I'm considering Santa Cruz for my Ph.D work. What should a person expect when moving to Santa Cruz?
March 25, 2008 5:32 PM   Subscribe

I am considering moving to Santa Cruz for a Ph.D program. I visited the city for 4 days last week and really enjoyed the area. Everyone I have talked to mentions how expensive it is. It is true that housing is extremely expensive, renting too. But, I didn't find the food in the grocery stores to be outrageous, eating out wasn't terrible either. Unless I'm missing something, its the housing which gives the city its stigma for being expensive. Plus, there are 140 Ph.D students at UCSC which obviously make ends meet in some way (albeit poor college student life isn't too bad). Am I close to correct here? Also, I'd love to know what you think of the area!!
posted by noahdubya to Work & Money (16 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Yes, you're basically correct. (Also, various CA taxes, fees, are relatively high -- I assume you're not currently living in CA.)

It's a good area. Lots of outdoor activities. Progressive.
posted by coffeefilter at 5:54 PM on March 25, 2008

There is affordable on-campus graduate student housing at UCSC, and there is also spacious super cheap family housing. A family can be a married couple or siblings, etc. It might be that if you have kids, you qualify as well. You should get in-state tuition within one year if you are going to be a grad student. You can also live outside of santa cruz proper for cheaper if you have a car and don't mind the drive.

Beautiful city, one of the best places to live in the country.
posted by about_time at 5:58 PM on March 25, 2008

I was born in Santa Cruz, and grew up in the area on and off. I'm now in Berkeley and I visit fairly regularly. It's lovely, temperate, has good food and lots of local artists.

Downsides? Well, in addition to housing, gasoline is also expensive out here. I enjoy the hippie-trippy attitude of the area, but obviously not everyone does. And this is hard to quantify, but Santa Cruz feels culturally isolated compared to, say, San Jose thirty miles away. I feel like I'm part of the larger world in Berkeley, I didn't feel that way in Santa Cruz. Really, going for a Ph.D program is perfect. Even if you don't like it enough to stay, you should be able to enjoy the weather and scenery for a few years.
posted by lore at 6:23 PM on March 25, 2008 [1 favorite]

Housing, gasoline and taxes are all fairly high here in CA. However, good fresh produce absolutely abounds and is comparatively less expensive (because so much produce is grown in CA, and we are at the forefront of the local food movement). Organically raised chicken, beef, etc. is also easy to obtain.

Santa Cruz is beautiful, the weather is nearly perfect, you're near the ocean, and altogether it's a great place to live, especially for a PhD. student.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 7:13 PM on March 25, 2008

Expect to have tons of fun and get lots of visitors who want to come stay with you. I *wish* I was at Santa Cruz for my PhD. Great city! So what rent is expensive.

It is a bit "sleepy" of a town and does feel, as lore says, kinda isolated from the world. At least in the few days I've spent out there. But more in an idyllic way than a bad way.
posted by zpousman at 7:20 PM on March 25, 2008 [1 favorite]

I can't resist: Santa Cruz is nice, but you should be aware that there are no chicks.

Seriously, this article might help you get a feel for the place.
posted by homelystar at 7:36 PM on March 25, 2008

I did UG there, if you are willing to commute then you can live fairly reasonably for a nice city in CA (600 was what I paid for rent in a nice house with friends) and everything else was very reasonable. inside santa cruz itself the housing tends to be more expensive (but can be reasonable) but you are liable to find that it is not a spectacular living situation.
posted by Large Marge at 8:02 PM on March 25, 2008

I am currently a grad student at UCSC, and have been for quite a few years. Whenever prospective students ask me this question (and they often do), here's what I say to them. Although it is difficult to live the high life, I have known no one who has had problems getting by (as long as you have funding from your dept). Housing is going to be the big drain on your income (as you've noticed) - expect to spend more than a third of your stipend on it, and you'll pretty much have to live with other people in one way or another. Food varies depending on what grocery store you choose and what restaurants you're eating at -- there are both very cheap and very expensive versions of both in SC (the farmer's market is a great place to get cheap, very good food). Just as a reference point, my grad student boyfriend and I eat out at least once a week (not fast food), and we're both doing fine financially.

Plus, there's a lot to do here that doesn't require a lot of money. There's all the gorgeous oceanfront area and you can go for walks in the forest, too. All the campus productions (theater, dance, music performances, etc.) are free to students. The bars only rarely have covers, and the drinks are reasonable. Santa Cruz is an enjoyable place to live because of its great natural beauty and the unique hippie vibe, as some of have already mentioned. But I also agree with those who have said it is isolated from the rest of the world, which tends to grate on me because I like big cities. However, there are definitely much worse places to spend a few years of your life, and you will certainly be able to afford it on a grad student salary.
posted by deeparch at 8:28 PM on March 25, 2008

Can I recommend that you spend your Sundays from six to seven PM listening to The Sound of Young America on KUSP?

In all seriousness, you'll be fine. When I was an undergrad a few years ago, I lived a great lifestyle on $1400 a month. I lived in the beach flats, which have a bad rep but aren't that bad, depending on what you're used to. I spend maybe $600 a month on rent, living with one roommate, and had plenty of money for food and whatever I needed.

Santa Cruz is a really nice place to live.
posted by YoungAmerican at 8:53 PM on March 25, 2008

Hey! I live in Santa Cruz too! There's a lot to do for a small town that you might not have picked up on during your visit: Midnight Movies, Guerilla Drive In, a new Roller Derby team, Freeskool, Surfing, Farmer's Market every Wednesday, lots of festivals (wine/jazz, Greek, antiques), Great dining, Sea Lions at the Wharf, a dang Beach Boardwalk, which is free to attend and not hard to get a free pass to (ask an employee nicely), hikes, and good transportation to SJ and SF via the Metro. Westside and downton are very walkable places to live, and beautiful, and the life I lead here is blissful. I'm leaving for my MA, though!

The rents have gone down a bit over the past four years, since they added more on campus housing, but I far prefer living off campus. (I live between campus and downtown.) I would estimate rooms are still going to range between 500 and 800. I used to live in an unconverted garage for $400 but that was in the worst rental market and I was roomate-averse.

Yes, it's insular, and if you're a bit of a hippie liberal, it's a hypnotic paradise that can make the rest of the world shockingly awful when you re-emerge into it (or at least I had that rude awakening a couple ways when I was an undergrad). Smoking pot is pretty much a publicly discussed pastime, for example, and not stigmatized negatively. Stuff like that.

The Beach Flats is a "bad neighborhood" but currently, Live Oak is actually more dangerous. That's the area in East Santa Cruz between 7th and 17th, more or less. Feel free to memail me if you need any more info.

For cheap eating out, can't beat the taquerias, the slices, and Charlie Hong Kong. Oh and the Taj lunch buffet. The Taj. The Taj.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 9:12 PM on March 25, 2008

Here, in fact, is a myspace blog post with an annotated map I made a long time ago of my walkable SC delights.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 9:35 PM on March 25, 2008

AV covered it pretty well, but I'll add that for cheap housewares, furniture, clothing and amusements you should not miss the Bargain Barn and UCSC's own H-Barn. I really miss being a student and having the schedule flexibility to show up at these places on weekdays during business hours to properly reap their bounty (Bargain Barn gets picked over fast and their stock cycles daily, and UCSC Surplus is only open Tuesdays and Thursdays,) but you can score some amazing stuff at both places. I'm typing this on a still-lively 17" Mitsubishi CRT monitor that I picked up at UCSC 3 years ago for $40.

Also of note is Moveout Day. Ever since I moved out of the dorms myself and saw the huge drifts of expensive stuff that kids just ditched in the hallways rather than haul to their cars, I've made it a point to find out what day it's happening each year so I can show up and pick through the debris. The labs also leave some interesting stuff out by the dumpsters sometimes, but that's less predictable.
posted by contraption at 9:51 PM on March 25, 2008

I lived in Santa Cruz (well, Live Oak, actually) 2000-2003. I didn't get out much by the N end of town (where UCSC is) but down where I was nice enough. Wonderful place to walk down to Cliff Dr and along the coast.

The only negatives where the general skeeviness of the downtown area, the piss-poor traffic planning of the N <> S (really E <>W) connectors (all the roads have to go over either rivers or lagoons so commuting from the campus to eg. Capitola has to go through bottlenecks.

Certainly wouldn't mind moving back. Not any more expensive than where I am now, in Sunnyvale.
posted by tachikaze at 10:12 PM on March 25, 2008

Another Banana Slug alum here. Here's my take on things:

Pros and Cons
  • It's right smack in between the redwoods and the Pacific Ocean - for me, it couldn't get any better than that.
  • The downtown scene is fantastic - independent bookstores, movie theatres, coffee shops, organic groceries - not sure if you're into any of that, but there is definitely no shortage of good places to eat and things to do/see. I highly recommend checking out the Used Books section of Bookshop Santa Cruz. My personal library exploded while I lived there, because of all the cheap, used books I found (and I'm very picky when it comes to used books - no dog-eared covers or cracked spines).
  • The city is such an eclectic and diverse mixture of people. True, it did feel culturally isolated at times, but to me that's just the way Santa Cruz is. There is no other place like it.
  • If I recall correctly, the university incorporates a transportation fee into the tuition, so you can ride the bus for free and save money on gas. I lived there for five years without a car, but never noticed any inconvenience because the bus routes ran very frequently. In fact, I was able to avoid the Freshman 15 because I walked everywhere (the campus is very hilly, so be prepared to work your quads).
  • Housing is expensive, but again, typical California. Graduate student housing is an option, but I would also highly recommend visiting the student housing center and browsing the listings for available room rentals. During my years there, I lived with both local residents and students.

    Good luck. As someone who now lives in an asphalt jungle of subdivisions filled monochromatic personalities, I truly envy you.

  • posted by invisible ink at 10:15 PM on March 25, 2008

    If you're not used to California (esp coastal CA), yes, rents are expensive. We also set stricter air quality and related rules than the feds, which requires our own unique (more expensive) mix of gas. Even if you don't own a car, that extra cost of transportation trickles down to prices of food and other consumer goods, so do plan on your overall cost of living being somewhat higher than what you'd find elsewhere in the country. But not, like, shockingly so. Just leave yourself some wiggle room in the budget, and you'll be fine.
    posted by nakedcodemonkey at 10:31 PM on March 25, 2008

    Basically, housing is the expensive thing. I think living in a studio by yourself is a bit challenging on grad student salary, but living with someone else is much more doable. Having no car (and thus not paying gas) is completely possible if you live in the right place (the most annoying thing with no car is getting to the airport). Food doesn't have to be more expensive than other places, but there are a bunch of very nice grocery stores that make it a little easier to buy expensive organic produce.

    Also, this won't come into play for a few years, but do your qualifying exam as soon as possible, because your pay will go up.
    posted by advil at 7:52 AM on March 26, 2008

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