7% of applicants. At No. 3, the California Institute of Technology accepts 6%. Due to the competitive acceptance rates at these schools, aspiring students should apply to several schools.

Find the top-ranked online colleges in 2021 from BestColleges. See our picks for the 25 best online schools and find the right match for you. We've ranked the most affordable online colleges in the U.S. Begin earning a high-quality degree with low annual tuition. Our ROI rankings are based on two factors: The true cost of attending a school, weighed against the median earning power of its graduates over 30 years.

BestColleges.com is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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