Best Liberal Arts Colleges in California 2022

Best Liberal Arts Colleges in California 2022

Liberal arts colleges are a great option for students seeking a well-rounded education in an intimate campus setting. The best liberal arts colleges in California offer a diverse selection of degree programs with opportunities for a highly individualized educational experience.

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. There are over 30 high quality online degrees programs that would literally allow you to study from anywhere in California, or the world. 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?

Methodology

The people affiliated with a school are ultimately what make it great! 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 in their fields of study.

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

To rank the influence of schools, we first determine the influence of scholars and professionals based on the number of citations and publications they have had over the past 10 years. In addition to publications and citations, we consider the web links to and from these sources, and the page views of those sources. We then match the influential people to their alma maters and institutions of employment, so that their influence is attributed to those schools. Our machine-learning Influence Ranking algorithm produces a numerical score of academic achievements, merits, and citations across Wikipedia, wikidata, Crossref, Semantic Scholar and an ever-growing body of data. If you are interested in exploring how and why we rank by influence, explore our methodology in more depth.

A liberal arts college is a school that puts a premium on undergraduate studies and offers a broad range of subjects for students to study. A college of liberal arts typically provides smaller class sizes, more direct engagement with professors, and, most importantly, the opportunity to sample a wide range of subject areas on the way to a bachelor’s degree. We’ve identified 84 liberal arts colleges in California. To be ranked among the 30 best liberal arts colleges in California, schools must fully accredited institutions.

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Best Liberal Arts Colleges in California 2022

  1. #1

    San Francisco State University

    San Francisco , CA
    Other Rankings

    Tuition + fees

    $7K

    Acceptance

    84%

    Graduation

    55%

    Student body

    25K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1045/20

    What is San Francisco State University known for?

    San Francisco State University’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Sociology
    • Literature
    • Anthropology
    • Communications
    • Philosophy
    • Computer Science
    • Political Science
    • Social Work
    • Criminal Justice
    • Education

    Most Influential Alumni

  2. #2

    San Jose State University

    San Jose , CA
    Other Rankings

    Tuition + fees

    $8K

    Acceptance

    67%

    Graduation

    66%

    Student body

    30K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1140/22

    What is San Jose State University known for?

    San Jose State University’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Criminal Justice
    • Business
    • Communications
    • Anthropology
    • Engineering
    • Computer Science
    • Literature
    • Psychology
    • Sociology
    • Education

    Most Influential Alumni

  3. #3

    Pomona College

    Claremont , CA
    Other Rankings

    Tuition + fees

    $57K

    Acceptance

    9%

    Graduation

    94%

    Student body

    2K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1465/33

    What is Pomona College known for?

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

    • Chemistry
    • Literature
    • Physics
    • Biology
    • Religious Studies
    • Communications
    • Anthropology
    • Philosophy
    • Computer Science
    • Psychology

    Most Influential Alumni

  4. #5

    Claremont McKenna College

    Claremont , CA
    Other Rankings

    Tuition + fees

    $58K

    Acceptance

    13%

    Graduation

    92%

    Student body

    1K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1435/32

    What is Claremont McKenna College known for?

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

    • Business
    • Economics
    • Political Science
    • Law
    • Philosophy
    • Sociology
    • History
    • Religious Studies
    • Mathematics
    • Computer Science

    Most Influential Alumni

  5. Tuition + fees

    $7K

    Acceptance

    66%

    Graduation

    55%

    Student body

    33K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1020/19

    What is California State University, Northridge known for?

    California State University, Northridge’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Communications
    • Anthropology
    • Business
    • Sociology
    • Economics
    • Political Science
    • Literature
    • History
    • Engineering
    • Criminal Justice

    Most Influential Alumni

  6. Tuition + fees

    $7K

    Acceptance

    68%

    Graduation

    69%

    Student body

    34K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1115/21

    What is California State University, Fullerton known for?

    California State University, Fullerton’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Psychology
    • Anthropology
    • Sociology
    • Literature
    • Communications
    • Chemistry
    • Computer Science
    • Philosophy
    • Engineering
    • Earth Sciences

    Most Influential Alumni

  7. Tuition + fees

    $7K

    Acceptance

    76%

    Graduation

    52%

    Student body

    23K

    Median SAT/ACT

    985/17

    What is California State University, Los Angeles known for?

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

    • Criminal Justice
    • Literature
    • Mathematics
    • Business
    • Political Science
    • Philosophy
    • Sociology
    • Economics
    • Psychology
    • Education

    Most Influential Alumni

  8. Other Rankings

    Tuition + fees

    $7K

    Acceptance

    42%

    Graduation

    73%

    Student body

    33K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1145/23

    What is California State University, Long Beach known for?

    California State University, Long Beach’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Literature
    • Business
    • Criminal Justice
    • Earth Sciences
    • Sociology
    • History
    • Political Science
    • Engineering
    • Psychology
    • Communications

    Most Influential Alumni

  9. #10

    Occidental College

    Los Angeles , CA

    Tuition + fees

    $58K

    Acceptance

    41%

    Graduation

    84%

    Student body

    2K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1390/30

    What is Occidental College known for?

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

    • Literature
    • Biology
    • Chemistry
    • Economics
    • History
    • Political Science
    • Mathematics
    • Earth Sciences
    • Physics
    • Philosophy

    Most Influential Alumni

  10. Tuition + fees

    $8K

    Acceptance

    90%

    Graduation

    65%

    Student body

    16K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1090/21

    What is California State University, Chico known for?

    California State University, Chico’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Anthropology
    • Sociology
    • Mathematics
    • Computer Science
    • Literature
    • Political Science
    • Earth Sciences
    • Economics
    • History
    • Physics

    Most Influential Alumni

  11. #12

    Golden Gate University

    San Francisco , CA

    Tuition + fees

    $13K

    Student body

    1K

    What is Golden Gate University known for?

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

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

    Most Influential Alumni

  12. Tuition + fees

    $7K

    Acceptance

    83%

    Graduation

    54%

    Student body

    28K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1040/19

    What is California State University, Sacramento known for?

    California State University, Sacramento’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Communications
    • Earth Sciences
    • Criminal Justice
    • Economics
    • Political Science
    • Anthropology
    • History
    • Chemistry
    • Business
    • Computer Science

    Most Influential Alumni

  13. #15

    University of Redlands

    Redlands , CA

    Tuition + fees

    $54K

    Acceptance

    69%

    Graduation

    71%

    Student body

    5K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1170/25

    What is University of Redlands known for?

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

    • Political Science
    • Philosophy
    • Education
    • Religious Studies
    • Literature
    • Physics
    • Business
    • Computer Science
    • Mathematics
    • Economics

    Most Influential Alumni

  14. Tuition + fees

    $7K

    Acceptance

    65%

    Graduation

    67%

    Student body

    25K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1140/23

    What is California State Polytechnic University, Pomona known for?

    California State Polytechnic University, Pomona’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Engineering
    • Computer Science
    • Education
    • Political Science
    • Earth Sciences
    • Mathematics
    • Biology
    • Philosophy
    • Physics
    • Economics

    Most Influential Alumni

  15. Tuition + fees

    $7K

    Acceptance

    73%

    Graduation

    47%

    Student body

    14K

    What is California State University, East Bay known for?

    California State University, East Bay’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Earth Sciences
    • Computer Science
    • Economics
    • Business
    • Anthropology
    • Mathematics
    • Sociology
    • Communications
    • Education
    • Political Science

    Most Influential Alumni

  16. #18

    Mills College

    Oakland , CA

    Tuition + fees

    $31K

    Acceptance

    91%

    Graduation

    65%

    Student body

    1K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1147/24

    What is Mills College known for?

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

    • Sociology
    • Literature
    • Education
    • Anthropology
    • Political Science
    • Computer Science
    • History
    • Mathematics
    • Communications
    • Philosophy

    Most Influential Alumni

  17. #20

    Scripps College

    Claremont , CA
    Other Rankings

    Tuition + fees

    $58K

    Acceptance

    35%

    Graduation

    88%

    Student body

    1K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1411/31

    What is Scripps College known for?

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

    • Sociology
    • Economics
    • Religious Studies
    • Philosophy
    • Biology
    • History
    • Political Science
    • Earth Sciences
    • Mathematics
    • Engineering

    Most Influential Alumni

  18. #21

    Sonoma State University

    Rohnert Park , CA

    Tuition + fees

    $8K

    Acceptance

    89%

    Graduation

    60%

    Student body

    8K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1070/20

    What is Sonoma State University known for?

    Sonoma State University’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Computer Science
    • Sociology
    • Political Science
    • Biology
    • Physics
    • Business
    • Psychology
    • Philosophy
    • Anthropology
    • History

    Most Influential Alumni

  19. #22

    Santa Monica College

    Santa Monica , CA

    Tuition + fees

    $1K

    Graduation

    31%

    Student body

    19K

    What is Santa Monica College known for?

    Santa Monica College’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Criminal Justice
    • Sociology
    • Anthropology
    • History
    • Computer Science
    • Psychology
    • Medical
    • Mathematics
    • Nursing
    • Education

    Most Influential Alumni

  20. #23

    Whittier College

    Whittier , CA

    Tuition + fees

    $50K

    Acceptance

    72%

    Graduation

    63%

    Student body

    2K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1129/23

    What is Whittier College known for?

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

    • Sociology
    • Education
    • Chemistry
    • Law
    • Business
    • Religious Studies
    • History
    • Literature
    • Philosophy
    • Political Science

    Most Influential Alumni

  21. #24

    National University

    La Jolla , CA

    Tuition + fees

    $13K

    Acceptance

    87%

    Graduation

    47%

    Student body

    23K

    What is National University known for?

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

    • Criminal Justice
    • Business
    • Political Science
    • Psychology
    • Computer Science
    • Law
    • Engineering
    • Medical
    • Communications
    • Education

    Most Influential Alumni

  22. Tuition + fees

    $52K

    Acceptance

    77%

    Graduation

    73%

    Student body

    4K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1150/25

    What is Saint Mary's College of California known for?

    Saint Mary's College of California’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Literature
    • History
    • Mathematics
    • Business
    • Economics
    • Sociology
    • Philosophy
    • Psychology
    • Political Science
    • Communications

    Most Influential Alumni

  23. Tuition + fees

    $7K

    Acceptance

    81%

    Graduation

    48%

    Student body

    15K

    What is California State University, Dominguez Hills known for?

    California State University, Dominguez Hills’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Sociology
    • Anthropology
    • Social Work
    • Political Science
    • Criminal Justice
    • History
    • Communications
    • Chemistry
    • Economics
    • Mathematics

    Most Influential Alumni

  24. Tuition + fees

    $7K

    Acceptance

    78%

    Graduation

    59%

    Student body

    18K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1000/17

    What is California State University, San Bernardino known for?

    California State University, San Bernardino’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Psychology
    • Criminal Justice
    • Political Science
    • Earth Sciences
    • Sociology
    • Literature
    • Social Work
    • Mathematics
    • Anthropology
    • Physics

    Most Influential Alumni

  25. Tuition + fees

    $48K

    Acceptance

    86%

    Graduation

    74%

    Student body

    2K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1125/22

    What is Dominican University of California known for?

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

    • Nursing
    • Communications
    • Medical
    • Psychology
    • Chemistry
    • History
    • Computer Science
    • Sociology
    • Literature
    • Biology

    Most Influential Alumni

  26. Tuition + fees

    $8K

    Acceptance

    85%

    Graduation

    49%

    Student body

    7K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1085/21

    What is California State Polytechnic University, Humboldt known for?

    California State Polytechnic University, Humboldt’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Biology
    • Chemistry
    • Mathematics
    • Literature
    • Psychology
    • Communications
    • Physics
    • Sociology
    • Social Work
    • Political Science

    Most Influential Alumni

  27. #30

    Foothill College

    Los Altos Hills , CA

    Tuition + fees

    $2K

    Graduation

    59%

    Student body

    9K

    What is Foothill College known for?

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

    • Computer Science
    • Psychology
    • Physics
    • Literature
    • Mathematics
    • Communications
    • Engineering
    • Economics
    • Sociology
    • Medical

    Most Influential Alumni

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California’s Best Liberal Arts Colleges in Your Area of Interest

Frequently Asked Questions About Research Universities, Liberal Arts Colleges, Online Colleges

In pursuing a bachelor’s degree, you will need to choose between three kinds of schools: research universities, liberal arts colleges, and online colleges.

Research universities are colleges and universities whose faculty are active in research and publishing. These schools offer a wide array of doctoral programs, especially in the sciences. They tend to be big, with tens of thousands of students.

Do you prefer a larger university setting, such as largest public university in your state? Research universities are typically big, offering degrees in many different disciplines. Is a big high-powered research environment the thing for you. If not, you should think about a liberal arts college. In deciding on an undergraduate institution, ask yourself what sort of environment will best help you to be happy and excel.

  • Consider whether you are self motivated enough to be a face in the crowd for some classes and largely unknown on campus at a large university. Of course you can find clubs and friends at a large university, but often liberal arts colleges have a more personal quality to them. If you want the community feel, a research university may not fit you well.
  • Are you interested in STEM fields? Research universities have that name for a reason – real research is happening there. This can create an exciting atmosphere for students interested in STEM. Attending a research university can give you a better chance of getting into better programs for graduate degrees, although a lot of that depends on your performance.
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Often referred to as “teaching colleges” liberal arts colleges put a premium on undergraduate studies and offers a broad range of subjects for students to study. A college of liberal arts typically provides smaller class sizes, more direct engagement with professors, and, most importantly, the opportunity to sample a wide range of subject areas on the way to a bachelor’s degree.

  • Do you want your professors to know you? Liberal arts colleges strive to cultivate campus cultures that encourage tight bonds between professors and students. Professors at these schools will typically conduct original research. Yet the best of these schools offer their faculty reduced teaching loads so that they can both be productive researchers and still have plenty of time for students (both in and outside the classroom).
  • Do you want to feel like you know everybody? One of the most enticing features of a liberal arts college is that in very little time, you can feel like you know who’s who, which can create strong friendships, but also more pleasurable walks across campus. While your sports teams may never be on ESPN, it’s more likely that you’ll know the athletes as your peers. Beyond student and faculty relationships, it’s not unusual for the school president and other administrators to learn who you are. When faced with problems with your student account or the need to switch classes, this can be comforting during a stressful moment.
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Online colleges are typically the same colleges and universities you could attend in-person, but for certain degree programs the college or unviersity has made the degree programs available to be completed online. For over 5 million students, online degree programs allow students to earn their degrees in the most flexible format available. Online degrees are as respected as the on-campus degress you could earn from the same schools. There’s usually no disctinction between the two degrees, and your degree and transcript will not say that the degree was earned online. Online degree programs are offered by a vast majority of colleges and universities, and the number of offering continues to grow. Whehter you are searching for an associate, bachelor’s, master’s, or doctorate, there’s a good chance you can earn your degree online from a respectable online college.

  • Are you a self-driven student? Perhaps the hardest aspect of obtaining an online degree is whether you will be disciplined enough to manage your time and course demands. Many online students report that online college made them more disciplined in all areas of their lives, but the flexible, self-paced learning that makes online colleges attractive can often be the same qualities that make it difficult. If you tend to be a procrastinator, you need to be honest with yourself. You can change your habits and propensities, or you can throw money down the drain.
  • Do you need the flexibility of an online degree program? Most online students study online because of time demands balancing work and life, or becuase the online colleges afford them the chance to attend a better school without moving. If you are serious about earning your degree for career advancement, online colleges make it possible. The most flexible options among online degrees are those that are aynchronous, meaning you don’t have scheduled times to meet with your class online. However, many students seek synchronous online degree programs so that they have some structure – set meeting times, scheduled exams, etc.
  • The good news is that attending an online college doesn’t mean you will miss out on getting to know your professors and classmates. In fact, many online students who have experienced both online and on-campus courses report having easier access to their professors. Since most communication with your professor is expected to be in text – via email or your class learning management system – it makes asking your questions easier. The same students also report that they got to better know the thoughts of their classmates. While in-person course conversations can be dominated by a few extroverts, online courses that require online discussions make it so that you see all of your classmates’ thoughts and questions.

If you interested in an online bachelor’s degree, check out what the best online colleges offer, or search our online degrees for the exact program that interests you. In either case, you will find well respected colleges and universities that offer online degrees.

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Resources for College-Bound Students

2021 Ranking Archive

Many of our 2022 undergraduate focused rankings look considerably different than 2021. That’s because we took a fundamentally different apporach. For 2021 we utiulized our Concentrated Influence algorithm, designed to take away the size advantage larger schools have when we rank their faculty and alumni’s academic influence. Concentrated influence highlights smaller schools that are proportionally as successful as larger universities at cultivating influential alumni and faculty.

  1. Pomona College
  2. Harvey Mudd College
  3. Claremont McKenna College
  4. Occidental College
  5. Pitzer College
  6. Scripps College
  7. Golden Gate University
  8. Mills College
  9. Whittier College
  10. University of Redlands
  11. San Francisco State University
  12. Dominican University of California
  13. Westmont College
  14. Woodbury University
  15. Pacific Union College
  16. San Jose State University
  17. La Sierra University
  18. Notre Dame de Namur University
  19. California State University, Los Angeles
  20. California State University, Northridge
  21. California State University, Long Beach
  22. California State University, Monterey Bay
  23. California State University, Fullerton
  24. Saint Mary's College of California
  25. California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo