Public Universities in California: Full List of 32 Schools

Public universities in California are among the best in the country. Students often choose Cali for its booming industries and proximity to nature.
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Updated on October 12, 2023
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California is a coastal wonderland that attracts students from all over the world. Many public colleges in California are just as renowned as the state's private universities.

The University of California system, for example, includes some of the most prestigious public colleges in the country, like UCLA and UC Berkeley.

Whether you want a school in the heart of LA's entertainment industry, near Silicon Valley's tech empire, or along the San Diego surfer shores, there's a public university in California for you.

5 Popular Public Universities in California

To help you in your search, we've spotlighted five popular public colleges in California. We chose these schools based on factors like overall reputation, number of applicants, and academic rigor.

1. University of California, Los Angeles

  • Avg. Undergraduate Tuition & Fees: $13,401 (in-state) | $43,473 (out-of-state)
  • Acceptance Rate: 9%
  • Total Student Enrollment: 46,430

UCLA has a reputation for strong student outcomes: Just over 9 in 10 undergraduates graduate within six years.

You can also participate in over 2,000 annual events to network and connect with alums. You can even connect with UCLA alumni mentors to learn from successful industry professionals.

With a convenient Los Angeles base, students can benefit from industry connections, prominent alums, and abundant internship opportunities.

2. University of California, Berkeley

  • Avg. Undergraduate Tuition & Fees: $14,395 (in-state) | $44,467 (out-of-state)
  • Acceptance Rate: 11%
  • Total Student Enrollment: 45,307

UC Berkeley is known for its prestigious academics, STEM-focused programs, award-winning sports teams, and history of student activism.

There's also plenty of historical significance at Berkeley. The Doe Memorial Library resembles a mashup between the White House and Grand Central Station and holds over 12 million volumes.

Another piece of trivia about the institution: Former Berkeley professor Dr. J. Robert Oppenheimer is most famous for working on the development of the atomic bomb.

3. University of California, San Diego

  • Avg. Undergraduate Tuition & Fees: $14,906 (in-state) | $44,978 (out-of-state)
  • Acceptance Rate: 24%
  • Total Student Enrollment: 42,006

UC San Diego's main campus is located in La Jolla, reaching across 1,200 acres of coastal woodland. Here, students can grow vegetables and herbs in campus community gardens.

The university's oldest student tradition is a summer physics experiment in which watermelons are dropped seven stories from the top of Urey Hall in an attempt to achieve the largest splatter.

Popular majors at UC San Diego include anatomy, computer science, and international studies.

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4. San Diego State University

  • Avg. Undergraduate Tuition & Fees: $8,174 (in-state) | $20,054 (out-of-state)
  • Acceptance Rate: 39%
  • Total Student Enrollment: 37,402

Founded in 1897, SDSU is the oldest university in San Diego. The school is known for its research, international community, and sports teams.

SDSU's international business program is one of its most popular tracks. Students can also choose from over 700 study abroad programs.

The university is currently investing in several new research areas, focusing on topics like human dynamics in the mobile age and mitigating the effects of water scarcity.

5. University of California, Irvine

  • Avg. Undergraduate Tuition & Fees: $13,939 (in-state) | $44,011 (out-of-state)
  • Acceptance Rate: 21%
  • Total Student Enrollment: 35,937

Nearly 75% of UC Irvine undergraduates receive grants or scholarships. The school's location and positive reputation attract many students from around the country.

Irvine is an Orange County town nestled near SoCal beaches like Newport. It's also just a 20-minute drive from Disneyland.

UC Irvine is home to a reputable honors college where you can take rigorous general education courses and participate in workshops with a cohort of your peers.

List of All Public Colleges in California

We've created a complete list of all four-year nonprofit public universities in 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). Institutions with fewer than 500 undergraduates were not included in this list.

All Public Colleges and Universities in California
School Total Student Enrollment Avg. Annual Net Price Acceptance Rate Number of Applicants
California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo 22,000 $19,184 30% 58,774
California State Polytechnic University, Humboldt 6,025 $14,325 98% 8,505
California State Polytechnic University, Pomona 27,503 $12,480 55% 49,079
California State University Maritime Academy 849 $17,566 96% 756
California State University, Bakersfield 9,613 $7,521 87% 13,834
California State University, Channel Islands 6,128 $13,540 90% 10,420
California State University, Chico 14,183 $15,517 95% 21,417
California State University, Dominguez Hills 16,426 $5,068 89% 19,165
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, Fullerton 40,386 $7,925 67% 48,748
California State University, Long Beach 38,973 $9,346 40% 74,718
California State University, Los Angeles 26,460 $5,801 87% 33,939
California State University, Monterey Bay 7,045 $11,435 92% 12,568
California State University, Northridge 37,579 $8,936 91% 25,965
California State University, Sacramento 31,818 $11,596 93% 25,276
California State University, San Bernardino 19,803 $8,805 91% 15,501
California State University, San Marcos 15,109 $10,463 95% 14,774
California State University, Stanislaus 10,154 $7,555 97% 6,077
San Diego State University 37,402 $13,017 39% 77,250
San Francisco State University 25,282 $13,267 94% 29,932
San Jose State University 35,751 $14,219 77% 34,002
Sonoma State University 6,637 $15,507 94% 10,806
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, Irvine 35,937 $14,033 21% 119,191
University of California, Los Angeles 46,430 $16,999 9% 149,801
University of California, Merced 9,103 $13,549 89% 29,920
University of California, Riverside 26,809 $14,487 69% 54,683
University of California, San Diego 42,006 $16,111 24% 131,197
University of California, Santa Barbara 26,420 $16,874 26% 110,995
University of California, Santa Cruz 19,478 $17,975 47% 65,912
Source: NCES

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How Much Do Public Colleges in California Cost?

California's average in-state public college tuition cost is about $1,000 less than the national average. In-state students at four-year institutions paid an average of $8,401 in tuition and fees in 2021, according to the latest NCES data.

In contrast, public college tuition in California is actually more expensive for out-of-state students compared to many other states. Out-of-state students paid an average of $34,398 in tuition and fees at public four-year schools in California. In comparison, the national average was closer to $27,000.

Cost of College in California 2020-2021
Institution Type Avg. Tuition and Required Fees
Public 4-Year (In-State) $8,401
Public 4-Year (Out-of-State) $34,398
Private 4-Year $38,477
Public 2-Year (In-State) $1,285
Public 2-Year (Out-of-State) $8,491
Source: NCES

Highest-Paying Jobs in California

California is home to many thriving industries and healthy job markets. According to California's Employment Development Department (EDD), anesthesiologists earned the highest median annual salary in 2022 at almost $330,000.

Most of the highest-paying careers in California are in the medical field and require an advanced degree. Other lucrative jobs in the state include chief executive and judge.

10 Highest-Paying Jobs in California 2022
Job Median Annual Salary
Anesthesiologists $329,472
Obstetricians and Gynecologists $320,757
Psychiatrists $316,285
Family Medicine Physicians $270,670
Orthodontists $254,592
General Internal Medicine Physicians $250,973
Nurse Anesthetists $240,906
Chief Executives $237,619
Judges, Magistrate Judges, and Magistrates $214,240
Pediatricians, General $205,130
Source: California EDD

Frequently Asked Questions About Public Colleges in California

What is the No. 1 public college in California?

UC Berkeley and UCLA consistently rank as the best public colleges in California. Both have highly competitive acceptance rates of around 9-11% and large student bodies of over 45,000 students.

UCLA attracts talented, award-winning faculty to lead its many academic programs. UC Berkeley is particularly known for its exceptional science and engineering programs. Both universities dedicate significant funds to their world-famous research.

How many public colleges are in California?

There are over 30 four-year public colleges in California. Many of these — 23 schools, to be exact — are part of the California State University system. Meanwhile, the University of California system consists of nine institutions (a 10th UC campus in San Francisco offers graduate-level programs only).

Which Cal State school is the cheapest?

CSU Dominguez Hills has one of the lowest rates, with an average annual net price of $5,068, according to 2022 NCES data. Another similarly priced CSU school is Cal State LA, which has a slightly higher net price of $5,801.

Is public college free in California?

Some public schools may be free in California. The California College Promise Program allocates funds to community colleges in California. Some schools use these funds to waive tuition fees for students. Others may use them to bolster student resources or support services.

To qualify, you must be a first-time student, a California resident, Pell Grant eligible, and part of an underrepresented group.

Which University of California school is the easiest to get into?

UC Merced has the highest acceptance rate of any UC school at 89%. However, of those accepted, only 9% enrolled in 2022. As such, UC Merced tends to be on the smaller side, with a student population of around 9,000. 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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