California’s Best Liberal Arts Colleges & Universities of 2021

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.

California’s Best Liberal Arts 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.

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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.

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California’s Best Liberal Arts Colleges & Universities

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 a total of 65 liberal arts colleges and universities in California. The list below of the 25 best liberal arts schools in the state satisfies the following three conditions:

  1. It must be a non-profit institution.
  2. It must be fully accredited.
  3. It must offer a broad range of bachelor’s degrees.

  1. #1

    Pomona College

    #319 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:

    • Literature
    • Biology
    • Chemistry
    • Philosophy
    • Mathematics
    • Political Science
    • Computer Science
    • History
    • Communications
    • Psychology

    Most Influential Alumni

  2. #2

    Harvey Mudd College

    #689 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
    • Economics
    • Chemistry
    • Sociology
    • Religious Studies
  3. #3

    Claremont McKenna College

    #612 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
    • Psychology
    • Religious Studies
    • Engineering

    Most Influential Alumni

  4. #4

    Occidental College

    #560 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
    • Physics
    • Economics

    Most Influential Alumni

  5. #5

    Pitzer College

    #998 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
    • Medical
    • Mathematics
    • Anthropology
    • Biology

    Most Influential Alumni

  6. #6

    Scripps College

    #1078 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
    • Political Science
    • Biology
    • Engineering
    • History
    • Religious Studies
    • Law
    • Sociology
    • Philosophy

    Most Influential Alumni

  7. #7

    Golden Gate University

    #1176 institution's historical influence

    Tuition + fees

    $16K

    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

  8. #8

    Mills College

    #909 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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  9. #9

    Whittier College

    #1200 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
    • History
    • Law
    • Political Science
    • Religious Studies
    • Biology
    • Philosophy
    • Psychology

    Most Influential Alumni

  10. #10

    University of Redlands

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

    Tuition + fees

    $51K

    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

    REQUEST INFO
  11. #11

    San Francisco State University

    #252 institution's historical influence
    #255 overall school desirability

    Tuition + fees

    $7K

    Acceptance

    84%

    Graduation

    55%

    Student body

    26K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1045/20

    San Francisco, CA

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    What is San Francisco State University known for?

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

    • Literature
    • Business
    • Philosophy
    • Computer Science
    • Education
    • Engineering
    • Communications
    • Political Science
    • History
    • Sociology

    Most Influential Alumni

  12. #12

    Dominican University of California

    #2092 institution's historical influence
    #502 overall school desirability

    Tuition + fees

    $47K

    Acceptance

    86%

    Graduation

    74%

    Student body

    2K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1125/22

    San Rafael, CA

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    What is Dominican University of California known for?

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

    • Literature
    • Education
    • History
    • Medical
    • Communications
    • Political Science
    • Nursing
    • Psychology
    • Biology
    • Sociology
    REQUEST INFO
  13. #13

    Westmont College

    #1395 institution's historical influence
    #565 overall school desirability

    Tuition + fees

    $47K

    Acceptance

    70%

    Graduation

    72%

    Student body

    1K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1215/25

    Santa Barbara, CA

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    What is Westmont College known for?

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

    • Religious Studies
    • Philosophy
    • Psychology
    • Education
    • Literature
    • History
    • Sociology
    • Physics
    • Mathematics
    • Communications

    Most Influential Alumni

    REQUEST INFO
  14. #14

    Woodbury University

    #2292 institution's historical influence
    #306 overall school desirability

    Tuition + fees

    $41K

    Acceptance

    70%

    Graduation

    60%

    Student body

    1K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1080/22

    Burbank, CA

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    What is Woodbury University known for?

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

    • Engineering
    • Communications
    • Computer Science
    • History
    • Political Science
    • Psychology
    • Sociology
    • Criminal Justice

    Most Influential Alumni

  15. #15

    Pacific Union College

    #2014 institution's historical influence
    #1437 overall school desirability

    Tuition + fees

    $31K

    Acceptance

    59%

    Graduation

    51%

    Student body

    <1K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1060/21

    Angwin, CA

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    What is Pacific Union College known for?

    Pacific Union College’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Religious Studies
    • Education
    • Literature
    • Medical
    • Biology
    • History
    • Business
    • Political Science
    • Communications
    • Computer Science

    Most Influential Alumni

  16. #16

    San Jose State University

    #313 institution's historical influence
    #871 overall school desirability

    Tuition + fees

    $8K

    Acceptance

    67%

    Graduation

    66%

    Student body

    29K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1140/22

    San Jose, CA

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    What is San Jose State University known for?

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

    • Literature
    • Computer Science
    • Business
    • Engineering
    • Communications
    • Education
    • Philosophy
    • Biology
    • Political Science
    • Psychology

    Most Influential Alumni

  17. #17

    La Sierra University

    #1924 institution's historical influence
    #1278 overall school desirability

    Tuition + fees

    $34K

    Acceptance

    57%

    Graduation

    52%

    Student body

    2K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1030/20

    Riverside, CA

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    What is La Sierra University known for?

    La Sierra University’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Medical
    • Education
    • Religious Studies
    • Business
    • Biology
    • Psychology
    • Political Science
    • History
    • Nursing
    • Computer Science

    Most Influential Alumni

  18. #18

    Notre Dame de Namur University

    #1986 institution's historical influence
    #1014 overall school desirability

    Tuition + fees

    $37K

    Acceptance

    100%

    Graduation

    49%

    Student body

    1K

    Median SAT/ACT

    985/18

    Belmont, CA

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    What is Notre Dame de Namur University known for?

    Notre Dame de Namur University’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Business
    • Education
    • Psychology
    • Political Science
    • Communications
    • History
    • Philosophy
    • Medical
    • Literature
    • Criminal Justice

    Most Influential Alumni

  19. #19

    California State University, Los Angeles

    #561 institution's historical influence
    #865 overall school desirability

    Tuition + fees

    $7K

    Acceptance

    76%

    Graduation

    52%

    Student body

    24K

    Median SAT/ACT

    985/17

    Los Angeles, CA

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    What is California State University, Los Angeles known for?

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

    • Literature
    • Education
    • Political Science
    • Mathematics
    • Philosophy
    • Psychology
    • History
    • Medical
    • Engineering
    • Communications

    Most Influential Alumni

  20. #20

    California State University, Northridge

    #467 institution's historical influence
    #1253 overall school desirability

    Tuition + fees

    $7K

    Acceptance

    66%

    Graduation

    55%

    Student body

    33K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1020/19

    Northridge, CA

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    What is California State University, Northridge known for?

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

    • Business
    • Literature
    • Communications
    • Engineering
    • Education
    • Political Science
    • History
    • Mathematics
    • Medical
    • Psychology

    Most Influential Alumni

  21. #21

    California State University, Long Beach

    #599 institution's historical influence
    #183 overall school desirability

    Tuition + fees

    $7K

    Acceptance

    42%

    Graduation

    73%

    Student body

    32K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1145/23

    Long Beach, CA

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    What is California State University, Long Beach known for?

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

    • Literature
    • Business
    • Education
    • History
    • Engineering
    • Political Science
    • Biology
    • Communications
    • Psychology
    • Medical

    Most Influential Alumni

  22. #22

    California State University, Monterey Bay

    #3541 institution's historical influence
    #578 overall school desirability

    Tuition + fees

    $7K

    Acceptance

    86%

    Graduation

    60%

    Student body

    7K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1062/20

    Seaside, CA

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    What is California State University, Monterey Bay known for?

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

    • Education
    • Political Science
    • Biology
    • Computer Science
    • Medical
    • Communications
    • Mathematics
    • Psychology
    • Sociology
    • Social Work
  23. #23

    California State University, Fullerton

    #776 institution's historical influence
    #1441 overall school desirability

    Tuition + fees

    $7K

    Acceptance

    68%

    Graduation

    69%

    Student body

    34K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1115/21

    Fullerton, CA

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    What is California State University, Fullerton known for?

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

    • Psychology
    • Literature
    • Education
    • Medical
    • History
    • Engineering
    • Political Science
    • Computer Science
    • Communications
    • Biology

    Most Influential Alumni

  24. #24

    Saint Mary's College of California

    #1442 institution's historical influence
    #500 overall school desirability

    Tuition + fees

    $49K

    Acceptance

    77%

    Graduation

    73%

    Student body

    4K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1150/25

    Moraga, CA

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

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

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

    Most Influential Alumni

  25. #25

    California Polytechnic State University

    #731 institution's historical influence
    #47 overall school desirability

    Tuition + fees

    $10K

    Acceptance

    38%

    Graduation

    83%

    Student body

    21K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1340/29

    San Luis Obispo, CA

    View profile

    What is California Polytechnic State University known for?

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

    • Engineering
    • Business
    • Computer Science
    • Education
    • Biology
    • Literature
    • History
    • Medical
    • Communications
    • Mathematics

    Most Influential Alumni

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