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Duke University
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Unweighted GPA: 3.7
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West Coast Colleges vs. East Coast Colleges

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The search for a dream college often starts with location — and hey, it matters! Where a college is located determines everything from the people you interact with to the food you eat. It’s also responsible for much of a college’s vibe and “personality,” so figuring out what local flavors each region imparts on its colleges is an important part of determining whether you’ll be comfortable at a certain institution.

While the East Coast and West Coast of the United States are different parts of the same country, there are actually quite a few differences in the experience of attending colleges located on either coast. So if you’re currently contemplating colleges from these regions, here’s a list of a few big differences between the schools on each coast to help you decide which one’s the better fit for you.


  1. The Weather

It goes without saying that the West Coast has milder weather than the East Coast — most West Coasters have never experienced a fresh snowfall, and even fewer know what a hurricane is like.

But this isn’t always a good thing; summers in the West can get very hot and dangerously dry. This arid summer is contrasted with a rainy winter, with the length of the dry and wet seasons varying as you move up and down the coast. For instance, Seattle has a long wet season and a short dry season, while Los Angeles has a long dry season and a short wet season. Spring and fall don’t really have much of a distinct presence in the Pacific Coast climate as the temperatures don’t usually fluctuate much; there’s no distinct “spring” or “fall” range of temperatures between the summer and winter temperatures. Most of the time, temperatures stay around sixty degrees Fahrenheit during the wet season and eighty degrees during the dry season (though more southern regions can reach the hundreds on a bad day).

Most East Coast regions have four very distinct seasons: spring will feel different from summer, which feels different from fall, which feels different from winter. Typically, springs and autumns are rainy, summers are humid and hot, and winters are snowy — though this pattern is less and less pronounced as you move south (Florida has summer weather almost all year). The Atlantic Coast is also relatively humid year-round, and receives much more precipitation than the West Coast. Temperatures also fluctuate much more than on the West Coast, with winter temperatures reaching the negative tens (in Fahrenheit) and summer temperatures reaching up to the nineties.


  1. The People

It’s hard to describe the people of a specific region in just a few words, simply because people are just so diverse and different, and it’s best to experience them for yourself. So we won’t spend much time on this section. But there’s no denying that in general the people on each coast are known to have different “vibes.” If you have friends who have experienced life on both coasts, try asking them about these differences.

Loosely, East Coast people are sometimes described as more cosmopolitan, more urbane, more “put together,” and East Coast schools embody much of this culture. On the other hand, West Coast people have a reputation for being laid-back, and West Coast campuses also reflect this pattern.


  1. The Campuses

Most West Coast colleges are newer than their East Coast counterparts, and tend to have bigger campuses with more modern facilities. In fact, many of these colleges are big enough to warrant their own internal transportation systems (usually buses). Architecturally, their buildings tend to look more like they’re part of a matching set because they were most likely all built at around the same time. A perk of many West Coast colleges is their (intentional) proximity to beaches; the University of California San Diego, for instance, owns a stretch of beach as part of its campus.

East Coast colleges tend to be older and smaller, with buildings that tell stories. Each building is an architectural relic from the time that it was commissioned, and often has a long, illustrious, and interesting history of donors and alumni. They also usually look more aesthetically pleasing and make for great pictures (tourists often stop by just to take pictures). Many of these campuses are compact and rather enclosed, with almost everything within walking distance.


  1. The Playstyle

In terms of sightseeing off-campus, the East Coast is definitely the more diverse of the two coasts. From the Appalachians to the historical landmarks, there’s something for almost everyone. You can go to New York City for the Museum of Modern Art, or to a quaint New Hampshire village deep in the woods, or to a Southern city for the culture and hospitality — all you have to do is follow the coast. Plus, it’s all relatively close to each other; within three hours, you could’ve already driven through three different states and be working your way through a fourth. And the same goes for outdoorsy people; whether you like mountains, rivers, lakes, or the ocean, it’s never more than a few hours away.

The West Coast’s strengths are its well-preserved natural landscapes: California’s miles and miles of pristine beaches, Oregon’s majestic mountains, Washington’s stunning Pacific Northwestern forests. And with the relatively temperate climate, you can explore most of these natural attractions year-round. There aren’t as many big cities on the West Coast as there are on the East Coast, and even then, they’re far away from each other. For instance, in California alone, it takes seven hours to drive from San Francisco to Los Angeles, and then another three to drive from Los Angeles to San Diego.


With all that said — it’s helpful to keep in mind that the most important thing in looking for college compatibility is experience. While many people might find the above statements true, some people may also find that their experience is an exception to the rule. So while this post is full of generalizations, the best way to know if you belong more on the West Coast or East Coast is by actually visiting and taking a look for yourself.


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Jeanette Si
Senior Blogger

Short Bio
Jeanette is a junior at Cornell University double majoring in Information Science and China and Asia-Pacific Studies. As someone who’s received a lot of help from mentors during her personal admissions process, she’s looking to give back now that her own admissions season is behind her. When she’s not writing, she can usually be found singing show tunes (terribly), playing MOBAs (passably), or quoting Jane Austen (expertly).