The state of California is known for being home to some of the country’s top colleges. California’s Universities are very strong in research and liberal arts. Below are the top colleges in California. Keep in mind they are all very good schools and each has strong graduation rates, academic marks, and retention rates. 

List of Best Colleges in California


University of Southern California (USC)

USC is located in Southern California and made its distinction as a large research facility. The school is located in downtown Los Angeles and has over 130 undergraduate programs. The most popular major is Business Administration. USC is one of the highest ranked schools nationally and is a member of the Phi Beta Kappa Honor Society. The school maintains a student/teacher ratio of 9:1. The school is the home of the USC Trojans who place very high in the NCAA Division I.

  • Top Majors – Business Administration, Accounting, Economics, Journalism, Communication, Political Science, and Architecture

  • Location – Los Angeles, CA

  • Type of College – Private

  • Enrollment – 18,445

  • Application Fees – $80

  • Average Tuition - $46,298 per year


Stanford University

Stanford University is often referred to as the best university on the West Coast. The level of research and teaching matches the Ivy League school on the East Coast, but with warmer climates. It is very competitive and holds a place in the Phi Beta Kappa Honor Society. Founded in 1885, it is said to be one of the most prestigious education institutions in the world. The campus is located in Stanford, California on 8,180 acres near the central California Coastline.

  • Top Majors – Biology, Human Biology, Computer Science, Economics, Engineering, Political Science, and International Relations

  • Location – Stanford, CA

  • Type of College – Private

  • Enrollment – 7,061

  • Application Fees - $90

  • Average Tuition - $44,683


Caltech—California Institute of Technology

The California Institute of Technology is one of the country’s top schools for engineering and ranks high in best colleges in california. They keep very high standards for admission into the school and the student/teacher ratio is 3:1. The school sits on a 124 acres campus close to the city of Los Angeles. There are 48 research facilities and over 26 majors to choose from. Caltech has membership with the Association of American Universities. Dr. Lucy Jones is a highly respected seismologist with the US Geological survey and works out of Caltech.

  • Top Majors – Engineering, Computer Science, Biology, Math, Physics, and Mechanical Engineering

  • Location – Pasadena, CA

  • Type of College – Private

  • Enrollment – 977 (undergraduate)

  • Application Fees - $75

  • Average Tuition - $41,538


University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA)

UCLA was founded in 1919 in Westwood Village and sits on 419 acres. It is only 8 miles from the beach. The campus is a fast-paced environment with its strong points in liberal arts and sciences. They are in the Phi Beta Kappa Honor Society and are known for their research. This is one of the second oldest schools in the University of California system and is one of the top-ranked public universities in the U.S., which makes it undoubtedly one of the best colleges in California.

  • Top Majors – Biology, Sociology, Business, Political Science, English, History, and Economics

  • Location – Los Angeles, CA

  • Type of College – Public

  • Enrollment – 28,476

  • Application Fees – $70

  • Average Tuition – In State $12,697; Out-of-State $35,575


University of California, Berkeley

The University of California Berkeley campus sits on a large 1,232-acre campus in Northern California. Near the San Francisco Bay, it has one of the country’s highest ranking programs in the sciences and humanities, as well as engineering. It has a laid back lifestyle and home to many liberal and activist student organizations. The school is a member of the Phi Beta Kappa Honor Society and is very involved in research. There is a student/teacher ratio of 15:1.

  • Top Majors – Cellular Biology, Business, Psychology, English, and Political Science

  • Location – Berkeley, CA

  • Type of College – Public

  • Enrollment – 35,396

  • Application Fees – $90

  • Average Tuition – In State $12,864; Out-of-State 35,742


Whittier College

Whittier College is where U.S. President Richard Nixon attended college. It is nestled in the small community of Whittier on the southeastern corner of Los Angeles. Founded in 1887, it is the alma mater of many celebrities and high ranking public officials. It was listed as number 133 in the Best Colleges and National Liberal Arts Schools. The student population is very diverse drawing students from all over the world. One interesting program is the “Whittier Scholars Program,” where students and their faculty design their personal major based on interests and skills to help match their education with a future career.

  • Top Majors – Sociology, Business, Management, Marketing, Psychology, Biomedical Sciences, Parks, Recreation, Leisure, and Fitness Studies, and Physical Education

  • Location – Whittier, CA

  • Type of College – Private

  • Enrollment – 1,695

  • Application Fees – $50

  • Average Tuition - $41,246


Academy of Art University

Founded in 1929, The Academy of Art University has undergraduate and graduate degree programs to prepare artists and designers for exciting careers in the art and design industry. Located in San Francisco, the environment is rich in art and history for budding artists. With over 18,000 students, the school is one of the largest school for art and design in the U.S.

  • Top Majors – Fashion Design, Animation, Video Graphics, Graphic Design, and Illustration

  • Location – San Francisco, CA

  • Type of College – Private

  • Enrollment – 10,508

  • Application Fees – $100

  • Average Tuition - $24,600


California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo

Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo was founded in 1901. This is a public university nestled in beautiful San Luis Obispo near California’s central coast. The campus sits on 6,000 acres and ranked number 10 in the Best Colleges and Regional Universities (West). There are almost 30 degree choices for graduates from the College of Business or School of Education. Undergrads have 70 majors to choose from and the engineering program is highly acclaimed. There are 50 student organizations for the engineering school and 300 other student organizations. One of these is dedicated to building a float in California’s “Rose Parade.”

  • Top Majors – Engineering, Agriculture, Social Sciences, Architecture, Marketing, and Business

  • Location – San Luis Obispo, CA

  • Type of College – Public

  • Enrollment – 18,739

  • Application Fees – $55

  • Average Tuition – In State $8,724; Out-of-State $19,884


Loyola Marymount University

Loyolla Marymount University was founded in 1911 and is a private university. Its 142 acre campus is nestled into the Los Angeles suburb of Westchester near Marina Del Rey and the Pacific Ocean. They operate on semesters and rank number 3 in Best Colleges and Regional Universities (West). This is known to be the largest private Catholic University on the West Coast and has over 150 student organizations to choose from. They also offer a radio station, a student newspaper and a TV station.

  • Top Majors – Business and Commerce, Visual and Performing Arts, Social Sciences, Speech, and English

  • Location – Los Angeles, CA

  • Type of College – Private Catholic

  • Enrollment – 6,205

  • Application Fees – $60

  • Average Tuition - $41,385


University of San Diego

UCSD was founded in 1949 and located in urban San Diego on 180 acres. It looks out over the Mission Bay and 15 minutes from downtown. It ranks 95 in Best Colleges and National Universities. This private Catholic college is open to any student of any faith. There are over 100 student organizations and 10 fraternities/sororities. Athletics play in the NCAA Division I of the West Coast Conference. Students can lounge on La Jolla State Beach or spend a day in a museum at Balboa Park.

  • Top Majors – Biomedical Science, Psychology, Communication, Social Services, and Business Management

  • Location – San Diego, CA

  • Type of College – Private

  • Enrollment – 5,665

  • Application Fees – $55

  • Average Tuition - $21,165


Other Best Colleges in California

  • Scripps College

  • Mount St. Mary’s College (Mt. Sac)

  • Palo Alto University

  • Fresno Pacific University

  • Azusa Pacific University

  • Biola University

  • Chapman University

  • Occidental College

  • Humboldt State University

  • University of California, Davis


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