Studying in the US: East Coast vs West Coast | Top Universities

Studying in the US: East Coast vs West Coast

By Aisha K

Updated July 28, 2022 Updated July 28, 2022

You’ve made up your mind that you want to study in the US – congrats! But if you’re now stuck figuring out which side of the country is ideal for you, you’re definitely not alone. As home to 201 institutions in the QS World University Rankings 2023, it can be difficult to work out where to study in the US when options feel endless.  

So, to make your life a little easier, we’ve covered different aspects of what it’s like to study on both coasts including affordability, the local job market and which subjects are areas of strength for universities on each coast.  

World rankings 

You’ll be pleased to know that both sides of the country are home to some of the world’s best universities. Cambridge, Massachusetts, is famously known as the US’s educational capital thanks to Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (ranked as the best university in the world). Strong competition across the country includes the University of California system, which heavily dominates the top universities on the west coast.  

Here are the top 10 universities on each coast: 

Top 10 universities in the US: East coast 

World rank 

University 

Location 

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) 

Cambridge, MA 

Harvard University 

Cambridge, MA 

13 

University of Pennsylvania 

Philadelphia, PA 

=16 

Princeton University 

Princeton, NJ 

18 

Yale University 

New Haven, CT 

20 

Cornell University 

Ithaca, NY 

22 

Columbia University 

New York, NY 

24 

John Hopkins University 

Baltimore, MD 

39 

New York University (NYU) 

New York, NY 

 

Top 10 universities in the US: West coast 

World rank 

University 

Location 

Stanford University 

Stanford, CA 

=6 

California Institute of Technology (Caltech) 

Pasadena, CA 

27 

University of California, Berkeley (UCB) 

Berkeley, CA 

44 

University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) 

Los Angeles, CA 

53 

University of California, San Diego (UCSD) 

San Diego, CA 

80 

University of Washington 

Seattle, WA 

=102 

University of California, Davis (UCD) 

Davis, CA 

134 

University of Southern California 

Los Angeles, CA 

149 

University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB) 

Santa Barbara, CA 

=235 

University of California, Irvine (UCI) 

Irvine, CA 

Subject strengths 

Unsurprisingly, MIT takes the top spot for engineering and technology subjects, according to the World University Rankings by Subject 2022. However, that’s not to say that the west coast isn’t an intellectual powerhouse for STEM degrees. Stanford University and the University of California, Berkeley (UCB) rank fifth and ninth respectively for engineering and technology, meaning you’re guaranteed a high-quality education on either side of the coast. 

The same is true for other subjects. The east coast typically upholds a reputation of being better for a liberal arts education, with Harvard, Yale and Columbia featuring in the top 10 for arts and humanities. Despite that, UCB and Stanford take fourth and fifth place respectively, highlighting that both coasts rank highly in several subject areas.  

If we take a look at the individual subject level, universities on the west coast rank outperform some of their east coast competitors. For example, the University of California ranks second for veterinary science behind the Royal Veterinary College in the UK. Additionally, the University of Southern California and Stanford University rank second and sixth place respectively for communication and media studies, ahead of universities on the east coast.  

Job market 

Apple Park in Cupertino, California

Serving as a global centre for technology and innovation, Silicon Valley offers a plethora of opportunities, with tech giants such as Apple and Google basing their headquarters on the west coast. Other regions aside from Silicon Valley also offer promising job prospects. According to a CNBC article published in January 2022, Seattle was listed as the number one city for young professionals, in addition to San Francisco taking third place.  

Across the country, New York City boasts lucrative careers in fashion, banking and finance, as well as Boston’s increasing popularity as a hub for biotech and the life sciences. According to the QS Best Student Cities Ranking 2023, Boston ranks third for employer activity (cities that are most highly sought-after as recruiting grounds among graduate employers), reflecting its strong reputation as a career hub.

Affordability 

Unfortunately, living on either side of the coast can mean you’ll rack up big expenses, particularly in bigger cities like LA or New York. That being said, data from the Best Student Cities ranking indicated that San Diego and Pittsburgh were among the cheapest out of all included US cities. According to RentCafe.com, the average rent for an apartment in Pittsburgh is $1,378. 

In terms of tuition, fees are often the same for in-state and out-of-state students. However, if you’re thinking of studying in California, it’s worth noting non-Californian residents face extra costs for non-resident supplemental tuition.  

The top universities on the east coast often have higher tuition fees ($57,590 at MIT and $54,768 at Harvard for the 2022-2023 academic year) but don’t worry - a large percentage of students often pay less thanks to a variety of scholarships and financial aid available.  

Climate 

Winter in Connecticut

Although weather might not be the most important consideration, the Atlantic and Pacific oceans bring contrasting climates to the two coasts that are worth mentioning. If you’re someone who enjoys experiencing all four seasons, you might be more suited to the east coast where long, snowy winters are contrasted by hot summers.  

Conversely, if you hate the cold weather and would prefer sunshine, you’ll enjoy living on the west coast where the climate is generally milder all year round. 

Culture and lifestyle 

Times Square in New York City

Taking time out of your studies to travel around a country as vast as the US is a must - and there’s definitely no shortage of places to visit on both coasts. Studying at an institution on the east coast could mean taking trips to cities such as New York or Philadelphia, where you can check out a Broadway production one weekend and enjoy an authentic Philly cheesesteak the next.  

As home to Hollywood and many of the world’s biggest label records, visiting LA could entail taking tours of famous filming locations or going to some of the most well-known music venues for a live show. Popular spots include Venice Beach, Rodeo Drive or driving down to Malibu to enjoy scenic views of the oceanfront. Hiking and nature enthusiasts are spoilt for choice with potential options such as Yosemite and the Pacific Crest Trail. 

Travels aside, you may have heard of the noticeable differences in terms of lifestyle. If you love the idea of a hustle and bustle environment, the “go-go-go” pace of the east coast may sound appealing to you. On the other hand, if a fast-paced approach doesn’t work for you, life on the west coast is well-known for being more laid-back. Whether it’s because of the Californian sunshine or notoriously busy LA traffic, people are less likely to be in as much of a rush.

This article was originally published in July 2022 .

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Written by

Aisha is Content Editor for TopUniversities.com and TopMBA.com, creating and publishing a wide range of articles for an international student audience. A native Londoner, Aisha graduated from the London School of Economics with a degree in Philosophy and has previously worked in the civil service. 

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