12 Best Colleges in California

California has more than 400 colleges, technical schools and training institutes. Choosing the best school in the state can be difficult. One of the first ways to choose a school is to decide what it is that you want out of a higher-education provider. Would you prefer a smaller, more intimate environment or do you thrive on the electricity of a larger campus? What sort of degree are you pursuing? These and other questions can shape your decision about a California school. Here is a listing of the top 12 four-year colleges in California, based on affordability, range of degrees offered, student satisfaction, distinguished faculty and employability upon graduation.


With a graduation rate of an impressive 95 percent, Stanford is considered a prestigious school. Stanford earns this reputation, having produced 20 Nobel Prize winners, four winners of a Pulitzer Prize and an amazing student-to-faculty ratio of four to one. Admission tends to be very competitive for this school, as a result. Despite this, Stanford is not as costly as other Ivy League institutions in the U.S. The school’s research funding exceeds $1.2 billion dollars annually.

California Institute of Technology (CalTech)

92 percent of the students who enroll, graduate from California Institute of Technology (CalTech). Located in Pasadena, CalTech has also been the alma mater for 35 Nobel Prize winners. NASA houses its jet population lab on the campus, as well as companies that fund additional research and development enterprises. Most students who attend CalTech are involved in the sciences.

University of Southern California

Though the price tag for this California university is higher than both CalTech and Stanford, the University of Southern California (USC) has won many prestigious awards and honors, which include Pulitzer Prizes, MacArthur Fellowships, National Medal of the Arts and a Guggenheim Award. The film and music school are world renown.

University of California in Los Angeles (UCLA)

Long known for its ability to turn out top athletes, UCLA also includes 13 Nobel Prize winners and 12 MacArthur fellows. The UCLA medical school and center, named after former president, Ronald Regan, is one of the top medical facilities in the U.S. Class sizes are kept at 30 students or less and the alumni network is extensive, affording most students employment upon graduation.

UC Berkley

What do The Gap, HTC, MySpace, Apple, Sun Microsystems and Intel have in common? All of these businesses and innovations were developed by UC Berkley alumni. With over 150 academic departments, many new social and scientific advancements were created and developed here. UC Berkley’s staff include Nobel Prize winners and the class sizes are kept small.

Scripps College

Located in Claremont, Scripps is primarily for women and has a long history in the women’s suffrage movement. Offering 2,000 courses, the college caters to the humanities. Scripps continues to be listed by many prestigious publications as a top school due to its focus on academic rigor, quality of life for students and the student-faculty ratios.

Loyola Marymount University

Loyola Marymount is a private university located just west of Los Angeles. Primarily Catholic in nature, the university sports an 11-to-1 student-faculty ratio. Only about half of those who apply are accepted and the most popular degrees are in the areas of communications, business and the performing arts.

Pepperdine University

Pepperdine University, located in Malibu, is another religious-based private school. The school offers studies and degrees that are taught through the university’s three schools, which include the School of Public Policy, School of Business and Management and a liberal arts program.

Pomona College

One of the older colleges in California, Pomona is located in Claremont, which is east of Los Angeles. The school offers students majors in social sciences, the humanities, arts and natural sciences. The student to faculty ratio is approximately eight-to-one. The college is located on 140 acres, situated between the mountains and the beaches. Pomona’s dedication to accepting U.S. students regardless of their ability to pay for the schooling is one of the reasons it is a popular choice.

Claremont McKenna College

For students who are interested in economics or politics, Claremont McKenna is the smart choice. The college is structured much like Oxford University in England. Students who graduate (90 percent), find jobs in the field of government or economically focused industries. Claremont McKenna is home to over 10 research centers and institutes.

University of California at San Diego

Cutting edge science meets industry at this college, located within driving distance of San Diego. Some of the well-known schools located at the University of California at San Diego include the School of International Relations and Pacific Studies, the Jacobs School of Engineering and the Scripps Institute of Oceanography. UC San Diego is one of only a few colleges in the U.S. that offer degrees in nanotechnology. Graduates from the programs at this university command large starting salaries upon graduation.

University of California at Davis

UC Davis is often listed as one of the top research schools in the U.S., with emphasis on veterinary medicine, agriculture or forestry and earth science. Students who attend this school are immersed in an eco-conscious environment with a low student-faculty ratio and a graduation rate of 83 percent.