Best Colleges in California

Musicians from The Beach Boys to Kendrick Lamar have extolled the virtues of California and as a lifelong California resident, I can confirm that they’re all true.

This state is awesome and I would highly recommend anyone to come here for college if they can.

With that said, what are the best colleges in California?

Every year, US News ranks as many universities in the United States as they can based on several academic factors. The 2013 edition features around 1,600 universities.

The ten highest ranked and best colleges in California are listed below alongside their rank in the US News National University Rankings, which includes both public and private universities.

1. Stanford – US News: #6

The world famous private school, located near Palo Alto in the South Bay, is the top school in California. While the admission process is rather selective, those who attend will be learning from some of the leaders in their field.

One of the reasons Stanford is one of the best colleges in California is because it boasts one faculty member for every five students as well as 19 Nobel laureates.

  • Cost: $56,000 per year, although financial aid program reduces the price to $13,000 for those with incomes below $100,000 and to nothing for those with incomes below $60,000
  • Acceptance Rate: 5.7% (2013)

2. California Institute of Technology – US News: #10

This private institution, located in Pasadena, has a very strong emphasis on science and technology. Groups such as NASA and the Department of Energy fund research there.

Caltech is a very strong school to attend if you’re incredible at science, so I would highly recommend applying if you’re interested in pursuing that field.

  • Cost: $59,000
  • Acceptance Rate: 5.7% (2013)

3. UC Berkeley – US News: #21

This world famous public university is located near where I grew up, so I can verify that it’s a very active campus and one of the best colleges in California.

According to US News, their engineering program is as good as Caltech’s program, so if you’re a California resident, it might be more economical to attend this school. They also have a strong journalism program.

  • Cost: For California residents, $25,000 to $33,500. For non-residents, $47,000 to $56,400
  • Acceptance Rate: 20.8% (2013)

4. UC Los Angeles – US News: #24

Located in Westwood, UCLA is not only one of the best colleges in California, it’s also the most applied to university in the country, receiving 72,000 applicants in 2012.

UCLA features a strong film school and is home to the second largest film archive in the USA. Their nursing program is also in the top 25 in the nation.

  • Cost: For California residents, $23,750 to $32,500. For non-residents, $46,600 to $55,300
  • Acceptance Rate: 22%  (2012)

5. University of Southern California – US News: #24

This private school, located near downtown Los Angeles, is a strong rival of UCLA and a strong choice for most students.

Their film school is considered the best in the world by Hollywood Reporter, and Princeton Review considers their video game design program as being the best in North America. USC also features strong showings in law, business, education and philosophy.

  • Cost: $62,500 for freshman year. The actual tuition seems to depend on your major.
  • Acceptance Rate: 19.7% (2013, which is the lowest in USC history)

6. UC Davis – US News: #38

Hey, I go to this school!

This public university, located near Sacramento, is known for its cows and for being in the middle of nowhere, but it’s a nice little town. We’re a notable research institution and have solid showings in engineering, agricultural programs, Spanish and statistics.

In addition, our focus on the environment and becoming a zero-waste campus has earned us the title of “#1 Coolest School” from the Sierra Club, something I love to tell my friends.

  • Cost: For California residents, $28,000 to $32,000. For non-residents, $55,000
  • Acceptance Rate: 39.4% (2013)

6. UC San Diego – US News: #38

Tied with UC Davis, UC San Diego offers a very different experience. Situated in La Jolla, UC San Diego is very close to a beach and right next to downtown San Diego.

UCSD is also one of the best colleges in California and a strong research school, and nearly a quarter of 2011 graduates left with biology degrees. ScienceWatch declared that UCSD had the strongest social psychology department.

  • Cost: For California residents, $24,250 to $30,500, for non-residents, $47,100 to $53,400
  • Acceptance Rate: 37.7% (2012)

8. UC Santa Barbara – US News: #41

This public university is located on the waterfront and right next to a beach, which was a draw for some of my friends in high school. UCSB features a strong focus on hard science and is the home of 11 national institutes and centers including the Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics and the Koegel Autism Center, recognized as one of the top 10 treatment centers for autism.

UCSB also features one of the strongest communication departments in the country according to the United States National Research Council.

  • Cost: Assuming you live in the residence halls, California residents $34,200, non-residents $57,100
  • Acceptance Rate: 45% (2012)

9. UC Irvine – US News: #44

This public university, located in Orange County, features several strong graduate programs according to US News. Their literary criticism and theory graduate program is considered the best in the country, so that quality will trickle down into undergraduate studies.

The creative writing program is also very strong, with the graduate program ranked as sixth in the nation and alumni that includes Michael Chabon, Alice Sebold and Richard Ford.

  • Cost: Just the tuition for California residents is $14,000 a year, non-residents $37,000. The figures given on the website do not include the price of residence hall living
  • Acceptance Rate: 42.7% (2012)

10. Pepperdine – USNews: #54

This private school, primarily based in Malibu, is one of the best colleges in California, but it is different from the other schools on this list for a few reasons.

First off, it’s a liberal arts school as opposed to a research institution, offering classes in business, communication, fine arts and natural sciences, among other fields. Second, it’s very strongly Christian, officially affiliated with the Churches of Christ.

  • Cost: For an 18 year old without financial aid, $53,170. This price may have gone up.
  • Acceptance Rate: For 2012, 37.9%. Note that unlike Stanford or USC, less people apply here.

While these are the best colleges in California, the important thing to note is that each school has different strengths, so if you’re dead set on a certain major, you should do your own research to find the best school.

For instance, if you really wanted to go into an agricultural field, UC Davis is a better school for you than Caltech. These schools also focus on academics as opposed to vocational training.

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John Kesler

John Kesler

John Kesler is a senior studying communication at the University of California, Davis. If he is on campus, he can be found in the basement offices of the newspaper or the radio station. At home, he enjoys listening to whatever music he can, reading whatever books he can, and taking walks wherever he can.
John Kesler

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