USC vs. Stanford: How Do They Compare?

Are you considering a private school in California? Stanford and USC should be on your radar. Read on to see how these schools compare.
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James Mielke
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James Mielke writes education and career-focused guides for BestColleges. Beyond higher education topics, his writing has been featured in Golfweek and Eaten Magazine. James has a history degree from Belmont University and is an unapologetic Grateful...
Published on December 19, 2023
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Tyler Epps is an editor for BestColleges. He writes and edits content about higher education, specializing in degree planning and college rankings. He is passionate about helping students prepare for college and navigate their educational journey. He...
Learn more about our editorial process 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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  • Stanford has a strong reputation for research and innovation, consistently ranking among the best universities in the world.
  • USC is the larger of the two schools, enrolling about 40,000 students each year.
  • As elite private institutions in California, USC and Stanford come with serious price tags.

California is home to some quality institutions of higher learning, but the University of Southern California and Stanford University consistently rank among the top of annual college rankings.

Whether you're a Golden State resident weighing your options or a non-resident considering a westward move, don't sleep on these elite private schools if you're seeking out a standout college experience in California.

This page compares USC and Stanford and discusses the essential things you need to know when searching for the best school for you. Should you become a Trojan or a Cardinal? Keep reading to find out.

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5 Things to Know Before Becoming a Trojan

  • Established in 1880, the University of Southern California (USC) is a private research institution based in Los Angeles that serves over 40,000 students annually.
  • USC has long been recognized as a hub for groundbreaking research in diverse fields such as medicine, technology, and the arts.
  • The USC Trojans have a renowned athletic program underscored by multiple national championships in football, basketball, and other sports.
  • USC is home to an incredibly diverse student body that reflects the school's dedication to fostering an inclusive academic environment.
  • Some of USC's alums include household names such as George Lucas, Neil Armstrong, Will Farrell, and a long list of influential politicians, judges, and scientists.

5 Things to Know Before Becoming a Cardinal

  • Established in 1885, Stanford University is based in California's Silicon Valley and has established itself as one of the leading research institutions in the World.
  • Stanford University is situated on over 8,000 contiguous acres and serves a student body of over 17,000 students.
  • Long recognized as a premier research institution, Stanford has a research budget of nearly $2 billion and an endowment exceeding $36 billion.
  • Stanford is often linked to tech innovation, playing a vital role in the growth of Silicon Valley and counting the founders of Google, Yahoo!, and YouTube as alumni.
  • Stanford has a reputation for academic rigor and excellence, and the school consistently ranks among the top universities in the world. Alums include U.S. presidents, Supreme Court justices, astronauts, and tech innovators.

USC vs. Stanford: 5 Key Differences

If you're weighing your options and deciding whether Stanford or USC is the right school for you, keep reading. We highlight three key differences between these standout academic institutions below.

1. Student Body Size

Size Differences Between USC and Stanford
School Total Student Population Undergraduate Enrollment Student-to-faculty Ratio
USC 48,945 20,699 9-to-1
Stanford 18,283 8,049 5-to-1
Source: NCES

The size of a prospective school can definitely impact your academic experience. Some students thrive in a more intimate environment, while others flourish in the hustle and bustle of a school with a large student body.

While USC and Stanford consistently rank as top schools in California, their differing sizes can mean vastly different college experiences. USC has a total student population of nearly 50,000, while Stanford's is just over 18,000. Additionally, Stanford's student-to-faculty ratio is nearly half that of USC.

2. Cost

Cost Differences Between USC and Stanford
School Average Annual Net Price (2021-22) Annual Undergraduate Tuition Rates (2023-24) Annual Graduate Tuition Rates (2023-24)
USC $36,808 $66,640 (estimated) $44,880
Stanford $18,279 $61,731 $58,746
Source: NCES

Elite private institutions typically come with steep tuition rates. You can expect to pay private school prices that are higher than average at both Stanford and USC as an undergraduate or graduate student.

Undergraduate tuition rates at Stanford and USC surpass $60,000. Once you add a significant number of fees, the cost of an elite education can feel daunting.

Thankfully, these schools have robust financial aid opportunities, and you can take advantage of federal financial aid packages. Loans, grants, scholarships, and work-study programs can all help make school more affordable.

3. Campus Size and Location

Although these elite California institutions have some similarities, the size, location, and atmosphere of these two schools couldn't be more different.

USC sits in the heart of Los Angeles. While the campus is just over 200 acres, the cultural and social options in LA can offer easy access to everything from internships to the city's diverse culinary landscape.

On the other hand, Stanford is based in the outskirts of San Francisco and has a sprawling campus of over 8,000 acres. Offering a bit more seclusion and serenity, you can find a sense of community while taking advantage of outdoor activities in Northern California. Its proximity to Silicon Valley also means that students can access internship and networking opportunities in North America's primary tech hub.

4. Academic Reputation

Both Stanford and USC are elite, prestigious institutions, but they diverge when considering overall academic reputation. Stanford is a highly competitive institution and has an acceptance rate that dropped below 4% in 2023. Additionally, Stanford is an R1 research institution, putting it alongside other schools like Harvard and MIT.

While USC stands out with a highly regarded business school and film program, this LA institution doesn't have the same prestigious academic reputation as Stanford. Still, USC ranks among the top schools in the most populous state in the US.

5. Athletic Programs

USC and Stanford's sports rivalry dates back a century, but while Stanford wins out in academics, USC has historically dominated on the field and on the court.

USC's football and basketball programs have produced more wins than their rivals to the north. Still, Stanford is home to elite, national championship-winning golf squads for both men and women. It counts Tiger Woods as their former star athlete.

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USC vs. Stanford: Which Is Better?

Whether USC or Stanford is the best school depends on which college is right for you. Both of these schools are elite schools with reputations for excellence — what's most important is the vision you have for your ideal college experience.

If you're envisioning a career in tech, there's no doubt that Stanford and its ties to Silicon Valley make it the optimal choice. But, if Southern California vibes, the allure of a sprawling and diverse city, and endless networking opportunities align with your academic and career goals, USC might just be for you.

Frequently Asked Questions About USC vs. Stanford

Is USC or Stanford more prestigious?

Stanford is typically considered more prestigious than USC and is more than one of the best schools in the United States; Stanford ranks among the top research institutions in the world.

Is USC or Stanford harder to get into?

Stanford isn't just more selective than USC — it's also less than half the size of the Los Angeles school. With an admission rate below 4% in 2023, Stanford is one of the hardest schools to get into in the United States. USC has an acceptance rate of 9.9%.

How far is Stanford from USC?

With USC based in Los Angeles and Stanford located south of San Francisco, there are over 350 miles between these West Coast rivals. 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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