California’s Best Research Universities of 2021

Interested in attending a STEM school in California? Our ranking of top research universities for bachelor’s degrees displays schools that will best prepare you for STEM careers.

California’s Best Research 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.

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, 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 “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 Research Universities for Undergraduates

A research university is a great option for students interested in obtaining STEM degrees. Research universities invest heavily in research, which consequently provides meaningful and extensive opportunities for its students and faculty to participate in research. There are 30 research universities in California. The list below of the 25 best research universities in the state satisfies the following three conditions:

  1. It must be a fully accredited university.
  2. It must offer doctoral degrees across the range of STEM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math).
  3. It must report high levels of research activity based upon the number of research and/or practice doctorates awarded each year.

  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

    University of California, Berkeley

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

    Tuition + fees

    $14K

    Acceptance

    17%

    Graduation

    92%

    Student body

    42K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1430/33

    Berkeley, CA

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    What is University of California, Berkeley known for?

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

    • Computer Science
    • Mathematics
    • Biology
    • Engineering
    • Physics
    • Literature
    • Philosophy
    • Economics
    • Chemistry
    • Business

    Most Influential Alumni

  4. #4

    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

  5. #5

    University of California, Los Angeles

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

    Tuition + fees

    $13K

    Acceptance

    14%

    Graduation

    91%

    Student body

    44K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1415/32

    Los Angeles, CA

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    What is University of California, Los Angeles known for?

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

    • Philosophy
    • Mathematics
    • Biology
    • Literature
    • Computer Science
    • Medical
    • Business
    • Engineering
    • Psychology
    • Law

    Most Influential Alumni

  6. #6

    University of California, San Diego

    #51 institution's historical influence
    #71 overall school desirability

    Tuition + fees

    $14K

    Acceptance

    37%

    Graduation

    87%

    Student body

    38K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1370/30

    La Jolla, CA

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    What is University of California, San Diego known for?

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

    • Biology
    • Computer Science
    • Mathematics
    • Physics
    • Engineering
    • Medical
    • Psychology
    • Literature
    • Chemistry
    • Philosophy

    Most Influential Alumni

  7. #7

    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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  8. #8

    University of California, Santa Barbara

    #103 institution's historical influence
    #100 overall school desirability

    Tuition + fees

    $14K

    Acceptance

    37%

    Graduation

    84%

    Student body

    26K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1355/30

    Santa Barbara, CA

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    What is University of California, Santa Barbara known for?

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

    • Physics
    • Psychology
    • Biology
    • Mathematics
    • Engineering
    • Chemistry
    • Computer Science
    • Literature
    • Business
    • Philosophy

    Most Influential Alumni

  9. #9

    University of California, Santa Cruz

    #144 institution's historical influence
    #734 overall school desirability

    Tuition + fees

    $14K

    Acceptance

    65%

    Graduation

    76%

    Student body

    20K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1290/29

    Santa Cruz, CA

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    What is University of California, Santa Cruz known for?

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

    • Biology
    • Literature
    • Philosophy
    • Physics
    • Psychology
    • Computer Science
    • Mathematics
    • Anthropology
    • Communications
    • Sociology

    Most Influential Alumni

  10. #10

    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
  11. #11

    University of California, Davis

    #129 institution's historical influence
    #163 overall school desirability

    Tuition + fees

    $14K

    Acceptance

    46%

    Graduation

    86%

    Student body

    36K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1290/28

    Davis, CA

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    What is University of California, Davis known for?

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

    • Biology
    • Medical
    • Engineering
    • Literature
    • Mathematics
    • Psychology
    • Computer Science
    • Chemistry
    • Law
    • Business

    Most Influential Alumni

  12. #12

    University of California, Irvine

    #114 institution's historical influence
    #87 overall school desirability

    Tuition + fees

    $14K

    Acceptance

    30%

    Graduation

    85%

    Student body

    37K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1295/28

    Irvine, CA

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    What is University of California, Irvine known for?

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

    • Biology
    • Philosophy
    • Computer Science
    • Literature
    • Medical
    • Mathematics
    • Engineering
    • Psychology
    • Business
    • Chemistry

    Most Influential Alumni

  13. #13

    University of California, Riverside

    #301 institution's historical influence
    #919 overall school desirability

    Tuition + fees

    $14K

    Acceptance

    66%

    Graduation

    77%

    Student body

    24K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1230/26

    Riverside, CA

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    What is University of California, Riverside known for?

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

    • Biology
    • Chemistry
    • Business
    • Literature
    • Engineering
    • Psychology
    • Mathematics
    • Economics
    • Physics
    • Computer Science

    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

    University of California, Merced

    #1623 institution's historical influence
    #275 overall school desirability

    Tuition + fees

    $14K

    Acceptance

    85%

    Graduation

    69%

    Student body

    9K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1090/22

    Merced, CA

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    What is University of California, Merced known for?

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

    • Engineering
    • Computer Science
    • Biology
    • Mathematics
    • Medical
    • Business
    • Political Science
    • Psychology
    • Chemistry
    • Physics

    Most Influential Alumni

  16. #16

    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

  17. #17

    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

  18. #18

    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

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    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

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  19. #19

    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
  20. #20

    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
  21. #21

    San Diego State University

    #323 institution's historical influence
    #189 overall school desirability

    Tuition + fees

    $8K

    Acceptance

    37%

    Graduation

    76%

    Student body

    33K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1215/25

    San Diego, CA

    View profile

    What is San Diego State University known for?

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

    • Literature
    • Business
    • Biology
    • Engineering
    • Education
    • History
    • Communications
    • Medical
    • Psychology
    • Philosophy

    Most Influential Alumni

  22. #22

    Azusa Pacific University

    #1362 institution's historical influence
    #733 overall school desirability

    Tuition + fees

    $40K

    Acceptance

    94%

    Graduation

    66%

    Student body

    9K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1145/23

    Azusa, CA

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    What is Azusa Pacific University known for?

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

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

    Most Influential Alumni

    REQUEST INFO
  23. #23

    Brandman University

    #3365 institution's historical influence

    Tuition + fees

    $12K

    Acceptance

    95%

    Graduation

    8%

    Student body

    7K

    Irvine, CA

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    What is Brandman University known for?

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

    • Education
    • Business
    • Computer Science
    • Political Science
    • Nursing
    • Social Work
    • Law
    • Psychology
    • Medical
    • Criminal Justice
  24. #24

    California State University, Fresno

    #600 institution's historical influence
    #1148 overall school desirability

    Tuition + fees

    $7K

    Acceptance

    90%

    Graduation

    58%

    Student body

    22K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1035/19

    Fresno, CA

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    What is California State University, Fresno known for?

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

    • Literature
    • History
    • Psychology
    • Education
    • Communications
    • Engineering
    • Mathematics
    • Economics
    • Computer Science
    • Biology

    Most Influential Alumni

  25. #25

    University of La Verne

    #2049 institution's historical influence
    #942 overall school desirability

    Tuition + fees

    $45K

    Acceptance

    76%

    Graduation

    66%

    Student body

    6K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1115/21

    La Verne, CA

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    What is University of La Verne known for?

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

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

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