The best universities in California are some of the most competitive programs you’ll find across the nation.
Home to schools like Stanford and the California Institute of Technology, you can explore several fantastic careers from worldwide industry experts. Whether you want to become an aesthetician or a rocket scientist, the options are endless.
In this guide, we’ll be reviewing 10 of the top universities in California. Each of these schools meets the following criteria:
- An average annual cost of no more than $45,000
- A median starting salary no lower than $40,000
- Accredited programs by recognized bodies
10 Best Universities in California
1. Stanford University
4 Year; Stanford, CA
Average Annual Cost: $12,894
Stanford University is a fantastic school with plenty of history and historic alumni. It was initially opened in 1891 and currently serves approximately 16,937 students with 2,288 faculty members.
Students can plan a visit to the campus, which allows about 60,000 visitors per year, or they can take virtual tours if they don’t live within the state.
Stanford University is home to some of the state’s most remarkable programs within its numerous schools of learning. They offer courses in the following general categories:
- Humanities & Sciences
One of the more interesting facets of their programs is that they focus on creativity while allowing students to develop their skills. With a comprehensive curriculum, you’ll get both in-class and hands-on experience working in your specific field of study.
Also, the school boasts several interdisciplinary programs, helping you specialize in dual study areas at once.
2. University of California, Berkeley
4 Year; Berkeley, CA
Average Annual Cost: $16,032
University of California, Berkeley, is one of the top schools to consider if you’ve always been a fan of data science and computing. Their innovative courses help create some of the most well-trained and diverse technologically minded employees.
Aside from tech and science, the school also offers many other great programs.
Compared to other universities in California, the University of California, Berkeley, has several schools of learning. These include:
- Information: Data science, cybersecurity, information
- Letters & Science: Biological sciences, arts and humanities, physical sciences, social sciences
- Natural Resources
- Public Health
- Environmental Design
- Computing, Data Science & Society
- Social Welfare
- Public Policy
As you can tell, there isn’t a shortage of departments students can choose from when deciding what they want to study.
Approximately 23% of freshmen attending the school are first-generation students, speaking to the quality of their available programs. Not to mention the faculty also has a total of nine Nobel Prizes, ensuring students learn from leaders in their industry.
3. California Institute of Technology
4 Year; Pasadena, CA
Average Annual Cost: $26,542
The California Institute of Technology (Caltech) is another fantastic school for technology and science-minded students. You’ll find courses that are a blend of biological sciences, data science, and even space exploration.
As one of California’s most competitive science/technology institutions, you can guarantee you’ll receive a top-class education to fuel your future career.
Caltech is home to an assortment of graduate, undergraduate, and executive education courses. You’ll also find they have online programs, helping you earn a degree entirely on your own time or to learn in a hybrid/blended environment.
With their executive education courses, you can diversify your employable skills, ensuring you’re competitive and well-equipped for your career.
When it comes to studying at Caltech, students will have many opportunities. You’ll have 300+ faculty members to learn from, offering a three-to-one student-to-faculty ratio. Compared to other popular schools in the country, this ratio is one of the most competitive, ensuring students get a personalized experience.
4. University of La Verne
4 Year; La Verne, CA
Average Annual Cost: $28,260
The University of La Verne takes pride in the programs they offer, ensuring every student has access to the education they need to thrive. Their degree programs are designed for students at every stage of their lives, whether they’re recent high school graduates or working professionals.
When browsing the degree options from this school, you’ll find dozens of specialties to choose from, ranging from criminology to child development.
Students can also explore La Verne Online, one of the best online programs for students to enroll in. You’ll find this method of learning is best for students with busy schedules who prefer learning on their own time.
In total, you’ll be able to choose from over 50 majors, 20 master’s programs, five doctorates, and dozens of certificates at this school.
Campus life is another important factor to consider when choosing a university. Students at the University of La Verne can join a responsible and thoughtful community filled with safe, well-rounded college experiences.
You’ll find several fantastic activities and programs to help students find like-minded individuals and share their passions.
5. University of Southern California
4 Year; Los Angeles, CA
Average Annual Cost: $32,569
University of Southern California (USC) is undoubtedly another one of the best universities in all of California. Their curriculum is designed to help challenge students, pushing boundaries as they explore their areas of expertise.
Through your studies, you’ll learn how to use modernized concepts to change the world’s future for the better. You’ll find an assortment of graduate and undergraduate degree programs housed within 23 schools and divisions of learning.
If you’ve been searching for a university that doesn’t have a shortage of studying opportunities, the University of Southern California is for you. A few examples of their academic categories include:
- Occupational Therapy
- Dramatic Arts
- Cinematic Arts
- Communication and Journalism
What makes USC unique is that it provides a remarkable opportunity for research students, as it’s the leading private research university in the state.
It also maintains high standards for students, ensuring they accept top-performing learners across the nation. For example, the average GPA of USC students is between 3.75 and 4.00.
6. University of San Diego
4 Year; San Diego, CA
Average Annual Cost: $34,139
The University of San Diego takes a unique approach to learning by helping students find themselves while developing as professionals. You’ll find an infinite number of study opportunities, helping you explore different boundaries while becoming an empowered student.
Along with your peers, you’ll be able to develop fundamental skills to help break through your field of interest upon graduation.
The University of San Diego was initially founded in 1949 as a liberal arts college, teaching students how to focus on numerous disciplines. If you’re the type of student who excels in multifaceted learning environments, this curriculum is for you.
There are several fantastic colleges and schools within the University of San Diego family that you can attend. A few examples of some learning pathways include:
- Kroc School of Peace Studies
- College of Arts and Sciences
- Professional and Continuing Education
- Hahn School of Nursing and Health Science
- Knauss School of Business
- School of Law
- School of Leadership and Education Sciences
- Shiley-Marcos School of Engineering
7. Pepperdine University
4 Year; Malibu, CA
Average Annual Cost: $38,846
Pepperdine University leads its students by following three fundamental tenets: purpose, service, and leadership. Like many other schools, their curriculum is designed to help students become leaders in their community.
If there’s one thing to be said about this Christian university, it’s that it has one of the most beautiful hilly campuses in the state.
Pepperdine University takes pride in developing graduating classes of well-trained professionals looking to pursue careers focused on academic excellence. You’ll find their coursework and curriculum inspiring, transforming your learning experience into an unforgettable moment.
There are several academic opportunities students can choose from in the vast number of schools of thought at this institution. A few examples of the schools at Pepperdine University include:
- Caruso School of Law
- Graduate School of Education and Psychology
- Graziadio Business School
- School of Public Policy
Students can enroll in several bachelor’s, master’s, doctoral, and certificate programs to pursue their dream careers.
8. University of San Francisco
4 Year; San Francisco, CA
Average Annual Cost: $40,053
University of San Francisco (USF) has a unique curriculum that ensures students can explore the fundamentals of their specialty with hands-on learning. You’ll find numerous undergraduate majors and minors, graduate programs, professional certificates, and dual degree programs.
With the dual degree programs, you can earn two specialty degrees congruently, preparing you for a prosperous and rewarding career. In total, there are over 150 different learning paths students can choose from.
The research opportunities at USF are another remarkable feature the school offers, allowing students to participate in faculty-led research opportunities. Plus, with the smaller class sizes, students have more opportunities for collaborative experiences with their faculty.
Overall, the University of San Francisco provides $1.5 million in undergraduate and graduate research funding. With the innovative labs on campus, students can explore some of the best state-of-the-art facilities.
9. Santa Clara University
4 Year; Santa Clara, CA
Average Annual Cost: $42,614
Santa Clara University is the top Jesuit university in California. Students will work alongside a massive community of their peers as well as mentors and teachers. It’s also located in the heart of innovation in the entire nation, Silicon Valley.
On average, the school retains about 94% of its first-year students, and 85% of senior students move on to graduation.
Another massive benefit you’ll experience is competitive class sizes. In most instances, Santa Clara University has an 11:1 student-to-faculty ratio, helping students learn in a more personalized environment.
This school is home to over 50 majors and minors, as well as specialty programs for teaching, law, and medicine. Students can also opt to take graduate programs spanning pastoral ministries, education, counseling psychology, engineering, theology, and more.
With each of the centers of distinction, students can earn an enhanced, specialized education to make them highly competitive members of their area of expertise.
10. Chapman University
4 Year; Orange, CA
Average Annual Cost: $44,198
Chapman University is one of the top learning institutions in California with its extensive list of degrees and programs. Students will also have access to state-of-the-art facilities, helping propel their hands-on education into the future.
There is an extensive number of programs students can explore, such as:
- Liberal Arts
- Global Leadership
- Tech Innovation
- Social Change
- Analytical Thinking
- Movies & Television
What makes Chapman such a great opportunity for all students is the curriculum is highly adaptable. Students can take standard courses or choose to enroll in accelerated and bridge programs, earning their degree faster.
Regardless of your avenue of study, you’ll have a highly competitive education to help you enter your dream career.
Finding the Best University in California
If you’re searching for the best universities in California, there are a few key things to keep an eye out for. You’ll want a school that offers your desired major, gives students control over their learning journey, and offers plenty of support.
If you’ve found one of the 10 schools we reviewed in this list is a great option for you, enroll today.