Semester an der Cal State University Northridge
Autor: Alexandra Michel
College Contact: Please tell us a little bit about Cal State Northridge. What kind of university it is and what is its reputation within the US?
Pat Colabucci: Cal State Northridge – or CSUN as we call it - is a comprehensive university. We are very large - about 39.000 students – and we offer more than 80 bachelor’s degrees and more than 50 master’s degrees. We have more international students than any of our peer institutions and our reputation is of serving our community and serving our students well. Our focus is on high quality instruction and helping people get jobs with their degrees.
College Contact: What subject areas is CSUN especially known for?
Pat Colabucci: I would say business – being an AACSB-accredited business school we are very good at business, both at bachelor’s and master’s level. Our engineering department does some fantastic things with robots, automation and sustainability. Also, being part of Los Angeles, we have a very strong cinema and television department. Additionally, I would say public health, public administration and health sciences are our strengths.
College Contact: You work for the Tseng College of Extended Learning. What is Tseng College and what is its role within the university?
Pat Colabucci: That’s a great question. We now call it Tseng College of Graduate, International and Midcareer Education, by the way. But the Colleges of Extended Learning are the arm of the university which does not receive tax dollars, so it’s self-supported, and we help the university reach out to the community internationally and locally to provide programs for people. Through the Tseng College's International Programs and Partnerships, several programs are available to visiting international students: the Intensive English Program, the “Semester at CSUN” Program which enables international students to do their study abroad taking regular CSUN courses, Short-Term and Custom Programs, and access to online courses through the Open University program. International students may also qualify for admission to most CSUN online degree programs offered through The Tseng College.
College Contact: What can you tell us about the CSUN campus?
Pat Colabucci: The campus has a lot to offer. It’s over a 140 hectares, so it’s really really big. We have beds for over 6,000 people, so it’s a big place. We have restaurants and movie theaters on campus, places to play football and baseball, gyms, swimming pools and all sorts of activities.
College Contact: Where is the campus located?
Pat Colabucci: Technically, we are in Los Angeles – we vote for the mayor in Los Angeles and we pay taxes in Los Angeles – but we are really on the northern edge of the city at the foot of the San Fernando Valley. So it’s about 25 minutes to downtown Los Angeles.
College Contact: We would like to learn more about the “Semester at CSUN” program – can you please give us a short overview as to what this program is about?
Pat Colabucci: The Semester at CSUN program is an ideal vehicle for students who would like to spend one or two semesters in the States earning credits they can take back to their home university to progress towards their degree. What makes our program unique is that our application process is a little more involved. We ask students to send us their course preferences so we know what the students want to take and we ask students to send us their transcript to make sure they meet all the requirements for the courses that they want to take. Then it’s our job to build the students’ schedules and we do our best to pre-enroll them before they get there and try to avoid them having to crash classes as much as possible.
College Contact: What is ‘crashing classes’?
Pat Colabucci: If you are not enrolled in a class before it starts, you have to go see the professor at the end of the first lecture and tell the professor that you would like to join their class and then the professor says yes or no. It’s not unusual and both international and American students have to do it, but it can be stressful as you are often not the only student wanting to crash the class so you might or might not be allowed to join depending on the availability of spaces in the class.
College Contact: Who can apply for the Semester at CSUN program?
Pat Colabucci: If you are a university student in your home country and if you meet the English language requirements of the program, you can apply. We want to make sure that the students who apply are in good standing at their home university, they can’t be flunking out or anything. It’s also important for students to understand that they need to meet all the requirements – we call the ‘prerequisites’ - for the courses they would like to take at CSUN.
College Contact: You mentioned English language requirements – what are these requirements?
Pat Colabucci: It’s an IELTS of 5.5 or a TOEFL iBT score of 61. We also accept the Pearson Academic Test of English at a score of 45. For German students who come through one of our partners like College Contact we also accept the DAAD certificate showing at least a “c” in all areas which is equivalent to B2 level in the Common European Framework of Reference (CEFR).
College Contact: What kind of courses can students choose from when they are participating in the “Semester at CSUN” program? Are all subject areas and levels open to them or are there certain limitations?
Pat Colabucci: Well, like I said, there are more than 80 degree programs, so there is a wide range of classes, thousands of courses each semester. They need to meet the requirements of the classes. In the U.S. system, you are taking 100- and 200-level classes during the first two years of your bachelor’s program. These lower level classes are fairly fundamental. In the third and the fourth year you then take upper level classes with course numbers between 300-499. Many courses at the upper level have prerequisites or required classes that students have to have taken before – otherwise they cannot enroll in these upper level classes. That’s why it is so important that we see the students’ transcripts so that we can determine whether or not a student meets the requirements for their preferred classes.
We do accept Semester at CSUN applications from graduate students but we are very careful and selective about them because students cannot crash graduate classes at CSUN. If a student wants to apply for classes at the graduate classes, we ask our partners to let us know in advance before the application is officially submitted so that we can double-check whether or not we can build a schedule for this student.
College Contact: How difficult is it for students to get into the courses that they would like to take – provided that they meet the prerequisites?
Pat Colabucci: You know what? I think Cal State Northridge does it very, very well. If the student meets the prerequisites and we know it in advance and we get the application in a timely manner, we have a very good chance of getting the student the classes that they want. This semester, I think virtually every student had classes that they were enrolled in before the semester started. So while is never a guarantee that you will get 100% of the classes that you want before you get there, we are very good at making sure you have most of them before the semester begins.
College Contact: Where can international students live while they are enrolled in the “Semester at CSUN” program? You mentioned that there are 6,000 beds on campus, so is living on campus an option for our students and what other opportunities are there?
Pat Colabucci: Well, living on campus is an option. It’s not everybody’s cup of tea though. There are 39,000 students and 4,000 faculty and staff – and at 4 o’clock on Friday, almost everybody leaves the campus, so the weekends can be kind of quiet. Many of our students are commuter students and they choose to live in North Hollywood or West Hollywood or Santa Monica. Los Angeles is a city of neighbourhoods, so there isn’t this one large downtown area, so we recommend students come to LA a couple of weeks early, check out the different neighbourhoods and figure out where they want to live.
College Contact: Would you recommend students buy or lease a car while they are in LA or can they get around on public transport?
Pat Colabucci: I recommend they have a car. The truth is that without a car in Southern California you are really limiting yourself. You don’t have the opportunity to have the nightlife you want to have, you don’t have the opportunities to go somewhere on the weekend and you really sacrifice your freedom. Buses are infrequent and trains are even less frequent than the buses so it’s really difficult to get around in LA or Southern California just on public transport.
College Contact: What are the typical costs for accommodation in Northridge or LA per month?
Pat Colabucci: Well, it ranges and it depends on your lifestyle. I know there are studios across the street from campus for a little less than US$ 900 per month. That’s if you are living on your own. There are apartments in striking distance that range from US$ 1,200-2,000 dollars per months and sometimes there are two or three bedrooms in each apartment so it really depends on whether you are living on your own or whether you are living with friends. And if you are living with friends and if you are willing to move a little bit out of Northridge and drive to school it can be quite reasonable.
College Contact: What kind of activities and services does CSUN offer to international students in the “Semester at CSUN” program?
Pat Colabucci: We have a really good “Semester at CSUN” team. CSUN has about 3,000 international students, so we think we offer a lot of services and they perform very well. We offer immigration advising and academic advising and our students are fully integrated into the classroom and on campus. They are welcome to use all the services on campus. So if they need help writing a research paper or if they need help figuring out how to do a project, we have people at the library and people at the different academic departments and their job is to serve these students and we do it well.
One of the things we have on campus and that I would like to point out is a 100,000 square foot recreation center – I joke that it is a “country club” because you can do rock climbing and then do spinning and pilates and then go to the swimming pool and then go to the jogging machines … It’s an incredibly beautiful building, it’s self-sustaining energy-wise with solar panels. Students can join a basketball team or a volleyball team or a soccer team and just have a fantastic time – and stay in great shape!
College Contact: Final question – in a few words: What is the number one reason why students should choose CSUN for their semester abroad experience?
Pat Colabucci: I think that at CSUN you are going to get the richest academic experience. My experience at CSUN – and I have worked at several other universities in California – is that the professors and the whole university are there to serve the students. Whether they are international students, whether they are midcareer professionals in the US or whether they are 19-year old American kids … I will say that at CSUN, the academic experience is really, really rich and it’s a personal enrichment experience that students can take back home along with their credits.
College Contact: Thanks, Pat!