The organizational support from MicroEDU and the generous financial support from the Studienstiftung and the Dr. The Jürgen and Irmgard Ulderup Foundation made it possible for me to study abroad from September 19 to December 10, 2016 at the University of California San Diego (UCSD). As part of my semester abroad, I took three courses at UCSD in the fields of computer science, robotics and image processing (subsequent image and video processing ). Overall, the exchange was a great enrichment for me, mainly professionally and personally.
Since the cooperation between my university and San Diego State University was terminated a year before my application, I organized my stay abroad myself. I was contacted by MicroEDU through the international office of my university
attentive. They offer free advice and support for studying abroad. In addition to information events, experience reports and information about the application requirements, MicroEDU also offers free telephone advice and a personal contact who is extremely familiar with the respective region and the application regulations. The only downside is that MicroEDU only mediates to a limited number of partner universities. You should definitely use this service when applying yourself.
After a long dialogue with students and professors at the universities, I refrained from applying at MIT and Stanford due to the time pressure, the fees and the lack of reputation. The state universities of the state of California offered an adequate alternative with the “University of California”.
In order to be admitted to the university, however, certain certified language certificates ( TOEFL, DAAD or similar) as well as proof of a certain liquidity (amount of the approximate costs for the upcoming semester – case 16 at the UCSD: $ 13,400) must be presented. The language requirements for the UCSD can be found in Table 1.
|Undergraduate / Graduate
|(b) in all areas
|***** / C-1 level
The USA is a country where visa application is relatively time-consuming. The American Embassy website
however, it provides the most important information to be able to apply successfully. The MicroEDU page also has full instructions on how to apply online.
The following are the most important documents still listed again:
- valid passport (expiry not six months before the end of your studies)
- DS-2019 form (from the university)
- financial proof of bank
- Passport photo according to J-1 visa guidelines
- Foreign health insurance
- DS-160 online form
- Proof of visa fee
- Proof of SEVIS fee
- Appointment at the US consulate
- possibly English language proficiency certificate (TEOFL, DAAD …).
After the elaborate and monotonous questions asked on the Internet about your own possible terrorist background and criminal charges, the embassy appointment itself is a relatively relaxed affair. In Frankfurt you should know that no electronic devices (electronic car keys, smartphones, laptops…) are permitted and that there is also no official drop-off point. The flower shop on the corner in front of it knows the problem of single travelers and offers to stow things safely for a small fee.
University and study
Despite state management, UCSD is one of the many top universities in the USA and only surpassed by UC Berkeley and UC Los Angeles. The UCSD itself is known for a high proportion of foreign students – especially from the Asian region – who are mainly in the engineering disciplines with 90% shares in the lectures. Read more student reviews on Act-test-centers.
The university works according to the quarter system that, unlike semesters, divides the year into 3 quarters and a summer session. In general, it was noticed that the relationship to the professors is stronger than even at the FH and that they offer direct help with tasks and project work. The offer that tutors (“Teaching Assistants” TA) are available in every class who answer questions about homework via learning platforms convinced me very much.
When applying, 12-15 courses must be specified, from which you are prepared to take 3 to a maximum of 4. However, these are by no means binding and can even be completely neglected. However, especially from the area of “Computer Science and Engineering” (CSE), too many should not be given due to the very high demand from local students who have priority in all courses. However, if the course of study and the courses to be taken are known, I recommend looking for course options at UCSD as early as possible. Helpful sources to get information in advance is the “Class Schedule” at
The previous year’s quarter (quarter) should be selected as a comparison, as the individual quarters (fall, winter, spring) do not always offer the same courses. You can start to update your wish-list three weeks in advance and put together a timetable. The high waiting lists in the engineering subjects should not be a deterrent, as after the “class crashing” many of the local students “drop” their courses and places become free. During the “class crashing” in the first 2 – 3 weeks at the beginning of the semester, however, you should attend as many of your desired courses as possible in order to get an insight into the lecture style and content, the amount of homework and the type of examination.
My courses were exclusively Master’s or “Graduate” courses with ECE 253 – Fundamentals in Digital Image Processing, CSE 291 – Topics in Computer Science (Introduction in ROS) and MAE 242 – Robot Motion Planning.
ECE 253 Image Processing provides the basis for subsequent, computer-aided image processing and is aimed at recognizing faces or lane markings, for example, and preparing raw image material for further processing. The course is relatively basic and is more like a bachelor’s level. For homework (“assignments”), however, you should have already worked with MATLAB.
CSE 291 Topics in Computer ScienceEach quarter deals with changing course content and should definitely be matched to your own interests in advance. Here, the length of the waiting lists is usually significantly shorter, contrary to the 100 people usual at CSE, and projects are often offered. In my quarter, an introduction to ROS (“Robot Operating System”) was offered with topics on setting up Ubuntu, simulating robots using ROS means, on recognition tasks in videos and finally with the completion of a project. Here (partially) autonomous Roomba robots were applied for mapping, for control-technical tasks or for connection with Amazon’s Alexa. As with all projects, the effort is very high. However, the “Graduate Lounge” in the CSE building offers all the conveniences that are needed for this, with meeting rooms that can be reserved for the purpose and its own kitchen. The support from the tutors is also uniquely good.
MAE 242 Robot Motion Planning is a path planning course with various algorithms that are dealt with in the quarter. This is implemented in homework using MATLAB or Python. Some of these were very demanding, but contributed a lot to understanding. In the end, the logic puzzles to navigate a maze were the most effective, but simply fun.
The way of studying in the USA is very different from the German approach. In the USA, for example, there are several “assignments” and quizzes that are due during the semester, as well as mostly “midterms” and “final exams”. The quizzes are queried in multiple-choice format; in my case, the exams were all to be answered in continuous text. The homework all turned out to be very time-consuming and labor-intensive and made a significant contribution to the final grade. However, this is common for graduate courses in engineering and computer science.
Living and Housing in San Diego
In addition to sunny weather (14 rainy days a year), warm temperatures, numerous beaches and some hiking trails, San Diego has less to offer culturally and historically compared to cities on the east coast. However, the Californian laid-back and American friendliness are second to none here in my own experience. Only after a trip to the turbulent New York, the historically shaped Boston and the alternative Philadelphia does this become clear. The Mexican influence can be clearly felt due to the proximity to the border with Tijuana – especially when it comes to the food, which is highly recommended.
As in all major American cities, the rental prices are exorbitant compared to Germany. In my case $ 750 for a 12 m² “shared room” (a room usually shared by two people) in Pacific Beach. The slightly cheaper apartments and districts closer to UCSD in La Jolla or University City (UTC) do not offer the lifestyle that Pacific, Mission or Ocean Beach can offer due to the culinary and sporting offers and the bar scene. A car is also highly recommended in San Diego. Either a cheap one can be purchased from Craigslist or such a vehicle can be rented from www.dirtcheapcarrental.com. Sometimes the rental company (in our case a BMW convertible for $ 400 a month) also offers a car. The public transport network in San Diego is virtually non-existent; there are only 3 train lines and the rest are served by a few buses. A drive to downtown or to the UCSD from Pacific Beach takes between 50-60 minutes.One alternative is Uber or Lyft, which, unlike in Germany, are not banned and have almost completely replaced taxis from my limited perspective. There are promotions with up to $ 50 for new customers, which can be used multiple times with different, own phone numbers.It is also advisable to buy a bicycle – typically a “beach cruiser” in San Diego (particularly elegantly curved and comfortable bicycles without any technical finesse).
A cultural and optical highlight is the Balboa Park with numerous museums, exhibitions and street artists. However, there are relatively many tourists here at any time of the day. The nightlife takes place either in the historic Gaslamp Quarter in downtown with many (expensive) clubs or in the bars in Pacific Beach on Garnet Avenue. The entrance fees to the night clubs in downtown can often be avoided by adding them to the guest list.
Sports and offers
Exercise is important to the students and people of San Diego. However, UCSD is not a university with a large number of team sports. In contrast, these are primarily located at San Diego State University (SDSU). The games of the so-called “Aztecs” of the SDSU are followed in the large Qualcomn stadium. The SDSU basketball team is also highly regarded for its success.
The UCSD nonetheless offers a wide range of sporting activities which, unlike the SDSU, cannot be counted as courses. These include surfing, wakeboarding, rock climbing, yoga, tennis, and hiking trips. Some incur a fee to cover costs or because they are carried out externally. Usually, however, a discount is offered as a UCSD student.
Because of the climate (and probably because of the uniqueness of the offer), buying a (used) surfboard and wetsuit is also recommended. Here again Craigslist should be mentioned or the numerous shops in the surfing districts of Pacific, Ocean and Misson Beach. The waves are good all year round on the many beaches and easy to navigate even for beginners.
Studying at the University of California San Diego is highly recommended, despite the higher effort involved in the state universities. The standards are high, especially due to the excellent training in the engineering disciplines in Germany, but in my experience the UCSD lives up to them. The location, the surrounding area and the university itself have a wide range of different courses and extra-curricular activities. The course can be designed very individually. In terms of subject matter, I was able to learn a great deal, especially practically, through the one to two-week homework in various programming languages. Despite the support of a scholarship, however, one should be aware of the cost intensity of studying in the States.