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Timothy Peck
9 How to Get Into

20 Best Colleges in California

What’s Covered: 

 

Great weather, beaches, mountains, and world-class cities are just a few of the reasons why people flock to California. Another reason is the state’s exceptional collection of colleges and universities. The Golden State is home to six of CollegeVine’s 15 best public universities and two of its best liberal arts colleges.

 

Our Ranking Methodology

 

Below is a list of the 20 best colleges in California. The list was constructed with a focus on school quality, outcomes, and return on investment (ROI), along with considering a host of other factors such as retention rate, selectivity, endowment per student, student-faculty ratio, median earnings, and cost of attendance. You can find CollegeVine’s rankings in their entirety here

 

20 Best Colleges in California 

 

1. Stanford University

 

Location: Stanford, CA  

Acceptance Rate: 7% 

Middle 50% SAT: 1420-1550

Middle 50 ACT:ACT: 31-35

Undergrad Enrollment: 6,366

 

One of CollegeVine’s top schools that aren’t in the Ivy League, Stanford University is often called the “Ivy of the West.” In addition to its exceptional academics Stanford is known for its ties to the Silicon Valley and incredible careers its graduates go on to have. Google, Yahoo, and Instagram count Stanford alumni among their founders, while Stanford ranks 18 (out of almost 2,000 colleges) on Payscale’s list of best value colleges

 

Learn more about Stanford and what it takes to get accepted.

 

2. California Institute of Technology (Caltech)

 

Location: Pasadena, CA  

Acceptance Rate: 7% 

Middle 50% SAT: 1510–1570

Middle 50% ACT: 35-36

Undergrad Enrollment: 901  

 

 

Caltech is renowned for its science, engineering, and technology curriculum, as well as the research opportunities available to its students. Caltech receives grants from institutions such as NASA, the National Science Foundation, and the Department of Health and Human Services, and is home to impressive facilities such as the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the Caltech Seismological Laboratory, and the International Observatory Network.

 

Caltech is also known for its honor code, which establishes trust across the campus community and provides students with vast access to labs, workshops, and other college facilities.

 

Learn more about Caltech and what it takes to get accepted.

 

3. Pomona College 

 

Location: Claremont, CA 

Acceptance Rate: 8% 

Middle 50% SAT: 1390-1530

Middle 50% ACT: 32-35

Undergrad Enrollment: 1,477

 

Pomona College provides its students a unique opportunity to attend one of the best colleges in California and best liberal arts colleges in the country, while also taking advantage of big-school benefits thanks to its inclusion in the Claremont Consortium. The Claremont Consortium is a collection of five undergraduate schools and two graduate institutions all located within one square mile that share resources and increase academic and co-curricular activities. 

 

Learn more about Pomona and what it takes to get accepted.

 

4. Claremont McKenna College

 

Location: Claremont, CA  

Acceptance Rate: 13% 

Middle 50% SAT: 1330-1460

Middle 50% ACT: 31-34

Undergrad Enrollment: 1,262

 

Claremont McKenna College is one of the best colleges in California—along with being one of the country’s best liberal arts colleges—and attracts thoughtful students interested in fulfilling the school’s philosophy of “learning for the sake of doing.” Claremont McKenna fosters an inclusive community of inquisitive students, 97% of which choose to live on campus all four years. However, don’t get fooled into thinking Claremont McKenna is insular—nearly half of its undergraduates also study abroad.    

 

Learn more about Claremont McKenna and what it takes to get accepted.

 

5. University of Southern California (USC)

 

Location: Los Angeles, CA  

Acceptance Rate: 12% 

Middle 50% SAT: 1360-1510

Middle 50% ACT: 30-34 

Undergrad Enrollment: 19,606

 

Admission into USC is becoming one of the most coveted prizes for high-achieving high schoolers, with the school receiving a historic 70,971 applicants for its Class of 2025. USC is also increasingly diverse: 32% of the Class of 2025 is from historically underrepresented groups. One thing all undergraduates can come together over is the university’s history of greatness—it has had a gold medal-winning athlete in every summer Olympiad since 1912 and alumni have been nominated for an Oscar every year since the inception of the award in 1929.

 

Learn more about USC and what it takes to get accepted.

 

6. Harvey Mudd College

 

Location: Claremont, CA 

Acceptance Rate: 18% 

Middle 50% SAT: 1490-1560

Middle 50% ACT: 34-35  

Undergrad Enrollment: 854

 

The college was founded in the 1950s by Harvey Mudd, an accomplished mining engineer, to help future generations overcome the shortcomings of the traditional, narrow technical training available to him. The school has become one of the country’s premier STEM schools. Science, technology, engineering, and math classes are balanced with a core curriculum that includes courses in the humanities and social sciences to produce students with sharp technical skills, who are critical thinkers and proficient writers.  

 

Learn more about Harvey Mudd and what it takes to get accepted.

 

7. University of California – Berkeley (UC Berkeley)

 

Location: Berkeley, CA 

Acceptance Rate: 17% 

Middle 50% SAT: 1300-1520

Middle 50% ACT: 27-35  

Undergrad Enrollment: 30,980 

 

UC Berkeley, often known simply as Cal, has a reputation for attracting students with an interest in community action and political activism—thanks, in part, to being the birthplace of the Free Speech Movement in the 1960s and home to activist/icon Abbie Hoffman. While activism is important to undergraduates, so are academics. The school is renowned for its excellence in majors varying from the social sciences to engineering to biological sciences to languages. 

 

Learn more about UC Berkeley and what it takes to get accepted.

 

8. University of California – Los Angeles (UCLA)

 

Location: Los Angeles, CA 

Acceptance Rate: 14%  

Middle 50% SAT: 1290-1510

Middle 50% ACT: 29-34

Undergrad Enrollment: 31,636

 

UCLA’s prime Los Angeles location—providing easy access to the beach, mountains, and Hollywood sizzle—put it on the top of many college-bound students’ lists of dream schools (it receives more applications than any other university in the world). Driving additional appeal to UCLA is its proximity to industries ranging from entertainment to aerospace and famous alumni with achievements varying from Nobel Prize winners to NBA MVPs.   

 

Learn more about UCLA and what it takes to get accepted.

 

9. Scripps College

 

Location: Claremont, CA 

Acceptance Rate: 35%  

Middle 50% SAT: 1320-1470

Middle 50% ACT: 29-33

Undergrad Enrollment: 936

 

Scripps College was founded in 1926 by newspaper entrepreneur and philanthropist Ellen Browning Scripps and has gone on to become one of the country’s preeminent women’s liberal art colleges. Scripps College is known for its core curriculum, a collection of three courses centered on the humanities that challenge undergraduates to investigate and debate broad, critical topics by examining them from multiple perspectives.  

 

Learn more about Scripps and what it takes to get accepted.

 

10. Santa Clara University

 

Location: Santa Clara, CA 

Acceptance Rate: 69%  

Middle 50% SAT: 1280-1430

Middle 50% ACT: 28-32

Undergrad Enrollment: 5,608

 

In addition to its status as one of the best colleges in California, Santa Clara University (SCU) is also one of the most prestigious Jesuit colleges in the nation. SCU’s campus is built around the historic Mission Santa Clara de Asis and the college is grounded in the Jesuit tradition of educating the whole person—mind, body, and soul. The Jesuit tradition comes from the Catholic Church, but students of all faiths are welcome at Santa Clara University and many non-religious students are drawn by the Jesuit ideal to create a more just, humane, and sustainable world.

 

Learn more about Sanat Clara and what it takes to get accepted.

 

11. Pitzer College

 

Location: Claremont, CA 

Acceptance Rate: 16%  

Middle 50% SAT: 1330-1485

Middle 50% ACT: 31-33 

Undergrad Enrollment: 922

 

Pitzer’s five core values—social responsibility, intercultural understanding, interdisciplinary learning, student engagement, and environmental sustainability—are the underpinnings of the school’s experience. Pitzer was the first college in southern California to divest from fossil fuel stocks, and more than 25% of the school’s energy comes from renewable energy sources. When undergraduates aren’t putting in roughly 100,000 hours annually in community-based projects, 68% of those living on campus reside in the college’s LEED-certified residence halls. 

 

Learn more about Pitzer and what it takes to get accepted.

 

12. University of California – San Diego (UCSD)

 

Location: San Diego, CA 

Acceptance Rate: 38%  

Middle 50% SAT: 1280-1460

Middle 50% ACT: 26-33 

Undergrad Enrollment: 31,842

 

It’s hard to think of UCSD without its location springing immediately to mind. Best described as idyllic, it’s located minutes from the beach, and the climate is neither too warm nor too cold, but just right—rarely dipping below the low-40s or rising past the mid-80s. Surfer Magazine has ranked UCSD its best surf college in America—they even have a course on “The Physics of Surfing.” Catching waves not your thing? There are plenty of other things to love about UCSD, like its more than 500 student organizations, great study-abroad program, and over $1.5 billion in research funding.  

 

Learn more about UCSD and what it takes to get accepted.

 

13. Soka University of America 

 

Location: Aliso Viejo, CA 

Acceptance Rate: 52%  

Middle 50% SAT: 1200-1370

Middle 50% ACT: 26-32 

Undergrad Enrollment: 392

 

Soka University was founded on the Buddhist principles of peace, human rights, and the sanctity of life, but the college maintains no religious affiliation and students of all faiths are welcome. Soka delivers a global experience—international students make up almost half of its student body, and study abroad is both included in tuition and required for graduation. Every undergraduate spends a semester abroad during their third year at no extra cost. 

 

Learn more about Soka and what it takes to get accepted.

 

14. Occidental College 

 

Location: Los Angeles, CA 

Acceptance Rate: 41%  

Middle 50% SAT: 1290-1440

Middle 50% ACT: 28-33 

Undergrad Enrollment: 1,839

 

A gorgeous campus and Los Angeles location has led Occidental College to stardom, you’ve seen it in movies such as The Holiday, Orange County, Jurassic Park III, Clueless, and Real Genius, as well as television shows like Arrested Development and The Good Place. Occidental has attracted more than studios, however—Barack Obama, 44th President of the U.S., attended Occidental before transferring to Columbia University to finish his undergraduate studies. 

 

Learn more about Occidental and what it takes to get accepted.

 

15. University of California – Irvine (UC Irvine)

 

Location: Irvine, CA 

Acceptance Rate: 30% 

Middle 50% SAT: 1240-1410

Middle 50% ACT: N/A

Undergrad Enrollment: 29,638

 

UC Irvine is known for its rigorous academics, premier research opportunities, innovation—and its mascot, Peter the Anteater. UC Irvine has also earned big praise for creating educational opportunities for students from all backgrounds, earning acclaim from the New York Times for “Doing the Most for the American Dream.” Not bad for a school that has also been praised as having the best campus for beach lovers.   

 

Learn more about UC Irvine and what it takes to get accepted.

 

16. Loyola Marymount University 

 

Location: Los Angeles, CA 

Acceptance Rate: 50% 

Middle 50% SAT: 1230-1380

Middle 50% ACT: 27-31

Undergrad Enrollment: 6,673

 

Loyola Marymount is the largest Catholic University on the West Coast and one of the best Jesuit colleges in the U.S. Like other colleges rooted in the Jesuit tradition, Loyola Marymount is committed to educating the whole person—mind, body, and soul. Loyola Marymount’s core curriculum—a collection of 13 required courses and 6 flagged courses—is designed to foster the cura personalis, or whole person. 

 

Learn more about Loyola Marymount and what it takes to get accepted.

 

17. Pepperdine University

 

Location: Malibu, CA 

Acceptance Rate: 50% 

Middle 50% SAT: 1230-1380

Middle 50% ACT: 27-31

Undergrad Enrollment: 3,459

 

Pepperdine is a Christian university and the Pepperdine experience is rooted in Christian values—combining rigorous academic study with meaningful fellowship, worship, and volunteerism. Pepperdine students are encouraged to explore how faith influences vocation, learning, and personal growth. In addition to spirituality, Pepperdine is known for its spectacular Malibu campus, which features tropical palm trees, Mediterranean Revival architecture, and spectacular views of the Pacific Ocean.

 

Learn more about Pepperdine and what it takes to get accepted.

 

18. University of California – Davis (UC Davis)

 

Location: Davis, CA 

Acceptance Rate: 46% 

Middle 50% SAT: 1160-1370

Middle 50% ACT: 25-31

Undergrad Enrollment: 31,162

 

Originally founded as the University Farm, the research and science-based instruction extension of UC Berkeley, agriculture remains at the heart of UC Davis. The nickname for the university’s athletic teams is the “Aggies,” the student paper is named The California Aggie, and the college is home to both a dairy and a slaughterhouse. UC Davis is best known for programs like its Viticulture and Enology major (the study of wine), however, the college offers more than 100 majors and has grown into one of the best public colleges in the country.   

 

Learn more about Pepperdine and what it takes to get accepted.

 

19. California Polytechnic State University (Cal Poly)

 

Location: San Luis Obispo, CA 

Acceptance Rate: 38% 

Middle 50% SAT: 1230-1410

Middle 50% ACT: 26-32

Undergrad Enrollment: 21,447

 

Cal Poly’s location on California’s Central Coast—about halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco—provides its students with access to everything from the entertainment and entrepreneurship of SoCal as well as the innovation and high tech found in and around the Bay Area. Closer to home, San Luis Obispo—home of Cal Poly—is known for its rich and productive farmland. The university has its own farm store and has U-pick hours, times when students can pick their own fruit and vegetables from the college’s fields.  

 

Learn more about Cal Poly and what it takes to get accepted.

 

20. Chapman University 

 

Location: Orange, CA 

Acceptance Rate: 58% 

Middle 50% SAT: 1180-1350

Middle 50% ACT: 25-30

Undergrad Enrollment: 7,404

 

Chapman is a school filled with creators, whether it’s business models, lines of code, or films. Chapman University’s Dodge College of Film and Media Arts ranked fourth on The Hollywood Reporter’s Top 25 American Film Schools—tucked between the prestigious film schools of USC and Columbia. Inclusivity is important to Chapman—about 4% of Chapman students identify as people of color, around 20% are first-generation college students, and the university scores 3.5 stars on the Campus Pride Index, an indicator of a school’s commitment to LGBTQ-inclusive policy, program and practice.

 

Learn more about Chapman and what it takes to get accepted.

 

What Are Your Chances of Acceptance?

 

Wondering what your odds are of admission at one of these great Golden State schools? CollegeVine can help. Our free chancing engine uses quantitative data like grades and standardized test scores along with qualitative factors like extracurricular activities, awards, and achievements to predict your odds of acceptance at hundreds of schools in California and across the country.

 

Remember to build a balanced school list including safety, target, and reach schools to put yourself in the best position to find the perfect school for you. Sign up for your free CollegeVine account today to get started!


Short Bio
A graduate of Northeastern University with a degree in English, Tim Peck currently lives in Concord, New Hampshire, where he balances a freelance writing career with the needs of his two Australian Shepherds to play outside.