The United States has 25 of the top 50 universities in the world, and 18 of them are located along the coasts. On the East Coast lie the old, ivory tower bastions of higher learning, including the (in)famous Ivy League schools (Harvard, Yale, Princeton, et al.) On the West Coast, more experimental and progressive schools have established themselves, such as Stanford, California Institute of Technology (CalTech) and the numerous Universities of California (UCs). The East Coast and the West Coast represent two very different faces of one large country. Not only are the schools different, but the cultures, characters and career connections are, too. These differences ought to factor into your decision-making process when choosing where to study in the United States.
I am a proud Californian who is rather fond of our unofficial motto, ‘West Coast, best coast’. Yet, when the time came, I chose to go to university in Massachusetts. Many factors went into my decision, from the big things to the little things. Mainly, I wanted to go to school in a different environment, where there was snow and fall colours, and as a prospective History major, where there was a greater sense of living history. (In California, it’s easy to get the sense that our history began in 1849 with the Gold Rush.) In America, we still use the colloquialisms ‘back East’ and ‘out West’ to describe the two coastal regions, similar to the British colloquialism of travelling ‘up to’ Oxford or Cambridge. These phrases are not the only remnants from the West Coast’s pioneering days, and the East Coast’s traditionalist history. Today, in many ways, the West Coast still embodies pioneering and innovation as exemplified by Hollywood, Silicon Valley and a host of technical institutes. On the other hand, the East Coast remains steeped in tradition, the hub of industries like banking, advertising and publishing that beckon many of the Ivy League elites. The contrast between the two is sharp.
Depending on what you want to do after undergraduate or graduate study, it is worth keeping in mind the culture and environment in which you conduct your studies, to situate yourself within your ideal professional network with the mind-set and tools that will help you succeed. That being said, the universities on both coasts have a lot to offer, and with two excellent choices, it’s difficult to go wrong.
- By Miranda Phaal