College enrollment continues to climb as individuals of all backgrounds recognize the importance of earning a postsecondary degree when it comes to career entry and professional advancement. The National Center for Education Statistics projects that the undergraduate student population will grow from 16.8 million in 2017 to 17.2 million by 2028.
This guide helps you find the college that suits your academic interests and career goals by detailing the 25 best colleges in California.
Top 10 Colleges in California
- Stanford University - Stanford, CA
- Pomona College - Claremont, CA
- University of California-Los Angeles - Los Angeles, CA
- Soka University of America - Aliso Viejo, CA
- University of California-Berkeley - Berkeley, CA
- California Institute of Technology - Pasadena, CA
- Claremont McKenna College - Claremont CA
- California Polytechnic State University - San Luis Obispo, CA
- University of Southern California - Los Angeles, CA
- Pitzer College - Claremont, CA
The following rankings consider school-specific factors like tuition costs, financial aid availability, and general student success as reflected by retention and graduation rates. Each school profile provides information on programmatic offerings and general admissions criteria.
You will also gain insight on support services like one-on-one counseling, career guidance, professional networking events, and study abroad opportunities. If a college interests you, contact the institution's admissions counselors for additional details.
By attending a California university, you stand to benefit from the state's mammoth economy, which is the largest in the U.S. and the fifth-largest in the world. California offers ample career opportunities in major sectors like construction, health services, and hospitality. The state's renowned tech industry is another significant job contributor, adding more than 43,000 positions in 2017.
2020 Best Accredited Colleges in California
|Stanford, CA||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 94%||
Stanford University is one of the best institutions of higher education in the world, delivering quality academics and research opportunities. The school enrolls over 16,400 students and features comprehensive degree offerings through its seven schools. Due to Stanford's institutional excellence, the admission process is competitive. First-time candidates undergo a holistic evaluation process that considers their GPA, high school coursework, ACT/SAT results, and extracurricular achievements. Stanford offers generous financial aid, which includes full tuition coverage for students who meet family income requirements.
The academic catalog includes 65 fields of undergraduate study, including applied and engineering physics, economics, Latin American studies, and public policy. Among the offerings is a bachelor of international security studies, which prepares learners for careers in emergency management and public policy. At the graduate level, students pick from more than 90 programs. Stanford also delivers distance education in forms of free noncredit classes and remote credentials powered by the Canvas platform.
|Claremont, CA||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 93%||
A private liberal arts institution based in Claremont, Pomona College serves 1,700 students each semester. The school features an 8-to-1 student-to-faculty ratio and a comprehensive academic catalog with 48 majors. Prospective learners submit official transcripts, three recommendation letters, and ACT or SAT scores. They also need to furnish an essay that demonstrates personal character, commitment to community, and an openness to new ideas, among other characteristics. The college provides an affordable tuition rate that disregards residency status.
Pomona offers bachelor's programs in areas like media studies, neuroscience, computer science, and sociology. Learners may also pursue an environmental analysis degree, taking classes in urban ecology, air pollution, and global climate change. They also delve into environmental justice, with an emphasis on race and equity. In addition to classroom instruction, Pomona students can take advantage of global learning opportunities. These options include international internships with partnering organizations and more than 53 study abroad programs.
University of California-Los Angeles
|Los Angeles, CA||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 91%||
The University of California, Los Angeles receives over 120,000 student applications each fall, making it the most-applied-to school in the country. Like other exclusive higher education institutions, UCLA operates a holistic undergraduate admissions process that evaluates potential learners on things like GPA and the rigor of their high school curriculum. California applicants need to rank in the top 9% of their graduating class. The university offers ample financial aid opportunities, including merit-based Regents Scholarships.
Founded in 1919 as a teachers-training institution, UCLA now delivers 125 majors through 109 academic departments. Undergraduate programming covers fields like public affairs, nursing, ethnomusicology, and materials engineering. Students may earn a bachelor's degree in applied linguistics through an interdisciplinary curriculum that examines the connections among language, learning, and social organization.
UCLA also delivers graduate and professional education options. Candidates pick from programs like urban planning; health policy and management; and molecular, integrative, and cellular physiology. Graduate students can benefit from scholarships, fellowships, and grants.
Soka University of America
|Aliso Viejo, CA||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 94%||
Soka University of America is located in Aliso Viejo and educates over 400 students. This private institution delivers nonsectarian curricula that empower individuals of all beliefs and nationalities. To enroll, applicants submit official transcripts, two academic recommendations, two personal essays, and ACT/SAT scores. Candidates also need to demonstrate leadership experience through extracurricular achievements. SUA requires every undergraduate student to spend a semester abroad and embeds the cost into tuition. Learners whose family income falls below a designated threshold can apply for a full tuition scholarship.
SUA delivers a bachelor of liberal arts program that students personalize by picking one of five concentrations. Options include humanities, environmental sciences, life sciences, and international studies. Learners may also pursue a social and behavioral sciences concentration, which helps them develop theoretical and methodological tools to address social challenges from multiple perspectives. Graduate students can earn a master of arts in educational leadership and societal change.
University of California-Berkeley
|Berkeley, CA||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 91%||
Founded in 1868, the University of California-Berkeley is the flagship institution of the UC system. The school enrolls more than 42,500 students in 350 undergraduate and graduate programs each year. Admission requirements include a minimum 3.4 GPA for out-of-state applicants and at least a 3.0 GPA for state residents. Prospective learners also must submit ACT or SAT scores. UC Berkeley bases its tuition prices on residency status. Financial aid is available and includes the Fiat Lux Scholarship for high-achieving students and the Middle Class Scholarship for learners who come from middle-income families.
Bachelor's programs cover major fields like Asian studies, cognitive science, public health, and landscape architecture. Students can also enroll in an innovative microbial biology program, where they examine viruses, fungi, and other small life forms that make up the planetary biomass. Graduate programming includes an executive master of business administration and a Ph.D. for information management systems. UC Berkeley operates online learning programs through Canvas and the open-access edX MOOC platform.
California Institute of Technology
|Pasadena, CA||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 89%||
Based in Pasadena, the California Institute of Technology serves approximately 2,500 undergraduate and graduate students each year. Renowned for the excellence of its natural science and engineering programs, CalTech is often regarded as one of the best universities in the U.S. To enroll as a first-year undergraduate student, applicants undergo a holistic review process that focuses on their academic preparation in the STEM disciplines. The school charges a flat tuition rate regardless of where a student resides. CalTech offers only need-based scholarships and grants.
After completing general education requirements, undergraduate candidates declare a major at the end of their first year. Options include applied physics, mechanical engineering, planetary science, and history. Students can pursue a chemical engineering major, with concentration options in biomolecular, environmental, materials, and process systems engineering. CalTech also features a comprehensive graduate catalog with programs like computation and neutral systems, space engineering, and geobiology. The university offers online education through the Coursera and edX platforms.
Claremont McKenna College
|Claremont, CA||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 90%||
Established as a men's school in 1946, Claremont McKenna College now delivers coeducational academic programming to 1,300 students each semester. Prospective learners submit two teacher recommendations, ACT or SAT scores, and official transcripts. First-time students can apply for merit scholarships. CMC also provides need-based financial aid, including the Kravis Opportunity Fund for students who come from low-income families.
Undergraduate major options include classical studies, international relations, mathematics, and science management. Students can enroll in an organismal biology program, which prepares them for ecological and physiological research careers. CMC also provides dual-degree programs in engineering and finance, enabling students to earn both their bachelor's and master's in about five years.
Through the Center for Global Education, CMC students can engage in immersive internships and study abroad trips. Opportunities include the Silicon Valley Program, which combines technical training with liberal arts topics to help students become entrepreneurs. The college also delivers research guidance through various centers and institutes.
California Polytechnic State University-San Luis Obispo
|San Luis Obispo, CA||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 79%||
One of two polytechnic institutions in the CSU system, California Polytechnic State University-San Luis Obispo delivers 65 bachelor's degrees and 39 master's programs. Students declare a major upon application. The school uses an objective, multicriteria admission evaluation process that considers factors like GPA, standardized test scores, academic rigor, and extracurricular/work experiences. Learners pay semester-based tuition determined by residency status. To apply for scholarships, students must have a minimum 3.0 GPA.
Undergraduate students pick from degrees in fields like biomedical engineering, graphic communication, public health, and agricultural business. Candidates may also enroll in an experience industry management program, which trains them to plan events and promote sustainable tourism. At the graduate level, Cal Poly offers master's programs in nutrition and quantitative economics. Candidates may also develop specialized skills by earning graduate certificates in fields like fire protection engineering and packaging analytics. Furthermore, the university delivers noncredit courses through its Extended Education platform.
University of Southern California
|Los Angeles, CA||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 92%||
Founded in 1880 with a class of 53 students, the University of Southern California is the oldest private institution of higher education in the state. Today, USC serves 47,500 students annually and delivers over 100 academic programs through six colleges. First-time learners must submit ACT/SAT scores. The average transfer candidate has a 3.74 GPA. USC provides ample financial aid opportunities, which include the Leadership Scholarship for first-year students and the Lambda LGBT Alumni Association Scholarship Award for high-achieving candidates who contribute to the LGBT+ community.
Undergraduate students pick from majors like political economy, jazz studies, environmental science and health, and biochemistry. They can pursue a mechanical engineering degree, with options for a generalist track or petroleum engineering concentration. USC also delivers over 190 minors, enabling learners to personalize their degree plan according to individual academic interests and career goals. In addition to traditional graduate programs, the university operates progressive degree options that allow students to begin work on their master's credentials while completing requirements for their bachelor's program.
|Claremont, CA||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 83%||
Based in Claremont, Pitzer College offers the resources of a major university with the personalized approach to education found at a small liberal arts institution. Pitzer facilitates admissions through the Common Application and requires two teacher recommendations from first-time students. Although ACT/SAT scores are not required, candidates can submit these results to bolster their portfolio. Need-based financial aid opportunities include federal work-study positions and institutional grants. Students can also apply for scholarships, which include an award for undocumented individuals.
The Pitzer catalog focuses on physical, social, and behavioral sciences along with the humanities and interdisciplinary studies. Students choose majors in areas like chemistry, neuroscience, mathematical economics, and anthropology. They can also enroll in a Chicanx Latinx studies program, which explores diaspora with regards to race, class, culture, gender, and sexuality. The college encourages learners to take their studies abroad by facilitating 46 international exchanges. By collaborating with partner universities, Pitzer also delivers dual-degree health science tracks.
Harvey Mudd College
|Claremont, CA||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 96%||
Harvey Mudd College was established in 1955 and delivers bachelor's programs that focus on scientific and technical fields of study. The school educates about 900 students annually and features an 8-to-1 student-to-faculty ratio. To enroll, first-year applicants need to display one year of high school chemistry and one year of physics. In addition to general SAT results, candidate submit scores from two subject tests (one of which needs to be Math Level 2). Nearly three-fourths of HMC students receive financial aid, which can include the RIF Scholarship for candidates who demonstrate exceptional mathematical ability.
Students pick from majors in biology, chemistry, computer science, engineering, and mathematics. They may also pursue a physics degree, taking classes like special relativity and electromagnetic theory/optics. All degree plans offer electives that enable candidates to align their academic training with individual career goals. HMC also offers joint-major options. The college supports first-generation and low-income students through its Upward Bound program, which provides free summer classes and SAT test preparation.
University of California-Irvine
|Irvine, CA||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 85%||
Recognized as a "public Ivy" for academic and research excellence, the University of California-Irvine offers 222 bachelor's, graduate, and professional degrees. Undergraduate students need to display at least a 3.0 overall GPA in 15 subject areas. They submit ACT/SAT scores along with personal essays. Transfer candidates need a minimum 2.4 GPA. In addition to federal and state aid, the university facilitates institutional awards like the Brython P. Davis Scholarship for members of the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps.
The school divides academic programs into 16 academic units, including biological sciences, business, and humanities. The School of Education delivers bachelor's and doctoral degrees in teaching. Students can also pursue a master of teaching, which comes with a yearlong site apprenticeship leading to state licensure. Additional degree options include social ecology, interdisciplinary studies, and pharmaceutical sciences. In conjunction with other UC schools, UCI offers more than 170 study abroad programs.
University of California-San Diego
|La Jolla, CA||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 85%||
The University of California-San Diego is one of the best research and academic institutions in the world. The school enrolls 39,000 students and offers over 130 undergraduate majors. Freshman applicants must possess a minimum 3.0 GPA if they reside in the state and at least a 3.4 GPA if they come from outside California. UCSD accepts ACT and SAT scores. Learners can apply for comprehensive financial aid, which includes the Chancellor's Associates Scholarship for transfer candidates who are registered members of federally recognized Native American tribes.
The academic catalog features bachelor's programs in political science, oceanography, and visual arts. Students may also enroll in the cognitive science program, with concentration options in human cognition, design and interaction, and machine learning. At the graduate level, UCSD delivers degrees like ethnic studies, global health, and structural engineering. Through the Rady School of Management, candidates can earn a master of professional accountancy or business analytics.
|Claremont, CA||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 88%||
Scripps College is located in Claremont and operates as a women's higher education institution. Admission requirements for first-time students include official transcripts, three recommendation letters (one from a counselor and two from teachers), and ACT or SAT scores. Scripps offers an affordable tuition rate and generous financial support, which includes merit-based scholarships for incoming and returning students.
All Scripps students complete an interdisciplinary core curriculum over the course of three semesters. These required classes focus on the examination of human communities and lead to a self-directed research project. Candidates fill out the remaining credits in their chosen major with options like Asian American studies, environmental analysis, molecular biology, and psychology. They can also pursue the interdisciplinary science, technology, and sociology major, preparing for careers as policy researchers and journalists. As part of the Claremont College system, Scripp students can pick an off-campus major at one of the partnering schools.
California State University-Long Beach
|Long Beach, CA||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 69%||
California State University-Long Beach serves over 38,000 students, making it one of the largest postsecondary schools in the state. The institution provides comprehensive academic programming through eight colleges. Degree options cover the liberal arts, fine arts, business, and engineering. Through the College of Health and Human Services, learners can pursue credentials for nursing, emergency management, and nutrition and dietetics. Candidates can also earn a fashion merchandising and design degree, which enables them to work as corporate buyers and product developers.
In addition to traditional academics, CSULB facilitates professional and international education that includes certificate programs in law enforcement and medical coding. Experienced professionals can work toward career advancement by developing specialized skills like negotiation, project management, and Six Sigma fundamentals. To enroll as a freshman student, candidates must meet the minimum eligibility index, a score that factors in GPA and ACT/SAT performance. Financial aid includes federal work-study, state grants, and merit scholarships for new and returning learners.
San Diego State University
|San Diego, CA||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 74%||
Founded in 1896 as a teacher training school, San Diego State University now delivers comprehensive undergraduate and graduate programming. SDSU follows suit with other California universities by requiring prospective students to meet minimum Eligibility Index requirements, which combines GPA results with ACT/SAT performance. The school bases its affordable tuition rates on program type and enrollment status. All students can apply for funding support, which includes scholarships based on academic major.
Undergraduate students may enroll in programs for aerospace engineering, public administration, and journalism and media studies. They can individualize their degree plans by picking complementary minors. SDSU also facilitates pre-professional programs in dentistry, optometry, physician assisting, and veterinary medicine.
Graduate candidates can earn master's and doctoral degrees along with advanced certificates. Options include applied mathematics, creative writing, and geophysics. SDSU also operates a Ph.D. for the interdisciplinary research of substance abuse. This joint medical program awards full scholarships and stipends to four students each year.
University of California-Santa Barbara
|Santa Barbara, CA||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 81%||
The University of California-Santa Barbara supports 26,000 students each semester, making it the third-largest institution in the UC system. The school delivers 90 bachelor's degrees and 50 graduate programs. Freshman applicants undergo comprehensive review that considers GPA and standardized test performance along with special talents and the location of their primary residence and secondary school.
UCSB offers undergraduate majors in fields like chemical engineering, biology, computing, and comparative literature. Students can also earn an earth science degree, which offers concentrations in geohydrology, paleobiology, and climate and environment. The school also delivers a brain science program that prepares candidates for careers in social work and applied psychology.
At the graduate level, programming covers areas like marine science, statistics, and theater studies. Learners may pursue a Ph.D. in dynamical neuroscience through an interdisciplinary program that analyzes how the nervous system generates perception, behavior, and cognition. As a renowned research university, UCSB offers dedicated guidance, project funding, and networking opportunities.
University of California-Davis
|Davis, CA||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 85%||
As a "public Ivy," the University of California-Davis excels in global research and academic programming. UC Davis provides over 200 degrees and features a 20-to-1 student-to-faculty ratio, a feat for a school that enrolls 39,000 students. The average undergraduate applicant possess a 3.76 unweighted GPA. The university requires undergraduate candidates to submit ACT or SAT scores, while prospective graduate students need a minimum 3.0 GPA. Financial aid includes the generous Blue and Gold Opportunity Plan for students whose families meet the income requirement.
Undergraduate majors include applied chemistry, sustainable environmental design, and global disease biology. UC Davis also operates a community and regional development program that prepares students to work as leaders in city planning and public policy. Graduate students can enroll in programs for biological systems engineering and forensic science. They can also obtain a master of arts in education, which leads to either teaching credentials or an educational assessment concentration.
California State University-Fullerton
|Fullerton, CA||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 66%||
California State University-Fullerton enrolls over 39,000 students, making it one of the largest higher education institutions in the state. The school operates 55 undergraduate and 55 graduate programs. Required admissions materials include an online application, official academic transcripts, and ACT/SAT scores. CSUF is an impacted campus that receives more applications than the school can accommodate. To stay within its capacity, the university applies rigorous standards for freshman applicants, who should expect to meet higher competition than at similar public state institutions.
The academic catalog includes bachelor's programs in child and adolescent development, public health, and sociology. Students can also pursue a business administration degree, which comes with concentration options like decision sciences and legal studies. CSUF delivers comprehensive graduate programming, with options in computer science, nursing leadership, and social work. Working professionals can advance their careers by enrolling in short-term certificate programs that enable them to take classes at night, on weekends, and online.
|Los Angeles, CA||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 84%||
Based in Los Angeles, Occidental College was founded in 1887, which makes it one of the oldest private liberal arts institutions on the West Coast. The college offers over 45 undergraduate programs and focuses on developing students' abilities to think critically and communicate effectively in an interconnected, multicultural world. Oxy operates a holistic admissions process that considers academic performance, rigor of high school curriculum, and ACT/SAT scores. Financial aid includes scholarships opportunities like the Barack Obama Scholars Program, which provides full funding for four years.
After taking interdisciplinary core classes, students complete coursework in their major. Options include urban and environmental policy, English, neuroscience, and marine biology. Students can also earn a bachelor of kinesiology, which enables them to qualify for careers in physical therapy and sports medicine. The program encourages students to use laboratory resources to pursue independent research. Oxy highlights global engagement as part of academic training, providing internship opportunities around the world through its international programs.
Santa Clara University
|Santa Clara, CA||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 90%||
Founded in 1851, Santa Clara University offers integrative academics that highlight the social consciousness of the Jesuit educational tradition. The institution offers comprehensive undergraduate degrees in fields that include civil engineering, accounting and information systems, and ethnic studies. Students may also enroll in an environmental science program, which features interdisciplinary coursework and concentration options in applied ecology and water, energy, and technology. SCU also delivers a modern languages and literature program that helps students develop the skills to communicate effectively across cultures.
Graduate students pick from part-time and full-time programs, with options for engineering management, counseling psychology, and pastoral ministries. Candidates may earn their MBA in an executive format, through a weekend program, or by taking online classes. The university also delivers dual-degree engineering programs.
First-year candidates pick from early decision, early action, and regular admissions paths. SCU requires SAT/ACT scores. The school offers a variety of financial aid opportunities, including need-based grants and national merit awards.
University of California-Riverside
|Riverside, CA||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 75%||
The University of California-Riverside is one of the top comprehensive research universities in the U.S. The school serves 24,000 learners each year and delivers more than 170 bachelor's, master's, and doctoral programs. First-year students need to meet a 3.0 GPA requirement if they reside in California (3.4 for nonresidents). UCR requires applicants to submit ACT/SAT scores with relevant writing portions. Graduate candidates need adequate GRE scores and a minimum 3.0 GPA in their undergraduate studies.
The academic catalog includes undergraduate majors in environmental engineering; gender and sexuality studies; and cell, molecular, and developmental biology. Through the School of Public Policy, students can earn a multidisciplinary bachelor's with a concentration in areas like economic policy, health/population policy, and policy institutions and processes. All learners may bolster their major studies by pursuing one or more minors. UCR operates master's programs in biophysics, visual art, and Southeast Asian studies. Students can prepare for careers as applied researchers by earning a Ph.D. in genetics, genomics, and bioinformatics.
California State Polytechnic University-Pomona
|Pomona, CA||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 66%||
Based in the Los Angeles metropolitan area, California State Polytechnic University-Pomona delivers over 160 academic programs through nine colleges. The institution uses the Eligibility Index evaluation method, combining GPA and ACT/SAT results. Receiving many applications beyond its capacity each year, CalPoly Pomona prioritizes local candidates; applicants from outside designated areas are evaluated according to higher standards. All learners may apply for financial aid, which includes scholarships for honors academic status and awards based on field of study. The university also provides study abroad funding.
Students can earn bachelor's degrees in urban and regional planning, hospitality management, computer information systems, and apparel merchandising and management. The Department of Biological Sciences delivers programs in biotechnology and environmental biology with minor options in botany, zoology, and microbiology. Because CalPoly Pomona emphasizes research, students benefit from dedicated guidance and generous project grants. The university facilitates internships through programs like SURE, a summer research experience for undergraduates.
|Malibu, CA||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 85%||
Pepperdine University is located in Malibu and educates 8,000 students every semester. The school offers comprehensive academics that emphasize global engagement and community leadership. To enroll, first-time candidates complete the Common Application and furnish high school transcripts, an academic recommendation, and ACT/SAT scores. The average freshman applicant possess an unweighted GPA between 3.64 and 3.97.
Pepperdine delivers 73 degrees across five schools. Undergraduate majors include business administration, integrated marketing communications, media production, and nutritional science. Students may enroll in pre-law and pre-health tracks. The university also operates an online bachelor of science in management.
Graduate programming includes master's programs for marriage and family therapy, screen and television writing, and organizational development. Pepperdine delivers distance education options for legal studies and dispute resolution students. Learners can also enroll in an accelerated juris doctor program to earn their credentials in two years. Outside the classroom, Pepperine supports learners by offering counseling services, student-led ministries, volunteer opportunities, and career development resources.
University of California-Santa Cruz
|Santa Cruz, CA||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 77%||
The University of California-Santa Cruz opened its doors in 1965 to a class of 650 students. Today, the school enrolls more than 17,000 learners annually and delivers 123 academic programs. UCSC requires undergraduate candidates who reside in the state to possess a minimum 3.0 GPA; out-of-state applicants need at least a 3.4 GPA. Students can submit either ACT or SAT scores. Financial aid includes the California DREAM Loan for undocumented individuals and non-California resident awards.
The academic catalog offers bachelor's degrees in global economics, human biology, theater arts, and applied linguistics and multilingualism. Students can enroll in a robotics engineering program, which concerns digital control and its scientific/mathematical foundations. UCSC also features pre-professional tracks in law and medicine. Graduate degrees cover fields like digital arts/new media, natural language processing, coastal science and policy, and anthropology. The university also provides an innovative Ph.D. program in the history of consciousness.