An Introduction to Colleges & Universities in San Diego

by Doug Schmitt
An Introduction to Colleges & Universities in San Diego

San Diego is California's second largest city and the United States' seventh largest city, boasting a population of 1.3 million. The original inhabitants of the San Diego area, now known as the San Dieguito people, were the earliest cultural group, dating back to 7500 B.C. The name of the city originated in November of the year 1602 when Sebastian Vizcaino arrived in his flagship, the "San Diego", sent to the area by Spain. Vizcaíno surveyed the harbor and the area now known as Mission Bay and Point Loma, naming it for the Spanish Catholic saint San Diego de Alcalá.

Having an idyllic climate and 70 miles of immaculate beaches that support year round outdoor activities including surfing and swimming, the region attracts guests from around the world. In its 4,200 square miles, San Diego County is home to 18 cities and several other communities including La Jolla, Del Mar, Escondido, La Mesa, Chula Vista, and Carlsbad. San Diego offers a diverse cultural atmosphere with numerous places to visit and things to do. For instance, Balboa Park features 15 museums, gardens, art galleries, and The Old Globe Theatre. As well, it is home to the world famous San Diego Zoo and Wild Animal Park.

The thriving economy, one of the world's best climates, diverse communities, and a legendary lifestyle all make San Diego what Forbes Magazine has called one of the "best place(s) for business and careers". Constant sunshine, the comfort of the Pacific Ocean, being able to travel from the beach to the mountains to the desert in a short drive make an attractive environment that inspires the thousands of engineers, scientists, and researchers that make San Diego their home.

Companies such as Pfizer, Motorola, Nokia, the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center, Sanyo, Sony, Hewlett-Packard, Oracle, and SAIC are able to call San Diego home as well. Its core technology sectors have become leading centers for biotechnology, communications, and software development. Powered by the research being done at San Diego's universities and constantly encouraging new business development in the public sector, the San Diego area is a hotspot for new businesses. The region's biotechnology community ranks as the third largest in the United States and its communications industry is one of the most rapidly expanding, earning the title "wireless communications capital of the world" along the way.

San Diego is taking huge strides in an effort to make today's education relevant to the jobs of tomorrow. Following are statistics that demonstrate the city's commitment to educating its workforce:

  • More than 175,000 students attend institutions of higher education.
  • More than 12,000 of those students graduate each year from those higher education institutions.
  • 30% of San Diego's workforce has a college degree, the highest rate among any major city in the United States.
  • San Diego has the highest percentage of college graduates of any city in the United States.
  • San Diego has the highest number of Ph.D.s per capita than any other U.S. city.

San Diego's community colleges partner with industry to better train and prepare technicians and specialists for their jobs, and its universities are preparing engineers and researchers for careers including but not limited to telecommunications, software development, and biotechnology.

Going to School in San Diego

San Diego has five private colleges and universities, four public colleges and universities, and seven technical and professional schools:

Private Colleges and Universities

Public Colleges and Universities

Technical/Professional Schools

Selecting a school and program in San Diego may or may not be an easy task for the prospective student. Students will find quite a variety of programs to choose from within the educational institutions of San Diego. Some programs offered are as follows but not limited to:

Accounting, Engineering, Behavioral Sciences, Fitness, Biochemistry, Geography, Biotechnology, Health & Exercise Sciences, Business Studies, Manufacturing Engineering, Chemistry, Nursing, Computer Information Systems, Physics, Dance, Radio & Television, Electrical, and Sociology.

With these areas of study and so many more, how can one choose? "Well, San Diego is big on biotechnology as well as telecommunications, manufacturing, and space & design," says Jennifer Henry of the San Diego Regional Economic Development Corporation.

"There's a shortage of engineers and technically trained individuals," Henry states. With that shortage comes a large demand for people of that educational background. This may be of some assistance to a student trying to make a decision in regards to their school & program of choice. According to Henry, other schools "are beginning to develop programs to train people specifically for these fields with cooperation from the employment community", allowing students the option of community college and technical schooling versus the more commonly pursued 4-year schools.

A student considering school and employment in San Diego should "choose a career based on interests and strengths" says Craig Schmidt, Assistant Director and Advisor of the University of California - San Diego Career Development Program. "Ask yourself ‘what interests me?' and ‘what am I good at?'"

Outside of interests and strengths, students may want to consider the economic demands of the San Diego area. "Technology and computers are a very hot area here in California," says Schmidt. "One-third of students… go into some sort of technology related career."

However, it's not all technology and computer related professions. Along with those industries comes an ever growing demand for business professionals. "Sales, marketing, and management consulting are big in San Diego. Between 25 and 30 percent of students go into business jobs," he comments. However, according to Schmidt there's also law and medicine, which has students continuing education beyond the traditional bachelor's degree. "We've seen quite an economic improvement since the late 1990's and a number of students, approximately 40 percent, go directly into graduate school programs upon completion of their degree."


Tuition in San Diego varies depending on the type of school a student may choose to attend. Often, it is more expensive to attend a private or vocational/technical institution than it is to attend a public post-secondary institution. Annual tuition rates at some San Diego-area schools are:


  • University of San Diego: $33,866 (based on a 9-month academic year)


  • University of California, San Diego: $8,379.20 (full-time non-resident); $2,439.29 (full-time resident)


  • Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising - San Diego: $18,285 (for an Associate of Arts degree, two-year program)

These examples represent basic tuition rates and do not factor in miscellaneous expenses such as housing, lab/activity fees, meal plans, or books. Because these expenses can greatly increase the overall cost of higher education, students should also be sure to know approximately how much they will have to add to the basic tuition.

Financial Aid

While footing the bill for higher education can be an overwhelming thought, loans, grants, and scholarships help to make this financial burden less taxing. Most schools offer their own loan, grant, and scholarship programs to students to help off-set the costs, and nearly all post-secondary institutions offer federal and state programs, such as the Stafford and Plus loans and Pell grants. Every year, ten million students vie for these coveted assistance programs, and nearly nine million students receive them.

Scholarships are another resource not to be missed. Scholarships are generally competitive and offered to students with certain GPAs, fields of study, ethnicities, or talents.

Some scholarships specific to students of San Diego are as follows:

Addition scholarship information for students in San Diego can be found through The San Diego Foundation.


Education and experience are the principal items a prospective employer is concerned with. The best way to gain hands-on, real world experience is through an internship, which provides students skills and knowledge beyond classroom instruction. Internships do more than look impressive on resumes; they're terrific ways for students to gauge the appropriateness of their chosen field.

Having been coined the "wireless communications capital of the world" and known as a hub for engineering, software development, and biotechnology, San Diego's businesses offer a variety of internships to students, including those found with industry giants such as Sanyo, Motorola, and Nokia.

Employment in San Diego

Institutions of higher education in San Diego offer both traditional job placement and on-campus recruitment through career fairs and seminars. As community colleges and technical schools partner with industry to better train and prepare specialists and technicians, 4-year schools do the same for their students.

Craig Schmidt again comments, "We help students to prepare for their job search. We work closely with the employment community to make these opportunities for students…as both internships and jobs."


Students will find that San Diego is an excellent city in which to pursue their higher education due to the city's cultural diversity, booming economy, abundance of extra-curricular activities, in addition to its great selection of educational resources.

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