2021 Best Colleges in San Francisco

portrait of Meg Whitenton
by Meg Whitenton
Published on November 12, 2021

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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San Francisco is home to a rich cultural and ecological history. The fourth-largest city in California features a topography all its own, including the "most crooked street in the world" and Twin Peaks. It's also close to the stunning natural beauty of nearby Big Sur, Point Reyes, and Muir Woods.

The city also boasts a higher percentage of bachelor-educated residents than elsewhere in California and the United States. Students flock to San Francisco to study popular majors like business administration and management.

Of the dozens of colleges and universities scattered throughout the San Francisco Bay Area, San Francisco State University, City College of San Francisco, and the University of San Francisco are the largest, offering a variety of in-person and online programs.

Why Study in San Francisco?

San Francisco is part of more than 30 cities comprising the San Francisco Bay Area. Among the most well-known cities surrounding San Francisco are Berkeley, Oakland, and San Jose. San Francisco's efficient public transportation systems enable easy commuting to and from all Bay Area locales.

Educational Opportunities

San Francisco offers a wealth of higher education opportunities and houses a large population of college-educated residents. According to TownCharts, 89% of San Franciscans have at least a high school education, more than the U.S. and state figures for this demographic. Furthermore, an even greater margin exists between the 58% of San Franciscans with at least a bachelor's degree, compared to 34% and 32% of Californians and Americans, respectively.

Prospective students can find plenty of well-known schools in the wider San Francisco Bay Area, including UC Berkeley, Stanford University, and San Jose State University.

Economy

The economy in San Francisco is the sixth-largest in the country, with a GDP of $501 billion, according to the JP Morgan Chase Institute. And the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that as of August 2021, San Francisco's shrinking unemployment rate of 5% nearly reached the national rate of 4.8 percent. Among the city's non-farm employment categories, jobs in San Francisco increased in the service and government sectors from August 2020 to August 2021.

Cost of Living

At 269.3, San Francisco's cost of living greatly exceeds the national index of 100. Housing costs account for the majority of the city's high cost of living, at a rate of more than three times the rate of overall California housing costs and roughly five times that of average Americans. Even though San Franciscans pay more for transportation than the national index, they enjoy one of the best public transit systems in the nation.

Online colleges in San Francisco may offer more affordable learning options than in-person options because of this high cost of living.

Cultural and Community Offerings

San Francisco features diverse cultural influences as an international tourism destination. More than 52% of San Franciscans are foreign-born, primarily from Mexico, the Philippines, and China, respectively. Attractions include the world-famous Golden Gate Bridge, Fisherman's Wharf, the Haight-Ashbury district, and multiple world-renowned museums including SFMOMA. The city is home to the oldest Chinatown in the United States.

Climate

San Franciscans enjoy the city's pleasant, spring-like temperatures almost year-round, with cool summers and moderate winters. The annual climate averages between 51 and 63 degrees, with an ever-present breeze coming off of the Pacific Ocean and San Francisco Bay. The water surrounding San Francisco stays chilly all year, producing the fog the city is known for. The favorable climate inspires nearly year-round tourism in and around the Bay Area.

Top Degree Programs in San Francisco

Related Programs That Might Interest You

Learn about start dates, transferring credits, availability of financial aid, and more by contacting the universities below.

San Francisco Employment Outlook

San Francisco employs more than 2.3 million workers, concentrated in computer, management, and business and finance occupations. The city follows Los Angeles in paying the second-highest wage for government workers in California.

San Francisco's largest employment sectors include professional and business services, education and health services, and trade, transportation, and utilities. The following jobs are among the most popular for entry-level candidates with an associate degree, offering room for advancement into higher-paying positions in San Francisco's top industries.

5 San Francisco Jobs in Demand for 2021

Home Health/Personal Care Aide

Home health and personal care aides provide daily support to patients with chronic illnesses or disabilities and elderly clients. They typically assist with services including bathing, dressing, grocery shopping, and light housekeeping. Aides may work under the supervision of a physician or nurse to check vital signs or administer medication. Employers prefer candidates with an associate degree. Some states, employers, and specializations require professional certification.


Food and Beverage Service Worker

Workers in the food and beverage service industry may perform a variety of tasks, depending on their work environment. They typically provide services including taking orders, busing tables, and/or serving food and beverages to customers. Workers can choose from dining rooms, bars, and non-restaurant settings, though fast food service jobs were most popular in San Francisco in 2020.


Hand Laborer/Material Mover

Hand laborers and material movers manually wrap and pack materials for moving. They typically work in warehouses, retail, and wholesale businesses. They may specialize in a particular type of labor such as machine feeding, hand packing, or freight, stock, and material moving. Other hand laborers clean vehicles, collect refuse and recyclables, and stock and fill orders of merchandise.


Janitor/Cleaner

Janitors and cleaners ensure that facilities including schools, offices, hospitals, stores, and hotels remain clean and tidy. Some professionals provide only cleaning services, while others also maintain the grounds surrounding a building by performing tasks like mowing, plowing snow, and/or clearing walkways. Some janitors and cleaners also perform light maintenance including fixing minor plumbing or electrical issues.


Customer Service Representative

Customer service representatives provide information to customers about a particular product or service, process orders, and help resolve issues. Nearly every industry employs customer service representatives. While the BLS projects negative job growth from 2020-2030 due to the automation of some customer services, it projects an increase in related business support jobs, including call center customer service operations.

Popular Career Paths in San Francisco

2021 Best Accredited Colleges in San Francisco

Rankings compiled by the the BestColleges Ranking Team

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Stanford University true View School Profile Stanford, CA

Renowned for academic excellence, Stanford routinely ranks as one of the nation's best colleges. About 7,000 undergraduates choose from 69 programs at the university. Stanford's catalog includes traditional degrees such as biology, computer science, psychology, and engineering.

The school also offers programs not readily available at other schools, including a BS in symbolic systems. In this program, students explore human and machine language and intelligence. Other unique programs include a BS in earth systems and a BA/BS in science, technology, and society.

Stanford is one of the best colleges near San Francisco for graduate school with about 200 fields of study. The school's Silicon Valley location gives students access to job and internship opportunities.

Undergraduates pay $18,491 in tuition per quarter. Graduate tuition varies by program. First-year applicants do not need to submit SAT or ACT scores. Stanford holds regional accreditation from the Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior Colleges and University Commission.

University of California-Berkeley true View School Profile Berkeley, CA

Established in 1868, Berkeley is one of the nation's elite colleges. The school enrolls 35,000 students in 350 programs each year. And 23% of Berkeley first-years classify as first-generation college students.

Berkeley's catalog includes notable undergraduate majors such as rhetoric, nuclear engineering, and society and environment. New undergraduates can choose the fall program for freshmen (FPF), a specialized, collaborative course of study focussed on the liberal arts. Berkeley also offers 100 graduate programs.

Undergraduate California residents pay $5,721 in tuition per semester. Nonresidents pay an additional $14,877 per semester. In-state graduate students pay a base tuition of $5,721 per semester. Out-of-state students pay an additional $6,123-$7,551, depending on the program.

Undergraduate applicants must complete college preparatory coursework and possess a minimum GPA of 3.0-3.4. Berkeley holds regional accreditation from the Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior Colleges and University Commission.

Santa Clara University true View School Profile Santa Clara, CA

SCU is a Jesuit college located in Silicon Valley. The school enrolls 8,500 students in 50 undergraduate and graduate programs. SCU's catalog spans fields as diverse as finance and military science. Students can even design their own curriculum by choosing the individual studies major.

Graduate degrees include an MBA, JD, MA in education, and MA in counseling psychology. The institution also offers ample opportunities for students to gain real-world experience. SCU students can network and build professional relationships at the many firms in Silicon Valley. And, the REAL program offers undergraduates paid research and internship opportunities.

Undergraduates pay $55,224 in tuition per year. Graduate tuition varies depending on the program. Admission to one of the best colleges near San Francisco requires first-time students to complete college preparatory coursework in subjects such as English and math. SCU holds regional accreditation from the Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior Colleges and University Commission.

San Jose State University true View School Profile San Jose, CA

SJSU offers students a close-knit learning community in Silicon Valley. Enrollees can pursue undergraduate and graduate degrees in 250 areas of study. Many programs also allow students to customize their degree or specialize in a specific area. For example, SJSU offers a BFA in art with four concentrations, including photography and digital media. The BSBA's 14 concentrations include accounting and business analytics.

SJSU offers baccalaureate-level teacher preparation in subjects such as French, environmental studies, and kinesiology. Graduate students can also design their own graduate program with the MA/MS in interdisciplinary studies. SJSU is also one of the best colleges near San Francisco for engineering, with 40 majors, minors, and graduate degrees offered in the subject. Other graduate programs include nursing, marine science, and urban planning.

Undergraduates pay $2,871 per 6.1 or more units. Graduate students pay $3,588 per 6.1 or more units. Nonresidents pay an additional $396 per unit. First-year applicants must complete prerequisite coursework to gain admission to SJSU. SJSU holds regional accreditation from the Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior Colleges and University Commission.

California State University Maritime Academy true View School Profile Vallejo, CA

Cal Maritime serves about 1,000 students on a scenic waterfront campus. It is one of the nation's seven degree-granting maritime academies. Cal Maritime's curriculum focuses on classroom instruction and applied learning.

The school's seven undergraduate majors include marine transportation and global studies and maritime affairs. The Cal Maritime campus features the Training Ship Gold Bear, a 500-foot floating classroom/laboratory for applied learning.

Cal Maritime offers one graduate degree, the fully online MS in transportation and engineering management. The school boasts the highest post-graduate employment rate in the CSU system. Ninety-four percent of graduates find employment within three months of graduation.

Undergraduates pay $5,742 per year to attend one of the best colleges in San Francisco. Nonresidents pay an additional $396 per semester unit. Graduate students pay $27,000 total for the MS program. Applicants must possess a minimum high school GPA of 2.5-3.0. Cal Maritime holds regional accreditation from the Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior Colleges and University Commission.

University of San Francisco View School Profile San Francisco, CA

USF is a private Jesuit college with campuses in San Francisco and Sacramento. The school offers about 40 undergraduate majors. However, all undergraduates complete a core curriculum consisting of 44 units spread across six disciplines, including the humanities.

Business majors include accounting and business analytics. Students can complete the BS in management (BSM) online in just 23 months. Alternatively, BSM students can attend evening and Saturday classes on the San Francisco campus.

Students can also pursue a BSN on either campus. Other majors include computer science, media studies, and international studies. One of the best graduate colleges in San Francisco, USF offers higher degrees in applied economics, migration studies, and sports management.

Undergraduates pay $53,472 a year in tuition. Graduate students pay $1,885 per unit. First-year applicants must take college preparatory classes to qualify for admission. USF holds regional accreditation from the Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior Colleges and University Commission.

Saint Mary's College of California View School Profile Moraga, CA

SMC offers programs grounded in the Lasallian tradition. A 10-to-1 student-faculty ratio promotes mentorship and collaborative learning. Students can choose from 43 majors offered on campus in Moraga and online. Programs of study include chemistry, education, politics, and health science.

The business administration major offers seven concentrations. Enrollees can complete the online BA in leadership and organizational studies (BALOS) in 24 months. The cohort program requires one in-person session each month. SMC also offers an MA in teaching and an MA in special education. One of the best colleges in San Francisco for counseling, SMC boasts eight graduate programs in the discipline.

Undergraduates pay $51,368 in tuition. Graduate tuition varies by program. Undergraduate applicants must complete college preparatory courses, but they do not need to submit SAT or ACT scores. The BALOs requires at least 64 transferable units. SMC holds regional accreditation from the Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior Colleges and University Commission.

San Francisco State University View School Profile San Francisco, CA

SF State offers 73 degrees that emphasize real-world experience. Undergraduate majors include applied mathematics, criminal justice studies, and environmental science. SF State also houses the nation's first college of ethnic studies. SF State's business programs prepare learners for Bay Area industries and beyond. Students can even design their own curriculum by pursuing a BA in liberal studies.

Graduate programs include degrees in education, engineering, physical therapy, and social work. Undergraduates participate in internships, volunteering, and field experiences at one of the best colleges in San Francisco for hands-on learning. Science students hone their skills at SF State's various science centers, such as the conservation genetics lab.

Full-time undergraduates pay $7,484 in tuition for two semesters. Nonresidents pay an additional $396 per unit. Graduate students pursuing a master's pay $4,461 for 6.1 or more units. Undergraduate applicants must complete college preparatory courses and possess a grade average of C- or higher. SF State holds regional accreditation from the Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior Colleges and University Commission.

Dominican University of California View School Profile San Rafael, CA

Located in San Rafael, Dominican is a private school with 60 programs of study. The Dominican experience includes coaching, signature work, and a digital portfolio. Students pursue degrees in fields such as fine arts, nursing, education studies, and visual studies.

Degree-seekers can earn a dual BS in health science/MS in occupational therapy in five years. Nontraditional learners can pursue degree completion options in psychology, leadership and management, or literary and intercultural studies. Dominican is one of the best colleges in San Francisco for counseling. Graduate students can choose from degrees in counseling psychology and marriage and family therapy.

Undergraduates pay $47,190 a year in tuition; degree completion programs cost $750 per unit. Graduate tuition costs $825-$1,192 per unit. Most undergraduate applicants do not need to submit SAT or ACT scores. Dominican holds regional accreditation from the Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior Colleges and University Commission.

Mills College View School Profile Oakland, CA

Founded in 1852, Mills offers courses of study that emphasize creativity and critical thinking. Mills requires undergraduates complete a core curriculum of 10 knowledge and skill areas. Students can then choose from a variety of majors in fields as diverse as biopsychology, legal studies, and urban education.

Mills prepares underrepresented students for careers in STEM fields such as biology, chemistry, engineering, and data science. Students can earn bachelor's-to-master's degrees in five years. The school's nine accelerated programs include child development, economics, and creative writing and literature. Undergraduates in all majors collaborate with peers and faculty on research projects.

Traditional graduate programs include business administration and English. Mills also offers a few nontraditional degrees, such as an MFA in book art. Undergraduates pay $29,340 in tuition per year. Graduate students pay $750-$1,337 per credit for most programs.

Undergraduate applicants do not need to submit SAT or ACT scores. Mills holds regional accreditation from the Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior Colleges and University Commission.

Frequently Asked Questions About Colleges in San Francisco

How many colleges are in San Francisco? true

There are 50 colleges located in the San Francisco Bay Area, which also includes Oakland, Berkeley, Hayward, and San Jose. Types of schools include four-year universities, two-year community colleges and vocational programs, and specialized arts institutions.

The city's largest colleges, in order, are San Francisco State University, City College of San Francisco, and the University of San Francisco. Some colleges in San Francisco offer satellite programs as part of a statewide university system such as California State University, or the multi-campus Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising.

Does San Francisco have good colleges? true

Yes, colleges in San Francisco prepare graduates to join the lucrative local economy. San Francisco boasted a higher percentage of residents with a bachelor's degree than both the state of California and the United States in 2020, according to TownCharts. San Francisco is home to distinctive college programs in popular majors like business and management and liberal arts.

How much does it cost to go to college in San Francisco? true

Students attending four-year colleges in California paid $22,000-$50,000 in 2018-2019, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Public, two-year institutions charged between $3,000 and $8,000 in tuition and fees that same year.

The true cost of college depends on factors like whether a school is public or private and whether it assigns tuition rates based on state residency. Generally, private universities cost more than comparable four-year programs at a public institution. Community colleges and online programs tend to offer the most affordable options, many including set or in-state tuition rates.

What is the cheapest college in San Francisco?

While costs vary, schools like the University of San Francisco and San Francisco State University are among the cheapest colleges in San Francisco. Such four-year schools typically offer a variety of federal financial aid options to qualifying students, as determined by the FAFSA. Community colleges including City College of San Francisco also offer affordable two-year programs.

Applicants can attend a high-quality college in San Francisco while avoiding the city's exorbitant cost of living by pursuing an online degree, which commonly offers accelerated completion options and set or in-state tuition rates.

Is San Francisco a good place to live and study?

Yes, San Francisco's desirable weather, distinctive job opportunities, and cultural diversity attract many college students. Schools in San Francisco often cater to both traditional and online students through a variety of local internships and networking opportunities.

Featured Image: Julius Bagnas / EyeEm / EyeEm / Getty Images

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