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.

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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?

The best colleges pound for pound!

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.

Find out more about our ranking methodology here.

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California’s Best Small 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

    Antioch University

    #266 institution's historical influence

    Tuition + fees

    $21K

    Student body

    <1K

    Culver City, CA

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    What is Antioch University known for?

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

    • Psychology
    • Education
    • Business
    • Computer Science

    Most Influential Alumni

  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

    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

  7. #7

    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

  8. #8

    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

  9. #9

    California Institute of Integral Studies

    #984 institution's historical influence

    Tuition + fees

    $21K

    Student body

    1K

    San Francisco, CA

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    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

  10. #10

    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

  11. #11

    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

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  12. #12

    American Jewish University

    #1847 institution's historical influence
    #1087 overall school desirability

    Tuition + fees

    $32K

    Graduation

    33%

    Student body

    <1K

    Los Angeles, CA

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    What is American Jewish University known for?

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

    • Religious Studies
    • Education
    • Political Science
    • Literature
    • Business
    • Sociology
    • Psychology
    • Biology

    Most Influential Alumni

  13. #13

    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

  14. #14

    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
  15. #15

    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
  16. #16

    University of the West

    #4527 institution's historical influence

    Tuition + fees

    $13K

    Graduation

    28%

    Student body

    <1K

    Rosemead, CA

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    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
  17. #17

    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
  18. #18

    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

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    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
  19. #19

    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

  20. #20

    Thomas Aquinas College

    #2633 institution's historical influence
    #954 overall school desirability

    Tuition + fees

    $26K

    Acceptance

    86%

    Graduation

    84%

    Student body

    <1K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1270/28

    Santa Paula, CA

    View profile

    What is Thomas Aquinas College known for?

    Most Influential Alumni

  21. #21

    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

  22. #22

    San Diego Christian College

    #4184 institution's historical influence
    #1426 overall school desirability

    Tuition + fees

    $24K

    Acceptance

    50%

    Graduation

    55%

    Student body

    <1K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1050/20

    Santee, CA

    View profile

    What is San Diego Christian College known for?

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

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

    Most Influential Alumni

  23. #23

    La Sierra University

    #1924 institution's historical influence
    #1278 overall school desirability

    Tuition + fees

    $34K

    Acceptance

    57%

    Graduation

    52%

    Student body

    2K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1030/20

    Riverside, CA

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    What is La Sierra University known for?

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

    • Medical
    • Education
    • Religious Studies
    • Business
    • Biology
    • Psychology
    • Political Science
    • History
    • Nursing
    • Computer Science

    Most Influential Alumni

  24. #24

    Notre Dame de Namur University

    #1986 institution's historical influence
    #1014 overall school desirability

    Tuition + fees

    $37K

    Acceptance

    100%

    Graduation

    49%

    Student body

    1K

    Median SAT/ACT

    985/18

    Belmont, CA

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    What is Notre Dame de Namur University known for?

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

    • Business
    • Education
    • Psychology
    • Political Science
    • Communications
    • History
    • Philosophy
    • Medical
    • Literature
    • Criminal Justice

    Most Influential Alumni

  25. #25

    Saint Mary's College of California

    #1442 institution's historical influence
    #500 overall school desirability

    Tuition + fees

    $49K

    Acceptance

    77%

    Graduation

    73%

    Student body

    4K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1150/25

    Moraga, CA

    View profile

    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
    • Philosophy
    • History
    • Political Science
    • Mathematics
    • Psychology
    • Medical
    • Religious Studies

    Most Influential Alumni

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