August 2023

Top University and College Options in California

California is home to many higher education institutions. A 2022 Statista report indicates that it had 384 institutions in 2021, the most of any state that year. California also has the most college students, with 2,637,722 enrolled in 2022. This is mainly attributed to the number of universities in the state and the high-quality education they offer.

Given this, high school seniors and soon-to-be university students may be attracted to studying in California. Still, they must first decide what type of institution to attend and which one. To this end, this article lists the top private universities and colleges, state universities, universities of California, and community colleges to consider.

Private Universities and Colleges

Private institutions are those funded by student tuition, donations, and endowments. The fees here may be more expensive, but students can rely on financial aid opportunities to attain the quality of education they provide.

Stanford University

This private research university is best known for its STEM programs, including medicine and computer science. The university also has decorated faculty members, such as 2020 Turing award winner, computer scientist, and professor Jeffrey Ullman.

Stanford University was ranked among the top institutions in Studocu’s 2023 world university ranking chart, where students praised it for its quality of life, courses, and job opportunities. Interested applicants can therefore be assured that they’ll be part of a quality school. The university’s acceptance rate was 3.7% in 2022, so applicants must ensure a high GPA and SAT score to improve their chances of admission.

California Institute of Technology (Caltech)

This is another private research university in Pasadena. They mainly offer pure and applied sciences programs like bioengineering and astrophysics. The institution is responsible for several scientific advancements, like improving the accessibility of CRISPR—a combination of specialized RNA and protein researchers use to slice genetic codes.

Caltech has no GPA requirement, though successful passers typically are on the 3.5 or 4.0 scale to surpass its 3.9% passing rate.

California State Universities

California State Universities (CSUs) are public and government-funded, typically offering 4-year degrees. Presently, there are 23 CSUs.

San José State University (SJSU)

This CSU is known for being the oldest public state university in the Western states, established in 1857. It is also Silicon Valley’s source of computer science, engineering, and business graduates. Given this, its most popular majors include business, management, and engineering. Many students also go for its journalism, communication, and social sciences majors.

Some of SJSU’s notable alums include Jan Koum, billionaire and WhatsApp co-founder, and the late Gordon Moore—also a billionaire and the co-founder of Intel.

California Polytechnic State University (Cal Poly)

Located in San Luis Obispo, Cal Poly aims to bridge the gap between STEM and the humanities, offering numerous degrees in fields like environmental engineering, graphic communication, and psychology.

Cal Poly ranked 26th in the 2021 National University Rankings by Washington Monthly for its contributions to research, social mobility, and service to the community. It’s the perfect CSU for students who want a well-rounded educational experience.

Universities of California (UC)

The University of California is a public land-grant research university system. Of its ten campuses, these are the best options.

UC Berkeley

This was the first university established in the UC system. Many students apply for its highly-pursued computer, biological, and social science programs. Some of its faculty are Pulitzer Prize awardees, like Michelle Pitcher, a research assistant awarded in 2021 for her contribution to The Marshall Project—a non-profit news organization covering the criminal justice system.

For these reasons, UC Berkeley placed 4th on the 2022 US News and World Report ranking of the best universities worldwide. It has a 14.4% acceptance rate, allowing many students opportunities to enroll in its programs.

UC Santa Cruz (UCSC)

This research university is nationally recognized for its astronomy and space sciences programs. Moreover, they were the first UC system to offer a degree in computer game design, allowing many students to start pursuing this career. The most notable thing about UCSC is how they’re noted for giving one of the highest percentages of engineering graduate degrees to women. Thus, aspiring female engineers feel more comfortable studying at this university.

Besides the more technical majors mentioned above, UCSC also has behavioral sciences, political science, and film and video degrees. With its broad range of majors, this university is an excellent choice for students of different career paths.

California Community Colleges

Community colleges are institutions that serve their surrounding communities. It’s funded by student fees, sales and services, grants, and contracts. Our post “Community College is Best Path to University of California” notes how these can be a gateway to entering UC by helping students improve their GPA or complete initial coursework to be eligible for transfer. Most community college programs only take two years to complete, making it a quick option for students who want to graduate early and work immediately.

Foothill College

Located in Los Altos Hills, this college’s most popular majors include business and liberal arts, and humanities. While it mostly offers associate degrees, it has one Bachelor’s degree in dental hygiene and over a hundred certificate programs.

Foothill also has a 100% acceptance rate, so all applicants can rest assured that they’ll receive an education here.

Cabrillo College

This college prides itself on being an open-door institution that can fill the community’s educational needs. It has many majors covering various career paths, including business, health, social sciences, natural and applied sciences, and visual and performing arts. Thus, students will find a degree that suits their needs and vision for their future.

Cabrillo College accepts all student applicants. They also have financial aid and academic counseling for those who need more support and guidance in their education.

Choosing a university or college is a big decision. This list of the best institutions in the state can serve as a helpful starting point.

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