CSUSM Exchange Program

CSUSM Exchange Program

The University

I chose CSUSM because I wanted to study in the USA and actually get to know American life. There are now so many exchange students at the larger universities that some courses are only offered for them. This is not the case on a smaller campus like San Marcos. The California State University system is also a little more financially feasible if you think of the costs of a semester abroad, which can generally be very high in the USA. According to Abbreviationfinder, CSUSM is the abbreviation of California State University San Marcos.

California State University San Marcos (CSUSM) belongs to the system of state universities in California with 23 others. San Marcos is located in the north of San Diego and is a rather small city, but it extends over a wide area.

The campus is very spacious and the departments have different buildings. There is also a very large library (tips are also available there for research work), a cafeteria, smaller snack stands, a Starbucks, two university shops and a number of rooms and spaces for the various student organizations.

For all international students, the time at “Cal State” began with an orientation week organized and carried out by the International Office. We got to know the campus better, received our student IDs and, above all, checked the requirements for admission to the courses and were sometimes asked to reconsider or expand our choice of courses in order to be flexible. This year, the CSUSM not only admitted many more students than before, but also more than twice as many international students. But they didn’t seem to be really prepared for that. The ALCI office was very helpful, but often did not have the opportunity to actually achieve something, be it questions about the choice of course or general information. After the first phase of choosing a course, etc., we hardly had any contact. The care was there, but it would have been nice.


For the application I can guide me of MicroEDU and worked great. I received the response from the CSUSM very quickly by email and then I had email contact myself regarding my choice of course. My university here still had a few questions and Catherine from CSUSM patiently helped me until everything was clarified. I can only recommend everyone to follow the advice from MicroEDU exactly, then it is no longer as confusing and as much as it might seem at first.

Course choice

The choice of course was not well organized in my opinion. At first it all seemed very simple. With the application you submit a course wish list. The courses can be viewed in an extensive catalog on the homepage – although you cannot yet find out which courses are actually offered in the respective semester. This will only be published shortly before the beginning of the semester, but can then also be viewed online. The ALCI passes the wish list on to the departments so that they know how many interested parties can be expected. It is also important to submit an overview of the previous achievements, as the admission requirements for the courses are first checked by the Office for Business Administration (CoBA Office).

International students cannot enroll in the courses online like the American ones, but have to ” crash ” them on site in the first few hours. This means that you cannot know in advance whether you will be able to take the required courses, but go to the professor at the beginning or the end of the first hour of the semester and ask him for a place in the course. If successful, the professor will give you a number so that you can go to the CoBA office to have this approved again, then submit a copy to the ALCI office and finally hand in the original to the administration and be there for unlocked the course.

The online courses seemed very crowded at first (in my courses there were usually around 35 places and a long waiting list). In fact, many students have registered several times and were then excluded by the professor after repeated non-appearances – so it can take that long before you know whether a place might be free. I have also been told many times that American students have priority over course entitlement. That is why it only helped a few to contact the professors in advance by email; they had to wait and see how many students actually showed up for the course.

The tuition fee includes 12 credits. So that can be three courses with 4 credits each or more with fewer credits. I got to know some international students who got 10 credits on their economics courses because they weren’t allowed to take any more courses. In some cases, additional courses from social areas or language courses etc. had to be taken, because with less than 12 credits you are not considered a full-time student and thus the visa is not valid. That might sound logical, but we didn’t really know beforehand and we were under a lot of pressure when the conditions slowly became clear to us. In the end, many of them had problems getting their courses recognized by their home university. But I was lucky and not only got all the business courses, but even my favorites.

The 4 credit courses require the most work. The numbers in front of the course titles indicate which academic year you are in and which level of difficulty and workload can be expected. I found courses for the third and fourth year of study to be both appropriate (with my fifth semester, however, I would only have been in the third year. But you shouldn’t let yourself be fooled into having any doubts; you can get along well with that).

The courses

In general, the concept is very different from that in Germany. Attendance is sometimes very strictly controlled and, depending on the professor, points are deducted for absent hours. Participation in class is also assessed. While we usually only have one important exam at the end of the semester, in the USA something has to be handed in all the time (smaller assignments as well as longer essays), there are one or two exams during the semester and many group projects. For me, the exams consisted of a multiple choice part and a few questions that were supposed to be answered as text. I found this combination appropriate.

My impression is that the US system is more like school and there is a lot of guidance from the professors. It’s quite pleasant, but I don’t have the feeling that you are really being prepared for life or everyday work here.

Almost all of the professors have regular office hours and some even provide their cell phone numbers. Everyone is always very receptive to questions and always tried very hard to help.

In my subjects it was necessary to buy the recommended books. Unfortunately these are very expensive. But you can also borrow them and you can also find good offers on the Internet. The professors often seem to have to do with the publication, which may give an indication of why you really have to buy the updated version every semester.

I think that the course offerings at CSUSM are very diverse and offer a good complement to my courses in Germany. When choosing a course, it was important for me to look into different areas so that I can learn something about the American way of studying on the one hand and, of course, broaden my knowledge and experience for my studies and later professional life on the other. I am actually studying international business, but at CSUSM I took courses from various economic areas (management and marketing ).

Fellow students

In my impression, Americans don’t go to university to make friends. Everyone was very friendly and helpful, but not more. It was only during the group work that I got a little closer to some of them and then also met with them privately.

It was easier with the international students, especially we Germans did a lot together at the beginning. This is also the best way to visit sights or the like, because of course the locals are less interested in them. After a hamlet it was a bit too “German” for me and I was happy to have more to do with Americans, especially because of my roommates. However, if you are mainly looking to celebrate, you can be satisfied with the contact with the international students. However, it should be noted that the alcohol ban in the university’s accommodation is really strictly enforced – that surprised some.

Since studying in the USA is usually very expensive, many American students work on the side. Since they partially finance it themselves, you notice that the course is very important and that the work ethic is generally very high. Nevertheless, I found the attitude here to be a little more relaxed and sometimes had the impression that I was noticed with “typically German accuracy”.

I was always lucky with my fellow students in my group work and we quickly found a pleasant working atmosphere. Due to the many part-time jobs, it was difficult to work on our projects outside of the lectures. Nobody really seemed to have planned the time for this.

Apartment Search

I arrived two weeks before the start of the semester and spent the first week in a hotel in San Marcos. From there I looked for rooms in shared apartments etc. This is where craigslist.com was most helpful. In addition, you urgently need an American cell phone number to arrange sightseeing. Most of the other students arrived no earlier than a week before lectures started and, as far as I know, they all have accommodation on time found, even if it was stressful. At first I didn’t get a lot of feedback on my email inquiries. A friend then explained to me that there is a lot of fraud going on at the moment, most of which starts with an email claiming to be an exchange student. With simpler emails, in which I no longer explained who I am, but only asked if the room was still available and when I could visit it, I had better experiences.

Since I didn’t plan to get a car, the distance to the university or to public transport was very important to me. However, this is rather difficult in the USA. I would definitely recommend a rental car when looking for an apartment. In the end I was lucky. There is a train, the Sprinter, which usually runs every half hour between Escondido, San Marcos, Vista and Oceanside. The university issues monthly tickets at reduced prices, but you have to be quick. Living near a sprinter station is therefore sufficient. I found a room with a young couple in Oceanside that was not only within walking distance of the Sprinter stop, but also in downtown Oceanside. So there were restaurants and small shops nearby, so I got along quite well without a car. However, it is worth renting one for excursions.

Leisure and everyday life

The San Marcos area is a great base from which to see much of California. Most things can be done very well with a rental car. San Diego is very close and I would count it as my host home. Los Angeles is more of an excursion, but always within reach. You are also close to Mexico; I was warned against Tijuana very much. I think the landscape in Southern California is very worth seeing (sea, mountains, desert,…); furthermore there are some nature reserves in the area. This can also be combined well with a visit on the way to Las Vegas or San Francisco. In addition, when you are so close, you should also consider a trip to Hawaii; I did that right after the semester.

In San Marcos itself there is really nothing you can do; There are a few good restaurants and a sports bar and a beautiful lake near the university. I found Oceanside to be much more interesting and as I said, you’re in San Diego at any time.

On the other hand, there is a lot going on directly on campus. Tuesdays and Thursdays there is a longer lunch break with lecture-free time, during which there was almost always some kind of action. That made it a lot easier to integrate into everyday student life and to get to know the many different offers – be it sporty, professional or social. At the weekend a “party bus” often drove from the shopping center at the university to San Diego (not expensive, often including entry to a certain club). The ALCI office organized a trip to San Diego to the Haunted Hotel for Halloween. In addition, the university sometimes offers tickets for football games at reduced prices, but they are gone very quickly.

I lived in Oceanside, so I was mostly on the beach. Surfing, stand-up paddling, kayaking, body boarding, or just strolling along the beach or the harbor – it was a dream home!

The fall semester ran from mid-August (introductory week for international students) to mid-December. So there is still time to travel afterwards before we continue in Germany. There were hardly any lectures on Fridays, and some students were only on campus two days a week. Since most of them work on the side,
this can be easily arranged.


I really enjoyed my semester abroad at Cal State San Marcos. It wasn’t my first time in California and it will certainly not be the last. Oceanside in particular has become a real home to me, and I will miss living so close to the beach very much. The lessons were an interesting experience, but for my studies I prefer the independence that is required in Germany. Most Americans were very, very nice, but only a few were actually interested in having more contact than necessary through university etc.

In general, I can only recommend a semester abroad. For me there were no difficulties with the English language and I was happy to study on a comparatively small campus, where the group of exchange students is not given any special treatment, but has to be integrated quickly into everyday American student life.

California State University San Marcos Exchange Program

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