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The basics
THE USA: Destination Guides

The ultimate student guide to western USA

Western USA is not just the west coast, but covers inland states and islands too. Its geography is as varied as its people. International students would gain a great deal from exploring the region. Our guide is here to help.

Arches national park, Moab Utah


The western United States is a region steeped in history, folklore, famous cities and great variation in the landscape and climate. You’ll likely be familiar with some world-renowned locations, such as San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Las Vegas. However, you may be surprised by what other intriguing and exciting destinations are available to explore. The region includes the famous ‘West Coast’ of the USA but is much bigger than just the coastal states. Our guide will give you insight into what could become your home away from home as an international student and reasons you may want to study in the USA.



To start, let’s look at the states that are in the west of the USA:

  • Alaska
  • California
  • Colorado
  • Hawaii
  • Nevada 
  • Utah


Remember that there is also the well-known Northwest of the USA, another popular study region for international students. 


What is western USA like?

Location and demographics

The western USA is the largest region in the country at 4.852 million square kilometres and has the widest range of landscape and climate. There's the snowy Rocky Mountains in the north, the hot Pacific islands of Hawaii, the scorching Mojave Desert and everything in between.


The region is also the country’s most populated. California alone has a population of 39, 512,000. This is more than the entire population of Canada. The region has been greatly influenced by many different people and communities and has the highest number of Native Americans in the USA.  


However, the indigenous American population has greatly declined through land dispossession over the past 200 years. Over 39 per cent of California’s population is Latinx or Hispanic, and over 15 per cent are Asian American. As an international student, you will have no problem feeling at home.  


Culture and history

As mentioned above, the region was previously inhabited by Native Americans for at least 11,000 years before the Europeans arrived. The following centuries saw the expansion of territories by European settlers which eventually led to the founding of the United States of America. During this time, Native American people lost their land resulting in their communities and cultures breaking up and in some cases being destroyed. 


This part of the USA has been enriched by immigration from Mexico and South America. Spanish is the second most spoken language in the USA, more than 41.8 million people speak Spanish at home. You’ll find many signs and public services written in both English and Spanish in this region.



Culturally the region is as diverse as its climate and landscape. In Alaska, there are relatively few people, and many of them are indigenous. Hawaii is a major gateway between the USA and Asia and a popular tourist destination. California is famous worldwide for its beaches, Hollywood, and Disneyland, and has a liberal and progressive culture. Nevada has its desert and its world-famous casinos. Montana has its national parks and wildlife. The region has something for all visitors and international students alike. 


What cities are in western USA?

The region is vast and the cities too many to mention, so here are just a few of the major locations:


  • Anchorage (Alaska) has a population of over 290,000 and is the largest city in the state, with over 40 per cent of the entire state population.
  • Los Angeles (California) or L.A. is the second most populated city in the country (first place goes to New York City). Famous for its beaches, moviemaking, and aerospace.
  • San Francisco (California) is known for its steep streets, Golden Gate Bridge, Silicon Valley, and nearby national parks. 
  • Denver (Colorado) is also known as ‘Mile High City’ being 1,673 metres above sea level, which means lots of snow and winter activities. 
  • Colorado Springs (Colorado) has a famous city park called ‘Garden of the Gods’ and Helen Hunt Falls in North Cheyenne Canon Park.
  • Honolulu (Hawaii) is famous for its green landscape, tropical climate the community spirit of its multicultural people, and surfing. 
  • Las Vegas (Nevada) is known for its casinos, shopping, and entertainment. There's a reason the city is called the ‘Entertainment Capital of the World’.
  • Salt Lake City (Utah) has a strong skiing and outdoor leisure activity industry, a large natural salt lake, and is home to the largest genealogical library worldwide. 


How much does it cost to live in western USA?

Depending on where you live, the cost of living can vary quite a bit in this part of the USA. Cities like Los Angeles and San Francisco are some of the most expensive to live in the country (and the world), but states like Alaska and Hawaii are much cheaper. International students should look to budget between USD 16,200 and USD 18,000 per year (USD 1,350 and USD 1,500 per month).  


Find out more about student living costs in the USA.


What services are there in western USA?

Much like the cost of living, the services available to you depend on where you live. In more populated areas, you will find great bus and public transport services . Many cities, like San Francisco, are very walker-friendly, but others, like L.A., are not.


Travelling around the USA by car is the easiest option, but you can still explore this region by train and bus. Amtrak has various train routes with connections throughout the region.  


For a cheaper option, you could try intercity buses. For example, the Greyhound bus company can take you from San Francisco to Colorado Springs in 38 hours. If you have Student Advantage Card you can get a 20 per cent discount on the bus ticket as well as other benefits in stores and travel companies.  


What are the post-study options?

To stay in the USA after graduation, it’s important to follow the strict visa rules. There are exceptions, but usually, international students have just over a year to find a relevant role or continue their studies.  


Graduates from universities in the region have excellent career opportunities open to them. Some of the universities in the region rank in the top 100 of the QS Graduate Employability Rankings 2022.  


The west of the USA is also home to major multinational companies such as Apple, Google, Tesla, Amazon, IBM, and Visa, to name only a few.  


Find out the top 5 graduate careers in the USA.


What universities are in western USA?

There are many universities across the USA, and the western part of the country is no exception. Here are just a few:

California Institute of Technology (Caltech) – is in Pasadena and ranks 6th on the QS World University Rankings 2023. Caltech manages the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (the leading centre for robotic exploration of the solar system) for NASA. 

● University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) – is ranked 44th in the world by QS. It has 5,400 international students from 118 countries.  

● University of California, San Diego (UCSD) – is ranked 53rd in the world by QS and is in the top 15 research universities globally. 

University of Colorado, Denver – located in the heart of downtown Denver, the university has 15,000 students from 130 countries.

University of Denver – provides a ‘Four-Dimensional Experience which focuses on intellectual growth, well-being, character and career skill-building.’

● University of Nevada, Las Vegas – 76 per cent of students here get financial aid and scholarships.

● University of Hawaii at Hilo and Manoa – a global leader in earth and environmental sciences.

● University of Alaska Anchorage and Fairbanks - more than 100 academic programmes each and student to staff ratio of between 15:1 and 10:1. 


What are the main attractions?

California is the first state that comes to mind with its Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, west coast beaches and movie stars, but you can also drive along Highway 1 and through the dramatic scenery of Big Sur. You could try hiking in the Rocky Mountains which stetch 4,800 kms from the North of Canada, down through western USA all the way to New Mexico in the South western region of the country. If rest and relaxation is what you’re looking for then you’ll be sure to find one on one of the 100 plus beaches across the Hawaiian archipelago.



What must you see in western USA?

This part of the US is a perfect blend of the modern world, rich culture and stunning scenery. Here are just a few of the main attractions you must see:

  • The Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco is believed to be the most photographed bridge in the world. The bridge is in fact red and not golden but ‘International Orange’; a colour used in the aerospace industry. The colour makes the bridge visible in the thick fog that can usually be seen. Make the most of the visit to also get to know this lively, multicultural city.

Golden Gate at dawn surrounded by fog


  • Yosemite National Park in California’s Sierra Nevada Mountains. It’s home to these giant sequoia trees which are approximately 3,000 years old and can grow to be nine metres in diameter and 76 metres high.


person admiring giant sequoia in sequoia national park at winter, tourism concept


  • Fairbanks, Alaska known as the entry way to the Arctic Circle. It’s a must see if seeing the northern lights , aurora borealis, is on your bucket list of things to experience in life.


Aurora borealis over tree line in Fairbanks, Alaska


It’s impossible to do this massive region of the USA justice; it has just so much for international students to discover and experience that it’s impossible to cover it all here. If, however, you like what you’ve read and seen, why not use our course matcher tool to find a course for you there.


Study in the USA


'Study in the USA' eBook

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