California Love-Hate: Split opinions on graduate school in the City of Angels
by Stephanie Small
Published January 31, 2011
I grew up on the East Coast. We had family in Los Angeles, so nearly every winter we’d go visit. My parents liked to book really early flights, so we’d wake up around 4 or 4:30 am in the pitch black, freezing cold. We’d dress and stumble down to the taxi, fingers and noses numbed from the brief interaction with the searingly frigid pre-sunrise December air.
We’d tumble into the airport, settle into our seats on the plane….and arrive six hours later at a sunny, perfect-75-degrees Los Angeles International Airport. The sight of palm trees swaying sleepily in the breeze never failed to blow my mind. Especially when it was Christmastime and said trees were draped with lights, while “Feliz Navidad” streamed from the windows of passing cars.
Say what you will about LA, it’s a special place. The beach and its narly waves beckon. Stars adorn every corner (and they are so SHORT in real life!). It’s, like, never cold. This city has inspired dozens of songs across multiple and varied genres. Never mind California in general – who can forget odes to the City of Angels like “Welcome to the Jungle” by Guns n Roses, NWA’s “Straight Outta Compton”, and Circle Jerks’ “Beverly Hills”.
What’s interesting, though, is that these songs tend to reflect the contradictions of LA and the resulting love-hate relationship of its residents. Beautiful climate! Too much smog! So much to do! Too much traffic! Gorgeous people everywhere! Too many plastic body parts! The land of dreams! Too many drugs, too much money, too little money, too much crime!
If you’re considering graduate school in LA and are looking for a reality check, check out what the following current and former students had to say about life under the Hollywood sign.
The one topic our interviewees agreed on, across the board, was LA’s famously brutal traffic. And don’t assume you can wiggle out of the gridlock with your trusty bike. Jessica Stamen, who spent one year at UCLA’s PhD program in English Lit, cautions “LA is very spread out, so it’s difficult to navigate without a car. That means a car is basically required.” And don’t count on buses or trains: an anonymous respondent who attended UC Riverside called the transportation system “lousy”. Bottom line: you need an automobile. Even then, Anne Myers, who attended the same program as Stamen, refers to her “long commute time, even though I didn't live far from campus.” However, Olivia Palmieri, who attended law school at Loyola University, believes that if you can put up with the traffic, “opportunities in LA are endless”.
A Love-Hate Relationship
When it came to describing the benefits of living in LA, conflicting feedback abounded.
Our anonymous friend felt “art and other forms of culture are hard to come by,” while Stamen shared “though the movie industry does dominate the city, there is plenty of culture, from museums and art galleries to concerts and readings…LA is full of creative people.” Myers complained of “expensive rent,” explaining “L.A. is a very hard place to live on a grad student stipend,” but Palmieri stated “there are so many cheap and free activities in LA that students living on a budget can enjoy, and you can always find coupons for everything!”
Myers enjoyed “the opportunity to teach an ethnically diverse student population, drawn from both the LA area and elsewhere,” but Anonymous clarified, “while ethnically diverse, southern Californians are generally pretty similar in that they are highly materialistic – they are all overly concerned with appearances – nice car, big house, immaculate front yard.” Stamen found the weather to be “an enormous benefit” (who wouldn’t!) but Anonymous cautioned “don’t come here if you enjoy the outdoors.” Palmieri finds the only drawbacks in LA to be “the amount of people and the traffic”, but Anonymous found the only benefit to be “the beach”.
Is LaLa Land for You?
So, prospective student and LA-dweller, it looks like the City of Angels is not for you if you
a) don’t want to spend lots of time commuting in a car
b) need to be around nature, peace and quiet, and
c) can’t deal with materialism.
However, if you’re a city person, like warm weather, the beach, and the arts, Los Angeles might be your perfect match.
Search our directory of gradute programs in Los Angeles