An International Student’s Guide to Universities in California

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American Collegiate LA
University of the Pacific
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By Sakina Taher
Last updated on February 20, 2024

Gorgeous scenery, ideal weather, diversity, innovative companies, and top-ranked universities: California offers countless opportunities for international students. Read on to learn more about the state, its universities, and your career prospects there.

When it comes to international education, many roads lead to California: In the academic year 2022-2023, more than 130,000 international students chose colleges in California, making it the number-one state in the US for international education. Known for its sunny weather, cultural diversity, outdoor activities, and innovative STEM and creative careers, California offers abundant opportunities, all in one amazing place. 

Read on to learn more about universities in California and their top-ranked programs ready to enroll international students like you.

Why Study in California?

California, located along the US Pacific Coast, offers international students a welcoming environment, world-class universities and colleges, and companies that influence and shape societies around the globe. Known as the Golden State, California contributes 14% to the US economy’s gross domestic product (GDP), with career prospects in fast-growing industries in tech, sustainability, design, film, and more. There are more than 400 universities in California, many among the most prestigious in the world, with campuses that have state-of-the-art facilities and well-connected faculty experts.

Let’s take a closer look at what it is like to attend colleges in California and how you can prepare for your future in the US.

Student Life in California

California is home to beautiful national parks and beaches along its 840-mile coastline. The diverse landscape and weather offer “only in California” outdoor activities like surfing in Malibu and Santa Monica, hiking at Yosemite National Park, skiing and snowboarding in the Sierra Nevada mountains, and so much more. 

Entertainment is big here, too, with Los Angeles being the center of the movie industry. Visit famous movie theaters and the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Sports are huge — cheer on the Golden State Warriors, LA Lakers and Clippers, or Sacramento Kings basketball teams; LA Rams and Chargers or San Francisco 49ers football teams; or the LA Angels or Dodgers, Oakland Athletics, San Diego Padres, or San Francisco Giants baseball teams. 

International students aiming to develop their professional skills, connections, and prospects can also explore many options in California, especially in STEM fields. Beyond academic STEM degrees at California state universities, many Fortune 500 and Fortune 1000 companies provide internship and apprenticeship programs.

STEM Opportunities in California

California is the tech hub of the US, and home to Silicon Valley, where more than 30 Fortune 1000 companies like Apple, Google, Intel, and Meta offer internships and part-time jobs to international students. Gain hands-on-training, expand your professional networks, and learn valuable skills that help you stand out to global employers. You can also participate in bootcamps and workshops to learn new skills and connect with industry experts.

With so many corporate innovators across the state, many universities in California are also renowned for cutting-edge research addressing the world’s biggest challenges. For example, if you are passionate about sustainability, climate change, and agriculture, California is an ideal state to pursue a degree and career: In 2022 alone, California’s clean energy industry employed 127,000+ professionals.

So, if you’re interested in one-of-a-kind research projects with leading organizations, California is just the place to build the in-depth knowledge required to excel in your career post-graduation.

Creative Careers in California

While STEM careers have strong prospects in California, there is no shortage of creative careers as well. California’s entertainment, fashion, and publishing industries support more than five million jobs. From visual and performing arts schools to design, film, and music schools, California is home to many universities that launch the careers of famous artists, performers, designers, writers, and more. 

Study at Top-Ranked Universities in California

Many of the USA’s most prestigious universities for STEM, cinematic arts, and music are in California. With California state universities offering a large network of top-tier affordable schools, even more opportunities are within reach for students from all backgrounds.  

Shorelight universities in California give international students the chance to study in an inclusive and supportive environment where you can also access opportunities for Curricular Practical Training (CPT) and Optional Practical Training (OPT), particularly in STEM and business. CPT and OPT can contribute to developing a well-rounded professional education, as they provide relevant work experience, practical knowledge, and key skills development including leadership, critical thinking, and communication. 

Let’s take a look at some top-ranked Shorelight universities in California.

University of the Pacific

University of the Pacific, located in Stockton in the Bay Area, is ranked #44 for best value schools in the US by U.S. News & World Report. It is also ranked as one of the top 20 private colleges in the US for engineering salaries by the Wall Street Journal and is regularly recognized as a top-10 most beautiful campus in the US.

Top Programs at University of the Pacific

Pacific offers top-ranked programs with hands-on learning and a wide range of internship and job opportunities through its close collaborations with leading global organizations. 

School of Engineering and Computer Sciences 

Ranked in the top 20% of all non-doctoral engineering and computer science programs in the country, Pacific’s School of Engineering and Computer Sciences offers degrees built around experiential learning. Co-ops provide industry exposure through paid professional internships and real-world insights at 200+ industry-wide global partners. 

Eberhardt School of Business 

The Eberhardt School of Business, ranked #1 Business School in the West, engages students in world-class education experiences. Projects like the Students Investment Fund combine theoretical knowledge with hands-on activities, where students manage a portfolio of real money in the stock market. Internships are available at employers like Amazon, Clorox, Google, PayPal, and more.

Media X

Media X is a specialized degree program that combines arts and technology by exploring the production, performance, marketing analysis, and management of media. The curriculum covers graphic design, film shoots, marketing and social campaigns, theater production, and more, and also offers internships at creative/tech employers. 

Dedicated OPT and Career Services

UOP International offers career development services and OPT guidance exclusively to international students. Advisors offer assistance with applying for jobs and internships, tips for resumes and cover letters, graduate school planning, and more. 

The university has a robust schedule of job and internship fairs, practice interviews, workshops on networking, and much more. Students can also access Handshake online to browse job listings and connect with alumni. 

American Collegiate, Los Angeles

Designed to give undergraduate students a fully immersive university experience for their first and/or second year of studies before transferring, American Collegiate, Los Angeles at UCLA Extension offers engaging curriculum, ongoing advising, and recognized credits that transfer to top destinations nationwide. Students can access exclusive support services such as career guidance, transfer assistance, and more.

Two-year Track Option

In collaboration with UCLA Extension, American Collegiate, LA offers a two-year track option. Students earn a UCLA Extension certificate in General Studies after completing the first year of studies, after which they can start the transfer process or enroll for a second year in the program. During the second year, students can earn a second major-specific UCLA Extension certificate in fields including business, pre-med, sustainability, entertainment studies, and app programming.

Through the two-year track option, students can earn up to 90 transferable credits. This gives you the chance to apply for programs in top-ranked universities in the US and in the University of California system. 

Multiple Alumni Associations

When you complete your American Collegiate, LA program at UCLA Extension you become part of the UCLA Alumni Association, giving you access to UCLA’s international network of professionals in multiple fields, the UCLA Career Center (for internship and full-time employment opportunities), and career development services including professional development workshops, resume and cover letter guidance, interview prep, and more.

The UCLA Extension certification program offered through American Collegiate, LA provides well-rounded academic courses you can use to begin your professional career with the flexibility of choosing a specialized institution to further your knowledge in your areas of study.

Pepperdine University

Ranked #76 in national universities and #55 in best value schools by U.S. News & World Report, Pepperdine University offers international students a variety of master’s programs through its Graziadio Business School, one of the best business schools in the US according to The Princeton Review. Through Pepperdine’s classroom instruction, experiential learning opportunities, and mentorship from industry experts, you can further your expertise in business fundamentals while developing critical thinking, problem-solving, and leadership skills. 

Comprehensive Business Education 

Pepperdine University offers a variety of graduate degrees tailored for aspiring leaders and mid- to senior-level professionals. These degrees span multiple concentrations, including entrepreneurship, finance, and marketing, while their specialized Master of Business Administration (MBA) programs focus on strategic research and management.

Strategic Location and Professional Opportunities

Pepperdine is recognized as one of the top 25 most beautiful campuses in the US by The Princeton Review. Located in Malibu, about an hour’s drive from Los Angeles in southern California, the university offers amazing access to a vibrant business community in both Malibu and greater LA.

Graduate business students can expect to find internships and other professional opportunities at organizations such as Sony Entertainment, MannKind Corporation, and Fox Corporation, among others, in Malibu and Southern California, leading to lucrative careers: Graduates report a $101k+ median starting salary after earning their Pepperdine degree.

Finding the Right Universities in California with Shorelight

Ready to study in California, but not sure where to start? Shorelight is here to help! Advisors offer support with finding the right college in California, submitting applications, staying on track with deadlines and visa applications, and preparing for life as an international student in the US.

California is home to amazing opportunities, just waiting for you. So, which universities in California will you apply to? 

Shorelight advisors help you find your best-fit school in California >