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Top Colleges in California

Written by Gabriel Jimenez-Ekman

Gabriel Jimenez-Ekman is a content editor and writer at Scholarships360. He has managed communications and written content for a diverse array of organizations, including a farmer’s market, a concert venue, a student farm, an environmental NGO, and a PR agency. Gabriel graduated from Kenyon College with a degree in sociology.

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Updated: January 8th, 2024

California is home to some of the best-known private and public schools our country has to offer. With stellar options like Stanford University and the University of California-Berkeley, as well as affordability programs like California Promise, there is something for everyone in sunny California. Scroll down to find the right school for you in the Golden State.

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66 colleges
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Top College Top College
Top College Top College: Affordability

Stanford University

Stanford, CA • Private, Non-Profit, Suburb, Need-Blind

Stanford, CA

Private, Non-Profit, Suburb, Need-Blind

4% acceptance rate
7,645 undergraduate students
96% graduation rate
$7,200 average per year after aid
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Top College Top College

Harvey Mudd College

Claremont, CA • Private, Non-Profit, Suburb

Claremont, CA

Private, Non-Profit, Suburb

10% acceptance rate
905 undergraduate students
94% graduation rate
$30,026 average per year after aid
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Top College Top College: Affordability

University of California-Berkeley

Berkeley, CA • Public, City

Berkeley, CA

Public, City

14% acceptance rate
31,811 undergraduate students
93% graduation rate
$15,240 average per year after aid
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Top College Top College: Affordability

Pomona College

Claremont, CA • Private, Non-Profit, Suburb, Need-Blind

Claremont, CA

Private, Non-Profit, Suburb, Need-Blind

7% acceptance rate
1,747 undergraduate students
93% graduation rate
$9,170 average per year after aid
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Top College Top College: Affordability

Claremont McKenna College

Claremont, CA • Private, Non-Profit, Suburb

Claremont, CA

Private, Non-Profit, Suburb

11% acceptance rate
1,414 undergraduate students
93% graduation rate
$20,114 average per year after aid
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Top College Top College: Affordability

University of California-Los Angeles

Los Angeles, CA • Public, City

Los Angeles, CA

Public, City

11% acceptance rate
32,122 undergraduate students
92% graduation rate
$11,627 average per year after aid
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University of California-San Diego

La Jolla, CA • Public, City

La Jolla, CA

Public, City

34% acceptance rate
33,339 undergraduate students
89% graduation rate
$14,895 average per year after aid
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California Institute of Technology

Pasadena, CA • Private, Non-Profit, City, Need-Blind

Pasadena, CA

Private, Non-Profit, City, Need-Blind

4% acceptance rate
987 undergraduate students
93% graduation rate
$29,279 average per year after aid
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University of California-Irvine

Irvine, CA • Public, City

Irvine, CA

Public, City

29% acceptance rate
29,438 undergraduate students
84% graduation rate
$9,691 average per year after aid
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University of Southern California

Los Angeles, CA • Private, Non-Profit, City

Los Angeles, CA

Private, Non-Profit, City

13% acceptance rate
20,619 undergraduate students
92% graduation rate
$25,972 average per year after aid
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Top College Top College: Affordability

University of California-Davis

Davis, CA • Public, Suburb

Davis, CA

Public, Suburb

49% acceptance rate
31,637 undergraduate students
87% graduation rate
$14,920 average per year after aid
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Top College Top College: Affordability

California Polytechnic State University-San Luis Obispo

San Luis Obispo, CA • Public, Suburb

San Luis Obispo, CA

Public, Suburb

33% acceptance rate
21,090 undergraduate students
85% graduation rate
$20,633 average per year after aid
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Soka University of America

Aliso Viejo, CA • Private, Non-Profit, Suburb, Need-Blind

Aliso Viejo, CA

Private, Non-Profit, Suburb, Need-Blind

52% acceptance rate
435 undergraduate students
91% graduation rate
$11,846 average per year after aid
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Top College Top College: Affordability

University of California-Santa Barbara

Santa Barbara, CA • Public, Suburb

Santa Barbara, CA

Public, Suburb

29% acceptance rate
23,081 undergraduate students
85% graduation rate
$15,458 average per year after aid
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Pitzer College

Claremont, CA • Private, Non-Profit, Suburb

Claremont, CA

Private, Non-Profit, Suburb

18% acceptance rate
1,168 undergraduate students
88% graduation rate
$18,206 average per year after aid
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Top College Top College: Affordability

San Diego State University

San Diego, CA • Public, City

San Diego, CA

Public, City

38% acceptance rate
30,991 undergraduate students
76% graduation rate
$6,488 average per year after aid
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Top College Top College: Affordability

California State University-Long Beach

Long Beach, CA • Public, City

Long Beach, CA

Public, City

47% acceptance rate
33,765 undergraduate students
75% graduation rate
$8,338 average per year after aid
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Top College Top College: Affordability

California State University-Fullerton

Fullerton, CA • Public, Suburb

Fullerton, CA

Public, Suburb

59% acceptance rate
35,502 undergraduate students
71% graduation rate
$4,211 average per year after aid
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Santa Clara University

Santa Clara, CA • Private, Non-Profit, City

Santa Clara, CA

Private, Non-Profit, City

54% acceptance rate
5,887 undergraduate students
91% graduation rate
$43,228 average per year after aid
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Top College Top College
Top College Top College: Affordability

University of California-Riverside

Riverside, CA • Public, City

Riverside, CA

Public, City

65% acceptance rate
22,817 undergraduate students
76% graduation rate
$13,233 average per year after aid
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About the Data

We sort colleges on our lists according to their Scholarships360 Top Colleges Index Score. This score is calculated using up-to-date information taken directly from the College Scorecard. Additional information is sourced from the colleges themselves, as well as other publicly available information. If you see an error, feel free to contact us.

State Grants in California

Most states offer their own state-wide grants to help residents obtain an affordable education. Here are some of the most prominent state-wide grants in California:

Cal Grant

Cal Grants provide significant funding to California students who are attending any of the Universities of California, California State Universities or California Community Colleges. It can also benefit select qualifying independent and career colleges or technical schools in California.

California Promise

The California Promise program offers tuition-free community college to students in the state who meet certain financial need criteria.

Middle Class Scholarship

The Middle Class Scholarship benefits California students seeking a teaching credential who meet financial need criteria. Students can receive the award for up to four years.

California Tuition Reciprocity Agreements

California is a member of the Western Undergraduate Exchange, which offers tuition discounts for students who attend public colleges in partner states. So, students in California can attend schools in partner states with reduced tuition, and students in partner states can attend California public schools for reduced tuition.

Here’s a list of states who are part of the WUE:

Other college lists to explore

Frequently asked questions about colleges in California

What is the hardest California college to get into?

Stanford typically ends up with the lowest acceptance rate in the state of California. In 2023, their rate was 3.95%. However, college admissions are a complicated process and it’s always hard to predict whether you will get into a school. Some students may get accepted to Stanford and denied from schools with higher admissions rates. It’s always worth applying to a wide array of schools, even if some are reach schools.

Why should I study in California?

California is a great state to go to college. They have one of the best public school systems in the country, and the state is an economic powerhouse which offers many opportunities for employment before and after graduation.

It’s also important to note, however, that much of California has a higher cost of living than the rest of the country. If you are considering attending school in California, be sure to factor this higher cost into your budgeting.

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