Going to a California State University (CSU)

Parent Q&A

College choice: UC vs. CSU Jul 7, 2018 (12 responses below)
Comparing CSUs Jul 18, 2016 (1 responses below)
  • College choice: UC vs. CSU

    (12 replies)

    Did you go to college far away or closer to home? Are your teenagers already in college or will be going to college in the next few years? Please share what would you choose in this situation. 

    My daughter is 15. She is the only child and we are very close. Her grades are good  but not stellar (GPA 3.6). She will be 17 when she graduates high school. She has a few health issues plus ADD, anxiety and depression that made last year in school very difficult which affected her grades. Had higher grades before. 

    There is a midrange state University 25 minutes from home. It has a major of her choice. She can live at home and drive to the campus or live freshman year in the dorms to get college experience and the rest of years at home. It still will be less expensive then any other school.  

    Common sense says to me that it is the way to go and there are benefits of going there including:

    1)living nearby so I can help easier if she needs help (given her health and emotional issues it is my main concern now), 

    2)saving a lot of money and graduating without loans. Her future job of choice is not one of the high paying jobs but she really wants to do it. We do not qualify for financial aid. 

    4)at that local school it is easier to get classes needed (less impacted), easy to change majors if she decides to and it is less competitive and less stressful environment

    4)she can visit often her dog and me which will make us much happier :)

    However downsides are:

    1)since the school is smaller and less well known there will be less opportunities for internships and the name of the school is important for getting a good job after. She wants to get to the best school possible to have a better chance for future job prospects. Her grades would allow her to get into a better schools but they all are farther away.

    2)kids become more mature and learn more lifeskills if they are away from home and this is what most of her classmates going to do-go away for college. Would she be in a huge disadvantage if she stays locally for undergrad and may be go away to a bigger school for Grad school? She told me yesterday that wants to experience other places. How important is to get this experience at 17 vs 23 to be successful as a young adult in the US?

    Plus, I am a single mom, so my own desire to be close to her, and my mentality of being raised in the country where children stay at hometown if they can, also contributes but I do not want to be selfish and want to choose what would truly be the best for her. 

    Would you encourage your child to go to a good local less expensive school that we have enough savings to pay for fully or to take loans and go away to a better known bigger much more expensive school? 

    We are deciding between California State University vs UC (except UC Berkeley, UCLA or UCSD- scores are unfortunately not at the range for those). What would you do?

    Moderator Note: See also past advice "Which college?" https://www.berkeleyparentsnetwork.org/advice/which-college

    RE: College choice: UC vs. CSU ()

    Tough choices. You know your daughter best. Make your decision from love, not fear. Yes, going away to college is an experience, but not every 18-year-old are mature enough to manage the roadblocks of being away from home i.e. parties.  

    Here are my personal thoughts: debt-free college, or at least minimum debt (less than $30k). Community college is also an option, keeping her close to home, giving her time to acclimate to college life. Berkeley Community College is a solid choice, as it's a feeder into the UC system. As far as CSU vs. UC, it depends on your daughter's interest/major. If it's not engineering, medicine, law, or business, CSU is adequate. I'm a former high school life skills teacher, and it's unfortunate that grades have become like an Olympic competition. But grades are not a predictor of a student's success. Life skills are. good luck.

    RE: College choice: UC vs. CSU ()

    Our daughter had some of the same challenges as yours, except that her grades in high school were MUCH worse; she nearly didn’t graduate. She went away to a junior college, and while the first year was almost a repeat of her HS years, somehow starting in her 2nd year she completely turned herself around. She finished her lower division transfer courses at the JC, getting help with her ADHD as well as guidance to ensure she completed the transfer requirements. She got into all of the schools you mention: UC Berkeley, UCLA, and UC San Diego. She is now very happy at UC Berkeley. (She applied as a regular junior admission, not using the guaranteed admission program that community colleges offer).

    Two things: I think the experience of “going away” to college is extremely important (she was in another city for JC).  I wouldn’t envision your daughter getting as much out of her experience if she lives with you, particularly during her upper division years. 

    And I believe the college she attends absolutely does matter. Kids at UCB, UCLA, etc., are going to have opportunities that a child at CSU East Bay (or other) simply won’t have. 

    I’d consider the community college route. The guaranteed admission to a UC campus (does not include Berkeley or UCLA) holds if she maintains a 3.0 there. Both the community colleges and UC campuses will have programs that provide accommodation for her ADHD, should she desire that.  

    Best of luck. 

    RE: College choice: UC vs. CSU ()

    Have you considered the community college transfer route? Your daughter could stay at home an additional two years, save a ton of money, then transfer to her pick of UCs (or CSU or private college) for the remaining two years. It is MUCH easier to get in to the highly selective UCs as a community college transfer than from high school. HS grades and test scores will not be considered, only her community college grades. OTOH CSU is a great option. Keep in mind your daughter is going to mature quite a bit from age 15 to 17 and have her own opinion. I have one CC kid and one CSU kid.

  • Comparing CSUs

    (1 reply)

    Is there a good resource for comparing the various CSUs?

    - parent of 11th grader

    RE: Comparing CSUs ()

    Here's a link to a recent article about the CSU system:  http://www.oroola.com/resources/a-look-inside-countrys-largest-public-un...

Parent Reviews

Consider CSU Channel Islands. It's a small school, they accept >70% of applicants, seem to have good resources for kids with special educational needs.

Archived Q&A and Reviews


Deciding which CSU

March 2016

My daughter has been admitted to a number of CSUs and is trying to decide where to spend the next 4 (or 5 ... sigh) years of her life.

Cal Poly Pomona has a well-regarded hospitality management program and a ''hands-on learning'' approach that is appealing and could be a good fit for her, but she seems reluctant to live in So-Cal (heat, smog, culture, not much going on near the campus, fear of going ''so far away'').

She is also considering SF State and Sonoma State (and possible Chico). She is an athletic and real-world-competent kid who struggles academically, and frankly doesn't really much want to go to college -- but she does want to have a degree in her pocket.

She doesn't want to discuss her options, won't do any research or comparisons, rejects any suggestions of a gap year or going to community college. She has done a number of college visits and there are a couple more preview days coming up before she has to make a commitment by May. I thought it might be helpful for her to talk to someone outside of our family, maybe she would open up more and could explore her options and concerns with a thoughtful advisor. Any recommendations for a career counselor or other helpful person whom she could talk to?

Just a few more weeks ....

I have two children. One went to Chico and the other Sonoma State so I feel I can give good feedback on those schools.

Sonoma State is very pretty but on the sleepy side. There is no 'there' there. It lacks the ''college town'' feel of Chico. The social scene is quiet too. Small Greek system. No real 'town' to go to. My son likes it mostly due to the intra murals.

Chico is much more active. Adorable town. Strong Greek presence. The social scene there is much more 'happening.' My daughter was in a sorority and loved it--learned a lot in her leadership role there. After 4 yrs she was ready to leave though as coming from Berkeley it started to feel too small.

I think- academically- they are both similar. But the feel of the two schools is very different. Have you visited? If not I hope you do before decision day. That might help. mom of two

Hi. You probably already knew that SF State is a real commuter school for East Bay kids, not very good for the ''college experience.'' It's also ''impacted'' (took my niece 6 years to get the classes she needed). Another niece and a nephew went to Sonoma State and were/are very happy there. Its small size and relative nearness are HUGE advantages. Students get better attention from professors, the dorms are small and friendly, the campus is pretty, and it's easy to come home for a weekend. Best of luck with your decision.

My daughter is a junior at San Jose State University and is very happy there. She was able to have the full campus life experience that kids tend to desire and yet be close enough to home when she was feeling homesick. From San Jose she comes home whenever she wants to. which has been a real blessing, specially the first year. She takes the bus to Fremont and then BART to Berkeley where I pick her up. There is a lot to do around campus, Santana Road is great and my daughter has attended many concerts at the SAP center. It has been a great choice for her. They do have a Hospitality Management program for your daughter. My daughter will be delighted to talk to your daughter and maybe even show her around the campus.

We did look at Sonoma State which has a great campus and dorms, but we decided that it was very isolated unless you had a car, which my daughter doesn't. Chico is also extremely isolated and the rumor among students is that there is a lot of alcohol going on there. My general opinion is that unless she knows of a specific program that is specially better at a particular CSU, all of them provide basically the same education for your buck. The one exception being California Maritime Academy, which is specific for the maritime industry. Plus, we couldn't afford last minute homesick/crisis plane tickets from say, San Diego, San Mateo, or any SOCal. And we had many of those. I hope your daughter can relax a bit an allow herself to talk to somebody about her choices. Feel free to contact me. Gladys

Sonoma State versus Sac State?

April 2014

Our daughter was accepted into several of the Cal State campuses and is trying to decide between Sonoma State and CSU Sacramento. Wants to major in one of the social sciences - Psychology, Sociology, Criminal Justice or related major.

She really liked the Sac State tour - the campus and atmosphere - I did also; it really reminded me of UC Davis where I graduated from. There seemed to be excellent internship opportunities also due to being near the state capital. The only aspect she did not like was that it is more of a commuter school. She will not have a car at college, so will have to reply on public transportation.

She also liked the Sonoma State tour. I was amazed at how gorgeous their campus and buildings are. Definitely a private college feel. They also have the 2nd highest 4 year graduation rate in the CSU system (according to tour guide) and the class sizes are smaller than Sac state, which would be really helpful for our daughter and her learning style. It is also a much more residential campus. The only thing that she didn't like was how quiet the campus was. We did do a 10AM tour on a Monday, but the campus was extremely quiet (almost eerie) and there did not seem to be many students walking around, especially compared to the other college campuses we have toured. She also has heard there is not much to do in the area, and is afraid it could be too dull for her after having lived in SF. I told her with studying, the friends she will make and joining clubs and a sorority she will have plenty to do (emphasis on studying).

Does anyone have children who are/have attended either campus recently and have any feedback? The May 1 decision date is looming! Parent of stressed senior

Hi -

I just wanted to put in my two cents about Sac State and Sonoma State. My brother in law attended Sac State in their engineering program. He lived in the dorms as a freshmen and it was his first experience away from home. When he visited us (on weekends and occasionally on holidays) he always commented that while the school worked hard at providing a community atmosphere he felt that it was very much a commuter school and that the majority of the kids were local and already had some friends upon entering. We encouraged him to join a fraternity and find some activities outside of classes but the fraternity ended up being solely about partying (no real organizational standards like I saw when I experienced the greek system in college). He ended up returning home after one year to finish up at another school. I think the biggest thing to remember is that students at Sac State need to be able to advocate for themselves. No one is going to hold their hand and if they are struggling they need to be able to recognize it and seek help.

Sonoma State on the other hand is where my sister in law attended (she is finishing her sophomore year now). She too was skeptical about the lack of excitement on campus when she visited but once she moved in the dorms she felt completely differently. She lived in the apartment style dorms (which are beautiful) and the school made a huge effort to get all students involved in campus activities. She was also in their teaching program which has given her an instant group of people who are working on the same goal (teaching credential). She has truly blossomed at SSU and this Fall even decided to join a sorority. We actually just attended a philanthropy event that they put on (a lip-syncing contest between sororities and fraternities) where they raised almost $20,000 for diabetes research. Her experience has been wonderful, she is on target to graduate with a BA and credential in 4 years.

Another major difference is that SSU is more ''traditional'' aged college students and while that may seem like a small issue it can often be overwhelming to be away from home for the first time and feel like you have very little in common with their classmates.

All in all, I think both schools have their advantages and disadvantages but I think that for a first experience away from home Sonoma may be a more comfortable option.

Good Luck and Congrats! Christina

Choosing between CSU campuses for freshmen daughter

April 2013

Hello, My daughter just got accepted to San Marcos State and San Jose State. She wants to persue a career in Nursing. Mostly because of the proximity, we are leaning towards SJSU. But she insist on visiting the San Marcos campus. I have read reviews that are not too flattering for San Marcos State. She wants to be in a rather larger campus full of opportunities for social activities and sports (just as an audience, she does not do any sports) The complication is that she was accepted as an Undeclared major at SJSU and as a pre-nursing student at San Marcos, so she may have better chances at getting the classes she needs at San Marcos. We are trying to save ourselves the expense and time wasting of going to southern california for a 20 minute visit to a campus that might not be the place for her and where the pre-nursing program might be just as good as the one at SJSU. Plus all the future expenses of getting her back home for the holidays etc. (we are in Berkeley) In my mind if there is nothing special about San Marcos, why bother going there. So my question is, does any of you know anything about San Marcos, in terms of academic, social/physical environment, student body, proximity to a larger town and quality of life as a student. Or can give some wisdom about the choice between these two campuses? Thank you so much Trying to help my daughter decide

If your daughter really wants to pursue nursing, I think you should be carefully investigating whether she can actually get into that program at SJSU. Nursing is hugely competitive. A young friend of mine had to leave SFSU in order to get into some sort of community college nursing program, because she couldn't get into SFSU's nursing program. She was working on a health-related BA as a backup and couldn't make the switch. The CSUs are so overloaded right now, the rules have become very tight, and you should make no assumptions that just because your daughter attends SJSU, she can get into ANY particular program she's not already accepted to. So, if nursing is what really matters, research that and decide from there. San Marcos might be the better choice.

I believe that an in-person visit to San Marcos (as well as SJSU, if you haven't already) is necessary. This is your daughter's future, not yours. She needs to decide which place will fit her needs and wants.

We took two summers touring colleges in California, Oregon, and Washington, and my son based his decision upon the in-person visits. He chose OSU and has taken ownership of his college career and has felt very vested in his university.

No matter how much on-line research you do, until you walk the campus, talk to students there, and talk to the folks in the campus tour program, you can't get a good feel for the culture at the university. Plan ahead and make sure you get a campus tour and talk to advising/admissions folks for each school before your daughter decides.

Travel costs for holidays should not even be a factor in your daughter's decision. This is the beginning of her adult life and career. Parent of a college senior

CSU's and UC's: really graduate in 4 years?

April 2011

My son has been accepted to a variety of schools and we are now wondering which schools of the ones he likes will be the most economical. Does anyone out there know if you can really get your classes and graduate at CalPoly and/or UC Santa Cruz in 4 years? He has been accepted to a few privates with aid but they run a bit over the UC tuition for us, so it wouldn't be worthwhile unless the others really don't let a student get the classes needed to graduate. CalPoly would be the cheapest and he likes it, and he could take some city college classes in the summer. I'm just wondering if it's hype or true or not, and if anyone has experience with these two schools in particular.

Our well-respected private college counselor told us to expect it to take five years if our son selected a UC or CSU school. I don't have any other experience, but wanted to share her opinion. We are taking it seriously. Remember that much of this worry is due to current and expected budget cuts, so the experience of kids just who graduated, for instance, may not be as relevant. They attended under a different budgetary situation. Best of luck with it. It sure doesn't make the decision any easier! Anne

YES. Your son can definitely graduate in 4 years from either UC Santa Cruz or Cal Poly SLO. This is a reasonable question given the horrible budget reductions looming at both UC and CSU. But Santa Cruz and Cal Poly are still great deals and the students lucky enough to be admitted will get excellent educations.

UC has a very good record on graduation rate and time-to-degree. At UC overall, the majority of students graduate in 4 years or 4 year plus one quarter and 80% graduate in 5 years or less. For students who take longer than 4 years, the issue is generally not an inability to get classes but rather a desire to take more classes than the minimum needed--for example because a student is completing a double major, is taking additional courses to help prepare for graduate work, or was away from the campus for a term or more studying abroad or whatever. This is not to say that individual students don't have frustrating moments trying to get into a needed course. (I'm sure at least one UC parent will write in with a horror story.) But students who persevere (register for classes early, put themselves on waiting lists, appeal to professors, and try again if closed out the first time) and are flexible (willing to take an 8:00 a.m class!) can generally get what they need.

At CSU, the picture is a little different: courses can be tough to get into, graduation rates are much lower, and many people take longer. But Cal Poly is not a typical CSU--its stats look a lot like a UC campus. There are a number of factors at work here: the drive and preparation levels of students matters a lot and they tend to be high at UC and at specialized CSU campuses like Cal Poly; additionally the culture at private institutions and UC/Cal Poly has an expectation that students will graduate in 4 years (less true at many CSUs). And don't forget the price effect: data shows that the more expensive an institution is, the more motivated students (and their parents!) are to finish on time.

My guess is that unless you are getting great financial aid offers from the private institutions you're looking at, UC or (especially) Cal Poly will be less expensive. And the best way to ensure your son does well in school is to send him to the place he really wants to go. Congratulations on having these options--as budget reductions shrink the size of public education in California, they will be available to fewer and fewer students. Higher Ed expert

Our student is graduating within 4 years at UCSC. It means being on top of your requirements. If necessary taking summer classes or student abroad options for credit will help add up the necessary credits. But when you consider the difference in tuition at a UC over private ''splurging'' on a summer abroad course may be affordable as well as a great experience.

Will this get harder? Anyone's guess. But if you read catalogs carefully you will find it is also fairly common to take 5 years at a private school which may also have many requirements and not offer enough sections to cover the demand. At $35 to $50K per year - that is an even bigger ''ouch'' if money is a consideration. Depending on the private school and how rigid the degree you still need to stay on top of the requirements to graduate.

UCSC students can take classes at any UC in the summer ( unless this changes )- even Berkeley - and there are transfer options within the UC system if Santa Cruz is not his first choice. Though Santa Cruz is a stunning Campus and the Administrators and Staff provide a lot of service. Read over the website carefully for all the options and requirements. Good luck. Banana Slug MOM