California’s Best Small Colleges & Universities of 2021

Small colleges in California are a great option for students interested in a more intimate campus experience, more personal attention from excellent professors, and more immediate access to support services. Whether the focus is on the technical or on the liberal arts, small colleges give you the chance to pursue a well-rounded education while working closely with classmates and professors in a dynamic community atmosphere.

California’s Best Small 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.


What are California’s Colleges & Universities?

California’s Best Overall


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The following list of the best small colleges and universities in California is composed mainly of four-year undergraduate schools (though a handful also offer graduate programs). There are 51 small colleges in California. The list below of the 25 best small colleges in the state satisfies the following three conditions:

  1. It must be a non-profit institution.
  2. It must be fully accredited.
  3. Its student body must consist of 5,000 or fewer students.

How do we determine California's best small colleges and universities?

Methodology

The people affiliated with a school are ultimately what make it great. This is why, at the undergraduate level, we rank the best colleges and universities based on what we call “Concentrated Influence”. Concentrated Influence takes the combined influence score of a college or university’s top academic influencers (including faculty and alums) and divides it by the school’s total number of undergraduates.

Using concentrated influence gives small and mid-sized schools an opportunity to shine by taking away the size advantage of larger universities. A small school with proportionately more influential faculty than a large school, whose influence in absolute terms may be bigger, will nonetheless score higher in a concentrated influence ranking. Our approach highlights undergraduate schools that truly rank for excellence, regardless of size.

If you are serious about finding the best colleges and universities for a bachelor’s degree, you should be asking where the most influential professors are teaching and whether their graduates are themselves advancing the school’s reputation for academic excellence.

Most ranking sites rely on an opaque combination of reputation surveys and arbitrary performance metrics. Concentrated Influence provides a ranking that is free from bias, insulated from manipulation, and reflective of real-world educational outcomes.


California’s Best Small Colleges & Universities

  1. Other Rankings

    Tuition + fees

    $57K

    Acceptance

    7%

    Graduation

    92%

    Student body

    2K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1545/35

    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

    REQUEST INFO
  2. #2

    Antioch University

    Culver City , CA

    Tuition + fees

    $21K

    Student body

    <1K

    What is Antioch University known for?

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

    • Psychology
    • Education
    • Business
    • Sociology
    REQUEST INFO
  3. #3

    Pomona College

    Claremont , CA
    Other Rankings

    Tuition + fees

    $55K

    Acceptance

    9%

    Graduation

    94%

    Student body

    2K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1465/33

    What is Pomona College known for?

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

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

    Most Influential Alumni

    REQUEST INFO
  4. #6

    Occidental College

    Los Angeles , CA

    Tuition + fees

    $57K

    Acceptance

    41%

    Graduation

    84%

    Student body

    2K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1390/30

    What is Occidental College known for?

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

    • Literature
    • History
    • Biology
    • Political Science
    • Mathematics
    • Economics
    • Philosophy
    • Chemistry
    • Religious Studies
    • Psychology
    REQUEST INFO
  5. #8

    Scripps College

    Claremont , CA
    Other Rankings

    Tuition + fees

    $57K

    Acceptance

    35%

    Graduation

    88%

    Student body

    1K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1411/31

    What is Scripps College known for?

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

    • Business
    • Literature
    • Biology
    • Political Science
    • Engineering
    • History
    • Religious Studies
    • Law
    • Sociology
    • Philosophy

    Most Influential Alumni

    REQUEST INFO
  6. Tuition + fees

    $21K

    Student body

    1K

    What is California Institute of Integral Studies known for?

    California Institute of Integral Studies’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Psychology
    • Philosophy
    • Anthropology
    • Medical
    • Sociology

    Most Influential Alumni

    REQUEST INFO
  7. #10

    Golden Gate University

    San Francisco , CA

    Tuition + fees

    $13K

    Student body

    1K

    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

    REQUEST INFO
  8. #11

    Mills College

    Oakland , CA

    Tuition + fees

    $31K

    Acceptance

    91%

    Graduation

    65%

    Student body

    1K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1147/24

    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
    • Communications

    Most Influential Alumni

    REQUEST INFO
  9. #12

    American Jewish University

    Los Angeles , CA

    Tuition + fees

    $32K

    Graduation

    33%

    Student body

    <1K

    What is American Jewish University known for?

    American Jewish University’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Religious Studies
    • Education
    • Political Science
    • Literature
    • Sociology
    • Psychology
    • Medical

    Most Influential Alumni

    REQUEST INFO
  10. #13

    Whittier College

    Whittier , CA

    Tuition + fees

    $49K

    Acceptance

    72%

    Graduation

    63%

    Student body

    2K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1129/23

    What is Whittier College known for?

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

    • Business
    • Education
    • Literature
    • Law
    • Political Science
    • History
    • Religious Studies
    • Biology
    • Philosophy
    • Engineering
    REQUEST INFO
  11. #14

    University of Redlands

    Redlands , CA

    Tuition + fees

    $53K

    Acceptance

    69%

    Graduation

    71%

    Student body

    5K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1170/25

    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
    • History
    • Medical
    • Computer Science
    • Psychology

    Most Influential Alumni

    REQUEST INFO
  12. Tuition + fees

    $48K

    Acceptance

    86%

    Graduation

    74%

    Student body

    2K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1125/22

    What is Dominican University of California known for?

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

    • Education
    • Medical
    • Business
    • History
    • Literature
    • Computer Science
    • Communications
    • Nursing
    • Political Science
    • Biology
    REQUEST INFO
  13. #16

    University of the West

    Rosemead , CA

    Tuition + fees

    $14K

    Graduation

    28%

    Student body

    <1K

    What is University of the West known for?

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

    • Religious Studies
    • Business
    • Medical
    • Psychology
    • Literature
    • Mathematics
    • Social Work
    REQUEST INFO
  14. #17

    Biola University

    La Mirada , CA

    Tuition + fees

    $44K

    Acceptance

    64%

    Graduation

    71%

    Student body

    5K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1195/24

    What is Biola University known for?

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

    • Religious Studies
    • Philosophy
    • Education
    • Business
    • Literature
    • Psychology
    • Communications
    • History
    • Political Science
    • Medical
    REQUEST INFO
  15. #18

    Westmont College

    Santa Barbara , CA

    Tuition + fees

    $48K

    Acceptance

    70%

    Graduation

    72%

    Student body

    1K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1215/25

    What is Westmont College known for?

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

    • Religious Studies
    • Philosophy
    • Psychology
    • Education
    • Literature
    • History
    • Sociology
    • Business
    • Political Science
    • Physics

    Most Influential Alumni

    REQUEST INFO
  16. #19

    Woodbury University

    Burbank , CA

    Tuition + fees

    $43K

    Acceptance

    70%

    Graduation

    60%

    Student body

    1K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1080/22

    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

    REQUEST INFO
  17. #20

    Thomas Aquinas College

    Santa Paula , CA

    Tuition + fees

    $26K

    Acceptance

    86%

    Graduation

    84%

    Student body

    <1K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1270/28

    What is Thomas Aquinas College known for?

    Most Influential Alumni

    REQUEST INFO
  18. #21

    Pacific Union College

    Angwin , CA

    Tuition + fees

    $32K

    Acceptance

    59%

    Graduation

    51%

    Student body

    <1K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1060/21

    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
    • Nursing

    Most Influential Alumni

    REQUEST INFO
  19. Tuition + fees

    $24K

    Acceptance

    50%

    Graduation

    55%

    Student body

    <1K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1050/20

    What is San Diego Christian College known for?

    San Diego Christian College’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Education
    • Literature
    • Psychology
    • Biology
    • Religious Studies
    • Communications
    • Criminal Justice

    Most Influential Alumni

    REQUEST INFO
  20. #23

    La Sierra University

    Riverside , CA

    Tuition + fees

    $34K

    Acceptance

    57%

    Graduation

    52%

    Student body

    2K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1030/20

    What is La Sierra University known for?

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

    • Medical
    • Education
    • Religious Studies
    • Business
    • Psychology
    • Biology
    • History
    • Political Science
    • Computer Science
    • Literature
    REQUEST INFO
  21. Tuition + fees

    $38K

    Acceptance

    100%

    Graduation

    49%

    Student body

    1K

    Median SAT/ACT

    985/18

    What is Notre Dame de Namur University known for?

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

    • Psychology
    • Education
    • Political Science
    • Communications
    • History
    • Medical
    • Literature
    • Criminal Justice
    • Computer Science
    • Sociology

    Most Influential Alumni

    REQUEST INFO
  22. Tuition + fees

    $51K

    Acceptance

    77%

    Graduation

    73%

    Student body

    4K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1150/25

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

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

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

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