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Are There Ivy League Schools in California? 15 Top Colleges to Consider

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The Ivy League has a cachet that draws applicants from around the world. Still, if you’re in search of an incredible education, the schools in this grouping aren’t the only ones to consider. Whether you currently live in California or just like the idea of attending school near the beach, it’s worth noting that the Golden State is home to an impressive 281 colleges and universities with specialties ranging from science to business, and performing arts to medicine. 

While there aren’t any official Ivy League schools in California, many of the state’s higher education institutions boast exceptional academics and highly selective admissions policies that make them rank equally well. Keep reading to discover the eight Ivy League-level colleges to consider if you want to head west for school.


What is the Ivy League? Are there Ivies in California?


Since around the 1950s, the term Ivy League has referred to a group of highly competitive colleges located in the Northeast. However, the truth is that these schools were originally called Ivies simply because they were all in the same athletic conference.

Having helped mold some of the most intelligent and promising minds in the country, the Ivy League includes the following prestigious schools: Brown University, Columbia University, Cornell University, Dartmouth Colleges, Harvard University, the University of Pennsylvania, Princeton University, and Yale University. 


While attending an Ivy can unquestionably lead to career success – for example, Princeton grads have an average starting salary of $75,200 — the schools on this list aren’t the only ones that can set students up for a bright future. In fact, California has a number of colleges that beat out the Ivies when it comes to selectivity and school ranking. 


15 “Ivy League” Schools in California


Wish that there were Ivy League schools in California? The good news is that the colleges on this list offer an array of perks like outstanding academics, small class sizes, and opportunities for research and study abroad. If you want to attend an Ivy without dealing with the cold and snow of a Northeastern campus, consider adding one of these top California colleges to your list:


1. Stanford University


Location: Stanford, CA
Acceptance rate: 4%
Middle 50% SAT/ACT: 1470-1570 SAT, 34-35 ACT
Undergraduate enrollment: 7,645


Holding the No. 3 spot on U.S. News & World Report’s list of the best National Universities, Stanford is often referred to as the “Ivy of the West,” and for good reason. With a student-faculty ratio of 5:1, the university reports that almost 70 percent of its classes have fewer than 20 undergraduates. 

Popular majors include computer and information sciences, engineering, and physical sciences, though the school is also known for its laboratory and research opportunities. Need another reason to apply to Stanford? The university has a freshman retention rate of 98 percent, suggesting that student satisfaction is incredibly high.


2. California Institute of Technology


Location: Pasadena, CA
Acceptance rate: 4%
Middle 50% SAT/ACT: 1530-1580 SAT, 35-36 ACT
Undergraduate enrollment: 948


The No. 9 national university in the U.S., Caltech has a mission to “expand human knowledge and benefit society through research integrated with education.” To that end, the school encourages undergrads to participate in research activities throughout the school year and even during the summer. 

While Caltech is divided into several academic divisions, including Biology & Biological Engineering; Engineering & Applied Science; and Humanities & Social Sciences, the college also offers an Interdisciplinary Studies Program (ISP) wherein students can design their own curricula featuring Caltech courses, research, and independent study.


3. Pomona College


Location: Claremont, CA
Acceptance rate: 7%
Middle 50% SAT/ACT: 1470-1570 SAT, 33-34 ACT
Undergraduate enrollment: 1,700


If you haven’t heard of Pomona College, it might be worth looking into. Pomona holds the No. 5 spot on the list of National Liberal Arts Colleges. The founding member of the Claremont Colleges, Pomona offers students the opportunity to take classes across seven SoCal institutions of higher education. 

As a bonus, the college empowers students to further their skills through 80 national and international summer internship programs. Moreover, almost 50 percent of students at Pomona opt to study abroad while earning their degrees. 


4. Claremont McKenna College


Location: Claremont, CA
Acceptance rate: 11%
Middle 50% SAT/ACT: 1420-1530 SAT, 32-35 ACT
Undergraduate enrollment: 1,324


Claremont McKenna is another member of the Claremont Consortium and the one that holds the distinction of having the happiest students. In fact, the Princeton Review rated CMC No. 2 in the nation for happiest undergraduates. With popular majors ranging from econometrics to experimental psychology, students enjoy a wide range of academic options. 

As a bonus, undergrads at this school have the option to complete sequences of courses after they’ve finished their major. The end result is that students have more diverse knowledge and experiences with which to enter the working world or apply to grad school.


5. University of Southern California


Location: Los Angeles, CA

Acceptance rate: 13%
Middle 50% SAT/ACT: 1410-1540 SAT, 32-35 ACT
Undergraduate enrollment: 20,700


California’s oldest private research university, USC is known for being home to the largest film school in the country. However, the school also earns high marks for its occupational therapy, psychology, and teacher education programs, to name a few. 

While tuition at this California Ivy exceeds $56,000 a year, applicants should note that 38 percent of full-time students receive need-based aid, with an average grant of $41,313. As a bonus, undergrads at this institution can enjoy everything LA has to offer, including theatre, museums, and a robust film and television scene.


6. Harvey Mudd College


Location: Claremont, CA
Acceptance rate: 10%
Middle 50% SAT/ACT: 1480-1560 SAT, 34-36 ACT
Undergraduate enrollment: 889


Another member of the Claremont Colleges, Harvey Mudd strives to educate the next generation of engineers, scientists, and mathematicians. However, prospective applicants should note that the school also offers plenty of courses in social sciences and humanities, as well as an Independent Study Program for students who want to design their own majors. As if that weren’t enough reason to attend Harvey Mudd, note that the school offers a student-faculty ratio of 8:1 and hundreds of on-campus clubs.


7. UC Berkeley


Location: Berkeley, CA
Acceptance rate: 14%
Middle 50% SAT/ACT: 1310-1530 SAT, 31-35 ACT
Undergraduate enrollment: 32,143


Part of the UC system, this public university holds the No. 20 spot on U.S. News’ list of the top national schools. Berkeley is made up of 14 schools and colleges, with specialties ranging from optometry to environmental design. Along with a reasonable in-state tuition cost — California residents can attend UC Berkeley for around $14,00 a year — students enjoy access to a 12 million-volume library and more than 1,200 extracurriculars, including a large public service center.




Location: Los Angeles, CA
Acceptance rate: 11%
Middle 50% SAT/ACT: 1290-1520 SAT, 30-34 ACT
Undergraduate enrollment: 32,119


A great choice for students who plan to enter college undecided, UCLA boasts more than 3,800 courses in over 125 major programs. Along with the playground that is Los Angeles, Bruins can enjoy hundreds of student clubs and organizations, including uncommon selections like the Disney Club and 1girl at UCLA, which enables female students to mentor middle school girls from local schools. As a bonus, this LA institution holds the distinction of having the highest percentage of undergraduates receiving Pell Grants of any top-tier school in the U.S.


9. Scripps College


Location: Claremont, CA

Acceptance rate: 30%
Middle 50% SAT/ACT: 1380-1520
Undergraduate enrollment: 1091

Scripps College is an all-women’s college located right at the base of the San Gabriel mountains, and offers highly-ranked programs in humanities, ranging from art history to music to performances. It’s frequently listed as one of the nation’s most beautiful campuses, and as such, many students will live in on-campus housing for their entire four-year run. 

The school also features a very personal learning experiences for students, boasting a 10:1 student-to-faculty ratio. As another member of the Claremont colleges, students have access to the resources of the other schools, which always gives them the option to expand their social circles, academically challenge themselves, and never run out of opportunities.


10. Santa Clara University


Location: Santa Clara, CA

Acceptance rate: 54%
Middle 50% SAT/ACT: 1330-1490, 30-33
Undergraduate enrollment: 5,895

Santa Clara University hosts one of the highest graduation rates in the country. Located right in the heart of Silicon Valley, students at Santa Clara have access to the opportunities and internships that come with it, making it easy to see why the most popular majors fall in business and engineering. 

As a Jesuit institution, Santa Clara blends high-tech innovation with a commitment to social consciousness, as they strive to have their students work to make the world more sustainable and humane, meaning research is prevalent across all fields of study. Also, the campus is one of the only in the country to be built with skateboarding in mind.


11. Pitzer College


Location: Claremont, CA

Acceptance rate: 18%
Middle 50% SAT/ACT: 1330-1510, 30-33
Undergraduate enrollment: 1,186

As another member of the Claremont College Consortium, students at Pitzer College similarly have access to the resources of fellow members like Claremont McKenna, Harvey Mudd, and Scripps, while similarly enjoying a smaller and personalized student experience. 

However, there are a number of things that set Pitzer apart. 100% of faculty hold a PhD in their field, making it no surprise that last year Pitzer came in third as far as the number of Fulbright scholars produced, and the most of the Claremont colleges. This can also be chalked up to the consistently small class sizes, with an average of only 16. And, boosted by a student-to-faculty ratio of 12:1, no student at Pitzer will be overlooked.


12. University of California, San Diego


Location: La Jolla, CA

Acceptance rate: 34%
Middle 50% SAT/ACT: 1270-1480, 27-33
Undergraduate enrollment: 33,300

Located right off the coast, UC San Diego offers students the choice of 150 different undergraduate majors to choose from, over 600 student organizations to participate in, and loads of research opportunities to invest in. Ranked as the 20th best global University, the school has various science programs consistently ranked in the Top 10 ranging from subjects such as Cell Biology to Pharmacology. Students looking for a big-school experience with a wide-range of specialized research and study opportunities may need to look no further than UCSD.


13. Soka University of America


Location: Aliso Viejo, CA

Acceptance rate: 52%
Middle 50% SAT/ACT: 1200-1400, 24-28
Undergraduate enrollment: 400

Soka University is a private university with campuses both in California and in Japan, and as such, places a strong emphasis on teaching students about global citizenship and intercultural understanding. It has the smallest student body of any school on this list, meaning an education at Soka is incredibly specialized and individualized. 

While the school is renowned for its interdisciplinary liberal arts education, the curriculum is most known for the Peace Studies program, meaning classes at Soka generally tackle and engage with topics related to peace, conflict, and justice. Students will learn conflict resolution strategies, the history of human rights, and the ethics of peace. 


14. Occidental College


Location: Los Angeles, CA

Acceptance rate: 38%
Middle 50% SAT/ACT: 1340-1490, 30-33
Undergraduate enrollment: 1,900

As one of the only schools on this list located in the heart of Los Angeles, Occidental College immerses students in the culture of the city while also providing them an extensive experience in whatever field of study they choose. While there are over 40 majors to choose from, the school’s total population is less than 2,000, meaning most majors have graduating class sizes of no more than 25. On top of that, Occidental offers many specialized programs for ambitious students, such as the Kahane United Nations program, in which Occidental students embark on NY-based internships at UN organizations and related-government programs.


15. University of California, Irvine


Location: Irvine, CA

Acceptance rate: 29%
Middle 50% SAT/ACT: 1230-1430, 25-33
Undergraduate enrollment: 29,400

Another one of the UC schools, UC Irvine has one of the best Honors Colleges in California, a top-ranking Philosophy program, and sizable pre-med and Engineering programs, with the UCI Medical Center consistently ranked as one of the best hospitals in the country. 

But by far the most notable insight about the school is its location. Not only is it right near California’s Orange County beaches, but the campus is built around Alridch Park, a central park that serves as the heart of campus and gives it a wide-open layout. It’s no wonder that it’s been ranked as a Top 10 coolest school by Sierra magazine for 12 years straight.


What Are Your Chances of Acceptance?


Many of these schools are extremely selective. That said, your odds of admission into one of these stellar schools depend on the strength of your profile. CollegeVine can help you better understand your chances of acceptance. Our free chancing engine uses data points like grades, test scores, and extracurricular activities to estimate your odds of getting into these California schools along with hundreds of other colleges across the country—helping you build an informed college list and see how you stack up against other applicants.

Blog Writer