FAQ: Going to School at The University of Hawaii

It’s about that time of year where high school seniors begin committing to their future colleges, and i’ve had a lot of questions about the University of Hawaii at Manoa. I figured I would answer a few of them on my blog, so prospective students can get a better idea of if Hawaii is the best fit for them. 

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Senior Year of high school, right when I had committed to Hawaii in March.

“What is it like going to school in Hawaii?”

Well it’s magical. I see at least one rainbow a day, it’s always warm, even if it’s not sunny, theres beautiful beaches, unparalleled hikes- I like to call the island “nature’s playground” because there’s just so much to explore. However, though it is amazing living in Hawaii, it’s important to remember life isn’t a constant vacation here. I still have to work (and a lot because Hawaii is expensive $$$), go to class, cram for exams, do laundry, etc. It took me a few months to reach a work hard- play hard balance here, which is tricky at first but very doable.

“Is it weird living on an island?”

Yes and no. Living on an island adds to the whole Hawaii experience for sure, but going to college on an island is a bit of a different story. You’re 2,500 miles from home, 5-6 hours by plane minimum. While some of you are probably reading this thinking “perfect i’ll be far away from my family,” keep in mind that you’re going to miss your family a lot more after you stop living with them and seeing them everyday; distance makes the heart grow fonder.

How different does Hawaii feel from the mainland?”

Hawaii feels not only like a different state, but a whole different country at times. It was a sovereign nation a little over a century ago, so a lot of things are different here. Depending on you, this can be a good or a bad thing. Here’s a few off the top of my head:

  1. “Pidgin,” and no, not the bird. Pidgin is a Creole language based off of English that is used essentially as slang in Hawaii. “Howzit”  (how are you/ how’s it going) is the most common that you’ll hear, along with “dakine” (I still genuinely have no clue what this means), and “haole” (non-native Hawaiian/ white person), which brings me to my next point.
  2. Diversity! The University of Hawaii at Manoa is the most diverse school in the nation, which I think is awesome, but it was definitely a culture shock at first. Hawaiian, Pidgin, Japanese, Korean, Samoan, Chinese, and English are the most common languages, but because Honolulu is an international city, there are tourists from everywhere. 
  3. Different brand names/companies. I don’t know why this is such a big deal to me but: there are no mainland banks here. Though it’s an easy fix to open a bank account here, if you’re like me and somehow manage to put it off for the entire year you’ll make your life a lot harder than it needs to be. Chevron is “Texaco” here. CVS is “Longs Drugs.” Again, this really isn’t a big deal but it blew my mind when I first got here in August.
  4. Food! If you love Mexican food I am sorry to say you will not be having it often here (growing up in California I took good Mexican food for granted). However, despite the lack of Mexican restaurants, Hawaii has AMAZING food. Malasadas, acai bowls, poke, coffee, and mochi are some of my favorites here. The sushi is actually so good that I couldn’t eat fish when I was back on the mainland for Christmas break because it tasted bad by comparison. Though the food on the island is amazing, the food on campus is NOT. One of the major downsides of UHM is their dining halls. When I first got here I tried to stick to my regular gluten-free diet and clean eating and I kid you not I lost 15 lbs. The Freshman Negative-Fifteen. Though the dining halls say they offer healthy options, and gluten-free and vegan food, they really don’t, and if they do it tastes like cardboard. There are only 2 dining halls, and both are open during weird and random hours of the day. However, the campus does also offer Starbucks, Jamba Juice, Subway, and a lot of other dining options. They have a food court as well, which has better food than the dining halls, but it comes at a higher price. There is also a market which has some good options, but the markup is ridiculously high- i’m talking $2.19 for an Arizona Green Tea. You know, the one that has 99¢ on the can. IMG_7333.JPG
  5. The people! This is definitely my favorite thing about Hawaii- the Aloha spirit. The lifestyle here is so down-to-earth and humble, and so are the people. The locals here are so welcoming and kind. I remember being really nervous at first, because I had done a lot of online research about moving to Hawaii, and a lot of articles had mentioned prejudice against “Haoles” (white people) from the locals. In my personal experience, I haven’t had a single problem with the locals. As long as you are respectful and mind your own business, you shouldn’t have a problem, so don’t let those rumors scare you off. I will say that there are a few habits you should pick up, such as not leaving valuables anywhere visible in your car, and then locking your car. I’ve heard horror stories about people who have gotten their windows smashed in and had everything you can name stolen. Theft is really big here, regardless of what side of the island you’re on, I actually got my wallet stolen a few months back, so just exercise caution.
  6. The slow-paced lifestyle. Everyone here is taking their sweet time no matter what they are doing. The speed limits are painfully low, so everyone drives very slow, self-checkout at the grocery store takes some time, etc. It takes a little while to get used to, but eventually you’ll adjust to island time.

“Will I need a car? I heard the bus system is good.”

Well you heard wrong. Technically, Hawaii has one of the best bus systems in the country, and though it’s useful for getting around Honolulu, if you think you’ll be exploring the island without a car you’ll be in for a surprise. Getting to North Shore from campus is about 45 mins to an hour by car with no traffic, and about 3 hours by bus. Same with the West side and many parts of the East side. Short trips by car turn into hours on the bus, ad require multiple bus routes. I didn’t have a car my first few months here, and I can honestly say that if I hadn’t gotten one or made friends with someone who had one I probably would have transferred. Again, if i’m being completely honest, UHM is really more of a commuter school; there isn’t much on campus, so if you don’t have means of getting around it can be very boring. However, getting a parking pass on campus is like participating in the hunger games, and they are very expensive. I was lucky enough to get one this year, but if you aren’t able to, there is street parking available. In general, parking in Hawaii, especially in Honolulu is quite simply a pain in the ass. A lot of my friends who park on the street have gotten multiple parking tickets, and their car towed more than once, but don’t let that discourage you, because many of my friends have had no problems with it.

If you are debating on whether or not to ship your car or buy one here- I would say buy one here. I was initially going to ship mine from home, but shipping costs were going to be $1k at the very least out of the bay area in California. If you live farther than this it will be even more expensive. A family friend also informed me that the sea air destroys the inside of mainland cars, because they lack a special engine coating that cars sold in Hawaii already have. Mainland cars deteriorate extremely quickly because of this, and though you can get the coating put on your car, it’s again very costly. If you’re willing to pay the price, shipping your car is possible, but I would recommend against it for those reasons, as well as the fact that your nice, clean car will get MESSY. My car has so much sand in it I basically have my own personal beach now. It rains a lot here, so after hiking everyone piles into Herman (my car) covered in mud and dirt. My car is absolutely filthy to say the least, but because it is a cheap car anyways I don’t really have to worry about it.

If you are looking for ways to just get around campus quickly, i’d recommend a bike, skateboard, or razor scooter (lol). There are also a lot of people on mopeds, but a moped is around $700-1000 and you aren’t allowed to take it on highways, so it’s really only useful around town and campus. My advice to you would be to save yourself time, money, and the hassle of shipping your car, by going on Craigslist and finding yourself a cheap car you can drive until it breaks. I got my car for $1500 online, and because it’s an older car the insurance is dirt cheap. Keep in mind you will have to get Hawaii insurance, which is “no-fault” so it’s a bit different from California and other states. You will also need a Hawaii drivers license, but it’s not hard to get (Make an appointment online to save yourself hours at the DMV at Aloha Q). You also get Kama’aina (local) rates with a Hawaii ID, which gives you discounts at a lot of places, and free beach access. Try to find a car with good gas mileage too; there’s days where I hit every side of the island, and gas is around $3.50/gal give or take.

“How is the greek life/party scene?”

If you’re looking for a party school, this isn’t it. There are only 2 sororities, and 2 frats. None of the chapters have houses, so parties are held in clubs, and almost always have an expensive entry fee. If you go looking for parties, you can find them. It’s just not going to be as easy as other schools. UHM is a dry campus, so no alcohol is allowed on campus even if you are over 21. No smoking is allowed on campus either (though people ignore both these rules frequently).

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HOWEVER, football is HUGE here, and the tailgates are soooooo much fun.

“How are the dorms?”

…I don’t think i’ve met a single person living on campus who enjoys living on campus too much for the following reasons.

  1. There is no AC. One dormitory hall has A/C, and it is not available to Freshman. Hawaii is very very hot, and Manoa is the most humid part of the island. Your body will adjust to the heat after a few weeks, and you will eventually get used to sitting in a pool of your own sweat pretty much at all times, so don’t fear, but be prepared to be HOT! (Pro-tip: keep your door propped open and air will circulate from the tradewinds).
  2. Everything is broken. I have lived in 2 dorms- Hale Aloha Mokihana, and Gateway, and in both a lot has been broken. In Mokihana, we were out of hot water for 2 weeks, my whole floor had no lights, the showers are always broken, and some kids threw the community kitchen oven off the roof. In both dorms the elevator was consistently broken, even on move in day! My current dorms pipes make very suspicious sounds, and I put in a work order over 3 months ago and they still haven’t been fixed.
  3. Cockroaches. And they fly. You can prevent them by taking your trash out regularly during the school year, but around move-in, Christmas Break, and Spring Break they are pretty much unavoidable. You will have a cockroach in your dorm. It’s not a question of “if” it’s a question of when.
  4. Homeless people in the showers. To be fair, this only happened once. Hawaii has a very big homeless population, combined with high rates of crack usage, so naturally they decide to sneak into the dorms and shower.
  5. The meal plans. If you live on campus you are required to purchase a meal plan, and as I said earlier, the dining halls aren’t great.

But despite all the negatives, there are MANY great things about living on campus!

1. It’s the BEST way to meet friends and new people. The Hale Aloha Towers are dedicated to Freshman only, so you live in a community where everyone is going through the same struggles as you. I met all my best friends in the dorms. The towers are super social.

2. Convenience! I roll out of bed five minutes before class, and still make it on time.

3. It’s an essential part of the college experience. Nothing will bring you closer with people than banding together to kill a giant cockroach. It’s really an experience.

How are the classes?”

I think that it totally depends on your major, and what classes you took in high school. To my knowledge, the hardest majors here are engineering, marine biology, and business. These majors are more impacted, and are UHM’s more renown programs. My major is political science, and I find the classes to generally be pretty easy. I would say about the same difficulty as my junior and senior year of high school. Though a lot the classes are easy, there are some that are very hard as well. I feel as though I have learned a lot here thus far, and I think studying political science from this location in the Pacific will benefit me personally a lot. Totally depends on what your major is and what classes you are taking though.

“How expensive is Hawaii?”

Honolulu is ranked as the most expensive city in the United States. Housing costs a lot, utilities cost a lot, food costs a lot, everything costs a lot. Don’t let the expenses scare you off though because if you’re smart with your money and do your research it’s not hard to save money. I think the best decision for me personally was getting a Costco card when I first got here. Costco is one of the only places on the island with mainland prices, and it’s super easy to get a group together for a Costco run. Only one person needs a Costco card, and you can divide the huge portions among yourselves. I am not exaggerating when I say that Costco saved my life. People often complain about the gas prices too. I personally am not really affected by it; gas is the same price as in California, but if you’re coming from another state it may be a shock to you. Hawaii is expensive, but overall worth it. 

Tuition wise, if you are from California, Colorado, Washington, and a few other states you are eligible for WUE tuition, which is 150% of the in-state rate. Attending school here is actually cheaper than many of the schools in California where I would be receiving in-state tuition. UHM also offers generous financial aid.

Overall, attending school at UHM has been the best experience of my life thus far. The school isn’t for everyone, which is evident by their astronomically high transfer rate; literally half of Freshman transfer, but for many it’s amazing! I personally enjoy living in Hawaii more than I like the actual school itself, but it’s completely different for everyone. I have made some amazing friends from around the whole country, and I have had so many incredible experiences here. I tried to be very thorough in this article, and tried to include all the information I wish someone had told me. If you’d like to see a bit more, you can watch this video I put together at the end of last semester. 

I hope this was useful! Please feel free to reach out to me personally if you have any more questions!

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