Top California Colleges and Universities

These 12 Schools Typically Top the College Rankings for California

California has some of the best colleges and universities in the country. The University of California system has many strengths, and California has both strong liberal arts colleges and private research universities. The 12 top colleges listed below vary so much in size and type of school, they are simply listed alphabetically. Schools were selected based on factors such as retention rates, four- and six-year graduation rates, overall value, and academic strengths.

01
of 16

Berkeley (University of California at Berkeley)

The University of California Berkeley
The University of California Berkeley. Charlie Nguyen / Flickr
  • Location: Berkeley, California
  • Enrollment: 38,189 (27,496 undergraduates)
  • Type of Institution: public research university
  • Distinctions:  one of the nine undergraduate University of California schools; member of the Association of American Universities for strong research programs; chapter of Phi Beta Kappa for strong liberal arts and sciences;  member of the NCAA Division I Pacific 10 Conference; vibrant cultural environment in the San Francisco Bay area 
  • For more information and admissions data, visit the Berkeley profile
  • GPA, SAT and ACT graph for Berkeley
02
of 16

Caltech (California Institute of Technology)

Beckman Institute at Caltech
Beckman Institute at Caltech. smerikal / Flickr
  • Location: Pasadena, California
  • Enrollment: 2,255 (1,001 undergraduates)
  • Type of Institution: private engineering university
  • Distinctions: one of the top engineering schools; amazing 3 to 1 student/faculty ratio; member of the Association of American Universities for strong research programs
  • For more information and admissions data, visit the Caltech profile
  • GPA, SAT and ACT graph for Caltech
03
of 16

Claremont McKenna College

The Kravis Center at Claremont McKenna College
The Kravis Center at Claremont McKenna College. Victoire Chalupy / Wikimedia Commons
04
of 16

Harvey Mudd College

Entrance to Harvey Mudd College
Entrance to Harvey Mudd College. Imagine / Wikimedia Commons
05
of 16

Occidental College

Occidental College Student Center
Occidental College Student Center. Geographer / Wikimedia Commons
  • Location: Los Angeles, California
  • Enrollment: 2,023 (2,021 undergraduates)
  • Type of Institution: private liberal arts college
  • Distinctions: chapter of Phi Beta Kappa for strengths in the liberal arts and sciences; diverse student body; blend of urban and suburban advantages -- located just eight miles from downtown Los Angeles
  • For more information and admissions data, visit the Occidental College profile
  • GPA, SAT and ACT graph for Occidental
06
of 16

Pepperdine University

Center for Communication and Business at Pepperdine University
Center for Communication and Business at Pepperdine University. Matt McGee / Flickr
  • Location: Malibu, California
  • Enrollment: 7,632 (3,533 undergraduates)
  • Type of Institution: private research university
  • Distinctions: 830-acre campus overlooks the Pacific Ocean in Malibu; strong programs in business and communications; member of the NCAA Division I West Coast Conference; affiliated with the Churches of Christ
  • For more information and admissions data, visit the Pepperdine University profile
  • GPA, SAT and ACT graph for Pepperdine
07
of 16

Pomona College

Pomona College
Pomona College. The Consortium / Flickr
08
of 16

Scripps College

Scripps College
Scripps College. Lure Photography / Wikimedia Commons
  • Location: Claremont, California
  • Enrollment: 989 (973 undergrads)
  • Type of Institution: private women's liberal arts college
  • Distinctions: one of the top women's colleges in the country; chapter of Phi Beta Kappa for its strengths in the liberal arts and sciences; member of the Claremont Colleges
  • For more information and admissions data, visit the Scripps College profile
  • GPA, SAT and ACT graph for Scripps
09
of 16

Stanford University

Stanford University
Stanford University. Daniel Hartwig / Flickr
  • Location: Stanford, California
  • Enrollment: 16,980 (7,000 undergraduates)
  • Type of Institution: private research university
  • Distinctions: chapter of Phi Beta Kappa for strengths in the liberal arts and sciences; membership in the Association of American Universities for research strengths; one of the top 10 universities in the country; member of the NCAA Division I Pacific 10 Conference
  • For more information and admissions data, visit the Stanford University profile
  • GPA, SAT and ACT graph for Stanford
10
of 16

UCLA (University of California at Los Angeles)

Royce Hall at UCLA
Royce Hall at UCLA. Photo Credit: Marisa Benjamin
  • Location: Los Angeles, California
  • Enrollment: 41,908 (29,585 undergraduates)
  • Type of Institution: public research university
  • Distinctions: chapter of Phi Beta Kappa for strengths in the liberal arts and sciences; membership in the Association of American Universities for research strengths; part of the University of California system; one of the top-ranked public universities in the country; member of the NCAA Division I Pacific 10 Conference
  • Explore the Campus: UCLA photo tour
  • For more information and admissions data, visit the UCLA profile
  • GPA, SAT and ACT graph for UCLA
11
of 16

UCSD (University of California at San Diego)

Geisel Library at UCSD
Geisel Library at UCSD (click photo to enlarge). Marisa Benjamin
  • Location: San Diego, California
  • Enrollment: 32,906 (26,590 undergraduates)
  • Type of Institution: public research university
  • Distinctions: chapter of Phi Beta Kappa for strengths in the liberal arts and sciences; membership in the Association of American Universities for research strengths; part of the University of California system; one of the top-ranked public universities in the country; one of the top-ranked engineering schools
  • For more information and admissions data, visit the UCSD profile
  • GPA, SAT and ACT graph for UCSD
12
of 16

USC (University of Southern California)

USC Doheny Memorial Library
USC Doheny Memorial Library. Marisa Benjamin
  • Location: Los Angeles, California
  • Enrollment: 43,401 (18,810 undergraduates)
  • Type of Institution: private research university
  • Distinctions: member of the Association of American Universities for its research strengths; chapter of Phi Beta Kappa for strengths in the liberal arts and sciences; over 130 majors to choose from; member of the NCAA Division I Pac 12 Conference
  • Explore the Campus: USC Photo Tour
  • For more information and admissions data, visit the USC profile
  • GPA, SAT and ACT graph for USC
13
of 16

Calculate Your Chances

Will I get in?

Se​e if you have the grades and test scores you need to get into one of these top California schools with this free tool from Cappex: Calculate Your Chances of Getting In

map of US West Coast
CC BY SA 3.0/US_Locator_Blank.svg/Wikimedia Commons

If you want to attend college on the West Coast, expand your search beyond California. Check out these 30 top West Coast colleges and universities. More »

15
of 16

Top Colleges in the United States

student carrying books in bookstrap
CC0/Public Domain

Expand your college search even further by exploring these top colleges and universities across the United States:

Private Universities | Public Universities | Liberal Arts Colleges | Engineering | Business | Women's | Most Selective

16
of 16

Public Universities in California

California State University Chico
California State University Chico. Alan Levine / Flickr

Many of these schools did not make the list above, but students interested in attending college in California should check out the nine schools offering undergraduate degrees in the University of California System, and the 23 universities in the California State University System