Colleges in Northern California: A Complete List

Stuck in a Golden State of mind? Learn more about the most popular colleges in Northern California and the average cost of tuition in the region.
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Updated on November 15, 2023
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Margaret Weinhold is an associate editor for BestColleges, where she focuses on core content. She is passionate about increasing visibility and accessibility around higher education. Margaret holds a BA in English from the University of Virginia....
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California still reigns as the most populous state, even after an exit of some 600,000 residents in July 2022. Northern California, sometimes referred to as NorCal, comprises nearly 20 counties and houses some of the best colleges in the nation. Stanford University, UC Berkeley, and UC Davis all have campuses in NorCal. In fact, roughly 28 colleges and universities call Northern California home.

Considering colleges in Northern California? See what some of the best colleges in California have to offer, what you'll pay, and the in-demand jobs that await graduates.

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3 Popular Colleges in Northern California

Here we feature three of the most popular colleges in Northern California. These institutions have the most selective admissions policies in the state. Find out what makes these colleges the most in-demand — and exclusive —in NorCal.

1. Stanford University

  • Avg. Annual Net Price: $18,279
  • Acceptance Rate: 4%
  • Total Student Enrollment: 18,283

Founded in 1885, Stanford often gets mistaken for an Ivy League school — and for good reason. This private university has one of the most selective admissions in Northern California. For the class of 2026, Stanford received 56,378 applications and admitted only 2,075 students, or 3.68%.

With a research budget of $1.82 billion, Stanford's students and faculty have more than 7,500 research projects with outside sponsors. The seven schools feature 67 undergraduate majors and some 200 graduate areas of study. And the 2,304 faculty members include 21 Nobel laureates.

2. University of California, Berkeley

  • Avg. Annual Net Price: $19,257
  • Acceptance Rate: 11%
  • Total Student Enrollment: 45,307

Berkeley was founded in 1868 and ranks among the best public colleges in Northern California — and the nation. Berkeley, part of the University of California system that includes 10 schools, offers more than 300 programs to its 30,778 undergraduate and 12,303 graduate students.

Berkeley remains devoted to the Bay Area community. The Berkeley Public Service Center, founded following the Free Speech Movement in 1967, supports social action programs with students involved in more than 475 nonprofits and some 6,000 undergraduates each year participating in community organizations annually.

3. University of California, Davis

  • Avg. Annual Net Price: $17,385
  • Acceptance Rate: 37%
  • Total Student Enrollment: 39,679

Founded in 1908, UC Davis is one of the best research colleges in Northern California. In fact, it offers 107 majors and 101 graduate degrees. Outside of the classroom, some 50% of undergraduate students participate in external research projects.

UC Davis, which received $1 billion in research funding in 2021-2022, offers research facilities in a variety of fields. The 625-bed UC Davis Health teaching hospital sees 30,000 patients every year. Also, students have research opportunities at UC Davis' Comprehensive Cancer Center, Bodega Marine Laboratory, McClellan Nuclear Research Center, and the Robert Mondavi Institute for Wine and Food Science.

List of All Colleges in Northern California

We've created a complete list of all four-year nonprofit universities in Northern California. You can use the table below to compare data on student population, average net cost, acceptance rate, and number of applicants.

The following school data comes from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). All data is from 2022. Schools with fewer than 500 undergraduates were not included in this list.

Note that we have defined Northern California as the region comprising the San Francisco Bay Area, the Greater Sacramento area, Redding, and Fresno. It also includes most of the Sierra Nevada and the Central Valley.

All Colleges in Northern California
School Total Student Enrollment Avg. Annual Net Price Acceptance Rate Number of Applicants
California College of the Arts 1,501 $47,862 76% 2,987
California State Polytechnic University, Humboldt 6,025 $14,325 98% 8,505
California State University Maritime Academy 849 $17,566 96% 756
California State University, Chico 14,183 $15,517 95% 21,417
California State University, East Bay 13,673 $11,464 96% 12,461
California State University, Fresno 23,999 $7,507 95% 18,551
California State University, Monterey Bay 7,045 $11,435 92% 12,568
California State University, Sacramento 31,818 $11,596 93% 25,276
California State University, Stanislaus 10,154 $7,555 97% 6,077
Dominican University of California 1,877 $49,907 93% 1,746
Fresno Pacific University 3,032 $15,255 75% 832
Menlo College 800 $29,151 62% 3,357
Minerva University 660 $15,215 1% 20,816
Pacific Union College 870 $21,841 48% 1,364
Saint Mary's College of California 2,765 $32,129 88% 3,353
San Francisco State University 25,282 $13,267 94% 29,932
San Jose State University 35,751 $14,219 77% 34,002
Santa Clara University 9,178 $50,551 52% 16,650
Simpson University 874 $25,251 100% N/A
Sonoma State University 6,637 $15,507 94% 10,806
Stanford University 18,283 $18,279 4% 56,378
University of California, Berkeley 45,307 $19,257 11% 128,209
University of California, Davis 39,679 $17,385 37% 94,747
University of California, Merced 9,103 $13,549 89% 29,920
University of California, Santa Cruz 19,478 $17,975 47% 65,912
University of San Francisco 9,688 $42,953 71% 23,103
University of the Pacific 6,277 $28,164 93% 5,891
William Jessup University 1,624 $27,591 66% 710
Source: NCES

Highest-Paying Jobs in Northern California

Many of the highest-paying jobs in California reward bachelor's degree holders with six-figure salaries. You can find lucrative careers in a variety of different fields in Northern California, including healthcare, sales, marketing, information technology, and management.

With a bachelor's degree, you can become an advertising and promotions manager in the San Francisco area and make an annual mean salary of $210,000 or a registered nurse in the Sacramento area and earn a mean annual wage of $145,230.

Note that mean annual salaries in the table below are based on either the San Francisco or Sacramento metropolitan area.

Highest-Paying Jobs in Northern California
Career Mean Annual Salary (May 2022)
Advertising and Promotions Managers $210,860
Radiation Therapists $166,350
Software Developers $181,620
Registered Nurses $145,230
Construction Managers $141,210
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Is the Cost of College in Northern California?

How much does college cost? According to NCES, students in Northern California pay an annual average of $13,875 for tuition and fees at public four-year colleges, compared to $29,690 for a private education at a four-year institution. These rates do not factor in other expenses you need to cover, such as housing, transportation, food, and supplies.

Cost of College in Northern California in 2022
Institution Type Average Tuition & Required Fees
Public 4-Year $13,875
Private 4-Year $29,690
Source: NCES

Frequently Asked Questions About Colleges in Northern California

Is it expensive to go to college in Northern California?

Yes. College in California costs more than the national average, and it's particularly more expensive in Northern California. Nationally, students paid $9,375 for tuition and required fees at public four-year schools in 2020-2021, and $32,825 at private four-year schools, according to the NCES. At public four-year schools in Northern California, students paid $13,875 for tuition and fees. Statewide tuition and fees at public four-year colleges were $8,401.

How many colleges are in Northern California?

Northern California has 28 private and public four-year colleges for you to pick from. UC Berkeley, with 45,307 students, has the largest academic population in the region, followed by UC Davis, with 39,679 students, and then San Jose State University, which educates about 35,751 students.

What is the hardest college to get into in Northern California?

Minerva University, a small college with 660 students, has an acceptance rate of 1%, the lowest in Northern California. Simpson University, with 874 students, has the least selective admissions policy, admitting 100% of applicants. Among the larger colleges, Stanford has the lowest acceptance rate, admitting only 4% of candidates. And Berkeley, a large public university, admits 11% of prospective students. 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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