What Are the Best UC Schools?

UC schools offer a top-notch education. Explore which UC schools ranked at the top and how to decide which one is right for you.
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Published on July 31, 2023
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The University of California (UC) system started in 1869 with 40 students. Today, it boasts over 280,000 students and about 2 million alumni.

It's made up of 10 campuses, with nine that provide undergraduate and graduate education. UC San Francisco offers graduate degrees solely focused on the health sciences.

The UC system received 245,768 applications for the fall 2023 admission cycle. Why are so many students drawn to these universities? A few reasons include world-renowned research facilities, academic excellence, and outstanding faculty members. In fact, about 70 UC faculty and staff members have received Nobel Prizes.

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UC Schools Ranked

We ranked UC schools based on academic quality, reputation, financial aid, location, and student experience.

Keep in mind that the "best" is always subjective. Whether you're looking for a diverse student body or the top engineering and computer science schools, the UC system delivers.

1. University of California, Berkeley

  • Avg. Undergraduate Tuition & Fees: $14,395 (in-state) | $44,467 (out-of-state)
  • Acceptance Rate: 11%
  • Total Student Enrollment: 45,036

UC Berkeley is the flagship campus of the UC system and is widely considered one of the top academic institutions in the nation. The programs that draw students worldwide include social sciences, computer science, and biological sciences.

You can take part in groundbreaking research, working alongside Fulbright Scholars, Nobel Prize laureates, and Fields Medal winners. Thanks to its location in the Bay Area, students have ready access to Silicon Valley, national labs, cutting-edge companies, and breathtaking beauty.

2. University of California, Los Angeles

  • Avg. Undergraduate Tuition & Fees: $13,401 (in-state) | $43,473 (out-of-state)
  • Acceptance Rate: 9%
  • Total Student Enrollment: 46,116

UCLA is the most applied-to university in the nation, largely thanks to its academic excellence, athletic reputation, and location in one of the world's most globally diverse and influential cities.

In addition to 16 Nobel Prize laureates, 15 MacArthur Fellows, and three Pulitzer Prize winners, UCLA boasts 120 NCAA championships and 270 Olympic medal winners.

The university also lays claim to the world-renowned school of theater, film and television — a performing arts institution famous for alumni such as Francis Ford Coppola and Taran Killam.

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: 41,885

UCSD is recognized worldwide as one of the top research universities. Located in La Jolla, you'll find yourself minutes away from some of the most beautiful beaches California offers.

Although it's a large university, its family of seven colleges provides a small liberal arts college feel. Additionally, the innovative UCSD health sciences college offers acclaimed biomedical research programs and is the only medical school in the region.

UCSD is also home to the world-renowned Scripps Institution of Oceanography, a leading research center in climate change, conservation, and innovative technology.

4. University of California, Santa Barbara

  • Avg. Undergraduate Tuition & Fees: $14,617 (in-state) | $44,689 (out-of-state)
  • Acceptance Rate: 26%
  • Total Student Enrollment: 26,124

UCSB's stunning location on the edge of cliffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean is one of the highlights that beacons students to this tier-one research university.

It offers over 200 majors, degrees, and credentials and is home to 10 designated national centers and institutes.

UCSB's College of Engineering ranks among the best in the world. And the College of Letters & Science prepares more than 20,000 undergraduates for diverse careers, highlighting interdisciplinary study.

5. University of California, Irvine

  • Avg. Undergraduate Tuition & Fees: $13,939 (in-state) | $44,011 (out-of-state)
  • Acceptance Rate: 21%
  • Total Student Enrollment: 36,505

As a top research facility, particularly in the medical sciences, UCI received $580 million in research funding for the 2021 fiscal year. This represents the second-highest amount in its history. The UCI Medical Center, a teaching hospital, ranks among the top in the nation.

UCI also stands out for its diversity and sustainability efforts. It's federally designated as a Hispanic-serving institution and an Asian American and Native American Pacific Islander-serving institution.

All UC Schools

The diversity in UC schools ensures you can find an academic and social environment that aligns with your intentions. Virtually every major is found within these institutions, from veterinary medicine to agriculture, engineering, and the arts.

The following table offers a glimpse into the size of the student body, average costs, and acceptance rates. Data is sourced from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) for the 2020-21 academic year.

All UC Schools
School Total Student Enrollment Avg. Annual Net Price Acceptance Rate Number of Applicants
University of California, Berkeley 45,036 $17,652 11% 112,843
University of California, Davis 40,050 $16,640 49% 87,120
University of California, Irvine 36,505 $11,633 29% 107,950
University of California, Los Angeles 46,116 $13,393 9% 139,489
University of California, Merced 9,093 $11,586 87% 27,793
University of California, Riverside 26,847 $13,502 65% 52,672
University of California, San Diego 41,885 $15,632 34% 118,386
University of California, Santa Barbara 26,124 $17,333 29% 105,641
University of California, Santa Cruz 19,841 $19,615 59% 61,695
Source: NCES

How to Apply to UC Schools

Gaining admission to UC schools requires early preparation. Several campuses are very competitive, which means you may need more than the minimum admission requirements to get in.

Make sure to review your preferred university's selection process. It's also best to apply to multiple campuses to increase your chances of admittance.

Meet the Admission Requirements

The minimum UC admission requirements include completing 15 college-preparatory courses and earning a minimum 3.0 GPA for residents and 3.4 for nonresidents.

California residents receive guaranteed admission if they rank in the top 9% of all California high school graduates or the top 9% of participating state high schools.

Fill Out One Application

You only need to fill out one UC application, no matter how many UC schools you're applying to. The application contains seven sections.

The sections include questions about the campuses you're applying to, the majors you're interested in, and your academic history. The personal insight section lets you boast about your awards, honors, extracurricular activities, life experiences, and ambitions.

Submit Your Application to Each Campus

Upon completing your application, you can send it to any or all of the nine undergraduate UC schools. There is an application fee of $70 per school ($80 for international students).

You may, however, qualify for a fee waiver, which lets you apply for up to four campuses for free.

Keep Deadlines in Mind

Make sure to submit your application by November 30 for the fall term.

Other important dates to remember include May 1 for the intent to register at your chosen campus and July 1 for submitting official transcripts. All financial aid applications are due by March 2.

Frequently Asked Questions About University of California Schools

Which UC school is best for engineering?

UC Berkeley offers one of the best engineering schools, with 10 undergraduate and eight graduate engineering programs.

Recognized globally, students gain access to three world-class centers: Jacobs Institute for Design Innovation, Sutardja Center for Entrepreneurship & Technology, and the Fung Institute for Engineering Leadership.

Which UC school is easiest to get into?

UC Merced, with an acceptance rate of 87%, is the easiest UC school to get into. It's the UC system's newest campus, offering 25 majors and 18 graduate programs.

Its three schools focus on engineering, natural sciences, social sciences, humanities, and art. It is the only campus with a research station in Yosemite National Park.

How many UC schools are there?

There are 10 University of California schools in total. Nine offer undergraduate and graduate programs. UCSD is at the southern tip of California, while UC Davis lays claim to the most northern UC campus. UCSF is a research university dedicated solely to graduate and professional schools in health sciences.

What is the most popular UC school?

UCLA generally experiences the highest number of applicants, making it one of the most popular UC schools. In 2022, UCLA received 139,489 applicants.

It's also the most selective, with a 9% acceptance rate. Close runners-up include UC Berkeley, UCSD, and UCI.

Which UC campus is the nicest?

Four UC schools made California.com's most beautiful college campuses list. These include UCLA, UCSC, UCSB, and UC Berkeley. Each offers a unique setting, from redwood forests to breathtaking ocean views, stand-out architecture, and impressive gardens.

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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