San Diego, known for some of the best beaches in the U.S. and over 260 days of sunshine a year, is also home to some of the best colleges in California and the nation. Over 20 universities and colleges make San Diego their home.
Some of these universities hold claim to the top research facilities in the nation, while others boast outstanding reputations in business administration, engineering, public health, and the performing arts. With some schools offering more than 100 majors, students with many different career goals can find a degree option that inspires them.
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.
Ready to Start Your Journey?
For more information about going to college in the Golden State, check out our Resources for Students in California page.
Why Study in San Diego?
As California's second-largest city, students find a wealth of activities, attractions, and cultural diversity within San Diego's 4,200 square miles. Some of the most well-known towns include La Jolla, known for its idyllic coastal setting, and Coronado, reachable by ferry, water taxi, or a two-mile-long bridge. Cities with some of the most popular colleges include La Jolla, Escondido, Oceanside, San Marcos, and Santee.
All of the four-year universities in San Diego offer something unique. The University of California San Diego has been lauded as one of the best research universities in the nation and its college campus has a prime location next to the beach. San Diego State University, known for its international business program, ranked 23rd on Forbes' most entrepreneurial universities.
San Diego's key industries include aerospace and defense, clean technology, tourism, healthcare, cybersecurity, and manufacturing. San Diego is home to one of the world's largest concentrations of military assets. One out of every five jobs in the area is connected to the defense industry. A few of the other top San Diego employers include UC San Diego, Sharp Healthcare, and Qualcomm.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that San Diego's unemployment rate sits at 6.6%, with average weekly wages coming in at $1,430.
Cost of Living
According to PayScale, the cost of living in San Diego is 44% higher than the national average. Housing ranks substantially higher, at 136% higher than the U.S. average, and transportation comes in at 29% over the national average. An example of average costs includes a median home price of $817,184, median rent at about $2,560, and a loaf of bread coming in at $3.76.
Of course, like most cities, the coastal regions experience higher costs, while inland communities generally have lower home prices and cost of living.
Cultural and Community Offerings
San Diego's diverse culture means students choose from numerous events, from Little Italy's farmers market to the Latino Film Festival. For outdoor enthusiasts, Torrey Pines State Reserve offers hiking trails along the coast, and surfers and paddleboarders enjoy the 10 beaches that grace San Diego's shoreline.
Of course, nothing beats Balboa Park, San Diego's center for arts and culture. This 1,200-acre property is home to The Old Globe theater, multiple museums, and the famous San Diego Zoo.
With an average temperature of 72 degrees, San Diego offers the outdoor enthusiast a year-round playground. The Mediterranean climate brings dry days with little rain and temperatures that rarely fall below 44 degrees or above 84 degrees. You can, however, expect some June gloom, a cloudy marine layer that settles over the land.
Top Degree Programs in San Diego
Related Programs That Might Interest You
Learn about start dates, transferring credits, availability of financial aid, and more by contacting the universities below.
San Diego Employment Outlook
The Employment Development Department forecasts approximately 569,200 job openings from 2014 to 2024, with the greatest growth in professional and business services, followed by educational service, healthcare, social assistance, and leisure and hospitality.
San Diego is also one of the best cities in California to find jobs in the technology sector, arguably surpassed only by San Jose, home of Silicon Valley. Top companies hiring tech professionals in the area include Qualcomm, Northrop Grumman, and Booz Allen Hamilton.
The BLS reports that the average hourly wage in San Diego as of May 2020 was $30.91, about 14% above the national average. San Diego is also known for its venture capital presence, claiming several of the fastest-growing startups in the nation.
The top 5 San Diego Jobs in Demand
Physical Therapy Assistant
- 2020 Annual Median Salary: $49,970
- 2020-2030 Job Outlook: 32% growth rate
Physical therapy assistants work under the supervision of physical therapists. They work directly with patients, helping them manage their pain and increase their mobility. A few of the tasks they perform include assisting patients with exercises, instructing them on how to use special equipment, and performing stretching and massage techniques.
- 2021 Annual Median Salary: $62,810
- 2020-2030 Job Outlook: 23% growth rate
Respiratory therapists care for people with breathing disorders, such as emphysema, asthma, or premature infants with undeveloped lungs. They may perform diagnostic tests, treat patients using various therapeutic measures, and connect those who cannot breathe on their own to ventilators. These therapists may work in hospitals, nursing care facilities, and physicians' offices.
- 2021 Annual Median Salary: $36,260
- 2020-2030 Job Outlook: 15% growth rate
Veterinary technicians work under licensed veterinarians, usually in private clinical practices. They may perform diagnostic tests such as taking X-rays. A few common tasks include administering anesthesia, preparing animals for surgery, and administering vaccines and other medications. They may specialize in certain areas, such as emergency care or zoological medicine.
- 2021 Annual Median Salary: $77,200
- 2020-2030 Job Outlook: 13% growth rate
Computer Network Support Specialist
- 2021 Annual Median Salary: $65,450
- 2020-2030 Job Outlook: 9% growth rate
Computer network support specialists analyze computer network issues. Typical tasks include testing network systems, performing maintenance, and troubleshooting issues with internet systems and local area and wide area networks. These specialists may help keep a company's network operating sufficiently and perform file backups to secure critical information.
Popular Career Paths in San Diego
The Best Accredited Colleges in San Diego
Rankings compiled by the the BestColleges Ranking Team
Is your school on this list? Get the BestColleges ranking seal.
How We Rank Schools
At BestColleges, we believe a college education is one of the most important investments you can make. We want to help you navigate the college selection process by offering transparent, inclusive, and relevant school rankings.
Our rankings are grounded in a few guiding principles and use the latest statistical data available from trusted sources. Read our ranking methodology. We hope our approach helps you find the school that is best for you.
Best Colleges in San Diego
University of California-San Diego
UC San Diego is recognized as one of the world's top research universities. Students study on a main campus right next to the Pacific Ocean. The school offers undergraduate majors in the arts and sciences, and manages strong public health, psychology, and political science programs with several concentrations.
UC San Diego's engineering program includes a BS in mechanical engineering with five specializations. Graduate students can pursue master's degrees in areas like bioengineering, economics, physics, and education studies. One of the best colleges in San Diego, UC San Diego also operates both medicine and pharmacy schools.
Undergraduates pay about $14,700 a year for tuition. Nonresidents pay an additional $29,800 in tuition. Graduate students pay roughly $17,500 a year, and nonresidents pay an additional $15,100. First-year applicants must complete college preparatory coursework, but do not need to submit SAT or ACT scores. UC San Diego holds regional accreditation from the Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior Colleges and University Commission.
San Diego State University
Founded in 1897, SDSU enrolls about 36,000 students each year and offers bachelor's degrees in 97 areas. The diverse majors include astronomy, child development, financial services, and athletic training. Students can also earn a BSBA in accounting, finance, or management.
SDSU Global offers online degree completion programs in fields such as business, education, healthcare, and fitness. SDSU is one of the best colleges in San Diego for graduate students, as well. The school offers master's degrees in 84 fields.
Undergraduates who are California residents pay $8,140 a year in tuition for traditional programs. Nonresidents pay an additional $11,880. California resident graduate students pay $9,570 a year, and nonresidents pay an additional $7,130.
First-year applicants must have taken college preparatory courses and maintained at least a C- average. SDSU holds regional accreditation from the Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior Colleges and University Commission.
USD is a private Catholic liberal arts college. The school offers 42 bachelor's degree programs, which students may often customize. Students can earn a BA or BS in majors such as English, behavioral neuroscience, sociology, and engineering. Learners can also pursue a BBA and choose from six majors, including finance and marketing. The BA in liberal studies program boasts a sweeping curriculum with 12 possible concentrations.
Graduate students may enroll in unique programs such as the MA in peace and justice. One of the best colleges in San Diego for nursing, USD offers a BSN-to-Ph.D. program. USD's online master's degrees include applied data science and applied artificial intelligence.
USD requires undergraduate students to live on campus for their first and second years. Undergraduates pay $52,120 a year in tuition. Graduate students pay between $925 and $1,620 per credit. First-year applicants must complete college preparatory courses and have the option of submitting SAT or ACT scores.
USD holds regional accreditation from the Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior Colleges and University Commission.
Point Loma Nazarene University
Students interested in a faith-based liberal arts education can choose PLNU. The school offers 60 programs across the humanities, sciences, and social sciences. A 14-to-1 student-faculty ratio promotes personalized learning and mentorship.
Undergraduates may pursue degrees in fields such as finance, biology, chemistry, multimedia journalism, and kinesiology. PLNU manages a strong pre-professional program that includes optometry and medicine.
Nontraditional learners can complete a degree online or at satellite locations. The school offers a fully online degree completion BBA, RN-to-BSN, and BA in organizational leadership. PLNU offers part-time, evening, and online degrees for graduate students who work.
Undergraduates pay $38,800 a year in tuition at PLNU. Graduate tuition costs between $320 and $1,160 per unit. Undergraduate applicants do not need to submit standardized test scores. PLNU holds regional accreditation from the Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior Colleges and University Commission.
California State University-San Marcos
CSUSM is located 35 miles from the city of San Diego. The school enrolls about 16,000 students on campuses in San Marcos and Temecula. CSUSM's catalog includes 43 bachelor's and 24 master's programs.
At CSUSM, students can earn bachelor's degrees in various areas, including business, STEM fields, modern languages, and sociology. With the "special major" BA, the institution even allows learners to develop their own individualized curriculum. The school also manages comprehensive undergraduate and graduate nursing and teacher preparation programs.
One of the best colleges in San Diego for graduate school, CSUSM offers MBA, MPH, MSW, and master of biotechnology degrees.
California resident undergraduates pay roughly $5,740 for seven or more units, and nonresidents pay $15,240. Resident graduate students pay $7,180 in tuition for 7 units or more. Nonresidents add an additional $16,680.
Undergraduate applicants must complete college preparatory courses and maintain a C average. CSUSM holds regional accreditation from the Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior Colleges and University Commission.
John Paul the Great Catholic University
Named after Pope John Paul II, JPCatholic focuses on programs in the creative arts. The college enrolls fewer than 300 undergraduates each year. JPCatholic's three degree programs incorporate a core curriculum and project-based learning. Students complete their degrees in three calendar years rather than the traditional four at JPCatholic.
Students can choose to pursue a BS in communications media, BA in humanities, or BS in business. One of the best colleges in San Diego for artists, JPCatholic offers emphases in illustration and graphic design. Students can also pursue specializations in animation or game development. Enrollees can train and build portfolios in various film production areas.
Those interested in the business side of the arts can select an emphasis such as marketing and advertising. Enrollees pay $36,000 in tuition each year. Applicants must possess a minimum GPA 2.6, but do not need to submit SAT, ACT, or CLT scores.
JPCatholic holds regional accreditation from the Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior Colleges and University Commission.
San Diego Christian College
SDCC offers programs on campus in Santee and online. On-campus bachelor's degree programs include biblical studies, business administration, and communication. Future pilots can prepare for missionary and commercial aviation careers at SDCC's flight school less than a mile from campus.
SDCC's online programs include a BS in business management and BA in psychology. Students can also begin their education with the AA in liberal studies. This fully online degree allows nontraditional learners to explore career options and transition to a bachelor's degree program at SDCC.
One of the best colleges in San Diego county, SDCC offers two graduate programs: an MS in leadership and an MA in teaching. Undergraduates pay $24,500 a year for residential tuition and nearly $400 per unit for online programs. Graduate tuition costs $605 per unit.
Applicants with fewer than 24 college units must submit standardized test scores. SDCC holds regional accreditation from the Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior Colleges and University Commission.
NU operates campuses throughout California but is headquartered in San Diego. The school designs programs specifically with nontraditional learners in mind. Students can choose from 75 degrees, many of which are offered online, and study based on four-week terms.
NU students receive a liberal arts education via various associate and bachelor's programs. The majors include general studies, biology, psychology, and interdisciplinary studies.
Those interested in more career-focused degrees can choose options such as the BS in healthcare administration, allied health, or criminal justice administration. The nursing program includes RN-to-BSN and RN-to-MSN degree options. NU manages a comprehensive baccalaureate- and master's-level teacher preparation program, as well.
Undergraduates pay $370 per quarter unit at one of the most affordable colleges in San Diego. Graduate students pay $442-$760 per quarter unit. First-year applicants must submit ACCUPLACER scores and possess a minimum GPA of 2.0 to ensure any prior credits are transferable. NU holds regional accreditation from the Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior Colleges and University Commission.
Thomas Jefferson School of Law
Thomas Jefferson offers programs in 10 academic areas, including law, business, and government. One of the best colleges in San Diego for law, Thomas Jefferson a JD, an LL.M., and an LL.M. in practice skills on campus. Students can also pursue an LL.M., JSD, or M.S.L. online.
Students can specialize in family, criminal, and intellectual property law. Students also have the opportunity for hands-on experience by providing pro bono and other services in the school's community. Students pay $1,620 per unit in tuition for online graduate programs, and $1,110-$1,340 for on-campus programs.
Admission to the LL.M. programs requires a JD degree. The M.S.L. requires a bachelor's degree in a business field. Applicants to the JD program must possess at least an associate degree and submit LSAT scores. Thomas Jefferson holds regional accreditation from the Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior Colleges and University Commission.
California Western School of Law
Established in 1924, CSWL is San Diego's oldest law school. Students study in the heart of San Diego's political and legal community. About 650 students pursue JD programs to prepare for the bar exam at the institution. CSWL offers four degrees: JD, JD/MBA, JD/MSW, and Spanish language LL.M.
The first year of the JD program focuses on topics such as criminal law, civil procedure, and legal skills. Upperclassmen complete courses in areas such as constitutional law, evidence, and criminal procedure. Electives focus on areas such as entertainment and sports law. CSWL is one of the best colleges in San Diego for hands-on experience. Students complete clinical externships, clinics, and simulation courses.
Tuition for the JD program costs $28,040 per trimester. Applicants to to JD programs must have undergraduate degrees and submit LSAT scores. CSWL holds regional accreditation from the Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior Colleges and University Commission.
Frequently Asked Questions About Colleges in San Diego
San Diego is home to over 20 colleges, universities, and community colleges. Four-year colleges are located throughout the county in the city of San Diego, Escondido, La Jolla, Oceanside, San Marcos, and Santee. In addition, you can find community colleges in El Cajon, Oceanside, San Marcos, and Chula Vista.
San Diego has some of the best colleges in the nation. Several are known for their research opportunities, while others gained solid reputations for their business schools and film and theater programs.
With a strong military presence, you can also find several colleges that offer veterans and service members support through reduced fees and/or flexible scheduling. The San Diego Community College District is one of the largest community college districts in California, serving about 100,000 students every year.
Tuition and fees for colleges in San Diego vary based on type of school. In most cases, students find the lowest tuition rates at public colleges and the highest fees at private institutions.
For example, San Diego State University's tuition and fees for 2021-2022 are $8,136 for in-state students and $20,016 for non-residents. Comparatively, the University of San Diego, a private Catholic university, charges $52,864 in tuition and fees for the 2021 school year.
Many of these schools also offer online programs that provide the same quality of education. Earning your degree online can reduce costs.
The annual tuition and fees for San Diego State University for the 2021 school year are $8,136. This represents one of the lowest tuition costs for any four-year college in San Diego. However, keep in mind that nonresidents pay an additional $11,880. Some online colleges offer lower nonresident fees.
Students can also choose to attend one of San Diego's community colleges for two years and either earn an associate degree or fulfill general education requirements before transferring to a four-year college. The San Diego Community College District charges an enrollment fee of $46 per credit. Out-of-state students pay an additional $307 per credit.
If you like beaches, sunshine, and attending some of the top-rated schools in the nation, San Diego is a great place to live and study. With some universities offering over 100 different degree options, students can find a major that appeals to their academic interests.
Between La Jolla Cove, Balboa Park, and the Birch Aquarium at Scripps, you never need to worry about finding something to do. Your greatest challenge may involve making sure you set aside time to study.
Featured Images: Ron and Patty Thomas / E+ / Getty Images