Graduate student life in LA (Dec 2017 post)

posted Dec 31, 2017, 3:26 PM by Tim Fisher

In this December 2017 entry, I provide some insights into living in LA for graduate students (and prospective ones who are in the midst of searching for a graduate program and locale that fits them). The post covers several important factors:

  • Where will I live?

  • How will I commute?

  • How much will it cost?

  • Is it safe?

  • Is it fun?

  • Should I even go to grad school?

Where will I live?

Students have myriad choices of where to live on LA’s “Westside”. I was surprised to learn that UCLA owns many apartment buildings throughout the Westside that it rents to graduate students and faculty. In fact, my house sits in a neighborhood (Palms/Mar Vista) with several of these apartments. Below is a picture of the apartment around the corner from my house. The accommodations are very nice and actually quite stylish.




One big benefit of living in an urban area — particularly one with such good weather — is that you can walk or bike to do almost anything. The picture below shows our neighborhood Trader Joe’s grocery store (which has very competitive prices). The shopping is so convenient that we no longer make make prolonged grocery excursions; instead, we typically decide after the workday what we want for dinner, and then walk to pick up the ingredients.

How will I commute?

Even though LA is known as a car town, moving around the Westside absolutely does not require a car. In fact, I rarely drive at all — and never to work. Instead, I use a human-powered two-wheeler, aka the bicycle. My commute is 4-5 miles, and I can ride virtually every day because of the great LA weather. The commute takes 20-25 min, regardless of traffic — in fact, my downhill evening commute is typically faster than it would be in a car! Here’s a picture of me heading home from work.


If you’re not ready to push pedals, the mass transit options on the Westside are very good (and rapidly improving all across LA). For example, the bus in the picture below picks up at the Trader Joe’s and makes its last stop 20-30 min later at the doorstep of the main UCLA Engineering complex (for 50 cents per ride with a UCLA ID).


How much will it cost?

UCLA, as well as all major universities located in urban areas, recognizes the financial strains of being a student while living in a relatively expensive area. UCLA’s graduate stipends are set by a fixed scale available here. The idea is that students have a reasonable financial baseline with opportunity for increases as they gain more experience and credentials. Moreover, the university offers housing (see above) at relatively low rates — my graduate students tell me that most students pay $700-1200 per month for a shared apartment, depending on size and location. Further, UCLA provides generous subsidized rates for mass transit.


The big savings in comparison to rural universities derives from the ability to live without a car, which typically costs students more than $3000 per year in insurance, maintenance, fuel, and parking (not including car payments). When car payments are added, the total cost of owning and maintaining a car can easily exceed $5000 per year (i.e, roughly half the cost of housing — to me that’s crazy!). Here at UCLA, you simply don’t need a car for day-to-day activities, and for occasional excursions you can easily ride-share or rent. Because of the foregoing subsidies and conveniences, my sense is that the basic cost of living on the Westside for a graduate student is very similar to that at most other major research universities — urban or rural.

Is it safe?

Like any major urban area, residents need to take basic safety precautions such as locking doors. At the same time, Los Angeles generally has a lower crime rate than most other major US cities. Furthermore, LA’s Westside, where UCLA is located, is one of the lowest-crime areas in the city, as shown in the crime map below (source: Trulia).


Is it fun?

Of course, LA is known to be one of the most interesting and beautiful places on earth, and its reputation is well earned. The weather here is almost always perfect — sunny and moderately warm. If you’re thinking about graduate school, then your first priority should be to find a place where you can work toward your academic goals. At the same time, LA provides an ideal environment for those with a ‘work hard / play hard’ mentality.


The opportunities for entertainment and recreation abound in the area. I particularly enjoy outdoor activities and provide a few (of many, many) pictures that capture the lifestyle.


UCLA marina where you can rent sailboats and kayaks (Marina Del Rey).


Surfers at the beach near El Segundo


Hiking in the Santa Monica mountains

Should I even go to graduate school?

Only you can answer this question. All good graduate students in my experience are motivated by a strong inner drive to achieve something great through acquired knowledge. If you are unsure about grad school, this article might help.


In any case, if you’ve reached this far into the blog, I thank you for your time and attention, and convey my best wishes for your future.


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