Best Public Colleges California 2024

Badge for BEST IN CALIFORNIA PUBLIC COLLEGES

Public colleges and universities account for almost 75 percent of all undergraduate students in the U.S. The best public colleges in California provide broad access to reputable degree programs, affordable tuition, and sprawling educational communities.

10 Best Public Colleges in California

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  1. University of California, Berkeley
  2. University of California, Los Angeles
  3. University of California, San Diego
  4. University of California, Santa Barbara
  5. University of California, Irvine
  6. University of California, Davis
  7. University of California, Santa Cruz
  8. University of California, Riverside
  9. San Diego State University
  10. San Francisco State University
  1. University of California, Berkeley
  2. University of California, Los Angeles
  3. University of California, San Diego
  4. University of California, Santa Barbara
  5. University of California, Irvine
  6. University of California, Santa Cruz
  7. University of California, Davis
  8. University of California, Riverside
  9. San Francisco State University
  10. San Diego State University
  1. California State University, Fresno 97%
  2. Sonoma State University 94%
  3. California State University, Sacramento 94%
  4. San Francisco State University 93%
  5. California State University, Los Angeles 91%
  6. California State University, Dominguez Hills 90%
  7. California State University, Northridge 88%
  8. University of California, Merced 87%
  9. California State University, Chico 85%
  10. San Jose State University 84%
  1. Santa Monica College 30 to 1
  2. California State Polytechnic University, Pomona 29 to 1
  3. California State University, Northridge 28 to 1
  4. San Diego State University 27 to 1
  5. California State University, Fullerton 27 to 1
  6. California State University, Dominguez Hills 27 to 1
  7. California State University, Sacramento 26 to 1
  8. California State University, East Bay 26 to 1
  9. University of California, Santa Cruz 25 to 1
  10. California State University, Los Angeles 25 to 1
  1. University of California, Riverside $11,442
  2. University of California, Los Angeles $11,442
  3. University of California, Santa Cruz $11,442
  4. University of California, Berkeley $11,442
  5. University of California, Irvine $11,442
  6. University of California, Santa Barbara $11,442
  7. University of California, Davis $11,442
  8. University of California, Merced $11,442
  9. University of California, San Diego $11,442
  10. California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo $5,742
  1. University of California, Riverside $11,442
  2. University of California, Los Angeles $11,442
  3. University of California, Santa Cruz $11,442
  4. University of California, Berkeley $11,442
  5. University of California, Irvine $11,442
  6. University of California, Santa Barbara $11,442
  7. University of California, Davis $11,442
  8. University of California, Merced $11,442
  9. University of California, San Diego $11,442
  10. California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo $7,176
  1. California State University, Dominguez Hills
  2. Santa Monica College
  3. University of California, Merced
  4. Sonoma State University
  5. California State University, East Bay
  6. California State Polytechnic University, Pomona
  7. California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo
  8. California State University, Sacramento
  9. California State University, Chico
  10. California State University, Fresno
  1. California State University, Dominguez Hills
  2. California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo
  3. Santa Monica College
  4. California State University, East Bay
  5. Sonoma State University
  6. California State University, Chico
  7. University of California, Merced
  8. California State Polytechnic University, Pomona
  9. California State University, Sacramento
  10. California State University, Fresno
  1. University of California, Los Angeles 11%
  2. University of California, Berkeley 14%
  3. University of California, Santa Barbara 29%
  4. University of California, Irvine 29%
  5. California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo 33%
  6. University of California, San Diego 34%
  7. San Diego State University 38%
  8. California State University, Long Beach 47%
  9. University of California, Davis 49%
  10. California State University, Fullerton 59%
  1. University of California, Los Angeles 18 to 1
  2. University of California, Irvine 18 to 1
  3. University of California, Santa Barbara 18 to 1
  4. University of California, Berkeley 19 to 1
  5. University of California, Merced 19 to 1
  6. University of California, San Diego 19 to 1
  7. University of California, Davis 20 to 1
  8. California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo 21 to 1
  9. Sonoma State University 21 to 1
  10. University of California, Riverside 22 to 1
  1. Santa Monica College $1,104
  2. California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo $5,742
  3. California State Polytechnic University, Pomona $5,742
  4. California State University, Fresno $5,742
  5. San Diego State University $5,742
  6. California State University, Sacramento $5,742
  7. California State University, Fullerton $5,742
  8. California State University, Dominguez Hills $5,742
  9. California State University, East Bay $5,742
  10. California State University, Long Beach $5,742
  1. California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo $7,176
  2. California State Polytechnic University, Pomona $7,176
  3. California State University, Fresno $7,176
  4. San Diego State University $7,176
  5. California State University, Sacramento $7,176
  6. California State University, Fullerton $7,176
  7. California State University, Dominguez Hills $7,176
  8. California State University, East Bay $7,176
  9. California State University, Long Beach $7,176
  10. San Francisco State University $7,176

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 Public Colleges Badge
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This list is composed entirely of public colleges and universities that offer bachelor’s degrees. We’ve identified 47 public universities in California. To be included in our list of the best public colleges in California, shcools must receive direct funding from the state, be fully accredited, and offer a broad range of bachelor’s degress.

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Best Public Colleges in California 2023

  1. Other Rankings

    Tuition + fees

    $14K

    Acceptance

    14%

    Graduation

    93%

    Student body

    43K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1420/32

    Career Outlook for degree at University of California, Berkeley

    Cost of Degree: $14,395
    Expenses: $28,648
    Starting Salary: $65,865
    Salary after 4 years: $87,670
    Cost Recoup Time: 10 years
    Paid back at 15% of annual salary
  2. Other Rankings

    Tuition + fees

    $13K

    Acceptance

    11%

    Graduation

    92%

    Student body

    46K

    Career Outlook for degree at University of California, Los Angeles

    Cost of Degree: $13,401
    Expenses: $23,579
    Starting Salary: $56,056
    Salary after 4 years: $83,321
    Cost Recoup Time: 9 years
    Paid back at 15% of annual salary
  3. Other Rankings

    Tuition + fees

    $14K

    Acceptance

    29%

    Graduation

    85%

    Student body

    27K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1345/31

    Career Outlook for degree at University of California, Santa Barbara

    Cost of Degree: $14,617
    Expenses: $23,285
    Starting Salary: $42,446
    Salary after 4 years: $64,826
    Cost Recoup Time: 11 years
    Paid back at 15% of annual salary
  4. Other Rankings

    Tuition + fees

    $14K

    Acceptance

    29%

    Graduation

    84%

    Student body

    37K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1330/29

    Career Outlook for degree at University of California, Irvine

    Cost of Degree: $13,939
    Expenses: $23,350
    Starting Salary: $48,940
    Salary after 4 years: $73,247
    Cost Recoup Time: 10 years
    Paid back at 15% of annual salary
  5. Other Rankings

    Tuition + fees

    $15K

    Acceptance

    49%

    Graduation

    87%

    Student body

    38K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1280/29

    Career Outlook for degree at University of California, Davis

    Cost of Degree: $14,858
    Expenses: $23,698
    Starting Salary: $49,772
    Salary after 4 years: $69,801
    Cost Recoup Time: 11 years
    Paid back at 15% of annual salary
  6. Other Rankings

    Tuition + fees

    $14K

    Acceptance

    59%

    Graduation

    78%

    Student body

    20K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1260/29

    Career Outlook for degree at University of California, Santa Cruz

    Cost of Degree: $14,240
    Expenses: $24,472
    Starting Salary: $38,630
    Salary after 4 years: $58,395
    Cost Recoup Time: 12 years
    Paid back at 15% of annual salary
  7. Tuition + fees

    $14K

    Acceptance

    65%

    Graduation

    76%

    Student body

    26K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1180/26

    Career Outlook for degree at University of California, Riverside

    Cost of Degree: $13,874
    Expenses: $23,352
    Starting Salary: $35,207
    Salary after 4 years: $56,747
    Cost Recoup Time: 12 years
    Paid back at 15% of annual salary
  8. Other Rankings

    Tuition + fees

    $8K

    Acceptance

    38%

    Graduation

    76%

    Student body

    34K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1195/25

    Career Outlook for degree at San Diego State University

    Cost of Degree: $8,174
    Expenses: $23,936
    Starting Salary: $48,151
    Salary after 4 years: $60,577
    Cost Recoup Time: 11 years
    Paid back at 15% of annual salary

    San Diego State University’s Online Degrees

    BS in Business Administration
    • Required Credits: 49-55
    • Completion Time: None Reported
    • Format: Online
    BS in Criminal Justice
    • Required Credits: 51-60
    • Completion Time: None Reported
    • Format: Online
  9. #10

    San Francisco State University

    San Francisco , CA
    Other Rankings

    Tuition + fees

    $7K

    Acceptance

    93%

    Graduation

    54%

    Student body

    24K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1030/19

    Career Outlook for degree at San Francisco State University

    Cost of Degree: $7,524
    Expenses: $21,601
    Starting Salary: $47,786
    Salary after 4 years: $65,615
    Cost Recoup Time: 9 years
    Paid back at 15% of annual salary
  10. Other Rankings

    Tuition + fees

    $8K

    Acceptance

    84%

    Graduation

    69%

    Student body

    31K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1125/22

    Career Outlook for degree at San Jose State University

    Cost of Degree: $7,899
    Expenses: $22,951
    Starting Salary: $63,800
    Salary after 4 years: $75,860
    Cost Recoup Time: 9 years
    Paid back at 15% of annual salary
  11. Other Rankings

    Tuition + fees

    $7K

    Acceptance

    88%

    Graduation

    54%

    Student body

    34K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1005/19

    Career Outlook for degree at California State University, Northridge

    Cost of Degree: $7,069
    Expenses: $16,638
    Starting Salary: $46,762
    Salary after 4 years: $61,404
    Cost Recoup Time: 9 years
    Paid back at 15% of annual salary

    California State University, Northridge’s Online Degrees

    BA in Liberal Studies
    • Required Credits: 60
    • Completion Time: None Reported
    • Format: Online
    BA in Public Sector Management
    • Required Credits: 60
    • Completion Time: None Reported
    • Format: Online
  12. Other Rankings

    Tuition + fees

    $7K

    Acceptance

    59%

    Graduation

    71%

    Student body

    36K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1090/20

    Career Outlook for degree at California State University, Fullerton

    Cost of Degree: $7,007
    Expenses: $20,824
    Starting Salary: $50,401
    Salary after 4 years: $67,128
    Cost Recoup Time: 9 years
    Paid back at 15% of annual salary

    California State University, Fullerton’s Online Degrees

    BA in Business Administration
    • Required Credits: 54
    • Completion Time: None Reported
    • Format: Online
    BA in Humanities and Social Sciences
    • Required Credits: 51
    • Completion Time: None Reported
    • Format: Online
    BA in Sociology
    • Required Credits: 51
    • Completion Time: None Reported
    • Format: Online
  13. Tuition + fees

    $7K

    Acceptance

    91%

    Graduation

    52%

    Student body

    23K

    Median SAT/ACT

    965/17

    Career Outlook for degree at California State University, Los Angeles

    Cost of Degree: $6,805
    Expenses: $23,884
    Starting Salary: $46,940
    Salary after 4 years: $63,269
    Cost Recoup Time: 10 years
    Paid back at 15% of annual salary
  14. Other Rankings

    Tuition + fees

    $7K

    Acceptance

    47%

    Graduation

    75%

    Student body

    34K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1130/23

    Career Outlook for degree at California State University, Long Beach

    Cost of Degree: $6,884
    Expenses: $19,298
    Starting Salary: $48,603
    Salary after 4 years: $63,826
    Cost Recoup Time: 9 years
    Paid back at 15% of annual salary
  15. Tuition + fees

    $7K

    Acceptance

    97%

    Graduation

    57%

    Student body

    22K

    Median SAT/ACT

    995/18

    Career Outlook for degree at California State University, Fresno

    Cost of Degree: $6,663
    Expenses: $16,226
    Starting Salary: $46,708
    Salary after 4 years: $62,481
    Cost Recoup Time: 8 years
    Paid back at 15% of annual salary

    California State University, Fresno’s Online Degrees

    BBA in Accelerated Business Administration
    • Required Credits: 61
    • Completion Time: None Reported
    • Format: Online
    BS in Criminology
    Degree Concentrations
    • Law Enforcement
    • Required Credits: 120
    • Completion Time: None Reported
    • Format: Online
    BA in Liberal Arts
    • Required Credits: 120
    • Completion Time: None Reported
    • Format: Online
  16. Other Rankings

    Tuition + fees

    $8K

    Acceptance

    85%

    Graduation

    65%

    Student body

    15K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1070/21

    Career Outlook for degree at California State University, Chico

    Cost of Degree: $7,972
    Expenses: $18,756
    Starting Salary: $42,228
    Salary after 4 years: $58,317
    Cost Recoup Time: 10 years
    Paid back at 15% of annual salary

    California State University, Chico’s Online Degrees

    BA in Liberal Studies
    • Required Credits: 17 courses
    • Completion Time: None Reported
    • Format: Online
    BA in Religious Studies
    • Required Credits: 34
    • Completion Time: None Reported
    • Format: Online
    BA in Social Science
    Degree Concentrations
    • Multidisciplinary Studies Option
    • Specialization Studies Option
    • Required Credits: 36-42
    • Completion Time: None Reported
    • Format: Online
    BA in Social Work
    • Required Credits: 70
    • Completion Time: None Reported
    • Format: None Reported
  17. Tuition + fees

    $7K

    Acceptance

    94%

    Graduation

    57%

    Student body

    28K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1030/20

    Career Outlook for degree at California State University, Sacramento

    Cost of Degree: $7,484
    Expenses: $21,242
    Starting Salary: $47,748
    Salary after 4 years: $61,805
    Cost Recoup Time: 10 years
    Paid back at 15% of annual salary

    California State University, Sacramento’s Online Degrees

    BS in Criminal Justice
    • Required Credits: 48
    • Completion Time: None Reported
    • Format: Online
    BA in Child Development
    • Required Credits: 50
    • Completion Time: None Reported
    • Format: None Reported
    BA in Arts & Letters
    • Required Credits: 36
    • Completion Time: None Reported
    • Format: None Reported
    BS in Career and Technical Studies
    • Required Credits: 48
    • Completion Time: None Reported
    • Format: Online
    AD to BNS in AD to BNS
    • Required Credits: 33
    • Completion Time: None Reported
    • Format: Online
  18. Tuition + fees

    $7K

    Acceptance

    61%

    Graduation

    70%

    Student body

    26K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1130/23

    Career Outlook for degree at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona

    Cost of Degree: $7,439
    Expenses: $20,670
    Starting Salary: $48,212
    Salary after 4 years: $63,549
    Cost Recoup Time: 9 years
    Paid back at 15% of annual salary
    What is California State Polytechnic University, Pomona known for?

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

    Most Influential Alumni

  19. Other Rankings

    Tuition + fees

    $7K

    Acceptance

    82%

    Graduation

    48%

    Student body

    15K

    Career Outlook for degree at California State University, East Bay

    Cost of Degree: $6,995
    Expenses: $20,964
    Starting Salary: $54,129
    Salary after 4 years: $69,568
    Cost Recoup Time: 9 years
    Paid back at 15% of annual salary

    California State University, East Bay’s Online Degrees

    BS in Business Administration
    Degree Concentrations
    • Accounting
    • Finance
    • General Management
    • Human Resources Management and Organizational Behavior
    • Information Technology Management
    • Operations and Supply Chain Management
    • Required Credits: 75
    • Completion Time: None Reported
    • Format: Online
    BS in Hospitality and Tourism
    • Required Credits: 60
    • Completion Time: None Reported
    • Format: Online
    BA in Ethnic Studies
    Degree Concentrations
    • Comparative Ethnic Studies Concentration
    • Genders and Sexualities in Communities of Color Concentration
    • Required Credits: 120
    • Completion Time: None Reported
    • Format: Online
    BA in Human Development
    Degree Concentrations
    • Adult Development and Gerontology Concentration
    • Early Childhood Development Concentration
    • Women’s Development Concentration
    • Required Credits: 120
    • Completion Time: None Reported
    • Format: Online
  20. #22

    Sonoma State University

    Rohnert Park , CA

    Tuition + fees

    $8K

    Acceptance

    94%

    Graduation

    60%

    Student body

    8K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1050/20

    Career Outlook for degree at Sonoma State University

    Cost of Degree: $8,060
    Expenses: $19,292
    Starting Salary: $49,094
    Salary after 4 years: $62,014
    Cost Recoup Time: 9 years
    Paid back at 15% of annual salary
  21. Tuition + fees

    $14K

    Acceptance

    87%

    Graduation

    72%

    Student body

    9K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1050/21

    Career Outlook for degree at University of California, Merced

    Cost of Degree: $13,791
    Expenses: $25,116
    Starting Salary: $37,587
    Salary after 4 years: $59,690
    Cost Recoup Time: 12 years
    Paid back at 15% of annual salary
    What is University of California, Merced known for?

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

  22. #24

    Santa Monica College

    Santa Monica , CA

    Tuition + fees

    $1K

    Graduation

    32%

    Student body

    18K

    Career Outlook for degree at Santa Monica College

    Cost of Degree: $1,150
    Expenses: $15,411
    Starting Salary: $40,200
    Cost Recoup Time: 9 years
    Paid back at 15% of annual salary
  23. Tuition + fees

    $7K

    Acceptance

    90%

    Graduation

    53%

    Student body

    15K

    Career Outlook for degree at California State University, Dominguez Hills

    Cost of Degree: $7,060
    Expenses: $20,531
    Starting Salary: $46,055
    Salary after 4 years: $61,500
    Cost Recoup Time: 9 years
    Paid back at 15% of annual salary

    California State University, Dominguez Hills’s Online Degrees

    BS in Applied Studies
    Degree Concentrations
    • Public Sector Management
    • Strategic Communications
    • Required Credits: 120
    • Completion Time: None Reported
    • Format: Online
    RN to BSN in RN to BSN
    • Required Credits: 50-53
    • Completion Time: None Reported
    • Format: Online
    BS in Quality Assurance
    Degree Concentrations
    • Measurement Science
    • Required Credits: 120
    • Completion Time: None Reported
    • Format: Online
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California’s Best Public College in Your Area of 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. University of California, Berkeley
  2. University of California, Los Angeles
  3. University of California, San Diego
  4. University of California, Santa Barbara
  5. University of California, Santa Cruz
  6. University of California, Davis
  7. University of California, Irvine
  8. University of California, Riverside
  9. University of California, Merced
  10. San Francisco State University
  11. San Diego State University
  12. San Jose State University
  13. California State University, Los Angeles
  14. California State University, Northridge
  15. California State University, Long Beach
  16. California State University, Monterey Bay
  17. California State University, Fullerton
  18. California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo
  19. California State Polytechnic University, Humboldt
  20. Sonoma State University
  21. California State University Maritime Academy
  22. California State University, East Bay
  23. California State University, Sacramento
  24. California State University, Fresno
  25. California State University, Chico
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