In this article, admissions expert Becky weighs the pros and cons of attending a college on the east coast vs. the west coast. For more guidance on building a college list and the college application process in general, sign up for a monthly plan to work with an admissions coach 1-on-1.
We often hear arguments debating the virtues of the East Coast versus the West. The East Coast has New York City, thin-crust pizza, and four seasons. The West Coast boasts warmth, picture-perfect beaches, and boba shops on every street corner. Regardless of your position in the geographic debate, you may wonder which coast to focus on during your college admissions journey. In this article, I’ll compare the benefits of attending college on the East Coast versus the West Coast.
First, a little about me. I was born and raised in New Jersey before coming to California for college and moving to the San Francisco Bay Area two years ago. I traded bagels and snow days for avocado toast and national parks. As someone with a foot on each coast and half a home in both, I promise to give you my unbiased assessment of East Coast vs. West Coast: College Edition.
The East Coast is made up of 14 states, including Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and Florida. The West Coast, on the other hand, consists only of California, Oregon, Washington, and Alaska.
The history of the East Coast goes back further than that of its western counterpart, influenced by old European roots. From colonial architecture to an abundance of beloved landmarks, the East Coast is rich in historic significance. While the West Coast doesn’t date quite as far back in American history, it, too, has a story to tell in its terracotta roofs and sprawling national parks.
Weather presents one of the most popular comparisons between the two regions. Much of the East Coast experiences four distinct seasons, though you’ll find this balance tipping colder as you go north and warmer as you travel south. If you like the full experience of winter snowstorms, summer sunshine, springtime rain, and the polychromatic leaf piles of autumn, you may prefer the weather in the east. However, if you prefer 300+ days of temperate warmth and cloudless skies, the West Coast may be a better match.
Each coast also suffers from its own array of natural disasters. While the West Coast contends with fires, earthquakes, and droughts, the east sees annual doses of hurricanes and snowstorms. Canceled classes in the west are “smoke days,” while the eastern equivalent is a “snow day.” Both coasts experience their fair share of annual natural disasters, but you may have an opinion on which you feel is more easily tolerated.
People often debate the cultural differences between the coasts. It is very hard to generalize the culture of such vast and diverse geographic regions, though we still try. People on the East Coast are often categorized as fast-moving, impatient, and structured. Speaking from personal experience, I will say that we talk fast, we walk fast, and, given the opportunity, we drive fast.
However, people sometimes undeservedly think of East Coasters as aggressive, rude, or otherwise unfriendly. Sure, you will not see people making random eye contact on the streets or saying hi to strangers—with the exception of some regions in the south—and elevators are often eerily quiet. When you do engage in a conversation with someone, however, it is no less friendly or genuine than equivalent conversations on the West Coast.
For its part, people often think of the West Coast as laid back, with fewer expectations around dress or behavior. To help you visualize this: a career fair at an East Coast school will probably see attendees in business formal. A career fair at a West Coast school will have students in flip flops on the casual end of the spectrum and a Patagonia on the formal end.
This is absolutely not a hard and fast rule—there is no way to categorize entire regions into personality types. Both regions are incredibly diverse, and you are no less likely to meet amazing people on one particular coast. However, I see some validity in the idea of the West Coast having, at least outwardly, a more laid-back vibe.
Though you may not live or work near your alma mater, many students accept summer jobs near their campuses. As such, let’s take a look at the differing job opportunities on the two coasts.
The East Coast has many cities to offer, including Miami, Philadelphia, Raleigh, Boston, Baltimore, and of course, New York City. The West Coast has admittedly less but still a broad offering that includes Los Angeles, San Francisco, Portland, and Seattle.
The East Coast has a rich offering of music and fashion, not to mention banking, new media, and other booming markets. The West Coast, on the other hand, is home to tech giant Silicon Valley and entertainment production hub Hollywood.
For most, if not all, occupations, you will likely find job opportunities on both coasts. That said, some cultural influences vary between the coasts, so one might suit your career more than the other.
Finally, a pragmatic note: with the exception of New York—and the Bay Area even gives NYC a run for its money —the West Coast has a higher cost of living than the east. Taxes, gasoline, housing, and, in many cases, college tuition itself are all more expensive on the West Coast.
However, if your dream is to attend school on the West Coast, this does not need to stop you. State schools on the West Coast are among the best in the world and offer lower tuition than private schools. Many schools also guarantee housing throughout your undergraduate career, allowing you to live in expensive areas for far less. While the price difference is undeniably a factor, it doesn’t have to be the reason you choose one coast over the other.
There you have it: the West Coast versus the East Coast as I’ve experienced them. Still have questions? Ready to start assembling a school list that incorporates your newfound coastal preference? You can schedule a free consultation with one of our advisors or request a one-time advising session to help get you started.
This informational essay was written by Becky Weinstein, Stanford ‘22. If you want to get help with your college applications from Becky or other CollegeAdvisor.com Admissions Experts, register with CollegeAdvisor.com today.