Best Private Colleges in California 2024

Badge for BEST IN CALIFORNIA PRIVATE COLLEGES

Private colleges, unlike large public institutions, can be a great option for students wanting a more intimate campus experience, more personal attention from excellent professors, and more immediate access to support services. Here is our list of the best private colleges in California.

10 Best Private Colleges in California

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  1. Stanford University
  2. University of Southern California
  3. California Institute of Technology
  4. Santa Clara University
  5. University of San Francisco
  6. Pepperdine University
  7. Pomona College
  8. Chapman University
  9. Harvey Mudd College
  10. Claremont McKenna College
  1. Stanford University
  2. California Institute of Technology
  3. University of Southern California
  4. Pomona College
  5. Santa Clara University
  6. Pepperdine University
  7. University of San Francisco
  8. Chapman University
  9. Occidental College
  10. University of the Pacific
  1. Azusa Pacific University 94%
  2. Dominican University of California 93%
  3. University of Redlands 83%
  4. Whittier College 82%
  5. Mills College at Northeastern University 80%
  6. University of the Pacific 79%
  7. University of La Verne 72%
  8. University of San Francisco 71%
  9. Saint Mary's College of California 70%
  10. Biola University 61%
  1. University of La Verne 15 to 1
  2. Biola University 14 to 1
  3. University of the Pacific 14 to 1
  4. Pepperdine University 13 to 1
  5. University of San Diego 13 to 1
  6. University of Redlands 12 to 1
  7. University of San Francisco 12 to 1
  8. Golden Gate University 12 to 1
  9. Chapman University 12 to 1
  10. Whittier College 11 to 1
  1. University of Southern California $61,503
  2. Harvey Mudd College $60,703
  3. Pepperdine University $59,702
  4. California Institute of Technology $58,680
  5. Chapman University $58,634
  6. Scripps College $58,442
  7. Occidental College $58,426
  8. Claremont McKenna College $58,111
  9. Pitzer College $57,978
  10. Pomona College $56,686
  1. Claremont McKenna College $64,288
  2. University of Southern California $60,446
  3. Occidental College $57,830
  4. California Institute of Technology $56,364
  5. Stanford University $54,315
  6. University of the Pacific $50,128
  7. Scripps College $46,774
  8. Chapman University $37,538
  9. Pepperdine University $37,300
  10. Mills College at Northeastern University $34,833
  1. Dominican University of California
  2. Saint Mary's College of California
  3. University of La Verne
  4. Azusa Pacific University
  5. Whittier College
  6. Scripps College
  7. Pitzer College
  8. Biola University
  9. Mills College at Northeastern University
  10. University of Redlands
  1. Dominican University of California
  2. University of La Verne
  3. Azusa Pacific University
  4. Mills College at Northeastern University
  5. Saint Mary's College of California
  6. Golden Gate University
  7. Whittier College
  8. Scripps College
  9. University of Redlands
  10. Pitzer College
  1. Stanford University 4%
  2. California Institute of Technology 4%
  3. Pomona College 7%
  4. Harvey Mudd College 10%
  5. Claremont McKenna College 11%
  6. University of Southern California 13%
  7. Pitzer College 18%
  8. Scripps College 30%
  9. Occidental College 38%
  10. Loyola Marymount University 46%
  1. California Institute of Technology 3 to 1
  2. Stanford University 4 to 1
  3. Pomona College 6 to 1
  4. Occidental College 8 to 1
  5. Mills College at Northeastern University 8 to 1
  6. Claremont McKenna College 8 to 1
  7. Harvey Mudd College 8 to 1
  8. University of Southern California 9 to 1
  9. Pitzer College 9 to 1
  10. Scripps College 9 to 1
  1. Golden Gate University $11,088
  2. Mills College at Northeastern University $30,950
  3. Azusa Pacific University $41,510
  4. Biola University $44,382
  5. University of La Verne $45,850
  6. Dominican University of California $47,910
  7. Whittier College $49,514
  8. Saint Mary's College of California $51,768
  9. University of the Pacific $52,352
  10. University of San Diego $52,864
  1. Biola University $12,006
  2. University of La Verne $14,340
  3. Whittier College $14,742
  4. Dominican University of California $16,048
  5. Azusa Pacific University $16,571
  6. Golden Gate University $19,620
  7. Loyola Marymount University $19,642
  8. University of Redlands $23,360
  9. Santa Clara University $25,170
  10. University of San Francisco $27,180

Key Takeaways

  • One of the best states to study in is California. Home to so many prestigious colleges and universities, the state always remains one of the top choices of college students for their college degrees.
  • Private colleges are undeniably expensive. However, there are many ways to minimize your cost of attendance—through grants, scholarships, and other forms of financial aid.
  • Despite the hefty price tag of a private college, students can still enjoy numerous advantages to attending a top private college in California.

Exploring California’s Excellent Private Colleges

There are so many great reasons why California is an amazing place to study:

  • World-class colleges and universities
  • A welcoming attitude towards international students
  • An undisputed position as a leader in the technology sector
  • Something for everyone, including beaches, mountains, forests, and deserts
  • An assortment of cultural riches and diversity, to name a few.

Key Point: California is a great place to attend college and pursue a career upon graduation.

California is also known for its numerous prestigious universities, including the world-famous Stanford University, the University of California, Berkeley, the California Institute of Technology or Caltech, and the University of California, Los Angeles.

The Advantages of Enrolling in a Private College

Attending a private university is expensive. But many college students in California still prefer to enroll in a private institution. Despite the cost, there are defintely some advantages to attending these types of schools.

Private Colleges Have Shorter Average Completion Time

On average, undergraduate students attending a private college only take roughly four and a half years to graduate, while those at a public college typically need over six years to earn their degree.

According to the Wisconsin Association of Independent Colleges and Universities, students in private colleges enjoy other advantages like higher graduation rates and smaller class sizes.

Private Colleges Provide Personal Attention

Private colleges are often smaller institutions, which means professors and instructors are able to give more individual focus to their students.

Additionally, many private colleges focus on developing the whole student, which requires faculty to mentor students both professionally and personally, according to the Council of Independent Colleges in Virginia. When faculty members give personal attention to students, this will allow them to personalize their education.

More Extracurricular Opportunities

Those who attend private colleges sometimes have the chance to experience perks like the opportunity to study abroad. They are also more likely to get involved in campus organizations and have better chances of landing leadership positions and service opportunities, primarily because of lower enrollment numbers.

Additionally, students in private colleges are committed to their academic success

Financial Incentives

While the average tuition cost at private colleges is higher than at public colleges and universities, students can still qualify for incentives to help offset their total tuition.

Once you have identified which private college to enroll in, start scouting for merit-based scholarships and grants and other financial aid available at the school. Many private colleges offer generous scholarship packages to help qualified students who cannot afford to pay the full tuition on their own.

Some alum members and supporters of an institution also set up scholarships specifically for students in their school. Check these options to see if you can meet their requirements for any possible scholarships.

Also, when the college is interested in you, the financial and admission counselors can help you look for other ways to pay for school.

Tight-Knit Community

In a smaller and private college, you will experience what true college life is with campus activities and dorm living. If you wish to make the most out of your college life, get involved as much as possible. Join clubs that spark your interest, create study groups with your classmates, or develop relationships with your professors.

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 programs that would allow you to earn a degree from literally anywhere in California, or the world.

The state’s largest university is the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). UCLA 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.

Find college admissions consultants in your state.

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. However, 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. Many of these schools offer online courses and complete online programs in these same disciplines.

Though Hollywood has given us 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, as well as community and junior colleges, to choose from, students have countless opportunities to further their education in California.

Many of these opportunities are also accessible through online courses and online colleges. A growing number of online programs in California have received accreditation from the Western Association of Schools, which means online students have a higher level of quality assurance than ever before. It’s also worth noting that students who live in California can still get an in-state discount on their associate degree or bachelor’s degree even when completing online courses or online programs.

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

What is the difference between public and private colleges?

Public and private colleges and universities operate under different business models. Public colleges and universities are owned by the state and receive both state and federal funding to operate. Private colleges and universities are private companies with private funding. If you’re looking at the pros and cons of private vs. public colleges, consider that many public colleges provide diverse course offerings, influential professors, and an excellent return on your investment.

Public colleges are schools that receive most of their funding from tax revenues. As a result, the cost of a bachelor’s degree at a public university is often lower than the equivalent cost at a private college — especially for students attending a public school in their home state. Attending a college in-state is usually the cheapest option. Private universities and colleges can be very competitive with their funding opportunities, so do not simply believe that private colleges are always going to be more expensive. According to National Center for Educational Statistics, the average annual cost (tuition, fees, room and board for full-time students) at a public university was slightly over $20,000. In contrast, private universities cost, on average, nearly $43,000 annually. But in the end, the cost of college comes down to each student’s academic and financial situation.

California's Best Private Colleges and Universities Badge
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This list is composed entirely of private colleges and universities that offer bachelor’s degrees. We’ve identified 24 private universities in California. To be included in the list below of the best private universities in California, schools must be fully accredited, private, non-profit institution, and must offer a broad range of bachelor’s degrees.

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Best Private Colleges in California

  1. #1

    Stanford University

    Stanford , CA
    Other Rankings

    Tuition + fees

    $56K

    Acceptance

    4%

    Graduation

    96%

    Student body

    13K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1495/33

    Career Outlook for degree at Stanford University

    Cost of Degree: $58,416
    Expenses: $23,746
    Starting Salary: $91,235
    Salary after 4 years: $137,527
    Cost Recoup Time: 12 years
    Paid back at 15% of annual salary
  2. Other Rankings

    Tuition + fees

    $62K

    Acceptance

    13%

    Graduation

    92%

    Student body

    38K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1435/32

    Career Outlook for degree at University of Southern California

    Cost of Degree: $64,726
    Expenses: $20,338
    Starting Salary: $67,824
    Salary after 4 years: $89,250
    Cost Recoup Time: 16 years
    Paid back at 15% of annual salary
  3. Other Rankings

    Tuition + fees

    $59K

    Acceptance

    4%

    Graduation

    93%

    Student body

    2K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1555/35

    Career Outlook for degree at California Institute of Technology

    Cost of Degree: $60,864
    Expenses: $22,734
    Starting Salary: $96,726
    Salary after 4 years: $185,247
    Cost Recoup Time: 10 years
    Paid back at 15% of annual salary
  4. #4

    Santa Clara University

    Santa Clara , CA

    Tuition + fees

    $56K

    Acceptance

    54%

    Graduation

    91%

    Student body

    8K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1360/30

    Career Outlook for degree at Santa Clara University

    Cost of Degree: $57,534
    Expenses: $21,315
    Starting Salary: $75,749
    Salary after 4 years: $96,031
    Cost Recoup Time: 14 years
    Paid back at 15% of annual salary
  5. #5

    University of San Francisco

    San Francisco , CA

    Tuition + fees

    $53K

    Acceptance

    71%

    Graduation

    76%

    Student body

    9K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1235/27

    Career Outlook for degree at University of San Francisco

    Cost of Degree: $55,532
    Expenses: $22,322
    Starting Salary: $66,099
    Salary after 4 years: $82,615
    Cost Recoup Time: 16 years
    Paid back at 15% of annual salary
  6. #7

    Pomona College

    Claremont , CA
    Other Rankings

    Tuition + fees

    $57K

    Acceptance

    7%

    Graduation

    93%

    Student body

    2K

    Career Outlook for degree at Pomona College

    Cost of Degree: $59,238
    Expenses: $21,958
    Starting Salary: $65,706
    Salary after 4 years: $100,669
    Cost Recoup Time: 14 years
    Paid back at 15% of annual salary
  7. #8

    Chapman University

    Orange , CA

    Tuition + fees

    $59K

    Acceptance

    60%

    Graduation

    80%

    Student body

    9K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1260/27

    Career Outlook for degree at Chapman University

    Cost of Degree: $60,672
    Expenses: $21,874
    Starting Salary: $47,338
    Salary after 4 years: $62,690
    Cost Recoup Time: 19 years
    Paid back at 15% of annual salary
  8. #10

    Claremont McKenna College

    Claremont , CA
    Other Rankings

    Tuition + fees

    $58K

    Acceptance

    11%

    Graduation

    93%

    Student body

    1K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1415/32

    Career Outlook for degree at Claremont McKenna College

    Cost of Degree: $60,715
    Expenses: $21,412
    Starting Salary: $67,947
    Salary after 4 years: $115,832
    Cost Recoup Time: 13 years
    Paid back at 15% of annual salary
  9. #11

    University of San Diego

    San Diego , CA

    Tuition + fees

    $53K

    Acceptance

    53%

    Graduation

    80%

    Student body

    8K

    Career Outlook for degree at University of San Diego

    Cost of Degree: $54,554
    Expenses: $21,213
    Starting Salary: $61,688
    Salary after 4 years: $75,143
    Cost Recoup Time: 16 years
    Paid back at 15% of annual salary
  10. Tuition + fees

    $52K

    Acceptance

    79%

    Graduation

    69%

    Student body

    5K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1210/26

    Career Outlook for degree at University of the Pacific

    Cost of Degree: $53,682
    Expenses: $18,623
    Starting Salary: $63,655
    Salary after 4 years: $85,261
    Cost Recoup Time: 15 years
    Paid back at 15% of annual salary
  11. #13

    Loyola Marymount University

    Los Angeles , CA

    Tuition + fees

    $54K

    Acceptance

    46%

    Graduation

    79%

    Student body

    8K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1300/29

    Career Outlook for degree at Loyola Marymount University

    Cost of Degree: $55,441
    Expenses: $20,301
    Starting Salary: $51,082
    Salary after 4 years: $66,329
    Cost Recoup Time: 17 years
    Paid back at 15% of annual salary
  12. #14

    Occidental College

    Los Angeles , CA

    Tuition + fees

    $58K

    Acceptance

    38%

    Graduation

    83%

    Student body

    2K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1365/30

    Career Outlook for degree at Occidental College

    Cost of Degree: $60,566
    Expenses: $20,070
    Starting Salary: $35,172
    Salary after 4 years: $54,939
    Cost Recoup Time: 20 years
    Paid back at 15% of annual salary
  13. #15

    Golden Gate University

    San Francisco , CA
    Other Rankings

    Tuition + fees

    $11K

    Student body

    2K

    Career Outlook for degree at Golden Gate University

    Cost of Degree: $11,343
    Expenses: $15,987
    Starting Salary: $79,119
    Salary after 4 years: $97,396
    Cost Recoup Time: 7 years
    Paid back at 15% of annual salary
    What is Golden Gate University known for?

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

    Most Influential Alumni

    Golden Gate University’s Online Degrees

    BS in Accounting
    • Required Credits: 123
    • Completion Time: None Reported
    • Format: Online
    BS in Business
    • Required Credits: 123
    • Completion Time: None Reported
    • Format: Online
    BS in Data Analytics
    • Required Credits: 123
    • Completion Time: None Reported
    • Format: Online
    BA in Management
    • Required Credits: 123
    • Completion Time: None Reported
    • Format: Online
    BA in Organizational Leadership and Human Skills Development
    • Required Credits: 123
    • Completion Time: None Reported
    • Format: Online
  14. #16

    University of Redlands

    Redlands , CA

    Tuition + fees

    $54K

    Acceptance

    83%

    Graduation

    69%

    Student body

    5K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1140/22

    Career Outlook for degree at University of Redlands

    Cost of Degree: $55,678
    Expenses: $20,178
    Starting Salary: $50,930
    Salary after 4 years: $63,005
    Cost Recoup Time: 18 years
    Paid back at 15% of annual salary
  15. #18

    Biola University

    La Mirada , CA
    Other Rankings

    Tuition + fees

    $44K

    Acceptance

    61%

    Graduation

    70%

    Student body

    5K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1180/25

    Career Outlook for degree at Biola University

    Cost of Degree: $44,382
    Expenses: $15,514
    Starting Salary: $41,932
    Salary after 4 years: $50,791
    Cost Recoup Time: 18 years
    Paid back at 15% of annual salary

    Biola University’s Online Degrees

    BS in Business Management
    • Required Credits: 120
    • Completion Time: None Reported
    • Format: Online
    BS in Public Relations
    • Required Credits: 120
    • Completion Time: None Reported
    • Format: Online
    BS in Biblical Ministries
    • Required Credits: 120
    • Completion Time: None Reported
    • Format: Online
  16. #20

    Scripps College

    Claremont , CA
    Other Rankings

    Tuition + fees

    $58K

    Acceptance

    30%

    Graduation

    82%

    Student body

    <1K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1400/31

    Career Outlook for degree at Scripps College

    Cost of Degree: $60,712
    Expenses: $22,618
    Starting Salary: $61,800
    Cost Recoup Time: 19 years
    Paid back at 15% of annual salary
  17. #21

    Whittier College

    Whittier , CA

    Tuition + fees

    $50K

    Acceptance

    82%

    Graduation

    64%

    Student body

    2K

    Career Outlook for degree at Whittier College

    Cost of Degree: $49,864
    Expenses: $17,623
    Starting Salary: $34,009
    Salary after 4 years: $46,774
    Cost Recoup Time: 20 years
    Paid back at 15% of annual salary
  18. Other Rankings

    Tuition + fees

    $42K

    Acceptance

    94%

    Graduation

    72%

    Student body

    8K

    Career Outlook for degree at Azusa Pacific University

    Cost of Degree: $42,330
    Expenses: $13,490
    Starting Salary: $46,524
    Salary after 4 years: $59,711
    Cost Recoup Time: 15 years
    Paid back at 15% of annual salary

    Azusa Pacific University’s Online Degrees

    BBA in Business Administration
    • Required Credits: 120
    • Completion Time: None Reported
    • Format: Online
    BSN in Bridge to BSN
    • Required Credits: 40
    • Completion Time: None Reported
    • Format: Online
    BSN in RN to BSN
    • Required Credits: 120
    • Completion Time: None Reported
    • Format: Online
  19. #23

    University of La Verne

    La Verne , CA

    Tuition + fees

    $46K

    Acceptance

    72%

    Graduation

    69%

    Student body

    6K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1055/20

    Career Outlook for degree at University of La Verne

    Cost of Degree: $47,000
    Expenses: $19,454
    Starting Salary: $34,308
    Salary after 4 years: $66,558
    Cost Recoup Time: 16 years
    Paid back at 15% of annual salary
    What is University of La Verne known for?

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

    Most Influential Alumni

  20. Tuition + fees

    $52K

    Acceptance

    70%

    Graduation

    73%

    Student body

    3K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1161/24

    Career Outlook for degree at Saint Mary's College of California

    Cost of Degree: $53,572
    Expenses: $20,256
    Starting Salary: $54,860
    Salary after 4 years: $68,694
    Cost Recoup Time: 17 years
    Paid back at 15% of annual salary
  21. Tuition + fees

    $48K

    Acceptance

    93%

    Graduation

    77%

    Student body

    2K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1160/23

    Career Outlook for degree at Dominican University of California

    Cost of Degree: $49,426
    Expenses: $19,763
    Starting Salary: $55,964
    Salary after 4 years: $100,649
    Cost Recoup Time: 13 years
    Paid back at 15% of annual salary
    What is Dominican University of California known for?

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

Are you itching to attend Stanford, the #1 private college in California? Find out how you can get into Stanford.

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California’s Best Private Colleges in Your Area Interest

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 utilized 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. California Institute of Technology
  2. Stanford University
  3. Pomona College
  4. Harvey Mudd College
  5. Claremont McKenna College
  6. University of Southern California
  7. Occidental College
  8. Pitzer College
  9. Pepperdine University
  10. Scripps College
  11. Santa Clara University
  12. Golden Gate University
  13. Mills College at Northeastern University
  14. Loyola Marymount University
  15. Whittier College
  16. University of Redlands
  17. University of San Diego
  18. Dominican University of California
  19. Chapman University
  20. University of San Francisco
  21. Biola University
  22. University of the Pacific
  23. Westmont College
  24. Woodbury University
  25. Pacific Union College

Check out our directory of private colleges throughout the U.S. for a look at the top private schools in every state.

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