Like several HSG students before me, I also spent my exchange semester at the Bachelor’s level at the University of California Santa Barbara and had a wonderful time. In this report I will try to address aspects that have not yet been discussed in the other reports. But first of all, the following information:
- It is NOT difficult to get into the UCSB and you do NOT need good grades for it. Getting there early is the most important thing here.
- It’s also not as expensive as many would expect from a freemover semester. 10,000-12,000 CHF is enough!
- If you want to experience college life as you know it from the movies, you’ve come to the right place.
I applied with the support of your website, which is highly recommended. The advice is competent and you get precise information about which documents have to be filled out and sent and how. In addition, the service is completely free. When applying, it is important to mention that you get there early enough, preferably 10 months in advance. As I noticed, the allocation of seats works according to the “first-come, first-serve” principle. Incidentally, the TOEFL iBT only requires 80 points.
Once you have got the place, the confirmation letter with the I-20 form will be sent to you by post. You need this to apply for the visa. As for the visa, I don’t want to go into details here, because everything is clearly described on the embassy website. The whole thing runs without any problems, you just have to go by in person and it’s not exactly cheap fun either (I spent a total of around 400 CHF on the visa).
As for the trip, I recommend flying to Los Angeles (LAX) and taking the bus to Santa Barbara from there. This is certainly one of the cheapest and most convenient options. But you should reserve the bus from home! I chose SBAirbus (around $ 50, bus has wifi!).
Overall, I found the whole subject of living to be rather unsatisfactory. As an extension student at the Bachelor’s level, you do not get access to the university accommodation and are therefore on your own. Like many before me, I recommend arriving first and looking for a room on site. However, you should be prepared for high prices and poor hygiene. After about 5 days I found a single room on Pasado Road (Block 67) for $ 850 on Craigslist. It was in a house that I shared with 3 Brazilians. The room was small and the house was in a rather poor condition (windows / doors didn’t work properly, bathroom was old, apartment was dirty!). But it was the best option for me, as I wanted a single room and possibly non-German-speaking roommates. If you don’t want to search via Craigslist, you should take a look at the San Clemente Villages or San Ynez Apartments. There you live a bit more civilized, but you are not that close to the action either. If you want a studio all to yourself, you should take a look at the StudioPlaza. There you are still in Isla Vista, but you also have your peace and quiet. The downside is that it’s expensive ($ 900-1100 depending on the variant) and you don’t have any roommates.
Despite the high rents and the sometimes unsatisfactory living conditions, I would definitely recommend living in Isla Vista. This is where social life takes place (parties, etc.) and you are also very close to the campus. Unlike many other universities, UCSB has a compact campus where everything is close together. An enormous advantage, as it means you can do without the car. Getting a bike is worth it though (either used through Craigslist or new at Kmart from around $ 90).
University & Academic
UCSB is a public university with around 22,000 students. It is well placed in the rankings (US News approx. 40th place), but it is not an elite university. The academic level (at least at Bachelor level) cannot keep up with that of the HSG. However, the effort involved can vary greatly depending on the course and lecturer. It is definitely worth taking a look at “ratemyprofessors.com” to see how the preferred courses and lecturers were rated.
You cannot enroll in the academic courses, you have to “crash” them in the first two weeks. You just sit in the first lecture and politely ask the professor for a place in the course, which he (and sometimes also the instructor / assistant) has to confirm with his signature on a form. I had already heard a lot of negative things about crashing and on Orientation Day they repeatedly emphasized how difficult it was to get into certain courses. However, I had no problems getting the signatures and had them all after the first hour. It is important to mention in this context that I did not take any courses from the ECON department. Firstly, in addition to the signature of the professor, you also need the signature of the head of the department and secondly, most exchange students want to crash ECON courses. However, it is already being made sure that most people get a place. You should definitely try it if the people from the office have the feeling that you don’t have a chance to get in. Theoretically, the locals have priority, but, according to Professor, that can look completely different in practice. I would recommend to be there about 15 minutes before the start of the course and to speak to the professor immediately. Check andyeducation to see more reviews from current students.
The whole day-to-day life at the university is also a bit different from ours. Although most of the courses have a lecture in the auditorium and additional practice hours in smaller groups, the examinations are spread over the semester in the form of midterms, assignments and, in some cases, active participation. Even if the system may be a bit more complicated, I like it better than ours, because you don’t have all the stress at the end and there are certainly incentives to work more actively during the semester. But it’s a matter of taste.
About my courses:
GLOBL 2 – Global Socioeconomic and Political Processes (6 ECTS, KUKO / HAKO, A +): This course dealt with various aspects of globalization, with history being discussed first. Then various regions of the world were analyzed in more detail and current global problems were discussed. The course was very interesting and educational. Above all, many things that we had already taken up in history in middle school were taken up again and viewed in a global context. The effort is not to be underestimated. There are around 50 pages a week to read, consisting of scientific papers on the various topics. The grade consists of two MC midterms (30% each), weekly summaries and discussions on the readings (30%) and active participation in the discussion sections (10%). But if you invest a little time, it is absolutely feasible. Really recommendable course!
GLOBL 157 – Global Media (6 ECTS, independent elective area, A): This course dealt with the historical development of the media (from the press to social media) and the associated implications for the public. The course was rather boring and not very instructive. But the professor was very personable and the effort was very low. If you want to get an A relatively easily, you are well served here, but if you don’t want to learn something, you might not. The exam consists of weekly online quizzes (50%) and two 4-page papers (25% each). Really easy to do if you read the books a bit and go to the lecture. I found it a little unnecessary that the professor had shown three films during the lecture. This course is therefore only recommendable to a limited extent.
GEOG 5 – People, Place, Environment (6 ECTS, independent elective area, A): This course from the Geography Department looks at the social science areas of the discipline. Topics include location factors, population development, migration, geopolitics, transport / supply chain management, cultural geography, etc. A very broad course but made really interesting. There was also a good mix of qualitative and quantitative models. The effort wasn’t enormous, but you had to make sure that you really understood the models. The examination performance consisted of four assignments (25% in total), as well as two MC midterms and one MC final (25% each).
Overall, I really enjoyed my courses as I was mostly interested in the topics and all the professors were really good. I also thought it was good to study something other than business administration, because there is no business school at UCSB (but there are individual business administration courses at the ECON and ENGR departments. There is also a technology management program from different departments.). The three-course workload was really okay, even if I put a couple of hours into self-study each week. If you take your studies a little seriously, you will be rewarded with extremely good grades and you really have enough free time. However, if you are looking for a great academic challenge or want to upgrade your CV enormously, you should probably go to Berkeley or an Ivy League university.
As already mentioned, you don’t have to be a millionaire to be able to do an exchange as a free mover. However, the costs are well worth mentioning. The UCSB charges around $ 2000 for the program and another $ 1000 for each course you take (a total of $ 5000 for the university in my case). For living you have to expect $ 600-1000 a month, depending on your needs, of course. However, the food is a little cheaper than in Switzerland. If you live a little frugally, you can get by on CHF 10,000-12,000 for a quarter.
The leisure activities are very numerous and there is always something to do. Since the quarter is very short, you shouldn’t put too much work on yourself. As mentioned above, with my 3 courses I still had more than enough free time. I can recommend the following activities:
Sports: The range of sports at UCSB is very broad and offers something for everyone. It ranges from football to tennis to sailing and surfing. We also recommend membership in the Recreation Center (fitness, pool, etc.) for $ 60 per quarter.
Excursion Club: The Excursion Club is a great way to take part in various outdoor activities and, above all, to get to know local people. You pay $ 30 per quarter for membership, but you can then take part in all events (surfing, hiking, camping …) and above all borrow equipment (surfboard etc.) for free. The club also organizes a party in each quarter, each of which is legendary. I can also highly recommend the “Buildering” activity.
Volunteering: Another great opportunity to get to know Americans is to work as a volunteer at events at and around the university. The advantage of this is that you almost certainly don’t have 1000 other exchange students with you and that really valuable experiences can be gained. There are many volunteering opportunities. Just google something or ask the extension office.
Party: Of course, there is no shortage of partying at UCSB and Isla Vista. In Isla Vista (especially on “Del Playa”, the street right by the sea) things happen on Friday and Saturday evenings. It is important to mention, however, that the semi-private and private parties (i.e. those where not everyone just comes in) are the best. I don’t need to mention that you have to know the right people in order to be invited (especially at the legendary frat parties). Therefore: make sure that you make friends as quickly as possible with people who live on Del Playa and / or know a lot of people. But even an evening of “party crashing” can be fun. Just remember: always stay “safe” and don’t mess with the police (especially don’t drink on the street !!).
Those who also want to visit a few clubs can take Bill’s Party Bus Downtown to “Tonic”, “EOS” or “Wild Cat” on Thursday evening.
In this section I summarize the above aspects again and describe my overall impressions.
The eleven weeks in which the lessons take place are over very quickly. Of course, this can be an advantage or disadvantage depending on your preference. It is therefore advisable to do things that you want to do immediately, otherwise you will really run out of time in the end. In my opinion, it is also a short time to really get to know the locals a little deeper. When I finally had more or less built up a “circle of friends”, the quarter was already over.
With midterms, assignments and compulsory attendance, the semester can be a bit more intense: You can love or hate it, I think the US system is better than the European one, because the work is more distributed and you have more incentives to really deal with the material and not just to learn by heart naively. The university is certainly of a decent standard, which should not be underestimated, but if you do not intentionally choose the most difficult courses, it is certainly not a big challenge for us.
The wonderful campus, the compact student town “Isla Vista” and the phenomenal party scene, where it goes to and fro like in well-known college films from Hollywood, make the exchange semester an unforgettable experience.
At the same time, I see living as a disadvantage, the price-performance ratio of which is unsatisfactory. Above all, I think it’s bad that you hardly get any support from the university when looking for a place to live.
One last minus point I have to note is the diversity among the exchange students. The German-speaking area is simply disproportionately represented and many people speak German all the time. That damages the international experience. If you can’t live with it at all, you should choose another university.
I don’t regret spending my semester abroad at UCSB for a second. For me it was definitely the perfect choice. As a big California fan, I had another chance to spend a few months on this beautiful piece of earth. In addition, I had the relaxed student life that I had always dreamed of and that you certainly won’t experience at the HSG in this form. For people with the same preferences as me: go for it!
If you have any questions or want to chat a bit about an exchange semester in California, feel free to send me an email.