best colleges in california

Best Colleges in California: Introduction

With one of the most robust public university systems in the nation—as well as many top-ranked private colleges—California has a lot to offer college students. So, if you want to be surrounded by beautiful landscapes, incredible cities, and ocean views, one of the best colleges in California might be the place for you. 

As you can see, the best universities in California include both public and private schools. However, as we’ll discuss, there are plenty of top colleges in California beyond those listed above. 

In this guide, we’ll explore the best colleges in California—what they are, where you’ll find them, and what makes each of them special.  

Specifically, we’ll look at:

  • How many colleges are in California?
  • What kinds of colleges are in California?
  • The best universities in California
  • What are the best liberal arts colleges in California?
  • Private colleges in California
  • University of California rankings
  • What makes different top California colleges unique?
  • Community colleges in California
  • And more!

We’ll also use factors like the University of California rankings and the California State University rankings to help you decide where each school falls on your college list. In truth, this can help you find the top universities in California based on your needs. 

Now, let’s take a closer look at what the best universities in California have to offer. Then, we’ll dig into the top universities in California by category and describe what makes them unique. 

How many colleges are in California?

As one of the largest states in the country, it’s no surprise that there are hundreds of colleges in California. In total, there are over 450 colleges and universities in California. 

This includes:

150
Public
Universities
in California
157
Nonprofit
Private universities
& private colleges
in California
147
For-profit
Private institutions
in California

So, if you’re looking for top colleges in California, you’ll have plenty of options. The top universities in California are both public and private. From Caltech to UC Berkeley to Claremont McKenna, there’s no shortage of choice when it comes to the top universities in California. 

Largest public university system in the world

California is home to the largest public university system in the world—the CSU system. As such, this system includes many top colleges in California. So, as you think about public universities in California, you can also look at schools beyond the nine University of California campuses. While the UC system includes many top colleges in California, you can also get a great education at other public schools in the California State University system. 

There are also plenty of great private colleges in California. Some of the best private colleges in California include the Claremonts, which we’ll discuss in more depth later in this article. But suffice it to say, from private colleges in California to public universities in California, this state has a school for everyone. So, let’s take a deeper dive into the top universities in California!

What kinds of colleges are in California? 

The best universities in California come in all shapes and sizes. No matter your interests, you’ll likely find California colleges that suit your needs. 

Let’s take a closer look at three types of public and private top colleges in California that might interest you: 

  • Public research universities
  • Private research universities
  • Private liberal arts colleges

Public universities in California

We’ve discussed that California is home to the UC system, which includes many of the top universities in California. With nine campuses spread across the state, the UC system is one of the best public university systems in the nation. It includes many of the top colleges in California, and competition for acceptance can be fierce

Note that the UC schools are test-blind. In short, this means they do not consider test scores in the review process. 

Top Ranked UC system Schools

UC Berkeley:

As one of the best colleges in California according to the U.S. News college rankings, UC Berkeley has a lot to offer. In fact, on the list of Best Colleges in California, the UC Berkeley ranking is #3. On the overall U.S. News college rankings, the UC Berkeley ranking is #20. While UC Berkeley is a large research university, Berkeley students can still enjoy small class sizes in upper-level courses. In fact, about half of UC Berkeley’s classes include less than 20 students. UC Berkeley is also one of the best colleges in California for biology. 

UCLA:

The UCLA ranking is tied with that of UC Berkeley at #20 nationwide. UCLA is one of the best colleges in California, with plenty of opportunities for students to engage both on campus and in the broader Los Angeles area. Class sizes at UCLA are similar to those at UC Berkeley. So, though you’ll have all of the resources of a school with a larger college size, you can still expect a fair amount of individual attention at UCLA. You’ll also have ready access to the film industry and to Silicon Valley, which can open doors for a number of internships and postgraduate jobs. 

UC Santa Barbara:

UCSB is another one of the best public universities in California. The UCSB ranking is #32 in national universities, sitting below the UCLA ranking and the UC Berkeley ranking. The school has an acceptance rate of 29%. Class sizes at UCSB are similar to those at Berkeley or UCLA. UCSB is known for its beautiful beachside location, which also gives students the chance to do hands-on marine research. While some consider UCSB more of a “party school,” its academic reputation also makes it one of the best colleges in California. 

UC Irvine:

UC Irvine is one of the best colleges in California for doctors, with a strong reputation in neuroscience and cancer research. The UC Irvine ranking is #34 in national universities, just below the UCSB ranking. The school is located in a suburban college setting in Orange County, CA. Students at UC Irvine can also venture out of Irvine and into Los Angeles and the surrounding area. 

Several more UCs

The UC system also includes UC Davis, UC San Diego, UC Riverside, UC Santa Cruz, and UC Merced (graduate studies only). Incredibly, these schools can all be counted among the top colleges in California. However, note that the UC Davis ranking is below the UC Irvine ranking. The UCSD ranking and the UC Santa Cruz rankings are also slightly lower than their others in the UC system. However, the UCSD ranking is by no means low, nor is the UC Santa Cruz ranking. 

While all of the UC schools are among the best universities in California, each has their own distinct character. We’ve highlighted how the top universities in California all differ, and the UC schools are no exception. 

So, as you prepare for the UC application process, do your research. That way, you can find the top universities in California for your needs and goals. Then, work hard on your essays so your application stands out—and check out our advice here. Plus, for more tips on the UC application and Personal Insight Questions, read this guide. The UCs are some of the best universities in California, so you’ll want to make sure you’ve done your research when you apply!

Beyond the UC System

best colleges in california

We’ve discussed how the UC schools are some of the best universities in California. However, there are other incredible colleges out there. If you’re looking for top California colleges that are a bit less selective, you might turn your attention to the California State University system

The California State University rankings are admittedly not as high as the UCSB ranking or UC Irvine ranking. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t get a top-tier education at any one of these 23 campuses. So, when you think about the top universities in California, don’t discount these schools. 

Let’s take a closer look at the CSU system—specifically, the three top schools on the California State University rankings: 

Top Ranked California State University Schools

California State University Long Beach:

With an urban campus setting in a beautiful location lined with peach trees, CSU Long Beach is a great option for students. With a slightly less selective acceptance rate of 47%, it’s a strong “match” school for many top students. Class sizes at CSU Long Beach tend to be larger than those of the UCs. For in-state students, tuition is just under $7,000. 

California State University Fullerton:

CSU Fullerton is another great option for students. It has a suburban college location in Orange County, CA, near UC Irvine. It’s also one of the best colleges in California for nursing and midwifery. The CSU Fullerton acceptance rate is 59%, and tuition is about $7,000 for in-state students. 

California State University San Bernardino:

CSU San Bernardino is another strong California school with a suburban college location. Most class sizes are on the larger side, but you can still seek out smaller seminar courses. In-state tuition runs just under $7,500, and the acceptance rate is 91%, making it a great safety option. Most students commute from off-campus, with just 4% of undergraduates living in campus housing. 

Best Colleges in California: Private Universities

Of course, you’ll find some excellent private universities in California. Many of these schools are universally acknowledged as the top universities in California. However, this can also make these top California colleges more challenging to get into. 

Based on the U.S. News rankings, the best universities in California (private) are:

Best Private Universities in California

Stanford University:

It goes without saying that Stanford is one of the best universities in California. With an acceptance rate of just 4%, Stanford offers students boundless campus opportunities in all fields. It’s also one of the best colleges in California for doctors, with a sparkling pre-med reputation. Stanford is also home to one of the best business schools in California, which can also enrich undergraduate academic life. 

California Institute of Technology:

Caltech is another one of the top universities in California, particularly for science and engineering. As the Caltech ranking shows, Caltech is one of the best colleges in California for biology. However, with an undergraduate enrollment of under 1000 students, getting a place at this top-ranked school is no easy task. Its acceptance rate, like the Stanford acceptance rate, is just 4%. 

University of Southern California: 

USC is located in the urban college setting of Los Angeles, CA. Its acceptance rate is 12%, making USC a highly selective school. USC is also home to one of the best business schools in California as well as other top graduate programs. Students at USC can participate in over 1000 student organizations. USC is also known for its emphasis on Greek life, with over 50 sororities and fraternities. 

Pepperdine University:

Pepperdine is located in Malibu, CA, with a suburban college setting and a 53% acceptance rate. The Pepperdine ranking is #55 in national universities. The school is proud of its religious affiliation with the Church of Christ, and faith plays a relatively significant role in some campus traditions. It’s also the alma mater of many top athletes. 

So many schools to choose from

As you can see, there are plenty of private and public universities in California. Each has its own distinct character, academic reputation, and campus feel. So, if you’re set on attending college in California, make sure you do your research. This is key as you find the top universities in California for your needs. 

College rankings are a great place to start. However, don’t get too hung up on the Pepperdine ranking, the Caltech ranking, or the USC ranking. At the end of the day, remember to center your own priorities. Think about the college location, college size, and overall college experience that might be right for you. After all, the best universities in California will be specific to your unique needs. 

Liberal Arts Colleges in California

There are also several top-ranked liberal arts colleges in California: namely, the Claremont Colleges. Located in Claremont, CA—just 40 minutes away from Los Angeles—the Claremont Colleges have a tight-knit campus feel. Given their small class sizes, these schools suit students looking for more personal interactions with their professors. The Claremont Colleges definitely qualify as some of the top California colleges. 

top colleges in california

Most students live on campus at each of the Claremont Colleges, making the city a bustling college town. Students can also cross-register for courses at any one of the Claremont Colleges. So, if you attend Pomona but want to take classes at Harvey Mudd, you can feel free to do so. Let’s take a closer look at the Claremont Colleges and their rankings:

Claremont Colleges Rankings

Pomona College

According to U.S. News, the Pomona College ranking is #3 in national liberal arts colleges. Pomona has a particularly strong reputation in the humanities, though it also offers programs in STEM fields. Over half of Pomona students study abroad at some point in their undergraduate careers. 

Claremont McKenna College

U.S. News places the Claremont McKenna ranking at #9 among national liberal arts colleges—just under the Pomona College ranking. CMC is one of the best colleges for finance in California, with several graduate degrees available. It also offers students boundless research opportunities with elite faculty. 

Harvey Mudd College

U.S. News lists the Harvey Mudd ranking as #29 in national liberal arts colleges. Harvey Mudd is known for its emphasis on science and engineering, and most classes have fewer than 20 students. The total enrollment is just 900 students—similar to that of Caltech. 

Pitzer College

The Pitzer College ranking is #33 among liberal arts colleges, slightly below the Harvey Mudd ranking. However, the Pitzer College ranking is by no means low. Pitzer is one of the best colleges in California for biology, and almost 75% of students study abroad at some point in their undergraduate degree. 

Scripps College

The Scripps ranking is tied with the Pitzer ranking at #33 among liberal arts colleges nationwide. Scripps is the only women’s college within the Claremont system. The school is also known for its core curriculum that centers around the humanities. 

Community Colleges in California

You’ll also find plenty of community colleges in California. While these schools might not top the college rankings, that doesn’t make them less valuable. If you’re looking for a starting point in your higher education process, you might look at various community colleges in California. Depending on your needs, like college size or location, these might be some of the top colleges in California for you. 

A community college degree allows you to pursue higher education on a part-time basis. It can also give you the opportunity to transfer to a larger university after you complete a certain number of credits. 

Most community colleges in California don’t have campus housing. This means that community colleges in California will predominantly serve those who already live (aptly) in the community. You can commute to classes and enjoy a more flexible course schedule, often including online credits. Community colleges in California (and elsewhere) are also often more affordable, which can be deeply valuable to students. So, for some applicants, the best universities in California include several of the community colleges in California that made our list!

Colleges in California Map

Below, you’ll find a map of some top California colleges. This includes many of the top colleges in California. 

Colleges in California Map

As you can see from our colleges in California map, the best colleges in California are located all across the state. If you want to be at the center of Los Angeles, you might consider UCLA or USC. Or, if you want to be near the city but don’t mind a drive, the Claremont Colleges might be the place for you.

Moving north, you’ll find Stanford and UC Davis, among other top schools. While both of these colleges are in a suburban setting, students still have access to plenty of resources. Maybe one or both of these are the top colleges in California for you!

The California Coast

If you want to be on the coast, you might look at Pepperdine or UC Santa Barbara. These colleges provide students with ready access to the beach—for research and recreation alike. 

California is a large state, and—as you can see from our colleges in California map—the best colleges in California span hundreds of miles. So, do your research, and don’t forget to think about college location. This will help you as you begin your UC application process or consider other top California colleges. 

What are the best colleges in California?

So, we’ve already broken down the best universities in California into several categories. Now, let’s look at a list of the overall best colleges in California according to U.S. News. 

Before we dig into the rankings, a reminder: no list can tell you the best colleges in California for you. Take all college rankings with a grain of salt. Do your research on every school that interests you, and don’t focus too much on the numbers. Instead, look at what programs they offer, what class sizes are like, where the campus is located, and other key features. Plus, if you have time for college visits, seeing a school in person can make a huge difference. Only this research can help you determine the top California colleges for your college list. 

Top 10 Best Colleges in California

Now, let’s explore some lists of the top universities in California. Of course, these lists are not the objective final word.

best colleges in california

After all, college rankings aren’t everything. At the end of the day, you want to find the top universities in California for you. U.S. News can’t tell you what you need in a college, so always use your judgment. These rankings are meant to help guide you as you choose your top California colleges to apply to. Based on the college rankings, the best universities in California are:

Top 10 Best College in California

#1- Stanford University

  • Location: Palo Alto, CA (suburban)
  • Tuition: $56,169
  • Enrollment: 7645
  • Acceptance Rate: 4%
  • Popular Majors: Computer science, economics, human biology

#2- California Institute of Technology

  • Location: Pasadena, CA (suburban)
  • Tuition: $60,864
  • Enrollment: 987
  • Acceptance Rate: 4%
  • Popular Majors: Computer science, engineering, physical sciences

#3- UC Berkeley

  • Location: Berkeley, CA (suburban)
  • Tuition: $43,980 (out-of-state) or $14,226 (in-state)
  • Enrollment: 32,143
  • Acceptance Rate: 15%
  • Popular Majors: Social sciences, computer science, engineering

#4- UCLA

  • Location: Los Angeles, CA (urban)
  • Tuition: $44,830 (out-of-state) or $13,804 (in-state) 
  • Enrollment: 32,119
  • Acceptance Rate: 11%
  • Popular Majors: Social sciences, biological and biomedical sciences, psychology

#5- University of Southern California

  • Location: Los Angeles, CA (urban)
  • Tuition: $64,726
  • Enrollment: 20,790
  • Acceptance Rate: 12%
  • Popular Majors: Business, social sciences, visual and performing arts

#6- UC Santa Barbara 

  • Location: Santa Barbara, CA (suburban)
  • Tuition: $44,204 (out-of-state) or $14,450 (in-state)
  • Enrollment: 23,091
  • Acceptance Rate: 29%
  • Popular Majors: Social sciences, biological and biomedical sciences, mathematics and statistics

#7- UC Irvine

  • Location: Irvine, CA (suburban)
  • Tuition: $43,739 (out-of-state) or $13,985 (in-state)
  • Enrollment: 29,449
  • Acceptance Rate: 26%
  • Popular Majors: Health-related knowledge and skills, psychology, business

#8- UCSD

  • Location: La Jolla, CA (urban)
  • Tuition: $46,374 (out-of-state) or $15,348 (in-state)
  • Enrollment: 33,343
  • Acceptance Rate: 31%
  • Popular Majors: Cognitive science, computer science, anatomy

#9- UC Davis

  • Location: Davis, CA (urban)
  • Tuition: $44,494 (out-of-state) or $14,740 (in-state)
  • Enrollment: 31,657
  • Acceptance Rate: 38%
  • Popular Majors: Psychology, management science, neuroscience

#10- Pepperdine University

  • Location: Malibu, CA (urban)
  • Tuition: 63,142
  • Enrollment: 3,708
  • Acceptance Rate: 53%
  • Popular Majors: Business, communications, social sciences

These are some of the top universities in California. As you can see, they vary in college size and college setting. However, as we’ve discussed, there are hundreds of colleges in California. So, if the top universities in California for your needs aren’t on that list, don’t worry. There are plenty of top colleges in California, and they all have their unique features. Each applicant will likely have a different list of the best universities in California for them. 

Top Colleges in California — Liberal Arts Schools

top colleges in california

Note that the list above only includes the best universities in California—that is, it does not include liberal arts schools. In terms of the best liberal arts colleges in California, Niche ranks the top California colleges as follows:

As you can see, the Claremont Colleges are consistently ranked as the best colleges in California. These schools have vast resources and a powerful consortium network despite their small college size. This makes them some of the top colleges in California by any metric. 

However, there are also plenty of top California colleges beyond the Claremont Colleges. These include Occidental College, Vanguard University, and MiraCosta College, among others. So, feel free to think beyond the Claremonts as you look for the top colleges in California. 

Top 10 Private Colleges in California

If you’re looking for private colleges in California, you’ll have plenty of options when it comes to the best colleges in California. There are many top universities in California with both private and public funding. While a school’s funding status might dictate its tuition or other key attributes, you can get a great education at any of the top universities in California. 

Private colleges can offer students boundless opportunities. According to the U.S. News rankings, the best universities in California (private) are:

Private vs. public

However, note that these private colleges won’t necessarily give you a better education than the best public universities in California or even the top community colleges in California. In fact, looking at the college rankings, many UC campuses outrank the private colleges listed above, exceeding the USC ranking and the Pepperdine ranking. So, don’t just look at factors like the Caltech ranking to make your college decisions. Instead, when it comes to the top colleges in California, think about how public colleges, including community colleges in California, stack up. 

Top universities in California come in all shapes and sizes. So, as you search for top California colleges, you should look at both public and private institutions. This will help you find the best colleges in California for you. 

Next, let’s look at some more of the top colleges in California. 

What’s the best college in California?

According to the U.S. News rankings, Stanford is the best college in California. The Stanford University ranking is #1 among California Universities. 

best colleges in california

Stanford is one of the best colleges in California for biology.

In fact, biology is one of the top ten majors at Stanford. Other popular majors include computer science, engineering, and physical sciences. However, Stanford isn’t just for STEM-focused students. The school also has many impressive humanities programs, as well as one of the best business schools in California. 

Stanford is also one of the best colleges in California for doctors. Many students at Stanford pursue a pre-med track, taking advantage of the school’s vast resources. Students who attend Stanford often go on to medical school at top universities across the nation. 

Since the Stanford University ranking is so high, it’s no surprise that the school isn’t easy to get into. Stanford is one of the top colleges in California, which makes it quite selective. With an acceptance rate of just 4%, most admitted students have high GPAs and star-studded extracurricular achievements.

Seeing beyond rankings

It’s also important to note that while Stanford is (by ranking) the best college in California, it might not be the best college in California for you. You shouldn’t build your college list based on rankings alone. Instead, you should get more specific as you find the top colleges in California for you. For example, you should also look at the University of California rankings or the Pepperdine ranking when making your college list. 

You should look at overall “college fit,” considering factors like college setting, class size, and more. You can also look back at our colleges in California map for some inspiration. Additionally, you can look at specialty lists of the best colleges in California for nursing, economics, film, or other fields that interest you. This can help you narrow down your list of the top colleges in California for you. 

What’s the number one community college in California?

top colleges in california

Based on college rankings, Foothill College is the best community college in California.

However, when it comes to community colleges in California, you shouldn’t fixate on college rankings. Instead, you should look at community colleges in California in your area or in an area where you’d like to find housing and/or work.

Foothill College has an open-door admissions policy. That means that if you’re over 18, you’re automatically eligible to register—no application needed. So, if you’re looking for a stress-free way to start your education, this might be one of the top colleges in California for you. 

Associates degrees in Arts or Sciences

Students at Foothill College can graduate with an Associate in Arts or Sciences and either enter the job market or transfer to a four-year institution. Like many other community colleges in California, Foothill also allows students to transfer into schools within the California State University system. So, the community colleges in California can be great stepping stones for many students before they pursue a B. S. or B. A. at another school. 

All to say—as you consider the best colleges in California, keep your own needs in mind. The college rankings might not consider community colleges in California to be the best colleges in California. However, given their flexibility, these schools can be the best colleges in California for some students. So, don’t immediately knock community colleges in California off your list. 

Exploring the University of California System

best colleges in california

We’ve looked at a variety of the best colleges in California, from the best universities in California to the best community colleges in California. Next, let’s take a closer look at the UC schools. 

When exploring the best colleges in California, institutions within the University of California system are popular options. Why do the UC campuses rank as some of the top California colleges? There are many reasons for the consistently impressive University of California rankings as top universities in California. They tell us that students will have access to advanced facilities with knowledgeable professors from many fields. 

The University of California was founded over 150 years ago on the idea that college should be available to everyone. The UC schools try to maintain that principle to this day. However, with the University of California rankings so high among national public institutions, the acceptance rates are low. You’ll notice that the UC schools top many lists of the best universities in California. 

Focus on the best school for YOU

When finding the right school for you, lists naming the top universities in California can be helpful. Still, there are plenty of other top colleges in California to choose from. Certainly, the University of California rankings tell us they are some of the best universities in California. That being said, your personal “Best Universities in California” list may not have a single UC school on it. That’s okay. Choosing your top universities in California is a personal choice that depends on factors like college size, major, price, and location. So, each student’s top California colleges list will look different!

After all, how many colleges are in California? Look at our colleges in California map for some inspiration. There are loads of schools, including public universities in California, private colleges in California, and community colleges in California. You’ll find everything from large research institutes like Stanford University to community colleges like Foothill College. But for now, let’s take a closer look at some of the more well-known best universities in California.

How many UCs are there?

There are ten campuses in the University of California system, nine of which offer undergraduate degrees. All of them are considered some of the best universities in California. With so many options, students set on top universities in California would be happy at many of the UC locations. 

The UC campuses offer 160 academic programs and 800-degree options. No matter what you choose to study, there’s a campus within the UC system that will provide you with a top education in that field. Schools within the UC system are known as some of the best research public universities in California and the nation. 

Personal Insight Questions

The UC application is similar to the Common Application. However, when completing the UC application, students will use the UC portal and answer UC-specific essays. Students should know to which campus they wish to apply before completing the UC application. 

The consistently high University of California rankings tell us that UC schools are some of the best universities in California. So, students should take time to carefully and thoughtfully complete their UC application, from essays to activities. Note that the UC system is not just test-optional, but test-blind. UC admissions doesn’t consider standardized test scores as part of your UC application. Check out this webinar to learn more about applying to UC schools. 

Let’s take a look at each UC college setting, as they are all some of top universities in California:

University of California Campus Settings

UC Berkeley

Founded in 1868, UC Berkeley is the oldest and possibly most renowned university within the UC system. The UC Berkeley ranking, according to U.S. News, is #20 among National Universities. With the UC Berkeley ranking so high, the acceptance rate is competitive at about 15%. 

UCLA

The University of California Los Angeles is another sought-after university, with the UCLA ranking as one of the highest among public universities in California. Due to high interest from students nationwide, the acceptance rate is highly selective at about 11%. UCLA is great for students looking to study in a big city at one of the top universities in California.

UC San Diego

Forbes has the UCSD ranking at #17 on their 2022 top colleges list and #3 on their top public colleges list. With the UCSD ranking so high, it’s probably no surprise that the acceptance rate is also competitive at just 31.48%

UC Riverside

The UC Riverside motto is “Bold Hearts. Brilliant Minds.” They’re looking for students who will take action and go on to transform lives. As one of the lesser-known schools in the UC system, the acceptance rate is higher than others at 66%. Even so, it’s still one of the top universities in California. 

UC Santa Barbara

The UCSB ranking is high as well. According to U.S. News, the UCSB ranking is #32 in their National Universities list. With probably one of the most beautiful UC campuses, many students nationwide are hoping to get into UC Santa Barbara. The acceptance rate of 29.56% doesn’t seem to discourage many from applying every year. Academic excellence, creativity, and social engagement all meet in the UC Santa Barbara college setting to provide students with a top-quality education. 

UC Santa Cruz

Another one of the best colleges in California, UC Santa Cruz offers its students degrees in most major disciplines. In this college setting, students will enjoy a small liberal arts feel with all the advantages of a major research university.

UC Merced

This is the newest addition to the UC system, founded in 2005. Located close to the Sierra Nevada Mountains, UC Merced provides “living laboratories” for student research in the region and beyond. 

UC Davis

UC Davis is located in “California’s college town.” Students are able to enjoy sprawling greens and walk to town from campus easily. The acceptance rate at UC Davis is 38.87%. The college town experience combined with a quality education easily makes UC Davis one of the best universities in California. 

UC Irvine

Getting into UC Irvine will take careful planning, as it has a competitive 26.54% acceptance rate. UC Irvine’s mission is to enhance the community through academics, research, and public service. 

Discovering California State Universities

top colleges in california

When researching the best colleges in California, you might focus on the UC system rather than the California State University system. However, the CSUs are also some of the top colleges in California. Like the UC system, the California State system houses multiple public universities in California. There are 23 campuses within the California State University system. Yearly, the CSU educates over 477,000 students.

Universities within the CSU system strive to be affordable options for students. In fact, the California State University rankings show that these are not only some of the top California colleges, but also some of the best budget options nationwide. More than half of CSU students graduate with no student loan debt. Wow, no wonder these are considered some of the top colleges in California!

California State University rankings

While college rankings aren’t everything, the California State University rankings can tell you a bit more about how these schools compare to other institutions. This can help you decide if the CSU system is right for you. Maybe the CSUs will be first on your list of the best universities in California for you. 

There are many college location options within the California State University system. So, you should find your campus match before starting your application to these top universities in California. Be sure to check the application dates and deadlines, as they will vary according to each campus. 

Top Colleges in California: The Claremont Colleges

There are seven institutions in total that make up the Claremont Colleges, including five private colleges in California:

Like the UC and CSU schools, these are some of the top colleges in California. Unlike the institutions in the UC and CSU system, the Claremont Colleges are all private colleges in California near each other. As the name implies, all of the Claremont Colleges are located in Claremont, a city in Southern California. Located on over 500 acres of land, the Claremont Colleges are home to 9,000 students. These colleges consistently make top colleges in California lists. 

The city of trees and PhDs

Known as the “City of Trees and PhDs”, Claremont offers a truly unique environment to its students. It is close to Los Angeles but situated in the hills of the San Gabriel Mountains. Students hoping to join this consortium—which includes some of the top colleges in California—must apply to each campus individually. However, once admitted, students have access to all of the institutions’ facilities. With so many facilities, it’s no wonder these schools are some of the top colleges in California. 

While the Claremont Colleges are some of the best universities in California, there are other small, private liberal arts schools. For example, Pepperdine University is just one example of many top California colleges that may have made your list. The Pepperdine ranking is #55 on U.S. News’ National Universities list. This tells us that Pepperdine is among the top California colleges. The high Pepperdine ranking means they too offer a quality education, making it one of the best universities in California. Remember, you have plenty of options when choosing your top colleges in California. 

What are each of the Claremont Colleges known for?

Similar to the UC and CSU system, applicants who hope to attend one of the private colleges in California that make up the Claremont Colleges will need to apply to the specific campus and institution. 

Once again, these schools are some of the best colleges in California. You can apply to multiple Claremont colleges, and each has its own character. 

Let’s check out a snapshot of each of the institutions that make the Claremont Colleges, which are some of the top California colleges.

Claremont Colleges Snapshots

Pomona College

A fairly small school, Pomona College has an enrollment of 1,747 students and a student to faculty ratio of 8:1. The Pomona College ranking among the best liberal arts schools is consistently high. According to U.S. News, the Pomona College ranking is #3 on their National Liberal Arts schools list. They offer 48 majors and minors in the arts, humanities, social sciences, natural sciences, and interdisciplinary studies. The top three most popular majors are social sciences, biological and biomedical sciences, and physical sciences. 

Scripps College

A private residential liberal arts women’s college, Scripps College is among the top colleges in California and in the nation. The enrollment is 1,082 with the student to faculty ratio of 9:1. The top three majors are social sciences, biological and biomedical sciences, and psychology. 

Claremont McKenna College

The national Claremont McKenna ranking is high, easily making it one of the top colleges in California. The Claremont McKenna ranking is #9 according to U.S. News’ top liberal arts schools list. Claremont McKenna College has an enrollment of 1,414 students. They offer 33 academic majors. The most popular majors are econometrics and quantitative economics, experimental psychology, and political science and government.  

Harvey Mudd College

With the national Harvey Mudd ranking remaining high, Harvey Mudd College is one of the best colleges in California, The Harvey Mudd ranking shows us that it is one of the top engineering, science, and mathematics colleges in the nation. The undergraduate enrollment is small, at just 905 students. The top three majors are engineering, computer and information sciences and support services, and Multi/Interdisciplinary Studies. 

Keck Graduate Institute

Offering only postgraduate degrees and certificates, the Keck Graduate Institute has an enrollment of 597 students. Their programs aim to make their graduates leaders in healthcare and applied life sciences. 

Claremont Graduate University

One of the best universities in California for postgraduate studies, Claremont Graduate University offers students 46 Master’s degrees and 20 Doctoral degrees to choose from. They offer programs through different schools in management, education, fine arts, health, science, and social sciences and humanities. 

Best Colleges in California by Major

When deciding to study in California, there are many choices for top colleges in California or top universities in California. So, how do you decide which are the best colleges in California for you? You should consider things like college location, college size, and college rankings to help narrow down your choices. Furthermore, knowing your major can help you find the top colleges in California for your intended path of study. 

We’re going to check out some of the top California colleges for business, premed, nursing, and biology shortly. First, though, it’s important to understand that these top colleges in California lists are subjective. There are plenty of top colleges in California in these fields that didn’t make our best universities in California list. As long as you find programs that suit your needs, then you’ve found your best colleges in California. After all, you’re the one who will be living and studying there for several years. So, your list of the top universities in California might look different from other applicants- and that’s okay!

Best Business Schools In California

best colleges in california

Year after year, business ranks as one of the most popular majors. If you’re thinking about the best colleges in California and business has caught your attention as a major, then you’re probably looking for the best business schools in California. 

When looking for the best universities in California for business, think about your personal interests. Why are you looking to study at one of the best business schools in California? Are you interested in finance, international business, or entrepreneurship? While there are plenty of lists ranking the best colleges in California for business, it’s ultimately your decision. And with so many good options, there will be no shortage of best business schools in California for you. 

Considering BA/MBA Programs

Applying to graduate school for business is another consideration. If you know you want to get a master’s degree, then consider the best business schools in California with a BA/MBA program. Often, applying to these types of programs is more competitive, so start your applications early. 

Of course, college rankings lists shouldn’t be the most important factor when choosing the best colleges in California for you. At the same time, they can be helpful in understanding different programs at the top universities in California.

Let’s see what schools made Niche’s list of the best business schools in California: 

University of Southern California

The USC ranking (#1), makes it a selective school with an acceptance rate of 12%, as of last year. However, if applicants can beat the low acceptance rate that makes the USC ranking so high, they will have the benefit of studying at USC, one of the top universities in California for business. The Marshall School of Business offers undergraduate and MBA programs. 

UCLA

The UCLA ranking as one of the best colleges in California holds true when it comes to business majors as well. The Anderson School of Management offers many undergraduate and graduate degree programs in business. 

UC Berkeley

Another school in the UC system tops the charts with the UC Berkeley ranking as #3 on the best business schools in California list. The Haas School of Business is the second oldest business school in the U.S. 

UC Irvine

The UC Irvine ranking as one of the best business schools in California is also high. The Paul Merage School of Business is reinventing the meaning of business education in the digital world. And with the UC Irvine ranking so high, they’re doing it well. 

Santa Clara University

While the University of California rankings overwhelm this top California colleges for business list, Santa Clara University is also quite prestigious. The Leavey School of Business aims to educate “ethical business leaders who transform the world.”

Best Colleges In California For Doctors

Choosing the top colleges in California for business is a personal choice. In the same way, choosing the best colleges in California for doctors depends a lot on your individual needs. However, there are many top California colleges lists to help you find top-ranking pre-med programs. 

There’s no definitive list of the best pre-med programs or the best colleges in California for doctors. This is because programs can vary greatly depending on the school. So, instead, look for the best universities in California for doctors for you. Think about your education and career goals when creating your top colleges in California for doctors list. 

Let’s take a look at the U.S. News list for the best colleges in California for doctors: 

UC San Francisco

The School of Medicine at UC San Francisco offers an M.D. (Doctor of Medicine degree) program for hopeful doctors. As an undergraduate, you should reach out for more information on continued education in health sciences to best prepare. 

Stanford University

The high Stanford University ranking on the best colleges in California for doctors list won’t come as a surprise. There is no specific pre-med major at Stanford. However, undergraduates who plan to pursue medical school can get specific pre-med advising. The high Stanford University ranking makes the acceptance rate of Stanford Medicine extremely competitive. Start planning early if you plan to apply to their M.D. program. 

UCLA

UCLA doesn’t have a specific pre-med track, either. However, students planning for medical school will follow a curriculum of chemistry, biology, math, and physics to meet further education requirements. The David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA offers M.D. programs. And, with the UCLA ranking being what it is, you can be sure it’s a strong program. 

Best Colleges In California For Nursing

best colleges in california

The best colleges in California for nursing will offer varying programs to their students. It’s important to understand each type of program and whether it’s an undergraduate or graduate program. From there, you can plan courses and programs thoroughly to find your top colleges in California for nursing. 

There isn’t only one path to studying in the best universities in California for nursing. Students may even combine studies from community colleges in California with other universities. Then, they might go on to pursue Master’s or Doctorate programs. 

Let’s look at some of the best master’s programs at the best colleges in California for nursing: 

UC San Francisco

The UCSF School of Nursing is not only one of the best colleges in California for nursing. In fact, it’s one of the best nursing schools in the nation. They’re dedicated to educating nurses who hope to make the world a better place. They offer Master’s degrees, post-Master’s degrees, doctoral degrees, and postdoctoral studies programs.

UCLA

The UCLA School of Nursing is another one of the top nursing programs in the nation. They offer five programs ranging from undergraduate to doctoral studies.

UC Davis

The Betty Irene Moore School of Nursing at UC Davis offers its students Master’s, DNP, and Ph.D. programs. They offer a Master’s Entry Program in nursing in order to fast-track students with bachelor’s degrees into being registered nurses. 

UC Irvine

The UC Irvine Sue and Bill Gross School of Nursing is one of the few best colleges for nursing that specifically offers a Bachelor of Science in Nursing Science. They also have Master’s and Doctorate programs in nursing. 

University of San Diego

The Hahn School of Nursing and Health Science offers its students Master’s and Doctorate programs. Learn more about the application process in order to plan your undergraduate studies accordingly. 

That rounds out our list of the best colleges in California for nursing. Let’s move on to our next major: biology!

Best Colleges In California For Biology

top colleges in california

Maybe science is your thing, but you’re not necessarily set on a pre-med or nursing track. In that case, think about studying at one of the best colleges in California for biology. Many universities on our list will look familiar, as they are some of the best colleges in California overall. 

However, remember that our “best colleges in California for biology” list may be different from your own. There are plenty of top universities in California offering excellent biology programs.

Here is Niche’s top 5 best colleges in California for biology: 

Stanford University

The Stanford University ranking on this list may come as no surprise. After all, it also ranks as one of the best universities in California for doctors. The Stanford biology department offers Bachelor’s, Master’s, and Ph.D. programs in biology. 

California Institute of Technology

The Caltech ranking as one of the best colleges in California for business may also seem obvious. The university’s science and engineering programs are world-renowned. The high Caltech ranking illustrates the school’s vast resources and strong programs across a variety of scientific disciplines. They offer not only a biology program but also a biological engineering program. 

University of Southern California

USC is one of the best universities in California to study science. USC Dornsife offers a variety of undergraduate, graduate, and postdoctoral programs to those interested in biology. And, with that high USC ranking, they’re guaranteed to have strong academic programs no matter what subject. 

UCLA

UCLA offers biology majors and many courses of study within this field. Students can individualize their learning from the life and physical sciences departments to make a biology major that best suits their interests and needs. 

Pomona College

Students at Pomona College can major or minor in biology. In this program, students will gain hands-on experience in the lab and the field. 

Best universities in California: Admissions Odds

When crafting an application for one of the best colleges in California, remember that many of the top universities in California will have very low acceptance rates and very competitive admissions. For example, Stanford, the #1 top college in California, has an acceptance rate of just 4.3%. Caltech, at with a Caltech ranking of #2 out of the best colleges in California, has an acceptance rate of around 4% as well– similar to the acceptance rates of Ivy League Colleges like Princeton or Yale. 

Since California has such high-ranking public universities, the acceptance rates for these research-driven top public universities will be lower than at similar schools in other states. An example of this is UC Berkeley: despite being a large public university, UC Berkeley is incredibly selective with a 15% acceptance rate.

The low acceptance rates at many of the top colleges in California mean that you need to put extra effort into your application. This means crafting persuasive and well-written college essays, paying close attention to your extracurriculars, and keeping your GPA high

Build a well-balanced list

When you’re crafting a college list, make sure to balance it between safeties, matches, and reaches– don’t only apply to the top colleges in California with the lowest acceptance rates. Additionally, keep in mind that many colleges have gone test-optional – check out our guide on the best test-optional colleges. 

Also, keep in mind that just because some of the best colleges in California have incredibly low acceptance rates doesn’t necessarily make those schools a better fit for you. When making your college decisions, you should take many factors into account. For example, does the school have extracurriculars that you would enjoy? Is there a good student-faculty ratio? Is the food good? Would you rather have a school that has beautiful autumns, cool winters, hot summers and pleasant springs, or are you more interested in attending a school that has a balmy climate year-round? The best colleges in California are incredibly varied– don’t limit yourself by only applying to the best universities in California with the lowest acceptance rates. And, don’t apply only because U.S. News told you which were the top colleges in California– do your own research!

What is the easiest college to get into in California?

best colleges in california

If you’re just trying to study in California and don’t care about a university’s prestige, consider a community college. Most community colleges have 100% acceptance rates, making them statistically the easiest colleges to get into in California. 

Community colleges have many benefits, including flexible schedules, low tuition prices, transferable credits, and online classes. Going to community college might be a good fit for you if you are taking a non-traditional college path, want to work a full-time job while you attend college, or are saving up to attend a more expensive graduate school. Plus, the community colleges in California have a deal with the California state college system, making it very easy to transfer your community college credits after a few years and enroll in one of the best universities in California. 

Even if you are aiming to attend one of the best colleges in California, like UC Berkeley or Caltech, you need to balance out your college list with some safety schools. Here are some schools in California that are less selective if your top priority is to be in California:

Easiest colleges in California to get into

UC Merced

UC Merced is part of the UC system, which provides you access to other UC schools’ resources. If you want to go to a UC school, consider adding UC Merced as a safety school on your list. UC Merced has an acceptance rate of 82%, meaning that it accepts 4 out of 5 students that apply. Plus, UC Merced has been in the Top 100 Best Colleges for three years running, so you won’t feel as if you’re sacrificing a fantastic education for a higher acceptance rate. 

California State University, Fresno

The Cal State system praises itself for being accessible and affordable, and Fresno State is no exception. The Fresno campus is right at the base of Yosemite National Park, home to gorgeous rock formations and incredible hiking trails. Fresno State’s acceptance rate is 83%. 

California State University, Sacramento

Another of the California State offerings, Sacramento State is ranked 9th Most Transformative University in Money Magazine for its ability to offer financially accessible programs and encourage upward mobility through its degrees. It is also the 4th most diverse university in the Western U.S. Sacramento State has an acceptance rate of 83%. 

What is the hardest college to get into in California?

top colleges in california

When thinking about the “hardest” colleges to get into, there are many factors to take into account. Since most universities review applications holistically, what makes a school difficult to get into depends on the strengths and weaknesses of your application.

For example, if you have very strong writing skills but lower grades, a school that has a very high average GPA for their first-year class might be harder to get into. Alternatively, if you have strong grades and test scores but worry about your ability to tell a story, applying to STEM-focused schools like Caltech might give you a better chance. 

In terms of acceptance rates, the college with the lowest acceptance rate in California is Stanford. Stanford is statistically the hardest college to get into in California, with an acceptance rate of 4.3%. This means that they only accept around 4 of every 100 applicants, so even if you have perfect scores, a 4.0 GPA, well-written essays, and extracurriculars that demonstrate leadership and investment, Stanford would still be a “reach” school. 

Another reach school

In addition, Caltech is also one of the hardest colleges to get into in California. Caltech has an acceptance rate of 6.4%. Caltech has a very small student body–around 1000 undergrads– so it is incredibly selective in its admissions process. Caltech is also more academically focused, and is not a traditional “liberal arts” college. If you’re applying to Caltech, you should have a passion for science and research and be committed to pursuing a career in these fields. 

Remember, acceptance rates aren’t everything. The top colleges in California are the colleges that are the best fit for you. If you want to attend a small liberal arts college, UCLA’s #4 ranking shouldn’t pull you to their campus of 30,000 students. Look beyond prestige and prioritize your needs when it comes to deciding on a college. 

What is the prettiest college in California?

best colleges in california

If you’re applying to some of the best colleges in California, you might have seen some schools achieve rankings of the most beautiful college campuses in the U.S. Stanford frequently is mentioned on these lists for its unique architecture and sunny weather. California is a geographically varied and beautiful state, with ocean views, forests, mountains, and deserts alike– so if you’re looking for natural beauty, you’ve come to the right state!

However, beauty is subjective– there is no one “prettiest college” in California. That said, California is an incredibly geographically diverse state with many gorgeous natural features and many beautiful college campuses. Depending on your needs, these top colleges in California with stunning campuses might provide the aesthetic background to your studies that you’re looking for: 

Prettiest Colleges in California

UC Santa Barbara

From its location right on the Pacific Ocean, UC Santa Barbara takes the competitive number one most beautiful spot. From the Campus Lagoon to Campus Point, a popular hangout for surfers, Santa Barbara provides beautiful vistas and gorgeous weather year-round.

Pepperdine University

Pepperdine is located in the famous Malibu, and was ranked #2 most beautiful college campus by the Princeton Review in 2014. Fun fact: the Nickelodeon show Zoey 101 was filmed at Pepperdine, so if you’re looking to roam the whitewashed stucco buildings frequented by Jaime Lynn Spears in the show, this is the campus for you. And, you can hardly beat the Pepperdine ranking of #2 most beautiful campus!

UC Santa Cruz

A stunning forested campus close to the beach, UC Santa Cruz provides an answer to the eternal question: forest or beach? At UC Santa Cruz, you can have both. Between hiking trails and swimming holes, we don’t know how students can focus on their studies at all! 

Stanford

It seems unfair that Stanford would be ranked #1 of the best colleges of California and also one of its most beautiful, but we can’t argue with the Spanish colonial buildings, temperate and sunny year-round weather,  and view from Hoover Tower– you can see all the way to San Francisco on a clear day.

Santa Clara University

Surrounded by palm trees and perennial blue skies, Santa Clara University is another option to consider when looking for the most beautiful college campus. With world-renowned gardens and 106 acres of greenery, we don’t need much convincing. 

Loyola Marymount University

From Loyola’s perch atop a bluff, you can see for miles. In the Princeton Review’s 2022 list of most beautiful college campuses, Loyola ranked #3. In classic California style, palm trees abound. If you want to feel quintessentially Californian, look to Loyola. 

UC San Diego

Ranked #1 by the Princeton Review, UC San Diego has one of the most beautiful campuses in the United States. With its Spanish renaissance-inspired buildings and stunning view of Mission Bay, UCSD is a stunning campus in a very livable city. And, check out that UCSD ranking!

Occidental College

Occidental College is a beautiful example of Mediterranean architecture, and is surrounded by the lush nature LA is known for. Take in the sunset from Fiji Hill, or admire Occidental’s many famous rose bushes as you walk to class. 

Scripps College

At Scripps, you’ll see a proliferation of fruit trees, gardens, and park-like quads. Scripps has been highlighted by Travel and Leisure magazine as one of the most beautiful college campuses. Take in bubbling fountains, orange blossoms, and mountain views at Scripps. 

Sonoma State University

Sonoma State University is surrounded by three different lakes, and prioritizes the preservation of natural beauty. Set against the rolling Sonoma hills, Sonoma State is surrounded by beautiful features like lush greenery, gardens, flowers, and lakes. 

What is the cheapest college in California? 

top colleges in california

While reading this article about the best colleges in California, you might have been wondering: how much does it cost to attend one of the top universities in California, like Stanford or Caltech? The price of college tuition is a very influential factor for many families when it comes to choosing what university to attend but worry not: you can still attend one of the best colleges in California without breaking the bank. 

If money is a priority, look no further than the California State University system. The CSUs are incredibly well regarded nationally for having some of the best value-for-money out of any colleges in the United States. According to the “Washington Monthly,” all 23 CSU campuses were included in their 2021 list of “Best Bang for the Buck” campuses in the West. The CSUs also celebrate diversity; nearly half of students at CSUs are underrepresented minorities.

And if that weren’t reason enough to attend universities in the California State University system, the CSU includes many of the cheapest colleges in the whole state of California. 

CSU & Affordabilty

The CSU system sets a base tuition every academic year, and each campus adds their own mandatory fees. The base tuition for CSUs is $5,742 per year. 

Here are some examples of CSUs prices per year including Full-time Tuition + Campus Fees:

Compared to the UC system, these prices are significantly lower. For example, the yearly tuition at UC Merced is $13,657 for in-state students and $43,411 for out-of-state applicants. The cost of attending a campus in the CSU system is not only significantly cheaper but does not change for in-state vs. out-of-state applicants. 

Most expensive schools

If you’re wondering about the most expensive colleges in California, look to private, liberal arts colleges. Number one on the CBS News list of most expensive colleges in the United States is Harvey Mudd. Harvey Mudd is part of the Claremont Colleges, a consortium of small, liberal arts schools in Claremont, CA. However, it is important to note that around 70% of Harvey Mudd’s student body receives some form of financial aid, so most attendees of the college are not paying the full $77K tuition. 

Another college that ranks high on the list of most expensive colleges in the United States is USC, the University of Southern California. One of the best colleges in California, USC is the fourth most expensive college in the U.S., and the second most expensive college in California. 

CollegeAdvisor Resources on California Colleges

At CollegeAdvisor, we see many students every year looking to study in California for college. So, we’ve created many resources for our website covering the top colleges in California. 

College Pages

On our college pages, we provide in-depth information on each college. This includes information on applications, acceptance rates, tuition, admissions, rankings, and our own ranking of a college’s different aspects. Here’s our page on Stanford, which we’ve given an A+ ranking overall.

Since Stanford has such a low acceptance rate, doing research on Stanford and knowing as much about the university as possible will be helpful. When looking to get into one of the best colleges in California, you should be sure to check out the schools ahead of the application deadline.

On our college pages, you can find out about more niche features of the top universities in California. For example, you’ll find on our page about Stanford that Stanford is ranked as the third-best university globally and that Stanford employs a unique quarter system instead of semesters. We also have comparisons between Stanford and Harvard to help you understand the two elite schools better and make an informed decision about your future. 

Webinars & Articles

CollegeAdvisor also has webinars and articles for students searching for more information on demystifying the college process. Many of our webinars are panels featuring students who have attended some of the best colleges in California, as well as former Admissions Officers who have worked on admissions committees for some of the top colleges in California. 

How to apply to the UCs

One aspect of applying to the best colleges in California that frequently arises with our students is how to apply to the UCs. Since the UC application is so unique, and the UCs are such prestigious research universities that rank among the best universities in California, they are very popular schools.

We have many resources on the CollegeAdvisor website that can help students apply to the UCs. For example, if you’re looking for more information on how to apply to the UCs, check out this webinar: The Ultimate Guide to Applying to the University of California (UC) Schools.

This webinar features former Admissions Officer Aaron Brown, who gives advice on all pieces of the UC application. Aaron went to USC and then worked in admissions there for many years before working in admissions at UC San Diego, so if you’re looking to attend one of the best colleges in California, his expert advice may be just what you need. 

UC Application Tips

If you would rather read an article than watch a webinar, read our comprehensive article on Navigating the UC Application. This article provides an overview of how to craft your UC application– a unique application, different from the Common App, that you submit when applying to any UC university. 

Essay Examples

If you’re more interested in another one of the best colleges in California, USC, you might be interested in an article that goes into detail on how to write the best essays for USC. On our website, we feature articles that look at examples of “essays that worked” for universities like USC in order to help students understand what makes an essay successful. If you’re wondering how to write the best essays for USC, check out this article on USC essay examples

Whether you’re looking for general information on how to write strong essays, specifics about a college that you love, or feedback from someone who used to work in admissions, the CollegeAdvisor website is full of resources that can help you in your college process. 

Top Colleges in California — Final Thoughts

California is home to many incredible colleges. The best colleges in California include some of the best public universities in the country, as well as elite private schools like Stanford and Caltech, renowned small liberal arts colleges like the Claremont Colleges, and high-ranking, affordable public universities like the CSUs. 

If you’re looking for a mid-size, private college, with a stunning campus and a very low acceptance rate, one of the best colleges in California for you could be Stanford. To learn more about Stanford, look at our page on Stanford and why we think it has earned an A+ general rating as a university. 

Claremont Colleges

If you want to attend one of the top colleges in California but nearly 8,000 undergraduates feels too overwhelming, the Claremont colleges might be a good option. The Claremont colleges are five small liberal arts universities in a consortium: Harvey Mudd, Pomona, Scripps, Pitzer, and Claremont McKenna. However, keep in mind that by limiting your search to small, private universities, you’ll miss out on some of the best colleges in California– the UCs. 

University of California System

The UC system is one of the best public university systems in the country, and many UCs rank among the best colleges in California. In fact, UCLA and UC Berkeley fall within the top five universities in California, and other campuses like UC San Diego, UC Davis, and UC Santa Barbara are all listed within the top 10 best colleges in California. 

California State University System

If you are intrigued by the idea of a public university but want a bit more flexibility in your course of study, look to the CSUs. The California State University system differs from the UCs in many ways, and price is one of the most significant. The CSU system charges a base rate of tuition of $5,742 per year for all of its campuses and adds on a few thousand dollars in fees based on the campus you attend. This is significantly cheaper than the UC system. If you were raised in California, tuition for somewhere like UC Berkeley could be around $14,226, but if you live out-of-state, tuition jumps to $43,980.

So, if you’re still stumped on how to navigate the best colleges in California, we at CollegeAdvisor are here to support you. Remember, the best colleges in California differ for every student, and aren’t necessarily the highest ranked– they’re the colleges that fit your needs the best!


top colleges in california

Abbie Sage, Sarah Kaminski, and Rachel Kahn collaborated on this article. Looking for more admissions support? Click here to schedule a free meeting with one of our Admissions Specialists. During your meeting, our team will discuss your profile and help you find targeted ways to increase your admissions odds at top schools. We’ll also answer any questions and discuss how CollegeAdvisor.com can support you in the college application process.