Top West Coast Colleges and Universities

West Coast States
West Coast States.

The West Coast is home to some impressive universities and colleges, and my top picks range in size from a few hundred to over 40,000 students. Stanford frequently ranks among the nations top universities, and UC Berkeley often tops rankings of public universities. Pomona College is one of the best liberal arts colleges in the country. The colleges and universities below were chosen based on a range of factors including retention rates, graduation rates, student engagement, selectivity, and financial aid. I have listed the schools alphabetically to avoid the often arbitrary distinctions that separate #1 from #2, and because of the futility of comparing a large research university to a small liberal arts college.

The colleges and universities in the list below were selected from West Coast states: Alaska, California, Hawaii, Oregon, and Washington.

Beckman Institute at Caltech
Beckman Institute at Caltech. smerikal / Flickr
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Smith Hall at Chapman University
Smith Hall at Chapman University. Tracie Hall / Flickr
  • Location: Orange, California
  • Enrollment: 7,155 (5,300 undergraduates)
  • Type of Institution: private university
  • Distinctions: 14 to 1 student/faculty ratio; average class size of 23; strong professional fields such as business and communications, but with a liberal arts flavor; rich history of inclusive admissions
  • For more information and admissions data, visit the Chapman University profile
  • GPA, SAT and ACT graph for Chapman
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The Kravis Center at Claremont McKenna College
The Kravis Center at Claremont McKenna College. Victoire Chalupy / Wikimedia Commons
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Gonzaga University—Foley Center Library
Gonzaga University—Foley Center Library. SCUMATT / Wikiemedia Commons
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Entrance to Harvey Mudd College
Entrance to Harvey Mudd College. Imagine / Wikimedia Commons
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Hannon-Library-Loyola-Marymount.jpg
Hannon Library at Loyola Marymount. Photo Credit: Marisa Benjamin
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Administration building at Occidental College
Administration building at Occidental College. Jeffrey Beall / Flickr
  • Location: Los Angeles, California
  • Enrollment: 2,132 (2,125 undergraduates)
  • Type of Institution: private liberal arts college
  • Distinctions: Chapter of Phi Beta Kappa for strengths in the liberal arts and sciences; located eight miles from downtown L.A.; 10 to 1 student/faculty ratio; average class size of 16; 21 Division III varsity sports teams
  • For more information and admissions data, visit the Occidental College profile
  • GPA, SAT and ACT graph for Occidental
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Center for Communication and Business at Pepperdine University
Center for Communication and Business at Pepperdine University. Matt McGee / Flickr
  • Location: Malibu, California
  • Enrollment: 7,539 (3,474 undergraduates)
  • Type of Institution: private Christian university
  • Distinctions: Attractive 830-acre campus overlooking the Pacific Ocean; international campuses in six countries; strong undergraduate business major; 13 to 1 ​student/faculty ratio; member of the NCAA Division I West Coast Conference
  • For more information and admissions data, visit the Pepperdine University profile
  • GPA, SAT and ACT graph for Pepperdine
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East and West Residence Halls at Pitzer College
East and West Residence Halls at Pitzer College. Lauriealosh / Wikimedia Commons
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Pomona College
Pomona College. The Consortium / Flickr
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Reed College
Reed College. mejs / Flickr
  • Location: Portland, Oregon
  • Enrollment: 1,474 (1,457 undergraduates)
  • Type of Institution: private liberal arts college
  • Distinctions: Chapter of Phi Beta Kappa for strengths in the liberal arts and sciences; high number of students go on to earn PhDs; 10 to 1 student/faculty ratio; located 15 minutes from downtown Portland; highly ranked liberal arts college
  • For more information and admissions data, visit the Reed College profile
  • GPA, SAT and ACT graph for Reed
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Santa Clara University
Santa Clara University. Jessica Harris / Flickr
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Scripps College
Scripps College. Lure Photography / Wikimedia Commons
  • Location: Claremont, California
  • Enrollment: 985 (967 undergraduates)
  • Type of Institution: private women's liberal arts college
  • Distinctions: One of the top women's colleges in the country; highly ranked liberal arts college; attractive Spanish architecture; 9 to 1 student/faculty ratio; core curriculum in interdisciplinary humanities; chapter of Phi Beta Kappa for strong liberal arts and sciences
  • For more information and admissions data, visit the Scripps College profile
  • GPA, SAT and ACT graph for Scripps
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Founders Hall at Soka University of America
Founders Hall at Soka University of America. Beyond My Ken / Wikimedia Commons
  • Location: Aliso Viejo, California
  • Enrollment: 441 (438 undergraduates)
  • Type of Institution: private college grounded in Buddhist principles
  • Distinctions: 9 to 1 student/faculty ratio; average class size of 13; attractive mountainside campus above Laguna Beach; neighboring 4,000-acre wilderness park; curriculum grounded in Buddhist principles of peace and human rights; international student body and curricular focus
  • For more information and admissions data, visit the Soka University of America profile
  • GPA, SAT and ACT graph for Soka
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Stanford University
Stanford University. Daniel Hartwig / Flickr
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Thomas Aquinas College in Santa Paula, California
Thomas Aquinas College in Santa Paula, California. Alex Begin / Flickr
  • Location: Santa Paula, California
  • Enrollment: 358 (all undergraduate)
  • Type of Institution: private Catholic liberal arts college
  • Distinctions: Great books curriculum (no textbooks); excellent value; ranks highly among top conservative colleges; attractive 131-acre campus; no classes have a lecture format -- the curriculum features sustained tutorials, seminars and laboratories
  • For more information and admissions data, visit the Thomas Aquinas College profile
  • GPA, SAT and ACT graph for Thomas Aquinas
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The University of California Berkeley
The University of California Berkeley. Charlie Nguyen / Flickr
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The Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts at UC Davis
The Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts at UC Davis. Steven Tyler PJs / Flickr
  • Location: Davis, California
  • Enrollment: 31,732 (25,038 undergraduates)
  • Type of Institution: public university
  • Distinctions: Part of the University of California system; 5,300-acre campus; over 100 undergraduate majors; chapter of Phi Beta Kappa for strong liberal arts and sciences; membership in the Association of American Universities for strong research programs; member of the NCAA Division I Big West Conference
  • For more information and admissions data, visit the UC Davis profile
  • GPA, SAT and ACT graph for UC Davis
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Frederick Reines Hall at UC Irvine
Frederick Reines Hall at UC Irvine. Photo Credit: Marisa Benjamin
  • Location: Irvine, California
  • Enrollment: 27,189 (22,004 undergraduates)
  • Type of Institution: public university
  • Distinctions: Part of the University of California system; highly ranked programs include biolgy/health sciences, criminology, English and psychology; chapter of Phi Beta Kappa for strong liberal arts and sciences; membership in the Association of American Universities for strong research programs; 1,500-acre circular campus with a park at the center; member of the NCAA Division I Big West Conference
  • Explore the Campus: UC Irvine photo tour
  • For more information and admissions data, visit the UC Irvine profile
  • GPA, SAT and ACT graph for UC Irvine
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Royce Hall at UCLA
Royce Hall at UCLA. Photo Credit: Marisa Benjamin
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Rady School of Management at UCSD
Rady School of Management at UCSD. Photo Credit: Marisa Benjamin
  • Location: San Diego, California
  • Enrollment: 28,593 (23,046 undergraduates)
  • Type of Institution: public university
  • Explore Campus: USD Photo Tour
  • Distinctions: One of the country's top public universities; part of the University of California system; chapter of Phi Beta Kappa for strong liberal arts and sciences; membership in the Association of American Universities for strong research programs; particular strengths in the sciences, social sciences and engineering; residential college system modeled after Oxford
  • For more information and admissions data, visit the UCSD profile
  • GPA, SAT and ACT graph for UCSD
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UCSB, University of California Santa Barbara
UCSB, University of California Santa Barbara. Carl Jantzen / Flickr
  • Location: Santa Barbara, California
  • Enrollment: 21,685 (18,620 undergraduates)
  • Type of Institution: public university
  • Distinctions: 1,000-acre beach-front campus; part of the University of California system; chapter of Phi Beta Kappa for strong liberal arts and sciences; membership in the Association of American Universities for strong research programs; member of the NCAA Division I Big West Conference
  • Explore the Campus: UCSB photo tour
  • For more information and admissions data, visit the UCSB profile
  • GPA, SAT and ACT graph for UCSB
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Romanaggi Hall at the University of Portland
Romanaggi Hall at the University of Portland. Visitor7 / Wikimedia Commons
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University of Puget Sound Residence Hall
University of Puget Sound Residence Hall. The Kevin / Flickr
  • Location: Tacoma, Washington
  • Enrollment: 2,918 (2,648 undergraduates)
  • Type of Institution: private university
  • Distinctions: Curriculum grounded in the liberal arts; chapter of  Phi Beta Kappa for strong liberal arts and sciences; 11 to 1 student/faculty ratio; easy access to the Cascade and Olympic mountain ranges; most students receive grant aid
  • For more information and admissions data, visit the University of Puget Sound profile
  • GPA, SAT and ACT graph for Puget Sound
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University of San Diego
University of San Diego. john farrell macdonald / Flickr
  • Location: San Diego, California
  • Enrollment: 8,317 (5,493 undergraduates)
  • Type of Institution: private Catholic university
  • Distinctions: Chapter of Phi Beta Kappa for its strengths in the liberal arts and sciences; attractive 180-acre campus with Spanish architecture and views of Mission Bay and the Pacific Ocean; member of the NCAA Division I West Coast Conference; 14 to 1 student/faculty ratio
  • For more information and admissions data, visit the University of San Diego profile
  • GPA, SAT and ACT graph for USD
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USC Doheny Memorial Library
USC Doheny Memorial Library. Photo Credit: Marisa Benjamin
  • Location: Los Angeles, California
  • Enrollment: 38,010 (17,414 undergraduates)
  • Type of Institution: private university
  • Distinctions: Over 130 undergraduate majors; 9 to 1 student/faculty ratio; member of the Association of American Universities for strong research programs; chapter of Phi Beta Kappa for its strengths in the liberal arts and sciences; 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
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University of Washington
University of Washington. clpo13 / Flickr
  • Location: Seattle, Washington
  • Enrollment: 42,444 (29,022 undergraduates)
  • Type of Institution: public university
  • Distinctions: Largest university on the west coast; attractive campus on the shores of Portage and Union Bays; flagship campus of Washington's state university system; chapter of Phi Beta Kappa for strong liberal arts and sciences; membership in the Association of American Universities for strong research programs; 11 to 1 student/faculty ratio; member of the NCAA Division I Pac 12 Conference
  • For more information and admissions data, visit the University of Washington at Seattle profile
  • GPA, SAT and ACT graph for UW
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Voskuyl Prayer Chapel at Westmont College
Voskuyl Prayer Chapel at Westmont College. Photo Credit: Brad Elliott
  • Location: Santa Barbara, California
  • Enrollment: 1,341 (1,337 undergraduates)
  • Type of Institution: private Christian liberal arts college
  • Distinctions: 12 to 1 student/faculty ratio; average class size of 18; most students receive grant aid; strong study abroad and off-campus programs; member of the Christian College Consortium; attractive 115-acre campus
  • For more information and admissions data, visit the Westmont College profile
  • GPA, SAT and ACT graph for Westmont
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Whitman College
Whitman College. Joe Shlabotnik / Flickr
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Walton Hall at Willamette University
Walton Hall at Willamette University. Lorenzo Tlacaelel / Flickr
  • Location: Salem, Oregon
  • Enrollment: 2,968 (2,099 undergraduates)
  • Type of Institution: private university
  • Distinctions: Highly ranked undergraduate liberal arts college; 10 to 1 student/faculty ratio; chapter of Phi Beta Kappa for strengths in the liberal arts and sciences; most students receive grant aid; attractive 60-acre campus plus the 305-acre Willamette University Forest at Zena; easy access to nearby forests, mountains rivers, and coastline
  • For more information and admissions data, visit the Willamette University profile
  • GPA, SAT and ACT graph for Willamette
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Grove, Allen. "Top West Coast Colleges and Universities." ThoughtCo, Nov. 14, 2017, thoughtco.com/top-west-coast-colleges-and-universities-788288. Grove, Allen. (2017, November 14). Top West Coast Colleges and Universities. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/top-west-coast-colleges-and-universities-788288 Grove, Allen. "Top West Coast Colleges and Universities." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/top-west-coast-colleges-and-universities-788288 (accessed November 23, 2017).