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Timothy Peck
11 College Lists

Ranked List of the Best Cal State Schools

What’s Covered:

 

The California State University System, or simply CSU, is the largest four-year university system in the nation. Composed of 23 campuses spread across the state and home to almost a half-million students, it’s hard to understate the impact of this enormous institution. For example, one of every 20 Americans with a college degree is a CSU graduate and for every dollar that California invests in the CSU, it generates $5.43 for California’s economy.

 

If you’re interested in attending one of the schools in the California State University System, you’ll likely find this ranked list of the best Cal state schools helpful. 

 

CollegeVine’s Ranking Methodology

 

Our list of the 10 best California State University Schools was constructed with a focus on school quality, outcomes, and return on investment (ROI). It also considers 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.

 

Ranked List of the Best Cal State Schools

 

1. 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‚Äôs location on California‚Äôs central coast places students in the proximity of leading high-tech industries located in the Bay Area and world-renowned entertainment opportunities in Los Angeles, while also delivering research opportunities in everything from agriculture to coastal ecosystems. Cal Poly‚Äôs 9,178-acre campus makes it one of the largest land-holding universities in the nation and the second-largest in California‚ÄĒit trails only UC Berkeley. What makes Cal Poly one of the best Cal schools is its ROI: it ranks 37th (for in-state students) and 51st (for out-of-state students) on Payscale‚Äôs rankings of best value schools.¬†¬†¬†¬†

 

Learn more about Cal Poly and your chances of acceptance.

 

2. San Diego State University | SDSU

 

Location: San Diego, CA

Acceptance rate: 38%

Middle 50% SAT: 1130-1320

Middle 50% ACT: 22-29

Undergrad enrollment: 30,865

 

There‚Äôs a lot to love about San Diego State University, beginning with the near-perfect weather and gorgeous campus. San Diego is never too hot, nor too cold, and gets plenty of sun, which is ideal for exploring what Cosmopolitan ranked as the eighth most beautiful campus in the country and one of the nation‚Äôs top surf schools. SDSU also leads in the classroom‚ÄĒfor example, SDSU was just the second university in the U.S. and the first in California to offer a major in LGBTQ+ Studies.

 

Learn more about SDSU and your chances of acceptance.

 

3. Long Beach State

 

Location: Long Beach, CA 

Acceptance rate: 42%

Middle 50% SAT: 1020-1230

Middle 50% ACT: 20-26

Undergrad enrollment: 33,919

 

Located on a 322-acre campus about 25 miles outside of Los Angeles, Long Beach State has developed a reputation for its diverse student body‚ÄĒthe Wall Street Journal ranks it as the fourth most diverse college in the U.S. Long Beach State is also notable for being one of the best Hispanic-serving institutions in the country‚ÄĒNiche ranks it fifth. In addition to its position as one of the best Cal State schools, Long Beach State is one of the largest universities in California‚ÄĒit even has its own zip code, 90840.¬†

 

Learn more about Long Beach State and your chances of acceptance.

 

4. Cal Poly Pomona

 

Location: Pomona, CA 

Acceptance rate: 65%

Middle 50% SAT: 1010-1240

Middle 50% ACT: 19-27

Undergrad enrollment: 27,911

 

Cal Poly Pomona is one of just three polytechnic universities in the California State University System. The school is forever linked to W.K. Kellogg, of breakfast cereal fame. The core of Cal Poly‚Äôs campus was donated to the California state college system by Kellogg, provided that the land was used for educational purposes and traditional horse shows. Today, horses along with students call Cal Poly Pomona home‚ÄĒthe college is committed to caring for Kellogg‚Äôs horse herd in perpetuity.¬†¬†

 

Learn more about Cal Poly Pomona and your chances of acceptance.

 

5. San Jose State

 

Location: San Jose, CA

Acceptance rate: 67% 

Middle 50% SAT: 1030-1240

Middle 50% ACT: 19-26

Undergrad enrollment: 27,680

 

Founded in 1857, San Jose State has the distinction of being the first public institution of higher education in California and the oldest campus in the California State University System. San Jose State is Silicon Valley’s largest provider of business graduates and entry-level engineers, and the university has a strong reputation for improving the economic mobility of its students. 

 

Learn more about San Jose State and your chances of acceptance.

 

6. CSU Fullerton

 

Location: Fullerton, CA

Acceptance rate: 68%

Middle 50% SAT: 1010-1180

Middle 50% ACT: 18-23

Undergrad enrollment: 36,770 

 

CSU Fullerton is a leader in diversity. The school ranks first in the state and third in the nation for awarding bachelor‚Äôs degrees to underrepresented students. Students come to CSU Fullerton‚Äôs campus from a wide range of backgrounds‚ÄĒfor example:

 

  • 46.2% identify as Hispanic/LatinX
  • 20.7% identify as Asian
  • 18.5% identify as White
  • 2.1% identify as Black/African American
  • 3.7% identify as multi-race

 

CSU Fullerton is also home to more than 1,200 international students hailing from 72 different nations. 

 

Learn more about CSU Fullerton and your chances of acceptance.

 

7. CSU Fresno

 

Location: Fresno, CA 

Acceptance rate: 58%

Middle 50% SAT: 950-1130

Middle 50% ACT: 16-22

Undergrad enrollment: 21,462

 

In addition to CSU Fresno‚Äôs 388-acre main campus, the university is also home to a 1,011-acre farm in one of the richest agricultural areas in the world. In 1997, Fresno State Winery became the first commercially bonded winery located on a university campus. Students produce up to 10,000 cases of 20 or more varieties annually, with grapes sourced from the 120-acre campus vineyard. Don‚Äôt think it‚Äôs just farmland surrounding the college‚ÄĒFresno is the sixth-largest city in California, and both Yosemite National Park and Kings Canyon National Park are just about an hour away.

 

Learn more about CSU Fresno and your chances of acceptance.

 

8. CSU Northridge | CSUN

 

Location: Northridge, CA

Acceptance rate: 66%

Middle 50% SAT: 900-1110

Middle 50% ACT: 16-22

Undergrad enrollment: 34,703

 

CSUN’s location in Los Angeles’s San Fernando Valley, and subsequently its accessibility to the entertainment industry, is just one reason why the university frequently finds itself included on lists like Variety’s Top 50 Film Schools and Instructors From Around the World. CSUN offers a multitude of entertainment-friendly programs through its Mike Curb College of Arts, Media, & Communication ranging from Cinema & Television Arts to Music to Theater. No matter if you’re studying art or urban studies and planning, the college prides itself on preparing students to meet their post-college goals. 

 

Learn more about CSUN and your chances of acceptance.

 

9. CSU Chico

 

Location: Chico, CA 

Acceptance rate: 89%

Middle 50% SAT: 980-1160

Middle 50% ACT: 18-24

Undergrad enrollment: 15,676

 

Founded in 1887, CSU Chico is the second-oldest school in the California University System and the sixth-oldest public college in the country. Not only is the university one of the best Cal State schools, CSU Chico is also one of the greenest. The university ranks 49th on the Sierra Club‚Äôs list of cool schools, a list of the nation‚Äôs greenest universities published annually. Helping to support the earth-friendly vibe is how easy it is to go carless at CSU Chico‚ÄĒmost students live, learn, and work within walking or biking distance of the school.¬†

 

Learn more about CSU Chico and your chances of acceptance.

 

10. CSU San Bernardino

 

Location: San Bernardino, CA 

Acceptance rate: 78% 

Middle 50% SAT: 910-1070

Middle 50% ACT: 15-20 

Undergrad enrollment: 17,123

 

CSU has the second-highest African American and Hispanic enrollments of all public universities in California‚ÄĒ66% of students identify as Hispanic and 5% as African American. CSU is one of the nation‚Äôs 400+ Hispanic-serving institutions, meaning at least 25% of its undergraduate enrollment is by Hispanic students. CSU San Bernardino is an important pathway to higher education for many families, 81% of students are first-generation college students.¬†

 

Learn more about CSU San Bernardino and your chances of acceptance.

 

11. Cal State LA

 

Location: Los Angeles, CA

Acceptance rate: 76% 

Middle 50% SAT: 890-1060

Middle 50% ACT: 15-20

Undergrad enrollment: 22,566

 

Located on a 200-acre hilltop site on the eastern edge of Los Angeles, Cal State LA provides higher educational opportunities to a diverse group of students. Cal State LA is designated as a Hispanic-serving institution, minority-serving Institution, and Asian American and Native American Pacific Islander-serving institution. Almost 70% of students identify as Hispanic. Cal State LA’s Latin American Studies program was the first of its kind when established in 1968 and is often attributed to the expansion of the ethnic studies discipline. 

 

Learn more about Cal State LA and your chances of acceptance.

 

12. CSU Monterey Bay

 

Location: Seaside, CA 

Acceptance rate: 93%

Middle 50% SAT: 1018-1210

Middle 50% ACT: 21-29

Undergrad enrollment: 6,693

 

CSU Monterey Bay is located on the site of an old army base, Fort Ord, where celebrities like Jimi Hendrix and Clint Eastwood received their basic training. The school is located just one mile from the beach, but the main attraction for many of its students is opportunity. The college is focused on making higher education accessible to traditionally underserved and low-income populations‚ÄĒ53% of CSU Monterey Bay students are among the first generation of their families to go to college.¬†

 

Learn more about CSU Monterey Bay and your chances of acceptance.

 

13. CSU Bakersfield

 

Location: Bakersfield, CA 

Acceptance rate: 78%

Middle 50% SAT: 900-1080

Middle 50% ACT: 16-22 

Undergrad enrollment: 9,979

 

CSU Bakersfield boasts of delivering all the benefits of a private university‚ÄĒsuch as small class sizes, cutting-edge research, and outstanding faculty‚ÄĒat the cost of a public school. CSU Bakersfield plays a valuable role in its surrounding communities; it‚Äôs the only public university within nearly 100 miles. The university offers more than 40 majors‚ÄĒranging from agricultural business to theater‚ÄĒthrough its four schools:¬†

 

  • Arts and Humanities
  • Business and Public Administration
  • Natural Sciences, Mathematics and Engineering
  • Social Sciences and Education

 

Learn more about CSU Bakersfield and your chances of acceptance.

 

14. CSU Sacramento

 

Location: Sacramento, CA

Acceptance rate: 83%

Middle 50% SAT: 920-1110

Middle 50% ACT: 16-22

Undergrad enrollment: 28,689

 

Located in California‚Äôs capital region, CSU Sacramento, often called simply Sac State or Sacramento State, serves a diverse student population. The university is designated as an Asian American/Native American Pacific Islander Serving Institution and a Hispanic Serving Institution. Sacramento State is known for its beautiful tree-lined campus‚ÄĒover 3,000 trees call Sac State home and the school is recognized as a Tree Campus by the Arbor Day Foundation.¬†

 

Learn more about CSU Sacramento and your chances of acceptance.

 

15. CSU Maritime Academy

 

Location: Vallejo, CA 

Acceptance rate: 82%

Middle 50% SAT: 960-1190

Middle 50% ACT: 21-27

Undergrad enrollment: 911

 

The CSU Maritime Academy‚ÄĒor simply Cal Maritime‚ÄĒis one of just seven degree-granting maritime academies in the U.S. and the only one on the west coast. Cal Maritime provides a very focused college experience, offering just seven majors:¬†

 

  • Business Administration¬†
  • Global Studies and Maritime Affairs¬†
  • Marine Transportation¬†
  • Mechanical Engineering¬†
  • Facilities Engineering Technology
  • Marine Engineering Technology
  • Oceanography

 

Cal Maritime students can expect their time at the university to pay off. The university ranks 11th (for in-state students) and 17th (for out-of-state students) on Payscale’s list of best value colleges (for context, Stanford is 18th on the list and Harvard ranks 19th). 

 

Learn more about CSU Maritime Academy and your chances of acceptance.

 

16. SF State

 

Location: San Francisco, CA 

Acceptance rate: 64% 

Middle 50% SAT: 1140-1310

Middle 50% ACT: 23-29

Undergrad enrollment: 6,577

 

SF State attracts the type of students you‚Äôd expect at a school in one of the nation‚Äôs most vibrant and interesting cities. The Wall Street Journal ranks SF State fifth in the nation for diversity. The school‚Äôs College of Ethnic Studies was the first of its kind when it was established in 1968 and was early to acknowledge systematic inequalities in society. Diversity at SFU State extends past campus and into the industries students find themselves in after college‚ÄĒthe university is a top feeder of employees for businesses such as Apple, Google, Kaiser Permanente, Wells Fargo, and Oracle.¬†

 

Learn more about SF State and your chances of acceptance.

 

17. CSU San Marcos

 

Location: San Marcos, CA

Acceptance rate: 79%

Middle 50% SAT: 950-1120

Middle 50% ACT: 17-22

Undergrad enrollment: 13,962 

 

Founded in 1989, CSU San Marcos is one of the newer additions to the California State University System. CSU San Marcos opened in rented office space offering nine majors to a study body of just 448 students and 12 faculty members but has grown rapidly. Today, CSU San Marcos offers more than 40 majors through its four colleges:

 

  • College of Business Administration
  • College of Education, Health & Human Services
  • College of Humanities, Arts, Social & Behavioral Sciences
  • College of Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics

 

CSU San Marcos plays an important role in educating underrepresented groups and veterans‚ÄĒ54% of graduates are first-generation college students and one in nine students is a veteran, service member, or military-affiliated dependent.

 

Learn more about CSU San Marcos and your chances of acceptance.

 

18. Sonoma State | SSU 

 

Location: Rohnert Park, CA 

Acceptance rate: 89%

Middle 50% SAT: 970-1170

Middle 50% ACT: 17-23

Undergrad enrollment: 7,255

 

Sonoma State is located in the heart of California‚Äôs wine country and about an hour north of San Francisco. The university is one of the more residential schools in the California State University System, with 34% of the student body living on campus. SSU‚Äôs Jean and Charles Schulz Information Center (named after the creator of the popular comic Peanuts and his wife) is one of the largest libraries in the CSU System‚ÄĒit houses more than 670,000 volumes and includes the Jack London Collection, which contains items like first-editions, correspondence, and memorabilia.¬†

 

Learn more about Sonoma State and your chances of acceptance.

 

19. Stanislaus State

 

Location: Turlock, CA 

Acceptance rate: 89%

Middle 50% SAT: 900-1070

Middle 50% ACT: 15-21

Undergrad enrollment: 9,723

 

Stanislaus State’s location in California’s Central Valley makes it an ideal jumping-off point for students looking to explore everything the Golden State has to offer. It’s a short distance from the Bay Area, Monterey, Big Sur, Yosemite National Park, the Sierra Nevada, and the state capital. Students wanting to stay closer to home will find plenty to keep them busy on Stanislaus State’s campus, including more than 80 student-run organizations, 14 varsity sports, 10 sororities, and six fraternities.   

 

Learn more about Stanislaus State and your chances of acceptance.

 

20. CSU Dominguez Hills

 

Location: Carson, CA

Acceptance rate: 87%

Middle 50% SAT: 840-1030

Middle 50% ACT: 15-19

Undergrad enrollment: 15,958

 

CSU Dominguez Hills takes its name from the family that held the land it sits on for seven generations‚ÄĒJuan Jos√© Dominguez, a soldier, received a grant of 75,000 acres in 1784 from King Carlos III of Spain. CSU Dominguez Hills lays claim to the most diverse campus of the CSU System; 90% of its students are people of color and the college boasts that 52.6% of first-generation students earn a degree, a higher percentage than any other school in the CSU system.¬†

 

Learn more about CSU Dominguez Hills and your chances of acceptance.

 

21. CSU Channel Islands

 

Location: Camarillo, CA 

Acceptance rate: 74%

Middle 50% SAT: 850-1060

Middle 50% ACT: 18-23

Undergrad enrollment: 6,211

 

CSU Channel Islands is the newest campus in the California State University System (it opened in fall 2002). The university views its relative newness as an asset and embraces innovation and boasts of a vibrance not found on other CSU campuses. CSU Channel Islands takes an integrative approach to education and places an emphasis on hands-on experience and service-learning. 

 

Learn more about CSU Channel Islands and your chances of acceptance.

 

22. CSU East Bay

 

Location: Hayward, CA

Acceptance rate: 73%

Middle 50% SAT: 890-1090

Middle 50% ACT: 16-21

Undergrad enrollment: 11,294

 

CSU East Bay, also known as Cal State East Bay, is one of the most diverse campuses in the country. The university is home to a wide variety of domestic students from a broad cross-section of backgrounds, along with more than 1,000 international students from over 60 different countries. Cal State East Bay‚Äôs location offers plenty of opportunities to its students‚ÄĒSan Francisco and Silicon Valley are both roughly 30 minutes away.¬†¬†¬†

 

Learn more about CSU East Bay and your chances of acceptance.

 

23. Humboldt State | Cal Poly Humboldt

 

Location: Arcata, CA 

Acceptance rate: 91%

Middle 50% SAT: 1020-1261

Middle 50% ACT: 22-28.5

Undergrad enrollment: 5,201

 

Humboldt State became Cal Poly Humboldt on January 26, 2022, making it the third polytechnic institution in California (and the first in northern California). The change is the result of a more than $400 million investment and aims to deliver in-demand STEM workers to the job market. Through this transition, the university hopes to double its enrollment over the next seven years, add 12 new programs by 2023, and 27 new programs by 2029. This transformation will poise the once small, quirky school to rise up the ranks of the best Cal State schools.

 

Learn more about Cal Poly Humboldt and your chances of acceptance.

 

How to Apply to the Cal State Schools

 

Applications to the Cal State schools are done online via Cal State Apply. Only students who have met the 15-unit A-G requirement are eligible for admission to a California State University System school. California residents will need to earn a 2.5 GPA in these classes for consideration for admissions, while out-of-state students will require a 3.0 GPA in these core classes. 

 

Letter

Subject 

Requirement 

A

History 

2 years

B

English 

4 years

C

Mathematics

3 years 

D

Science 

2 years

E

Language other than English 

2 years (or the equivalent to the second level of high school instruction)

F

Visual and performing arts

1 year

G

College-preparatory elective

1 year 

 

The California State University System suspended its standardized test requirement for the 2022-2023 admissions cycle in light of the challenges presented by COVID-19 and are poised to eliminate the SAT and ACT requirement altogether in favor of test-optional admissions.

 

What Are Your Chances of Acceptance?

 

It’s easy to think of the schools in the California State University System as a less-competitive option to the big-name colleges like UCLA, UC Berkeley, and UC San Diego found in the University of California System. Although the UC schools are generally more selective and have higher academic standards to meet, you’ll still need an impressive profile to catch the eye of one of the schools in the California State University System. 

 

CollegeVine can help you understand your odds of acceptance at hundreds of colleges across the country, including the CSU and UC schools. Our free chancing engine uses factors like grades, test scores, and extracurricular activities to predict your odds of acceptance (in addition to highlighting areas of strength and places that can use improvement), ultimately, helping you to build a stronger profile and a well-rounded list of colleges that includes safety, target, and reach schools.  


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.