9 Schools in the University of California System

9 UC Schools for Undergraduates

University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA)
Geri Lavrov / Getty Images

The University of California system is one of the best state university systems in the country (also one of the most expensive), and three of the schools below rank among the nation's top public universities. The nine universities that offer undergraduate degrees are listed here from the lowest to highest acceptance rate. Admissions standards vary widely from highly selective UCLA and Berkeley to the far less selective campus in Merced.

San Francisco also has a University of California campus, but it is dedicated exclusively to graduate study and, thus, is not included in this ranking.

If you don't think you have the standardized test scores or grades to get into one of the University of California schools, realize that you still have plenty of other public university options among the 23 campuses in the California State University system.

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Powell Library at UCLA

aimintang / iStock / Getty Images Plus 

UCLA will nearly always be found ranked among the country's top ten public universities, and its strengths span fields from the arts to engineering. The university is home to one of the nation's best nursing schools, best dental schools, and best law schools. The university's athletic teams compete in the NCAA Division I Pacific 12 Conference.

  • Acceptance Rate (2019): 12%
  • Enrollment: 44,371 (31,543 undergraduates)
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UC Berkeley

The University of California Berkeley on a sunny day.

Charlie Nguyen/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

Not only does the University of California Berkeley rank at the top of this list of the UC schools, it tends to earn the number 1 spot in the country for all public universities. To get in, applicants will need grades and standardized test scores that are well above average. UC Berkeley made our lists of the top public universities, top ten engineering programs, and top ten business schools for undergraduates. The university competes in the NCAA Division I Pacific 12 Conference.

  • Acceptance Rate (2019): 16%
  • Enrollment: 43,185 (31,348 undergraduates)
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UC Irvine

Reines Hall at UC Irvine under a cloudless blue sky.

Allyunion at English Wikipedia/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY 4.0, 3.0, 2.5, 2.0, 1.0

UC Irvine has numerous academic strengths spanning a wide range of disciplines: biology and health sciences, criminology, English, and psychology, to name a few. The university's athletic teams compete in the NCAA Division I Big West Conference.

  • Acceptance Rate (2019): 27%
  • Enrollment: 36,908 (30,382 undergraduates)
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UC Santa Barbara

UC Santa Barbara Library on a sunny day under a perfect blue sky with a view of the beach.

UCSB Library/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY 2.0

UC Santa Barbara's enviable location earned it a place among the best colleges for beach lovers, but academics are also strong. UCSB has a chapter of the Phi Beta Kappa Honor Society for its strengths in the liberal arts and sciences, and it is a member of the Association of American Universities for its research strengths. The UCSB Gauchos compete in the NCAA Division I Big West Conference.

  • Acceptance Rate (2019): 30%
  • Enrollment: 26,314 (23,349 undergraduates)
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UC San Diego

The Geisel Library at UC San Diego on a sunny day.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/belisario/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY 2.0

UCSD consistently ranks among the country's best public universities, and it also tends to make lists of the best engineering programs. The university is home to the highly regarded Scripps Institute of Oceanography. UCSD athletic teams compete at the NCAA Division II level.

  • Acceptance Rate (2019): 31%
  • Enrollment: 38,736 (30,794 undergraduates)
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UC Davis

Mondavi Center at UC Davis on a sunny day.

Bev Sykes from Davis, CA, USA/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY 2.0

UC Davis has a huge 5,300-acre campus, and the school tends to do well in national rankings of public universities. Like several of the schools on this list, UC Davis competes in the NCAA Division I Big West Conference. Academic strengths earned the university a chapter of the Phi Beta Kappa Honor Society and membership in the Association of American Universities.

  • Acceptance Rate (2019): 39%
  • Enrollment: 38,634 (30,982 undergraduates)
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UC Santa Cruz

Lick Observatory at UC SantaCruz on a sunny day.

Michael from San Jose, California, USA/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY 2.0

An impressive number of students who attend UC Santa Cruz go on to earn their doctorates. The campus overlooks Monterey Bay and the Pacific Ocean, and the university is known for its progressive curriculum.

  • Acceptance Rate (2019): 51%
  • Enrollment: 19,494 (17,517 undergraduates)
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UC Riverside

Botanic garden at UC Riverside.

Matthew Mendoza/Flick/CC BY 2.0

UC Riverside has the distinction of being one of the most ethnically diverse research universities in the country. The business program is extremely popular, but the school's strong programs in the liberal arts and sciences earned it a chapter of the prestigious Phi Beta Kappa Honor Society. The school's athletic teams compete in the NCAA Division I Big West Conference.

  • Acceptance Rate (2019): 57%
  • Enrollment: 25,547 (22,055 undergraduates)
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UC Merced

View of UC Merced at night.

Qymekkam/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY 3.0

UC Merced was the first new research university of the 21st century, and the university's state-of-the-art construction was designed to have minimal environmental impact. Biology, business, mechanical engineering, and psychology are the most popular majors among undergraduates.

  • Acceptance Rate (2019): 72%
  • Enrollment: 8,847 (8,151 undergraduates)
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Grove, Allen. "9 Schools in the University of California System." ThoughtCo, Jan. 1, 2021, thoughtco.com/the-university-of-california-system-787015. Grove, Allen. (2021, January 1). 9 Schools in the University of California System. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/the-university-of-california-system-787015 Grove, Allen. "9 Schools in the University of California System." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/the-university-of-california-system-787015 (accessed March 31, 2023).