California’s Best Colleges & Universities of 2021

Here are the best colleges and universities in California. Our list will help you find the right kind of school for you.

California’s Best Colleges & Universities of 2021

Colleges and Universities in California

California’s higher education institutes span across the entire state, allowing students to study by the beach, in the forest, in small towns, and in large cities. The largest university, the University of California, Los Angeles, serves nearly 44,000 students and offers a tuition rate around $13,000. This isn’t the only school with a large student body though. California is home to 23 colleges and universities with student populations of over 20,000 students.

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However, more than half of the state’s schools serve smaller student populations, offering plenty of options for students who crave a more intimate campus experience. Additionally, California boasts 50 religiously affiliated schools. Many of these schools have high graduation rates, though tuition costs can range greatly, from $8,000 at Bethesda University up to $54,000 at Pepperdine University.

Additionally, many of California’s colleges and universities boast influential faculty and alumni, including Neil Armstrong, Jerry Lewis, and Weird Al Yankovic. In addition to famous alumni and professors, California’s schools are also home to some of the country’s top degree programs, including nursing, business, religious studies, education, literature, and law.

Though Hollywood has given an inside look into California’s most popular landmarks and attractions, these one-of-a-kind places aren’t the only reason people flock to The Golden State. With hundreds of colleges and universities to choose from, students have countless opportunities to further their education in California.

To learn more about earning your degree in California, check out some of the state’s top programs and career paths.


What are California’s Colleges & Universities?

California’s Best Overall

Related: Differences between research universities and teaching colleges

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How do we determine California's best colleges and universities?

The people affiliated with a school are ultimately what make it great. This is why, at the undergraduate level, we rank the best colleges and universities based on what we call “Concentrated Influence”. Concentrated Influence takes the combined influence score of a college or university’s top academic influencers (including faculty and alums) and divides it by the school’s total number of undergraduates.

Using concentrated influence gives small and mid-sized schools an opportunity to shine by taking away the size advantage of larger universities. A small school with proportionately more influential faculty than a large school, whose influence in absolute terms may be bigger, will nonetheless score higher in a concentrated influence ranking. Our approach highlights undergraduate schools that truly rank for excellence, regardless of size.

If you are serious about finding the best colleges and universities for a bachelor’s degree, you should be asking where the most influential professors are teaching and whether their graduates are themselves advancing the school’s reputation for academic excellence.

Most ranking sites rely on an opaque combination of reputation surveys and arbitrary performance metrics. Concentrated Influence provides a ranking that is free from bias, insulated from manipulation, and reflective of real-world educational outcomes.

Find out more about our ranking methodology here.


California’s Best Colleges and Universities

Every fall, more than 2 million high-school graduates will enroll in colleges and universities across the United States. Finding the best college for your educational, personal, and professional goals may be challenging. The purpose of this ranking is to help you manage this challenge with an accurate, objective, and up-to-date ranking of the best colleges and universities in California for earning a bachelor’s degree.

We’ve identified a total of 113 colleges and universities in California that meet our criteria. This list of the top 25 schools below focuses on schools that offer four-year undergraduate degrees, must be fully accredited, and includes both public and private colleges and universities.


  1. #1

    California Institute of Technology

    #30 institution's historical influence
    #9 overall school desirability

    Tuition + fees

    $57K

    Acceptance

    7%

    Graduation

    92%

    Student body

    2K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1545/35

    Pasadena, CA

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    What is California Institute of Technology known for?

    California Institute of Technology’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Physics
    • Biology
    • Computer Science
    • Mathematics
    • Engineering
    • Chemistry
    • Business
    • Literature
    • Economics
    • Earth Sciences

    Most Influential Alumni

  2. #2

    Stanford University

    #9 institution's historical influence
    #1 overall school desirability

    Tuition + fees

    $56K

    Acceptance

    5%

    Graduation

    95%

    Student body

    15K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1505/33

    Stanford, CA

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    What is Stanford University known for?

    Stanford University’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Computer Science
    • Biology
    • Engineering
    • Business
    • Mathematics
    • Psychology
    • Economics
    • Law
    • Medical
    • Literature

    Most Influential Alumni

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  3. #3

    University of California, Berkeley

    #6 institution's historical influence
    #29 overall school desirability

    Tuition + fees

    $14K

    Acceptance

    17%

    Graduation

    92%

    Student body

    43K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1430/33

    Berkeley, CA

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    What is University of California, Berkeley known for?

    University of California, Berkeley’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Computer Science
    • Mathematics
    • Biology
    • Engineering
    • Physics
    • Philosophy
    • Literature
    • Economics
    • Chemistry
    • Business

    Most Influential Alumni

  4. #4

    Pomona College

    #329 institution's historical influence
    #13 overall school desirability

    Tuition + fees

    $55K

    Acceptance

    9%

    Graduation

    94%

    Student body

    2K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1465/33

    Claremont, CA

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    What is Pomona College known for?

    Pomona College’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Biology
    • Literature
    • Philosophy
    • Chemistry
    • Mathematics
    • Political Science
    • Psychology
    • History
    • Computer Science
    • Physics
  5. #5

    Harvey Mudd College

    #711 institution's historical influence
    #28 overall school desirability

    Tuition + fees

    $59K

    Acceptance

    18%

    Graduation

    93%

    Student body

    1K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1530/34

    Claremont, CA

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    What is Harvey Mudd College known for?

    Harvey Mudd College’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Mathematics
    • Computer Science
    • Engineering
    • Biology
    • Physics
    • Political Science
    • Chemistry
    • Psychology
    • Economics
    • Sociology

    Most Influential Alumni

  6. #6

    Claremont McKenna College

    #622 institution's historical influence
    #18 overall school desirability

    Tuition + fees

    $56K

    Acceptance

    13%

    Graduation

    92%

    Student body

    1K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1435/32

    Claremont, CA

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    What is Claremont McKenna College known for?

    Claremont McKenna College’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Business
    • Political Science
    • Economics
    • Law
    • Literature
    • Philosophy
    • History
    • Religious Studies
    • Psychology
    • Engineering

    Most Influential Alumni

  7. #7

    University of Southern California

    #31 institution's historical influence
    #30 overall school desirability

    Tuition + fees

    $60K

    Acceptance

    16%

    Graduation

    92%

    Student body

    40K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1445/32

    Los Angeles, CA

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    What is University of Southern California known for?

    University of Southern California’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Business
    • Engineering
    • Medical
    • Computer Science
    • Literature
    • Biology
    • Education
    • Law
    • Political Science
    • Communications

    Most Influential Alumni

  8. #8

    University of California, Los Angeles

    #20 institution's historical influence
    #31 overall school desirability

    Tuition + fees

    $13K

    Acceptance

    14%

    Graduation

    91%

    Student body

    45K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1415/32

    Los Angeles, CA

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    What is University of California, Los Angeles known for?

    University of California, Los Angeles’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Philosophy
    • Mathematics
    • Biology
    • Literature
    • Medical
    • Computer Science
    • Business
    • Engineering
    • Law
    • Psychology

    Most Influential Alumni

  9. #9

    Occidental College

    #571 institution's historical influence
    #1144 overall school desirability

    Tuition + fees

    $57K

    Acceptance

    41%

    Graduation

    84%

    Student body

    2K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1390/30

    Los Angeles, CA

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    What is Occidental College known for?

    Occidental College’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Literature
    • Political Science
    • History
    • Biology
    • Philosophy
    • Mathematics
    • Religious Studies
    • Psychology
    • Economics
    • Physics
  10. #10

    Pitzer College

    #1064 institution's historical influence
    #63 overall school desirability

    Tuition + fees

    $56K

    Acceptance

    17%

    Graduation

    83%

    Student body

    1K

    Claremont, CA

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    What is Pitzer College known for?

    Pitzer College’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Literature
    • Business
    • Political Science
    • Law
    • Psychology
    • Sociology
    • Biology
    • Medical
    • Mathematics
    • Anthropology

    Most Influential Alumni

  11. #11

    University of California, San Diego

    #53 institution's historical influence
    #71 overall school desirability

    Tuition + fees

    $15K

    Acceptance

    37%

    Graduation

    87%

    Student body

    39K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1370/30

    La Jolla, CA

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    What is University of California, San Diego known for?

    University of California, San Diego’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Biology
    • Computer Science
    • Mathematics
    • Physics
    • Engineering
    • Medical
    • Psychology
    • Chemistry
    • Literature
    • Philosophy

    Most Influential Alumni

  12. #12

    Pepperdine University

    #484 institution's historical influence
    #903 overall school desirability

    Tuition + fees

    $58K

    Acceptance

    42%

    Graduation

    89%

    Student body

    9K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1340/29

    Malibu, CA

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    What is Pepperdine University known for?

    Pepperdine University’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Business
    • Psychology
    • Political Science
    • Law
    • Education
    • Literature
    • Philosophy
    • History
    • Communications
    • Religious Studies

    Most Influential Alumni

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  13. #13

    Scripps College

    #1094 institution's historical influence
    #99 overall school desirability

    Tuition + fees

    $57K

    Acceptance

    35%

    Graduation

    88%

    Student body

    1K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1411/31

    Claremont, CA

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    What is Scripps College known for?

    Scripps College’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Business
    • Literature
    • Biology
    • Political Science
    • Engineering
    • History
    • Religious Studies
    • Law
    • Sociology
    • Philosophy

    Most Influential Alumni

  14. #14

    University of California, Santa Barbara

    #107 institution's historical influence
    #100 overall school desirability

    Tuition + fees

    $14K

    Acceptance

    37%

    Graduation

    84%

    Student body

    27K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1355/30

    Santa Barbara, CA

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    What is University of California, Santa Barbara known for?

    University of California, Santa Barbara’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Physics
    • Psychology
    • Biology
    • Mathematics
    • Engineering
    • Chemistry
    • Computer Science
    • Literature
    • Business
    • Philosophy

    Most Influential Alumni

  15. #15

    University of California, Santa Cruz

    #149 institution's historical influence
    #734 overall school desirability

    Tuition + fees

    $14K

    Acceptance

    65%

    Graduation

    76%

    Student body

    20K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1290/29

    Santa Cruz, CA

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    What is University of California, Santa Cruz known for?

    University of California, Santa Cruz’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Biology
    • Literature
    • Philosophy
    • Physics
    • Psychology
    • Computer Science
    • Mathematics
    • Anthropology
    • Communications
    • Sociology

    Most Influential Alumni

  16. #16

    Santa Clara University

    #359 institution's historical influence
    #1245 overall school desirability

    Tuition + fees

    $53K

    Acceptance

    51%

    Graduation

    92%

    Student body

    8K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1360/30

    Santa Clara, CA

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    What is Santa Clara University known for?

    Santa Clara University’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Business
    • Computer Science
    • Law
    • Engineering
    • Philosophy
    • Psychology
    • Education
    • Mathematics
    • Political Science
    • Religious Studies

    Most Influential Alumni

    REQUEST INFO
  17. #17

    University of California, Davis

    #130 institution's historical influence
    #163 overall school desirability

    Tuition + fees

    $15K

    Acceptance

    46%

    Graduation

    86%

    Student body

    37K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1290/28

    Davis, CA

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    What is University of California, Davis known for?

    University of California, Davis’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Biology
    • Medical
    • Engineering
    • Mathematics
    • Literature
    • Psychology
    • Computer Science
    • Chemistry
    • Law
    • Business
  18. #18

    Golden Gate University

    #1114 institution's historical influence

    Tuition + fees

    $13K

    Student body

    1K

    San Francisco, CA

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    What is Golden Gate University known for?

    Golden Gate University’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Business
    • Law
    • Economics
    • Political Science
    • Computer Science
    • Medical
    • Psychology
    • Sociology
    • Communications

    Most Influential Alumni

  19. #19

    Mills College

    #902 institution's historical influence
    #244 overall school desirability

    Tuition + fees

    $31K

    Acceptance

    91%

    Graduation

    65%

    Student body

    1K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1147/24

    Oakland, CA

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    What is Mills College known for?

    Mills College’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Literature
    • Education
    • Business
    • Political Science
    • History
    • Computer Science
    • Biology
    • Mathematics
    • Philosophy
    • Sociology

    Most Influential Alumni

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  20. #20

    University of California, Irvine

    #121 institution's historical influence
    #87 overall school desirability

    Tuition + fees

    $14K

    Acceptance

    30%

    Graduation

    85%

    Student body

    38K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1295/28

    Irvine, CA

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    What is University of California, Irvine known for?

    University of California, Irvine’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Biology
    • Philosophy
    • Computer Science
    • Literature
    • Medical
    • Mathematics
    • Engineering
    • Psychology
    • Chemistry
    • Business

    Most Influential Alumni

  21. #21

    University of California, Riverside

    #311 institution's historical influence
    #919 overall school desirability

    Tuition + fees

    $14K

    Acceptance

    66%

    Graduation

    77%

    Student body

    25K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1230/26

    Riverside, CA

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    What is University of California, Riverside known for?

    University of California, Riverside’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Biology
    • Chemistry
    • Business
    • Literature
    • Engineering
    • Psychology
    • Mathematics
    • Physics
    • Political Science
    • Economics

    Most Influential Alumni

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  22. #22

    Loyola Marymount University

    #738 institution's historical influence
    #1202 overall school desirability

    Tuition + fees

    $53K

    Acceptance

    50%

    Graduation

    83%

    Student body

    9K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1320/29

    Los Angeles, CA

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    What is Loyola Marymount University known for?

    Loyola Marymount University’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Law
    • Literature
    • Education
    • Business
    • Engineering
    • Philosophy
    • Political Science
    • History
    • Psychology
    • Medical

    Most Influential Alumni

  23. #23

    Whittier College

    #1236 institution's historical influence
    #707 overall school desirability

    Tuition + fees

    $49K

    Acceptance

    72%

    Graduation

    63%

    Student body

    2K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1129/23

    Whittier, CA

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    What is Whittier College known for?

    Whittier College’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Business
    • Education
    • Literature
    • Law
    • History
    • Political Science
    • Religious Studies
    • Biology
    • Philosophy
    • Engineering

    Most Influential Alumni

  24. #24

    University of California, Merced

    #1708 institution's historical influence
    #275 overall school desirability

    Tuition + fees

    $14K

    Acceptance

    85%

    Graduation

    69%

    Student body

    9K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1090/22

    Merced, CA

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    What is University of California, Merced known for?

    University of California, Merced’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Engineering
    • Computer Science
    • Biology
    • Mathematics
    • Medical
    • Political Science
    • Psychology
    • Business
    • Chemistry
    • Physics

    Most Influential Alumni

  25. #25

    University of Redlands

    #1032 institution's historical influence
    #391 overall school desirability

    Tuition + fees

    $53K

    Acceptance

    69%

    Graduation

    71%

    Student body

    5K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1170/25

    Redlands, CA

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    What is University of Redlands known for?

    University of Redlands’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Political Science
    • Business
    • Education
    • Literature
    • Philosophy
    • Religious Studies
    • Computer Science
    • History
    • Medical
    • Psychology

    Most Influential Alumni

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