Best Small Colleges in California

There are a number of excellent small colleges in California. These colleges generally offer smaller class sizes, greater personal attention, and less bureaucracy than large research universities. Below is our ranking of the best colleges in California with fewer than 2000 students. Schools were evaluated and ranked according to academic reputation, selectivity, class intimacy, and student satisfaction.

Note: Along with each school’s listing you will find some basic information about the school’s location, history, alumni, etc., as well as data on student-faculty ratio, admissions rate, graduation rate, and tuition. All data was taken from the National Center for Education Statistics database. More information about each college can be found by clicking on the school’s name, which will take you to an in-depth profile of the school with contact and admissions information.

#1. California Institute of Technology

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Located in Pasadena, Calif., the California Institute of Technology offers graduate and undergraduate coeducational classes in majors such as engineering, astrobiology and chemistry. Founded in 1891 as a vocational school, its previous names have included Throop University, Throop Polytechnic Institute and Throop College of Technology. As a small private educational institution, California Institute of Technology commonly known as Caltech focuses its attention on research in academic disciplines such as physics, astronomy and geobiology. Approximately 80 percent of undergraduate students participate in research projects each year. Famous graduates of California Institute of Technology include James Fletcher, Arnold Beckman and C. Gordon Fullerton. The California Institute of Technology was rated as the 10th best university in 2013 by U.S. News & World Report.

Tuition & fees: $41,538
Student/faculty ratio: 3:1
Acceptance rate: 11%
Graduation rate: 92%

#2. Claremont McKenna College

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Located in Claremont, Calif., Claremont McKenna College primarily provides a coeducational liberal arts education at the undergraduate level. Formerly known as Claremont Men’s College, it was founded in 1946 before transitioning to a coeducational school in 1976. Today, the college maintains small class sizes to provide individualized education in topics such as psychology and economics. Because this educational institution is part of the Claremont Colleges consortium, students are able to enjoy the facilities at other campuses. As an exclusive institution, only a small percentage of applicants are accepted at Claremont McKenna College. Well-known graduates include Robert Day and Michael S. Jeffries. Claremont McKenna College was ranked as the ninth best liberal arts college by U.S. News & World Report in 2014.

Tuition & fees: $45,625
Student/faculty ratio: 8:1
Acceptance rate: 12%
Graduation rate: 92%

#3. Pomona College

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Pomona College located in Claremont, Calif. was founded in 1887 as a coeducational school to provide a liberal arts education. Today, this undergraduate college accepts an average of 400 students a year, ensuring that class sizes remain small. This educational institution is the founding member of the Claremont Colleges that shares resources, including courses at other universities. Classes at Pomona College are taught by professors, instead of graduate assistants. Most of Pomona College’s students major in economics, mathematics or neuroscience. Due to its smaller size, students are able to participate in internships and research projects. Well-known graduates of Pomona College include Kris Kristofferson and Roy E. Disney. U.S. News & World Report ranked Pomona College as the fourth best liberal arts college.

Tuition & fees: $43,580
Student/faculty ratio: 7:1
Acceptance rate: 14%
Graduation rate: 96%

#4. Harvey Mudd College

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Harvey Mudd College located in Claremont, Calif. was founded in 1955 to provide courses in mathematics, engineering and science. This educational institution is part of the Claremont Colleges, leading to it sharing buildings with other nearby colleges. The colleges cooperate by allowing students to enroll in classes at multiple campuses. This college focuses on providing education that leads to careers in fields such as computer analyst, engineer and scientist. Teams of students participate in a clinic program designed by an industry to gain real-world experience. Two United States astronauts, Stan Love and George Nelson graduated from Harvey Mudd College. U.S. News & World Report has provided this school with a ranking as the 16th best liberal arts college in the United States.

Tuition & fees: $46,509
Student/faculty ratio: 8:1
Acceptance rate: 18%
Graduation rate: 88%

#5. Pitzer College

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Pitzer College is a small liberal arts college in Claremont, California. Founded as a women’s college by Russell K. Pitzer, it became co-educational in 1970. Pitzer College has a rich campus community with many colorful traditions and a governance system co-designed by students and faculty. While many colleges offer majors in religious studies, Pitzer’s major in Secularism is unique. Awards received by Pitzer have included U.S. News & World Report College and University rankings’s 35th position and Business Insider’s 20 Most Exclusive Colleges In America for 2012. Pitzer is an academically strong school, with all the members of its tenured faculty holding a PhD or equivalent degree in their respective fields. Pitzer has a 10-to-1 student to faculty ratio which allows for intense, effective coursework.

Tuition & fees: $45,018
Student/faculty ratio: 11:1
Acceptance rate: 15%
Graduation rate: 87%

#6. Scripps College

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Scripps College, located in Claremont California, was founded in 1926 by Ellen Browning Scripps, with the goal to provide higher education for women. Scripps College is a member of Claremont Colleges, a group of 5 colleges located within Claremont California. Scripps is often called one of the most beautiful campuses in America, with its well preserved original layout, beautifully lush gardens and landscape. Many distinguished alumni have graduated from Scripps College, such as Beth Nolan, former White House Chief Counsel, and Linda Himelstein, former writer and editor of Business Week magazine. Recently, the school was voted the 95th best overall college, 75th best private school, and 15th best school in the West, by Forbes magazine. It was also ranked #25 in National Liberal Arts Colleges in 2012 by US News & World Report.

Tuition & fees: $45,564
Student/faculty ratio: 10:1
Acceptance rate: 36%
Graduation rate: 90%

#7. Soka University of America

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Founded in 1987, Soka University of America is settled on top of a hill overlooking a wilderness park and located just two miles from the ocean in the City of Aliso Viejo, CA. US News ranks it 41 among national liberal arts colleges. This may be because the non-denominational college boasts a student to teacher ratio of 9:1 and has a unique curriculum focused on study abroad. All students are required to take foreign language classes and then take courses in a country in which the language is spoken. This certainly fits in with the university’s goal of creating truly global citizens much like alumni of note Tahereh Mafi, author of the best selling book “Shatter Me.”

Tuition & fees: $29,144
Student/faculty ratio: 9:1
Acceptance rate: 43%
Graduation rate: 92%

#8. Hope International University

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Formerly known as Pacific Bible Seminary and Pacific Christian College, Hope International University in Fullerton, Calif. provides undergraduate and graduate educational programs. This nondenominational institution was founded in 1928 and received university status in 1997. The university has five colleges designed to teach subjects such as business, psychology and science. In addition to offering classes at the brick-and-mortar campus, students can enroll in over 300 online courses. Hope International University integrates high ethical standards along with a religious environment in its programs. Many students at this university plan to begin careers as ministers or teachers. A famous graduate of Hope International University is musical recording artist Tyrone Wells. U.S. News & World Report lists Hope International University as a tier 2 school.

Tuition & fees: $26,050
Student/faculty ratio: 14:1
Acceptance rate: 47%
Graduation rate: 40%

#9. San Diego Christian College

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San Diego Christian College had its origins in 1970 with the founding of the Christian Heritage College in Santee, California. It is a small liberal arts school school with about 600 students. There are SDCC Hawks teams for men’s baseball, basketball, cross country and soccer, and women’s teams for basketball, cross country, soccer, volleyball, and softball. Though it is a non-denominational school, SDCC is committed to fostering academic aptitude and curiosity within the context of a Biblical worldview. SDCC has a favorable 17:1 student to teacher ratio, allowing for small class sizes, and its most popular majors in recent years have included Business Management and Bible Studies.

Tuition & fees: $25,888
Student/faculty ratio: 17:1
Acceptance rate: 49%
Graduation rate: 43%

#10. Menlo College

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Founded in 1927 in Atherton in California’s Silicon Valley, Menlo College is a private, four-year baccalaureate institution that specializes in business. With a campus of 40 acres, this college has 681 students and offers 15 business related degrees. Menlo uses a semester based academic calendar with an emphasis on completed internships. It also has several athletic programs and the teams are part of the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics. Called the Menlo Oaks, they are a member of the California Pacific Conference. Some notable alumni that have graduated from Menlo College include Patty Hearst, Dan Gurney, Danny Castillo, Carla Esparza and Jeff van Grundy. The Princeton Review has named Menlo a 2011 Best in the West College in 2010. In 2014, U.S News and World Report ranked them as number 10 in the Best Regional Colleges in the West in their Best Colleges Edition.

Tuition & fees: $37,100
Student/faculty ratio: 14:1
Acceptance rate: 37%
Graduation rate: 36%