University: California State University San Marcos
City: San Marcos (CA)
Country: United States
Continent: North America
Field of study: business administration
Study type: semester abroad
First of all, I would advise anyone who has decided to study a semester at Cal State San Marcos not to waste money and time by taking an English test (TOEFL or IELTS) beforehand. The aptitude test in the first week is really not worth mentioning and is probably mainly designed to classify the Asian students, some of whose English is not even at elementary school level and who make up about 95% of the ALCI students. Check existingcountries.com to see Vancouver Island University Review.
But first things first. My experiences relate to the fall semester of 2010. Cal State San Marcos is a fairly young university and, by American standards, is quite small with a good 10,000 students. The buildings and equipment are accordingly new and in good condition. Don’t be lame on your feet, because there are a lot of stairs to climb on campus to get from A to B.
The city of San Marcos arguably falls into the “small town” category in the United States. A small town with 80,000 inhabitants. However, one should realize that Southern California and San Diego County is a huge conglomerate of people and streets. This means that no matter where you go, you always have houses and streets around you. If there were no signage telling you that the sign begins another city’s territory, you wouldn’t realize you’ve just left another city.
In San Marcos itself, there isn’t much to do other than run from one fast food joint to the next. There is also a cinema and a few small pubs. San Marcos is not a typical student town. It is therefore advisable to either buy a car or quickly get to know someone who owns a set of wheels. Alternatively, there are buses and the Sprinter, a gondola that goes to the coast and back, but doesn’t live up to its name. In the evening hours, however, they no longer help to get anywhere. In general, nobody takes the bus in San Marcos unless they absolutely have to.
I found San Marcos and the surrounding area to be a very safe area and often walked home alone at night.
Regarding the living situation: It is possible to stay in the dormitories of the university. However, the rooms are comparatively expensive for what you get. If you opt for a room in the dorms, you also have to pay for the entire time in advance. I decided to live with a host family. To do this, I enlisted the help of a homestay agency (www.homestayservices.com), where it was important to me to live as close to the university as possible. It also got rid of the problem of getting from the airport to San Marcos, since the Homestay Agency also offers a pick-up service (note, this only applies to San Diego airport, not Los Angeles!). I had seven or eight housing options to choose from and chose the one closest to the university. At this point I would like to advise everyone not to underestimate the distances on site! If you don’t have a car, you should really make sure that you live close to the university (as a guide: I lived on Avenida Ortega and it took me a good 15 minutes to walk there). If you decide to ride a bike, it should be said that the area is extremely mountainous, even if it doesn’t look like it on Google Street View.;)
If you decide to spend a semester abroad in San Marcos, you are not directly enrolled at the university, but on paper you are attending the American Language and Culture Institute (ALCI) at Cal State. You are like a language student. The introductory week begins with the English placement test mentioned at the beginning. Those who can reasonably speak school English should pass the test without any problems. If you pass the test in the highest category (Level 106), you qualify to theoretically be able to take all courses offered by the university through the Open University Program. The worse you do in the test, the more restricted you are in your choice of course. In addition, you then have to take English courses from the ALCI. But as mentioned, the test is not difficult. Without exception, all students from Europe have reached level 106.
The courses at the university are divided into categories 100, 200, 300 and 400 for undergraduates. Only the 300 and 400 courses are of interest to someone who wants to have their courses credited in Germany. The 100 and 200 courses are partly what you do in Germany in the upper grades.
As I wrote, you can theoretically take all courses. But since you are officially an ALCI student, you have to “crash” the courses in the first two weeks. This means that you go to the professor at the first event of the semester and ask him if you can take the course. I had no problems getting into my classes. Even though the courses are officially full, the professors are still taking on people. In any case, it is advisable to find out in advance which courses you would like to take and then to contact the professors directly by email. I did this a good 4-5 weeks before the semester started and everyone responded positively. With this knowledge in hand, it is also easier to make it clear to the ALCI staff that you want to take certain courses and have already been accepted. Under no circumstances should you let them tell you what you can and can’t take (provided you passed the English test without any problems). Ultimately, the professor always decides who is allowed to attend the course and who is not!
All my courses were 400 courses (Consumer Behavior, Marketing Research, Human Resource Management). As an international student you have to take at least 12 units. 300 courses usually have 3 units, 400 courses 4 units. Accordingly, you put together your plan. Anyone who thinks that three courses in one semester is a joke should say goodbye to German student thinking very quickly. The courses somehow took me back to my school days. That means attendance checks, homework and presentations in abundance. 15 assignments, 19 quizzes, 7 exams, 4 papers, 3 presentations. For three courses. Sounds like a lot, and it is. However, more quantity than quality is required (at least from the point of view of a student at a German university).
Another difference to German student life is that the courses are based on textbooks, which you have to read parallel to the courses and which are then asked in (online) multiple choice quizzes. Stupid, but you have to go through it (although I haven’t really read much, but I got through it OK). The high prices for the books are also annoying here. Under no circumstances should you buy the books locally, but rather look for cheaper versions on the Internet. For example, I only paid $50 instead of $150 because I bought the International Edition of a book that has completely the same content but has a different cover and was just labeled as “International Edition”.
On campus there is a very well stocked library, a Starbucks, a bookstore, a university store where you can buy university clothes, an (overpriced) cafeteria and a small supermarket. Not far from the campus is a large supermarket and other places to eat greasy food.
The university also has its own gym. Normally, as an ALCI student, you have to pay a fee of about $80 per semester to use it. But you can avoid this if you 1.) only register when you are officially admitted to all courses and are therefore available in the university system and 2.) stop by in the evening hours to register for the first time, since in the time the boss is no longer there and no one asks any further questions. That’s how I saved my money after I was asked for the charcoal on the first try and politely declined.;)
Regarding university life, it should be said that you should definitely drop by the Global Office. There you will meet a lot of other international students who are not in San Marcos through the ALCI. And there are often a few snacks and coffee for free. Experience has shown that you will not have much to do with the ALCI after the first week.
From San Marcos you can get to all interesting places in Southern California quite well (if you have a motor). It takes about 20 minutes to get to the beach at Oceanside, 50 minutes to downtown San Diego and 1.5-2 hours to Los Angeles, depending on traffic. After Las Vegas you need about 5-6 hours. San Diego in particular is highly recommended for evening activities at the weekend with its many clubs and bars. However, many clubs require a cover charge that is not necessarily cheap. It can cost you around $25 just to get into the locality. If you don’t want to travel that far and don’t want to pay that much, you’ll also find decent nightlife in Encinitas and Carlsbad. What you should know: All locations do at point 1: 30 o’clock the bulkheads close and alcohol on the open road is strictly forbidden. Alcohol is also not allowed to be carried openly in the car.
In any case, you should have been to Laguna Beach, which is considered one of the most beautiful beaches in California.
Even though it’s not really winter in California, you should pack some warmer clothes. From the middle/end of November it gets noticeably cooler when the sun has set.
A monetary tip: Deutsche Bank is a partner bank of Bank of America, which you can find on every corner and where you can pick up money free of charge if you are a Deutsche Bank customer.
Briefly on the application process: a lot of paperwork, but the general rule is: if you can pay for the fun, you can take part.;) You should try to get a visa in good time and don’t be put off by all the horror stories on the internet. The so-called “interview” lasts about 3 minutes. MicroEdu always provided me with information immediately if I had any questions during the application process that inevitably came up. Thanks for that!
Looking back, I have absolutely no regrets about choosing San Marcos. If you don’t have any problems studying at a university that doesn’t have a classic campus but is more of a commuter university, San Marcos is highly recommended. In addition, there are comparatively few German citizens at Cal State San Marcos. From other universities in California I have heard true horror stories about the mass of German students. Not that I have anything against German students, but I don’t have to travel more than 9,000 km to be surrounded by my compatriots.;)