Best Colleges in California

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What are the Best Universities and Colleges in California?

Here at College Choice, we’re committed to helping you make informed decisions about your college future. Whether you’re looking through our California data pages to find the best national research universities for you particular science interests, or you’re hoping to find the right fit for your expansive interests at one of the best liberal arts colleges, College Choice provides you with easy to digest information pages so that you can understand the costs, qualities, and special offerings of schools in the Golden State.

That to say, we investigate all the factors. We look first at history and reputation. But we also consider the retention rate, which is a clear indication of student happiness. We also bring tuition rates into the equation, looking at opportunities for grants, scholarships, and financial aid. Indeed, affordability is an important factor.

Advertisement CollegeChoice.net 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.

Recommended Colleges

After we bring together all this data, we are able to determine the 50 best schools in the Golden State.

In California, people are going to go college. This seems like a silly thing to say, but the Golden State is experiencing somewhat of a boom and is ahead of the curve regarding college attendance compared to many other states in the US and in the western region of the country.

By the year 2020, the state will experience a 56-60% increase in the student population at the best colleges in CA. You could be one of these students—coming to College Choice’s easy-to-navigate rankings list to find the top colleges in CA or the best universities in CA—and, if so, we’re ready for you. (If you’re looking for online colleges in California that will allow you the flexibility to work around your already busy life, we have you covered there too: check out our ranking of the Best Online Colleges in California.)

Top 10 Best Colleges in California

Rank School Location
1 Stanford University Stanford, CA
2 California Institute of Technology Pasadena, CA
3 Pomona College Claremont, CA
4 Harvey Mudd College Claremont, CA
5 Claremont McKenna College Claremont, CA
6 University of California—Berkeley Berkeley, CA
7 University of California—Los Angeles Los Angeles, CA
8 University of Southern California Los Angeles, CA
9 Pitzer College Claremont, CA
10 Santa Clara University Santa Clara, CA

What kind of college or university should you attend in California?

Another significant draw for students attending school in California (other than the beautiful beaches, sunny skies, scenic vistas, and bohemian approaches to life) is the diversity of educational programming available at the state’s top colleges and universities. If you’re looking for the best business schools or the best computer science programs, then you need not look past the California border, as the state boasts some of the best schools for an MBA or studies in STEM. As well, you might consider looking into some of the best nursing schools the state has to offer, as there is a shortage of qualified nurses in California. With so many areas of specialization, and with such a great need for competent, educated workers, there might not be a better time to head west and go to school.

How much money will you make with a degree from a California university?

With one of these degrees you will be fully trained for a career in a range of industries and settings. Because of the diversity of options you will have, it’s hard to nail down an average salary. Those who get degrees in education do not make the same as those with degrees in engineering.

But one thing is for sure. A degree gives you the experience, knowledge, and skills necessary for increased wages.

What can you do with a degree from a California university?

California colleges and universities are known for being diverse and attractive places of multi-cultural engagement. In fact, of colleges and universities in the western part of the United States, California schools boast some of the most ethnically diverse campuses, where multiracial, black or African-American, Hispanic, Asian, Pacific Islander, non-Hispanic, and Indigenous students come together in significant ways to pursue degrees. As well, many California colleges and universities have a place on College Choice’s Best LGTB Friendly Colleges and Universities list.

Whether they’re enrolled at the best Christian schools or moving through the best MBA programs, California students encounter people who are different, which adds to their educational experience.

What are the requirements for a degree from a California university?

Requirements will vary dramatically depending on the degree, the school, and the education model. But all differences aside, you should expect to spend the next four years taking general education classes followed by specialized coursework in your field.

You may also be required to participate in an internship, practicum, or clinical. We’ve been sure to note these. Many schools also encourage such extra-curriculars as study abroad, student groups, and more.

Rankings

See our rankings methodology page.

  1. Stanford University
    Location

    Stanford, CA

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    OverviewStanford University is easily the best school for higher learning in the state. It is a private research university with a main campus in Stanford, California and satellite campuses around the globe. It is regionally accredited by the WASC SCUC.FeaturesLike other California colleges on this list, Stanford follows the quarter system. The school also focuses on the arts and sciences. It confers 18 degrees in 75 fields of study across seven schools. The professional schools only confer graduate degrees. The most popular majors include Computer Science, Human Biology, Engineering, and Science, Technology and Society. Reasons to consider Stanford are many, and include:

    • Its dozens of elite research centers and laboratories
    • The Stanford University Libraries includes 20 libraries, many of which contain rare books
    • It is ranked among the top 5 best schools in the world
    • Its proximity to Silicon Valley
    NotablesStanford is known for hosting a variety of interesting events throughout the school year. The two most popular is the Viennese Ball and the annual Halloween Mausoleum Party. The Viennese Ball is a formal event complete with masks and ballroom dancing. The Mausoleum Party is held at the Stanford Mausoleum, where the university’s founder and his family were laid to rest and is a hallmark event for all students.

  2. California Institute of Technology
    Location

    Pasadena, CA

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    OverviewThe California Institute of Technology, known colloquially as CalTech is a private university. It is located in Pasadena, California and is a member of the Association of American Universities. It is also the manager and operator of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. This school is regionally accredited by the WASC SCUC.FeaturesCalTech confers over 50 degrees at the undergraduate, graduate, and postgraduate levels. Although the school does offer undergraduate degrees, the majority of its students are in graduate and doctoral programs. The most popular programs are Chemistry, Biology, Electrical Engineering and Chemical Engineering. Reasons to consider CalTech include:

    • Freshmen year is based on the Pass/Fail model.
    • Students also have the ability to begin research at the undergraduate level
    • It is one of the nation’s best STEM schools
    • Student research often leads to publications as well as internships
    NotablesThe university has a special emphasis on STEM subjects and in particular engineering. It is currently ranked first internationally by the Times Higher Education World University Rankings for its Engineering and Technology and Physical Sciences programs. It is also internationally recognized for its faculty citation rate.

  3. Pomona College
    Location

    Claremont, CA

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    OverviewPomona College is the flagship institution of the Claremont Colleges Consortium. It is a private, liberal arts college that is located in Claremont, California. The school is currently ranked fourth in the country in liberal arts colleges by U.S. News and World Report. The school is regionally accredited by the WASC SCUC.FeaturesThis college confers 48 degrees at the undergraduate level. Unlike other colleges in the consortium, Pomona offers a variety of field of studies. The most popular majors are Mathematics, Economics, and Computer Science. Another interesting and popular major is Linguistics and Cognitive Science. Other reasons to consider Pomona include:

    • Its partnership and shared classes with Claremont College
    • The vibrant study abroad program is nationally renowned
    • Pomona has a strong (and free!) Academic Support and Learning Center
    • And much more
    NotablesThe school also has a variety of cohort model programs for underrepresented students. These programs offer aid for all majors and can give students the opportunity to do research, get individualized coaching and advisement, and pre-college orientation.

  4. Harvey Mudd College
    Location

    Claremont, CA

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    OverviewHarvey Mudd College is a private liberal arts college that is part of the Claremont Colleges Consortium. It is located in close proximity to other colleges in the consortium in Claremont, California. This college is regionally accredited by the WASC SCUC.FeaturesHarvey Mudd focuses on conferring undergraduate degrees in STEM subjects. There are seven different fields of study, with the most popular being Engineering, Computer Science, and Biology. Students can also partake in a joint major within the college or choose to complement their degree with a major from another Claremont College. Additionally, students can design their own major with the Individual Program of Study. Other reasons to consider Harvey Mudd include:

    • This school is markedly hands-on (see Notables)
    • Harvey Mudd provides some of the best education and research opportunities in the STEM fields
    • The core curriculum is notably flexible
    • Harvey Mudd promotes a “science with a conscience” tradition
    NotablesHMC students have access to the Clinic Program, a unique opportunities for STEM students. This program enables students to work together in teams for one academic year on a real-world project suggested by a community company. The program imitates real-world situations and the students are expected to deliver regular reports and a finished product by the end of the program. It is a great way for students to expose their skills to a potential employer.

  5. Claremont McKenna College
    Location

    Claremont, CA

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    OverviewClaremont McKenna College, known colloquially as CMC, is a private liberal arts college that is part of the Claremont Colleges Consortium. It is located in Claremont, California. This school is regionally accredited by the WASC SCUC.FeaturesThis college confers 20 degrees at the undergraduate level with a focus on government, public policy, and economics. As such, the most popular programs at this school are Politics, Public Policy, Economics, and International Studies. Other reasons to consider Claremont include:

    • Students are eligible to dual degree  from CMC and any other member college
    • Students can also elect to do a domestic internship program in Silicon Valley or in Washington, D.C.
    • And more
    NotablesClaremont is currently nationally ranked in the top 50 colleges in the West by Forbes. CMC has the distinction of being ranked second in student happiness in the nation. The school also enjoys rankings from seven different ranking institutions for academic reputation and faculty. This is no doubt due to the strong faculty, small class sizes, and the interconnectedness of the college as part of the consortium.

  6. University of California—Berkeley
    Location

    Berkeley, CA

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    OverviewThe University of California at Berkley is the flagship institution of the University of California system. It is a public, land-grant research university that is headquartered in Berkeley, California. The school is regionally accredited by the WASC SCUC.FeaturesThe school offers over 300 degrees across 14 schools and colleges. These degrees are at all levels of education, including terminal degrees. Popular programs include Journalism, Law, Engineering, and Business Administration. Other reasons to consider Berkeley include:

    • It is a flagship school and ranked among the top five best in the world
    • UC Berkeley’s faculty includes Nobel-Prize winners, Turing Award Winners, and more
    • Literally dozens of Berkeley’s departments are the best of their kind
    • Bay Area and Silicon Valley proximity!
    NotablesThe university is currently ranked in the top five best schools in the world by the Times Higher Education World University Rankings. It is considered the best public university in the world by the Academic Ranking of World Universities.

  7. University of California—Los Angeles
    Location

    Los Angeles, CA

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    OverviewThe University of California at Los Angeles, known as UCLA to faculty and students, is a public, land-grant research institution. It is headquartered in Los Angeles, California and is a member of the University of California system. This university is regionally accredited by the WASC SCUC.FeaturesThis university offers over 325 degrees and the undergraduate, graduate, and postgraduate levels. These are housed in 15 different schools and colleges, including four professional schools dedicated to health sciences. The most popular programs are Engineering, Architecture, Nursing, and Film. Other reasons to consider UCLA include:

    • Location! The school is close to LACMA, the Getty, Hollywood, and various film studios
    • It is the best school for students interested in the entertainment industry.
    • UCLA is known in particular for its water sports, such as rowing and kayaking
    • UCLA is nationally and globally ranked
    NotablesUCLA has a stellar reputation and is continuously internationally ranked for its academic programs by a variety of world college ranking sites, including The Times Higher Education World University Rankings. The school is nearly always in the top 20 of these rankings, and was last year ranked 12th in the world by Academic Ranking of World Universities.

  8. University of Southern California
    Location

    Los Angeles, CA

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    OverviewThe University of Southern California is one of the most well-known and respected institutions in the state. It is a private, sea-grant, space-grant nonprofit research university. The main campus is located in Los Angeles, California. The university is regionally accredited by the WASC SCUC.FeaturesUSC confers over 200 degrees at the undergraduate, graduate, and postgraduate levels across 17 schools and colleges. The most popular programs include Business Administration, Law, Medicine, and Film Studies. Other reasons to consider USC:

    • It is top-ranked in dozens of categories
    • It has produced a large number of Tony Award, Emmy Award, Golden Globe Award, and Academy Award winners
    • It is home to numerous Rhodes and MacArthur Scholars
    • And much more
    NotablesThis university is the oldest private research institution in the state and is known for being the home of the most powerful quantum computer in the world. It is also the birthplace of the DNS, or the domain name system from which all internet addresses originate.

  9. Pitzer College
    Location

    Claremont, CA

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    OverviewPitzer College is a private liberal arts institution that is part of the Claremont Colleges consortium. This school, which is located in Claremont, California, has a strong emphasis on the social and behavioral sciences. It is regionally accredited by the WASC SCUC.NotablesPitzer offers 20 different degrees at the undergraduate level. However, students are welcome to dual major with another Claremont College. Popular degrees include Nursing, Sociology, and Psychology. Other reasons to consider Pitzer include:

    • It is known for its impressive number of study abroad programs (nearly 60!)
    • A curricular emphasis on science, media studies, and international programming
    • It is nationally ranked among the top 60 schools in the nation
    • And more
    NotablesThis college shares facilities, faculty, and even students with other Claremont Colleges. Pitzer borders several other college campuses in the city and provides a very European perspective on colleges in that each school remains independent but offers resources to member institutions.

  10. Santa Clara University
    Location

    Santa Clara, CA

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    OverviewSanta Clara University is a private, nonprofit, Jesuit research university that is located in the heart of Santa Clara, California. It is the oldest university in the state. The school is regionally accredited by the WASC SCUC.FeaturesThis university confers more than 75 degrees at the undergraduate, graduate, and postgraduate levels. Students have a variety of interesting and unique degrees to choose from, including Ancient Studies, Theology, and dual degree opportunities. The most popular programs are Business Administration, Divinity, and the Juris Doctor degree. Other reasons to consider Santa Clara include:

    • The University provides a Jesuit education
    • It is a top producer of Rhodes and Fulbright Scholars
    • Its business school is top ranked by many sources
    • And much more
    NotablesThis university is known for being a top producer of both Rhodes Scholars and Fulbright Scholars. Pulitzer-Prize winners, governors, and mayors are also counted among Santa Clara alumni.

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