University: California State University Los Angeles
City: Los Angeles
Country: United States
Continent: North America
Field of study: engineering
Study type: semester abroad
Due to various requirements, I made my decision to do a semester abroad very late. That’s why I contacted the free consulting agency MicroEdu, because I wanted to clarify my options in a short time. Since I preferred an English-speaking country, I quickly decided to go to the USA (I didn’t want to go to England, Australia is more expensive and has completely different semester times, Canada didn’t have a suitable study program for me). Check educationvv.com to see University of California Los Angeles Exchange Program.
Within the USA there were then several universities in California that offered a suitable master ‘s program. From this selection, there was actually only one university whose tuition fees were within my personal budget. After the decision was made, everything had to be done very quickly, as the application period had already expired several weeks ago.
The application phase
Many documents are required for an application to an American university. Some documents can take a long time to apply for, so it’s important to start as early as possible. The required documents also include documents that are necessary for the host university to issue the basic form used to apply for a student visa. For this reason, these documents should be compiled very carefully. MicroEdu double checked my documents before sending them to the host university. After that, I had to wait many weeks until I finally got a confirmation.
Along with the written confirmation, I received the aforementioned document (I-20) for applying for a student visa. Obtaining a visa involves filling out a few online forms, paying several fees, and then driving to a US embassy for an in-person interview. This process is very complex and takes time, but everything is possible and you really don’t need to be afraid of it. Since there are already many reports online about the interview date, I do not want to go into detail about them.
The host university – location and connections:
I chose California State University Los Angeles. As the name suggests, this university is located in the heart of Los Angelesand seems at first glance to be well connected in all conceivable directions. Unfortunately, this was only true to a limited extent, since I didn’t have a car and was therefore dependent on the very poorly developed public transport network. According to my research in advance, the connection looked very good, but unfortunately I had to learn on site that the theoretical existence of a connection does not mean that it actually exists. Many “good” connections only exist once a day, buses run irregularly and not at all after dark. The footpaths to the bus stops were sometimes very long, unlit and often without sidewalks. If you have your own car, the connection through the city freeways is very good, but unfortunately everything takes forever because there are always traffic jams in Los Angeles.
I had to submit a wish list in advance with at least eight courses that I could take during my stay. In order to be able to maintain your visa status as a student, you have to actually take at least four courses in the bachelor’s and at least two courses in the master’s. If you don’t succeed, you have to leave the country again. Since I didn’t get any negative feedback on my wish list, I assumed that everything would work out fine. When I got there, I found out that half of my courses were not offered in the winter semester and the others were already full. We international students were then offered to attend the courses anyway and to ask the lecturers to accept us anyway. Unfortunately, this procedure is normal at the American guest universities.
Unfortunately, post-admission to the Masters level courses proved extremely difficult, as most faculty shunned the added expense of additional students. I personally managed to get three courses, which can also be recognized after consultation with the responsible lecturer from Germany. Many other students ended up choosing two courses to keep their visas, but these have nothing to do with their studies at home and therefore of course cannot be credited. As a tip, I would like to say at this point that you should communicate very clearly when you apply to the host university that you have to take certain courses in order to avoid problems later.
Workload and difficulty
The time required for a single course is definitely significantly higher in the USA than in Germany. In my personal opinion, the level of difficulty is significantly lower. Anyone who regularly attends the lectures, submits all the required submissions and prepares appropriately for the average of three exams per semester will definitely get a very good grade.
Since there are many areas in Los Angeles that are considered “bad” residential areas by German standards, it was very difficult for me to select a room online. Added to this was the uncertainty as to whether I would get along well with the roommates (with whom I often share the room). Living in Los Angeles is very expensive. Expect to pay between $600 and $1,200 for rent alone, depending on location and private or shared room. Room offers can be found on Facebook groups, university ads, and Craigslist.com. Unfortunately, many offers turned out to be dubious, which is why I personally would not advise anyone to enter into a rental agreement in advance. That leaves only three other possibilities. First of all, you fly to the USA a little earlier and look for a room there so that you can at least see everything. Secondly, you get a room in the university dorm, which is often difficult. The universities block the beds for American students for a very long time and only release them for all students a few weeks before the start of the semester. Personally, I didn’t want to wait that long.
The placement of host families for students in the USA is organized by private agencies. Sometimes you get a list of agencies together with the acceptance letter from the host university. Put simply, you fill out an agency information sheet, pay the registration fee and a deposit, and wait for the agency to find a “match.” This will be confirmed by email, but unfortunately it is quite common that you have to pay the entire rental price in one payment before you can get more detailed information. This should be taken into account when planning your finances.
I was lucky to live with a very nice family from the Philippines whose kids went to college out of state. I had my own room and bathroom. Meals were included in the rent, and I could just make something for myself in the morning and at noon and we all ate together in the evening. In Los Angeles in particular there are almost no Americans without a migration background, which makes the city very multicultural, but also the entire state. I really enjoyed the time with my host family and, in addition to many typically American things, I also learned many typically Filipino things.
Costs and financing
A semester abroad entails very high costs, which you should research and calculate very carefully in advance. Since this is sometimes very difficult, I would like to present the necessary costs and my regular expenses as an example. I would also like to show which funding opportunities I was able to use and hope to be able to prove that not only students from wealthy families can finance a stay abroad.
- Host university application fee and tuition fees approximately $5,800 (for three master’s level courses)
- Visa costs around $350 (incl. passport photos, certifications etc. but excluding travel expenses to Frankfurt)
- Travel costs approx. €950 (for return flight and airport transfer)
- International health insurance (ADAC) approx. €160
- Housing costs approx. $950 (monthly; for accommodation in the host family incl. meals)
- Plus agency registration fees (one-time) approximately $300
- Mobility approx. $70 (monthly; for use of public transport and Uber)
- Cell phone about $45 (monthly; pre-paid through AT&T)
- Other about $200 (monthly; for excursions and short trips on weekends)
- BAföG subsidy for tuition fees €4,600
- Bafög subsidy for travel expenses €1,000
- Bafög maximum rate approx. €878 (monthly; incl. surcharges)
- KFW student loan €650 (monthly)
- PROMOS grant €1,200 (one-off)
- own savings approx. €1,000