What Are the Best Cal State Schools?

Looking for the right CSU school for you? Here's an overview of the top Cal State schools, plus the info you need to apply.
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California State University (CSU) system is proud to be the nation's largest, most affordable, and most diverse four-year public university system.

There are 23 CSU campuses throughout California, serving nearly 460,000 students each year. Students can choose from 4,100 degree programs that prepare students for today's workforce.

The school system promotes job readiness and social mobility. Several campuses are recognized as Hispanic-serving institutions (HSI) for having a Latino/a student enrollment of at least 25% of the student population.

We've ranked the best Cal State schools and spotlighted a few to help you choose.

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Cal State Schools Ranked

It's important to remember that the "best" school depends on you and your preferences. We used factors like reputation, education quality, and financial aid to determine our rankings.

Here are the five best Cal State schools.

1. California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo

  • Avg. Undergraduate Tuition & Fees: $10,319 (in-state) | $28,229 (out-of-state)
  • Acceptance Rate: 30%
  • Total Student Enrollment: 22,231

The core of Cal Poly's curriculum is rooted in its motto, "Learn by Doing." Its innovative hands-on approach has made Cal Poly a leading university in science, technology, and sustainability.

Within nine months of completing their degree, 95% of students are hired or attending grad school. Graduates have gone on to serve as innovators in the STEM industries. Four US astronauts are Cal Poly alumni — including Victor Glover, the first African American astronaut to call the ISS home.

2. San Diego State University

  • Avg. Undergraduate Tuition & Fees: $8,174 (in-state) | $20,054 (out-of-state)
  • Acceptance Rate: 39%
  • Total Student Enrollment: 36,484

SDSU is a federally-designated HSI that features a curriculum with an international emphasis. Students can complete a bachelor's and master's degree with the international business department in just five years. Along the way, you can explore local and international internship opportunities at the Center for Human Rights.

You can also look at research opportunities with the Computational Science Research Center or the Coastal and Marine Institute. The school receives over $164.5 million in research-related funding.

3. California State University, Long Beach

  • Avg. Undergraduate Tuition & Fees: $6,884 (in-state) | $18,764 (out-of-state)
  • Acceptance Rate: 40%
  • Total Student Enrollment: 40,190

CSU Long Beach champions racial equity and promotes social mobility. Almost 85% of current students are non-white. And 56% of the school's bachelor's degree recipients are first-generation college graduates.

School alumni have a collective state economic impact of over $8 billion. You can choose from 190+ academic programs. The most popular programs at CSULB are family and consumer sciences, psychology, business development, and health sciences.

4. California State Polytechnic University, Pomona

  • Avg. Undergraduate Tuition & Fees: $7,439 (in-state) | $19,319 (out-of-state)
  • Acceptance Rate: 55%
  • Total Student Enrollment: 29,456

Cal Poly Pomona provides students with research, internship, and service-learning opportunities. It is less than 30 miles east of Los Angeles, giving you access to a major city while living in the suburbs.

The university has a number of support programs for underrepresented students. It also prioritizes serving the public good, supporting the local economy, and diversifying the skilled workforce.

5. California State University, Fullerton

  • Avg. Undergraduate Tuition & Fees: $7,007 (in-state) | $18,887 (out-of-state)
  • Acceptance Rate: 67%
  • Total Student Enrollment: 40,738

CSU Fullerton is known for their diversity, D1 athletics, and STEM programs. With 55 undergraduate programs, you can pursue a degree in anything from data science and physics to Japanese and gender studies.

Cal State Fullerton's baseball team, the Titans, featured Michael Lorenzen, who was selected to be an All-Star pitcher for the MLB in 2023.

All CSU Schools

Cal State schools vary greatly in size, with student bodies ranging from less than 1,000 to over 40,000.

Acceptance rates also vary widely from 33% to 97%. Want to compare your top CSU schools? Here's an overview of enrollment rates, costs, acceptance, and number of applicants. Data is from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) for the 2020-21 academic year.

All CSU Schools
School Total Student Enrollment Avg. Annual Net Price Acceptance Rate Number of Applicants
California State University, Bakersfield 10,972 $7,368 85% 12,334
California State University, Channel Islands 6,966 $14,493 93% 9,244
California State University, Chico 15,702 $13,749 85% 19,990
California State University, Dominguez Hills 17,837 $4,500 86% 7,014
California State University, East Bay 15,189 $12,631 82% 14,448
California State University, Fresno 25,047 $6,336 97% 15,231
California State University, Fullerton 40,738 $4,939 59% 45,140
California State Polytechnic University, Humboldt 5,908 $13,904 91% 7,013
California State University, Long Beach 40,190 $9,171 47% 67,122
California State University, Los Angeles 27,513 $2,695 91% 29,223
California State University Maritime Academy 925 $16,924 82% 1,005
California State University, Monterey Bay 7,503 $6,085 93% 10,026
California State University, Northridge 40,108 $8,708 88% 23,656
California State Polytechnic University, Pomona 29,456 $12,942 61% 41,226
California State University, Sacramento 32,498 $7,778 94% 22,706
California State University, San Bernardino 19,514 $3,254 91% 13,057
California State University, San Marcos 16,255 $14,296 93% 13,986
San Diego State University 36,484 $6,867 38% 67,660
San Francisco State University 26,899 $13,641 93% 27,777
San Jose State University 37,133 $14,603 84% 30,441
California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo 22,231 $20,708 33% 54,570
Sonoma State University 7,371 $7,055 94% 10,598
California State University, Stanislaus 10,481 $7,230 95% 5,740
Source: NCES

CSU vs. UC

Generally speaking, UC schools are more competitive than CSU schools. The University of California system has a higher volume of applicants and lower acceptance rates than CSUs.

While UC schools tend to have a better reputation, CSU schools have smaller student bodies and more campuses in rural areas. CSU schools are also more affordable and have low tuition fees for in-state students.

UC campuses have a more traditional college vibe, while Cal State schools enroll more nontraditional and commuter students.

How to Apply to CSU Schools

Want to pursue your education at a Cal State school? Here's how you can apply to the CSU of your choice.

Check the Admission Requirements

CSU admission requirements start with 15 units of required high school courses in foundational subjects. Applicants must complete these course requirements with a grade of C or better.

Students who live in California should have a 2.5 GPA or higher, while non-Californians should have a 3.0 or higher.

Complete One Application for All CSU Schools

You only need to fill out one application for all CSU schools you're interested in. You must send all previous transcripts and information on your extracurricular activities and family income. Test scores are optional to include in your CSU application.

If you're interested in the optional Educational Opportunity Program application for students from historically underserved backgrounds, there will be some more information to include in your application.

Send Your Application to Each CSU School

While you can use the same application for all schools, there is a $70 application fee for each school you submit that application to.

There are fee waivers available for eligible undergraduate applicants who have lived in California for more than a year.

Mark Your Calendar for Deadlines

The priority application filing deadline for fall enrollment is typically the previous fall (October-November). But many campuses accept applications after this period. You can use this tool to see if your campus of interest is still accepting applications.

Frequently Asked Questions About CSU Schools

Can I transfer from CSU to UC?

Transferring from a Cal State school to a UC school is possible, but not all classes will meet UC's requirements. You can get more information from Assist, California's official course transfer system. You should speak with an academic advisor to learn more about your specific circumstances.

Which CSU school is easiest to get into?

Many Cal State schools admit a high number of applicants. In fact, most CSU schools have acceptance rates above 90%. California State University, Fresno has the highest acceptance rate at 97%, making it the easiest CSU to get into.

How many CSU schools are there?

There are 23 CSU campuses based throughout the state. Whether you want to study in LA or the San Francisco Bay Area, you can find a Cal State school.

The California State University system includes a few universities that don't have Cal State in their name —like San Diego State University and Sonoma State University.

What is the most popular CSU school?

The CSU schools with the most applicants are San Diego State University and CSU Long Beach, with 67,000+ applicants at each institution. Cal Poly comes in third with over 54,000 applicants. As such, these universities tend to have lower acceptance rates.

Which CSU campus is the nicest?

Many CSU campuses are in beautiful locations and have great features. Cal Poly's College of Architecture and Environmental Design has an outdoor experimental laboratory and maker spaces with welding tools and 3D printers. The campus also has great dining options for every lifestyle.

BestColleges.com is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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