As far as where to live:
I would strongly recommend AGAINST living on campus. It's way more expensive. Instead, there is a good amount of housing very close to campus in the Linda Vista area (where I live). You can find a place in a number of apartment complexes in the area. There is even an area known as "the dogpatch" that has a very high density of USD students living there.
If you don't care about living close to school, you can find much nicer (and more expensive) places down Friars Rd to the east, in Mission Valley. There are about a dozen very new and very nice townhouse and condo complexes, with hundreds of units for rent every year. These are much nicer than the older housing closer to USD, but you'll pay for the difference. Additionally, traffic on Friars Road sucks big time.
If you want to live near the beach, the three nearest beaches are (from south to north) Ocean Beach (OB), Mission Beach and Pacific Beach (PB). Ocean Beach has a very laid back Berkeley-esque feel to it, but it's not where you'd go if you were going to "the beach." Mission Beach, in the middle, has lots of stuff going on, restaurants, shops, etc. The Mission Beach area is popular with USD students. North of that is Pacific Beach, what most people mean when they say they're going to "the beach." PB is also chock-full of bars and nightlife - it's kind of one big frat hangout, so if you're not into doing a lot of drinking most nights, I'd strongly recommend against it.
Another, oft-overlooked alternative is to find something in the area known as Bay Park, which is just a bit inland from Mission Beach, near Morena Blvd (the cross street I think of is Milton). This is a suburban area of regular houses, most probably 50 or so years old - but it's a very cute area. Not a lot of shops or restaurants, just houses. But, it's not tract housing where every house looks the same - every house is different, and it has a unique feeling compared to many other USD neighborhoods.
USD isn't that competitive, I don't think. It's pretty laid back, we're all friends (within our section). Most people in one section don't know hardly anybody in the other sections... except for me... I get around... but not like that, so don't ask.
I don't exhaust myself with work, but to be honest, I'm rather high up in my class grade-wise, and other people seem to work a lot more than I do, whether they're scoring above or below me. So, my experience in that regard is probably not the typical one.
Over the summer, I'll be studying international law in Italy. Chances for an internship are pretty good for most students, though - but don't expect to get any money. Those ones are really hard to find unless you're very, very creative and all that jazz.
I have found the professors to be very friendly and very accessible. Many of them are quite, quite funny, as a matter of popular opinion.
If you have additional questions, feel free to e-mail me at bobfett@[nospam]AOL.com
Thank you for that advice! I ended up choosing USD over USC because of my visits to both. While USC has an amazing campus (and reputation) it seemed like everyone there was so stressed out and had this chip on their shoulder. Like everyone thought they should be #1 in their class and anything less was unacceptable. My visit to USD included speaking to some very nice and laid back students that seemed much more well-rounded.
Do you feel like you have the time to have a "balanced" life at USD? Like time for exercise, meeting new people, etc.? How have you been able to cut your study time but still be successful?
Thanks for your help.