California’s Best Private Colleges & Universities of 2021

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.

California’s Best Private 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

What is a public college? And what is the difference between a private and public college?

Public and private colleges and universities operate under different business models — one is a private company with private funding; the other is owned by the state and receives both state and federal funding to operate. If you’re weighing the pros and cons of private vs. public college, 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 four-year 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. According to the National Center for Educational Statistics, the average annual cost (tuition, fees, room and board for full-time students) at a four-year public university was slightly over $20,000. In contrast, private universities cost, on average, nearly $43,000 annually.

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This list is composed entirely of private colleges and universities that offer four-year undergraduate degrees. We’ve identified 67 private universities in California. The list below of the 25 best private universities in the state satisfies the following three conditions:

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

How do we determine California's best private 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 “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 Private Colleges & Universities

  1. #1

    California Institute of Technology

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

    Tuition + fees

    $55K

    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

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

    Tuition + fees

    $54K

    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
    • Literature
    • Medical

    Most Influential Alumni

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  3. #3

    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

  4. #4

    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
  5. #5

    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

  6. #6

    University of Southern California

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

    Tuition + fees

    $58K

    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

  7. #7

    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

  8. #8

    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

  9. #9

    Pepperdine University

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

    Tuition + fees

    $56K

    Acceptance

    42%

    Graduation

    89%

    Student body

    8K

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

    Most Influential Alumni

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  10. #10

    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

  11. #11

    Santa Clara University

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

    Tuition + fees

    $54K

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

    Most Influential Alumni

    REQUEST INFO
  12. #12

    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

  13. #13

    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

    REQUEST INFO
  14. #14

    Loyola Marymount University

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

    Tuition + fees

    $50K

    Acceptance

    50%

    Graduation

    83%

    Student body

    8K

    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:

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

    Most Influential Alumni

  15. #15

    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

  16. #16

    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
  17. #17

    University of San Diego

    #975 institution's historical influence
    #104 overall school desirability

    Tuition + fees

    $51K

    Acceptance

    59%

    Graduation

    80%

    Student body

    8K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1280/28

    San Diego, CA

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    What is University of San Diego known for?

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

    • Business
    • Law
    • Education
    • History
    • Political Science
    • Medical
    • Philosophy
    • Biology
    • Engineering
    • Computer Science

    Most Influential Alumni

  18. #18

    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
  19. #19

    Chapman University

    #687 institution's historical influence
    #1410 overall school desirability

    Tuition + fees

    $55K

    Acceptance

    58%

    Graduation

    80%

    Student body

    9K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1285/28

    Orange, CA

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    What is Chapman University known for?

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

    • Business
    • Law
    • Economics
    • Literature
    • Education
    • Philosophy
    • Computer Science
    • Political Science
    • History
    • Engineering

    Most Influential Alumni

  20. #20

    University of San Francisco

    #397 institution's historical influence
    #339 overall school desirability

    Tuition + fees

    $50K

    Acceptance

    70%

    Graduation

    71%

    Student body

    10K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1230/26

    San Francisco, CA

    View profile

    What is University of San Francisco known for?

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

    • Business
    • Law
    • Political Science
    • Psychology
    • Education
    • Literature
    • Mathematics
    • History
    • Communications
    • Computer Science

    Most Influential Alumni

    REQUEST INFO
  21. #21

    Biola University

    #799 institution's historical influence
    #1377 overall school desirability

    Tuition + fees

    $42K

    Acceptance

    64%

    Graduation

    71%

    Student body

    5K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1195/24

    La Mirada, CA

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    What is Biola University known for?

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

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

    Most Influential Alumni

    REQUEST INFO
  22. #22

    University of the Pacific

    #788 institution's historical influence

    Tuition + fees

    $50K

    Acceptance

    71%

    Graduation

    70%

    Student body

    5K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1240/27

    Stockton, CA

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    What is University of the Pacific known for?

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

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

    Most Influential Alumni

    REQUEST INFO
  23. #23

    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

    View profile

    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
  24. #24

    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

  25. #25

    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

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