East Coast vs. West Coast: Are You On The Wrong Coast For Your Career Goals?

Even though the coastal regions of the U.S. make up less than 10 percent of the country's total land area, they contain about 40 percent of the population — that's a whopping 123 million people. Naturally, with that comes a considerable density of opportunity for employment and education in the cities on the edges of the continent, and plenty of people migrate to either the East Coast or the West Coast to seek their success.

But for many, a big question remains: Which coast is the right coast? When considering your future, are you more at home among the laid back, windblown surfer types of the lower West Coast or the Burberry-and-boat-shoes yacht club set of the upper Eastern Seaboard? Upstart Silicon Valley startups or the 200-year firms of old-money tycoons? Cyprus forests or redwoods? Palm trees or short-leaf pines? The stereotypical notions triggered by coastal allegiances, while sometimes comical to envision, may be pretty accurate reflections of what your career goals should be.

You could assume if you want a career in tech, head to the Bay Area. Or a career in finance, move to the Big Apple. But looking at job and school data relevant to the tech, finance, business and entertainment industries, we learned some of the hottest cities in the tech and entertainment industries are surprisingly a good distance away from Hollywood and Silicon Valley, and similarly, some of the best degree programs in business and finance are available all the way across the country from Wall Street.

So consider this: If you want to end up one place, in some cases, it'd be best to start geographically opposite. Check out what we’ve found after the jump — you might find you're on the wrong coast for your career plans.

east coast vs west coast

East Coast vs. West Coast: Tech Industry east coast vs west coast tech industry

It's well understood that prospective members of fast-growing careers like applications developer, systems software engineer, database manager, IT security analyst and more tend to find their most fertile vocational soil at tech-focused companies. Common knowledge places top tech firms out West, and while the data suggests that might be true, there's more to it.

  • Yes the West for tech is hot … Apple (Cupertino, CA), Microsoft (Redmond, WA), Google (Mountain View, CA), Facebook (Menlo Park, CA), PayPal (San Jose, CA) and other household names lend a great deal of visibility to the West as the home of all things tech. Obviously, degrees in computer science are in demand, and top degree programs in computer systems and artificial intelligence can be found at Stanford and UC Berkeley, respectively, and the same two schools sit in a tie for first place in computer engineering, according to U.S. News rankings.
  • … but West Coast tech powerhouses aren't the only players nationwide. In a recent Forbes report on the fastest growing tech companies, two of the top four — athenahealth, Inc., a healthcare information systems provider, and business intelligence firm Qlik — were based on the East Coast. On top of that, Carnegie Mellon University (Pittsburgh, PA) offered one of the four best computer science degree programs in 2014, and not only was MIT also tied for the top spot among computer engineering programs but took first place among all universities worldwide for its reputation and research in the computer science field.

East Coast vs. West Coast: Finance Industryeast coast vs west coast financial industry

Most people would agree that the East Coast seems to have the dominant position in terms of companies in the finance sector. Massive financial firms like Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase and Morgan Stanley all make their homes in New York City, and the World Federation of Exchanges reports that the New York Stock Exchange sees roughly three times the annual market capitalization of the second-largest such exchange worldwide.

  • Four of the top finance programs in the U.S. are located at universities in the Eastern Time zone … Penn, NYU, Columbia and MIT were ranked Nos. 1, 3, 4 and 6 respectively for 2016. Undergraduate degrees in business are also common among bankers, accountants, auditors, financial analysts, budgetary managers and other financial professions, and Penn and MIT took the No. 1 and No. 2 spots in that regard on a recent report.
  • … but aspiring financiers who want to go to school on the West Coast have plenty of options for their degree as well. Stanford (Palo Alto, CA) ranked among the top five finance schools in the country for 2016, and UC Berkeley tied with MIT for the No. 2 ranking among undergraduate business degrees. What's more, UCLA was ranked at No. 8 among finance degrees nationwide and averaged about $10,000 less in tuition expenses per year than any East Coast school in the top 10.

East Coast vs. West Coast: Entertainment Industryeast coast vs west coast entertainment industry

Between the Walt Disney Company and Warner Brothers in Burbank and the myriad movie and television production facilities in Hollywood, it certainly seems as though the West Coast is a lock as the national entertainment industry destination. It's fairly firm in the national imagination that actors, writers, documentary filmmakers, cinematographers, set designers, photographers, entertainment executives and other vital industry roles are more prevalent on the Pacific Coast than anywhere else.

  • The West Coast has the advantage when it comes to film and broadcast arts academies … According to rankings that appeared in the Hollywood Reporter in 2015, no fewer than 7 of the 10 schools featured on the list were located on the West Coast, with UCLA and Cal Arts also showing up among the top 10 national fine arts schools as ranked by U.S. News.
  • … but of course, that's not the whole story. Not only do the four major American broadcasting networks make their home on the East Coast, but NYU and Columbia came in at Nos. 2 and 6 among 2015's top film schools. What's more, fully 50 percent of the 10 best fine arts schools on the U.S. News list sit at the edge of the Atlantic, and New York City is widely understood to be nigh-unmatched for its opportunity in live theatre and high fashion.

East Coast vs. West Coast: Business Industry east coast vs west coast business industry

Every state in the U.S. is home to notable employers of managers, executives, business analysts, logisticians, HR specialists, compliance officers, process leads and other administrative personnel, so it can be tough to pin down the best coast for general business enterprise activity. The 10 top U.S. brands by dollar value in 2014 are distributed evenly, for one thing, with four headquartered on the West Coast, four on the East and two — Walmart and AT&T — in the Midwest.

  • The top business schools on the U.S. News rankings for 2016 include six East Coast institutions … Harvard, Penn, MIT, Columbia, Dartmouth and the University of Virginia are known for their business programs, and out west the most notable MBA programs could be limited to just Stanford and UC Berkeley.
  • … but well-known companies and big-time employers Apple, Google, Amazon and Starbucks all set their clocks by Pacific Time. Still, we're long on equalities and short on tiebreakers between the coasts in this category, so there's one notable mention we'd like to call out. Berkshire Hathaway, Walmart, McDonald's, AT&T and many other business giants make their homes on the Great Plains, and the University of Chicago and Northwestern University in Evanston, IL, both rank among the top 10 business schools for 2016. The East Coast and the West Coast can both be great choices for a career as a businessperson, sure — but don't turn your eye away from the Midwest if you're in business and looking for a change.

Bottom line: A change might do you good

The biggest takeaway from these analyses is that even though one coast seemed to edge out the other in each category, there was consistently enough upside to the second-place finisher to make for a more thought-provoking experience than we imagined. The West Coast may have the edge in tech and the East Coast may offer a higher volume of finance work, but the other two categories were veritable toss-ups.

Consider this. If you're not flourishing wherever you've chosen to live and work, chances are pretty good that it's not the only region of opportunity in your field. If you feel your talent isn't being used as best it can, why not see if the salt air of a different ocean doesn't give your career a lift? There's nothing to lose by a little research, anyway, and changing careers is always exciting.


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