California offers the most choice of any state in the country when it comes to a college education with hundreds of colleges and universities to consider. With ten research universities within the University of California system and 23 campuses within the California State University system, California has the largest and most well-respected public school system in the country, all offering low-tuition for state residents with some even offering relatively low tuition for out-of-state residents. In addition, there are countless private universities and liberal arts schools in the state including the small private liberal arts schools within the Claremont Consortium and several schools that consistently make the top ten lists for best universities in the nation.
For our 50 Best Colleges in California ranking we used our weighted methodology, taking into account information available to the public on the schools’ websites, through the highly respected rankings of U.S. News and World Report, and through the National Center for Education Statistics. Our methodology includes student satisfaction, student selectivity, class intimacy, and graduation rates, as well as taking into account the school’s reputation. All colleges listed in our ranking are regionally accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges.
#1. Stanford University
Stanford University is a private research university located in Stanford, CA just outside of San Jose in Silicon Valley. Stanford was founded in 1885 by a former U.S. Senator and California Governor, Leland Stanford, and his wife Jane, in honor of their only child, Leland Jr., who died of typhoid fever at the age of 15. Stanford is consistently ranked in the top five National Universities by U.S. News and World Report because of its stellar reputation and emphasis on research and academic excellence. In a typical year Stanford only accepts 5% of applicants, but students admitted to the university will have access to professors at the top of their fields with an impressive four to one student to faculty ratio as well as over 65 undergraduate majors and 90 graduate fields to choose from.
While Stanford’s tuition is high it is also one of the top fundraising educational institutions in the country, becoming the first school to raise more than $1 billion in one year in 2012. Stanford passes much of this wealth on to it’s students directly with a generous financial aid program. Any student admitted whose family makes under $125,000 a year may attend tuition free while an admitted student with a family income of less than $65,000 annually may attend without paying any tuition, fees, or room and board. Such students are expected to pay $5,000 per year out of earnings from work opportunities at the school. As a result, over 56% of undergraduate students receive need-based financial aid and most students graduate debt-free. In addition, students have access to one of the largest university library systems in the country with more than 9.3 million volumes along with state-of-the-art facilities and one of the largest campuses with seven schools on one campus. Stanford’s academic year runs on a quarter system beginning in late September and ending in early June. Students graduating in 2020 come from 76 countries and all 50 states.
Accreditation: Stanford University is regionally accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges.
Tuition Range: Expensive
#2. California Institute of Technology
Located in Pasadena, CA just northeast of downtown Los Angeles, the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) is one of the top national universities in the country, ranked #10 by U.S. News and World report for 2018. Originally founded in 1891 as a preparatory and vocational school, Caltech was transformed into an institute of technology in 1920 after attracting many prominent scientists in the early 20th century. Emphasizing science and engineering with six academic divisions, Caltech’s nearly 300 faculty members represent the top of their fields with 37 Nobel Laureates and 58 National Medal of Science recipients among faculty and alumni.
Caltech is a private non-profit research university that boasts a three to one student to faculty ratio, one of the lowest in the nation. As a small school with just under 1,000 undergraduate students, Caltech attracts some of the brightest students in the country with only 8% of applicants admitted and 99% of admitted students ranking in the top 10% of their graduating high school class. While only freshman are required to live on campus the majority of undergraduate students remain on campus for all four years living in eight student houses governed by the students which is a long-standing tradition at Caltech. There is also a strong focus on research with $332 million dollars for sponsored research in 2011 which presents students with unique opportunities within the sciences. In addition to all the resources within the school, Caltech also operates and manages NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory with over 5,000 employees and manages the Einstein’s Papers Project.
Accreditation: California Institute of Technology is regionally accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges.
#3. University of Southern California
The University of Southern California (USC) is the oldest private research university in California, founded in Los Angeles in 1880 by a group led by Judge Robert Widney. With over 19,000 undergraduate students and 26,000 graduate students, USC offers 95 undergraduate majors and 134 master’s, doctoral, and professional degrees through 17 professional schools. As such a large school, USC offers an impressive nine to one student to faculty ratio and boasts a 92% graduation rate. USC emphasizes research with $684 million directed towards sponsored research in the 2014 – 2015 academic year. USC faculty and staff hold many academic awards including five Nobel laureates, eight Rhodes Scholars, and five MacArthur Fellows, among many others.
Many well-known schools make up USC including the very competitive School of Cinematic Arts, the oldest and largest film school in the country offering degrees in six different programs. USC also boasts the first Agriculture School established in California, and many other schools ranked at the top of their fields including the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, the Marshall School of Business, the Rossier School of Education, and the Sol Price School of Public Policy. In addition to great academics, USC opened a brand new state-of-the-art facility for students in Fall 2017 that includes 130,000 square feet of retail space on the ground floor with a Trader Joe’s, a Target, a fitness center, and restaurants and outdoor dining, with the top four floors housing 2700 students offering “the very best in residential life.”
Accreditation: The University of Southern California is regionally accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges.
Tuition: Very Expensive
#4. Pomona College
As the founding member of the Claremont College Consortium, Pomona College offers the best of both worlds with small class sizes and a low student to faculty ratio of eight to one, as well as a larger community of students spread across “the 5 Cs” of the Claremont Colleges with nearly 6,000 total undergraduate students within one square mile. These five undergraduate schools, along with two graduate institutions, share classes, research libraries, affinity groups and clubs as well as dining halls and athletic facilities. In addition, since Pomona is an undergraduate institution, 52% of students have the opportunity to conduct research with faculty during the school year with additional opportunities to do focused research alongside a faculty member in the Summer Undergraduate Research Program. Pomona offers 48 majors and encourages students to study abroad for a semester in one of 61 programs in 34 countries.
With a diverse student body coming from all 50 states and 63 countries in 2018, Pomona “meets 100% of demonstrated financial need” of every student enrolled and more than half of all students receive financial aid through scholarships, grants, and work-study opportunities. Named one of the top educational institutions to produce U.S. Fulbright Scholars by the Chronicle of Higher Education, Pomona is also consistently ranked as one of the best National Liberal Arts Universities, ranked sixth by U.S. News and World Report.
Accreditation: Pomona College is regionally accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges.
Tuition: Very Expensive
#5. Claremont McKenna College
Claremont McKenna College is one of the five undergraduate liberal arts schools that make up the Claremont College Consortium located in Claremont, 35 miles east of downtown Los Angeles. Claremont McKenna is primarily an undergraduate institution that specializes in economics, political science, international relations, and public policy, and also offers a broad set of majors in the natural sciences, social sciences, and humanities. In 2007 Claremont McKenna added a Master’s in Finance with the addition of the Robert Day School of Economics and Finance.
Ranked as the eighth best liberal arts college in the nation by U.S. News and World Report, Claremont McKenna enrolls just over 1,300 students each year offering small class sizes and a nine to one student to faculty ratio. Because Claremont McKenna is part of the Claremont Colleges Consortium, students also have access to 2,200 classes, 7,000 additional students, and 3,000 faculty and staff along with other shared resources of a larger research university. 99% of Claremont McKenna’s students enroll in classes at one of the other colleges in the consortium.
Accreditation: Claremont McKenna College is regionally accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges.
Tuition: Very Expensive
#6. Harvey Mudd College
Harvey Mudd College is a small liberal arts institution that offers Bachelor of Science degrees specializing in engineering, computer science, mathematics, and biological and physical sciences. With just over 800 students and 100 faculty who all have terminal degrees in their field, Harvey Mudd offers a very low student to faculty ratio as well as the chance to participate in collaborative professional research and yearlong clinic programs serving a nonprofit or corporate client. U.S. News and World Report ranks Harvey Mudd twelfth in National Liberal Arts Colleges and first in its ranking of Best Undergraduate Engineering Programs.
As part of the Claremont Consortium, Harvey Mudd is located within walking distance of six other institutions of higher learning and offers students access to the resources of a larger research university while offering the intimacy of a small liberal arts college with 99% of students living on campus for the entire four years. Harvey Mudd alumni have many options after graduation with 60% of graduates entering the workforce with a median starting salary of $87,500 while close to 30% of graduates go on to further postgraduate study in their field, many earning full fellowships.
Accreditation: Harvey Mudd College is regionally accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges.
Tuition: Very Expensive
#7. University of California – Los Angeles
Located in the Westwood district of Los Angeles, the University of California – Los Angeles (UCLA) is a public research university with over 30,000 undergraduates and 13,000 graduate students. UCLA is the most sought after university in the nation with 113,000 freshman applicants in 2018, the most of any university in the United States. Ranked #1 Public University in the nation and #19 in National Universities by U.S. News and World Report, UCLA offers over 125 majors and more than 90 minors across six undergraduate colleges, seven professional schools, and four professional health science schools. The most popular majors range from biology and psychobiology to business economics and economics to psychology.
Primarily a residential campus, 97% of first-year students live in university housing with a rich campus life that offers over 1,000 student clubs, the chance to start businesses with fellow students, and the opportunity to attend concerts and some of the top NCAA athletic events with Bruins fans from all over the country. Tuition is very affordable for students from California with 45% of undergraduates paying no tuition at all. Since 2010 UCLA has averaged nearly $1 billion a year in competitively awarded research grants and contracts with more than 140 companies created based on technology developed at UCLA.
Accreditation: University of California – Los Angeles is regionally accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges.
Out-of-State: Very Expensive
#8. University of California – Berkeley
Ranked as the #1 Public University by Forbes and as the #2 Top Public School by U.S. News and World Report, the University of California – Berkeley is the flagship public research university in the UC system. UC Berkeley was founded in 1868 and admitted its first female students shortly thereafter in 1870. Offering over 350 degree programs across 14 colleges and schools to over 40,000 students, UC Berkeley boasts a low student-to-faculty ratio of 18 to 1 with less than 30 students in 71% of undergraduate classes. With over 12 million book volumes in its library system and nearly $800 billion dedicated to research and development each year, students have the opportunity to engage extensive literature and faculty at the very top of their fields.
While the average grade point average of admitted freshman students is 4.41 and only 18% of applicants are admitted, 20% are first-generation college students. Additionally, UC Berkeley is known for it’s student activism with more than 5,000 undergraduate students engaging in public service in the community each year through it’s Public Service Center, while also producing the most Peace Corps Volunteers of any educational institution in the country.
Accreditation: The University of California – Berkeley is regionally accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges.
#9. Soka University of America
Soka University of America, located in Aliso Viejo in Southern California, is a private liberal arts university that was founded on the principles of peace, human rights and the sanctity of life. Offering an impressive eight to one student-to-faculty ratio with an average class size of 12 students following a seminar format, Soka gives students the opportunity to work closely with faculty and with fellow students. Soka’s Bachelor of Liberal Arts degree offers many majors with the most popular being Environmental Studies, International Studies, Humanities and Social and Behavioral Sciences.
The bachelor degree program includes a unique Core Curriculum and organizes students into “learning clusters” that research community and world issues and explore solutions together. Throughout the curriculum, there is an emphasis on learning about and comparing Eastern and Western perspectives. Study abroad is included in tuition which enables every undergraduate student to live in a different culture for at least one semester. Additionally, 40% of students come from outside the United States, representing 45 countries. Soka offers full-tuition scholarships to admitted students with a family income of less than $60,000 a year with other scholarships and financial aid available for students outside that income range.
Accreditation: Soka University of America is regionally accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges.
#10. Pitzer College
Located in Claremont, Pitzer College is a small liberal arts school with just over 1,000 students, offering small class sizes and an 11 to one student-to-faculty ratio. As one of five undergraduate institutions of the Claremont Colleges Consortium, Pitzer College offers the best of both worlds giving students access to faculty, classes and student life across five contiguous campuses in a one mile radius. Pitzer emphasizes environmental and interdisciplinary studies, humanities, the arts, and social, behavioral and natural sciences. More than 40 majors are offered at Pitzer, while students also have the opportunity to develop their own unique major in conjunction with a faculty member or to take classes or even choose a major not offered at Pitzer through one of the other five schools in the Claremont Consortium.
Pitzer students are known to be active participants in college life and governance as well as in their community, with Pitzer ranked #3 Most Active Student Government and #8 in Students Most Engaged in Community Service by the 2018 Princeton Review. Service on committees and as voting members of the College Council, the college’s decision-making body, are highly encouraged and sought after activities. Additionally, Pitzer encourages appreciation of cultural and global diversity with 46 international exchange opportunities through study abroad programs. Students with a high school GPA over 3.5 are not required to submit SAT scores.
Accreditation: Pitzer College is regionally accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges.
Tuition: Very Expensive
#11. Scripps College
Scripps College was founded in 1926 by newspaper entrepreneur and philanthropist Ellen Browning Scripps. As the women’s liberal arts college within the Claremont Consortium, Scripps’ students have the opportunity to delve into the common Interdisciplinary Core Curriculum in their first three semesters of study as well as a rich and rewarding residential life. With just over 1,000 students, Scripps offers a 10 to one student to faculty ratio with small class sizes and over 50 majors along with the opportunity to cross-register and cross-major in subjects at one of the other four undergraduate schools in the Claremont Consortium. The most popular majors at Scripps include social sciences, biology and life sciences, psychology, area, ethnic and gender studies, visual/performing arts, and interdisciplinary studies. All students complete a Senior Thesis in the form of a research paper, project or performance, working closely with advising professors. Additionally, students have the opportunity to conduct research, often at the graduate level, in their field of interest.
Scripps’ students are actively engaged in the Claremont Consortium community as well as in the broader community. Through the Consortium, students have access to seven dining halls, four fitness centers, 2,000 undergraduate courses, and over 300 clubs and organizations. Internships are highly encouraged and supported at Scripps with over 86% of all students participating in at least one internship during their time at the school. Additionally, students have the opportunity to study abroad in 40 countries around the world.
Accreditation: Scripps College is regionally accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges.
Tuition: Very Expensive
#12. Pepperdine University
Located on the Pacific Ocean in Malibu, Pepperdine University provides students the opportunity to study in a beautiful setting at a private, non-profit research university. Founded in 1937 in association with the Churches of Christ, Pepperdine emphasizes the integration of “service, worship, and social responsibility with rigorous academic study” while welcoming students of all faiths. Students come from 70 different countries while those from the United States are encouraged to study abroad in what has been ranked among the “Most Popular Study Abroad Programs” in the nation by the Princeton Review.
Pepperdine’s 3600 undergraduate students choose from 44 majors and 37 minors within two schools – Seaver College, the university’s liberal arts school, and the Graziadio Business School. Across all majors, students are encouraged to form close professional relationships with faculty members through a 13 to one student to faculty ratio and small class sizes along with an institutional emphasis on mentoring. Students have the opportunity to engage in an abundance of social and athletic events at Pepperdine as well as to volunteer and participate in service opportunities throughout the surrounding community. In addition, 84% of students get hands-on experience through student employment, student teaching, and internships.
Accreditation: Pepperdine University is regionally accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges.
Tuition: Very Expensive
#13. Occidental College
Occidental College, commonly referred to as “Oxy,” was founded in 1887 as one of the oldest liberal arts colleges on the West Coast. Located in the heart of Los Angeles, Oxy prides itself in giving students the opportunity to engage the rich cultural, economic, environmental and social communities in L.A. by “bridging classroom learning with lived experiences” through three departments dedicated to community engagement – the Center for Community Based Learning, the Office of Community Engagement, and the Urban and Environmental Policy Institute. With just under 2000 students, Oxy offers an impressive nine to one student to faculty ratio as well as a cross-disciplinary Core Program that develops students’ global literacy and strengthens critical thinking.
Oxy boasts the unique Kahane United Nations Program providing students with direct access to internships and student learning opportunities at the U.N. headquarters in New York as well as annual visits to campus by U.N. officials each February. Oxy is also the only college in the nation to offer a “Campaign Semester” for all students, regardless of major, during which students volunteer full-time for 10 weeks on an election campaign in a swing state while also remaining enrolled as a full-time student at Oxy. Upon return to campus after the election, students participate in a five-week seminar culminating in a research paper supervised by a faculty member.
Accreditation: Occidental College is regionally accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges.
Tuition: Very Expensive
#14. University of California – Santa Barbara
Located on the Pacific Ocean 100 miles up the coast from Los Angeles, the University of California – Santa Barbara (UCSB) is one of ten public research universities in the UC system. Ranked #5 Top Public School by US News and World Report for 2019, UCSB offers over 24,000 students an affordable, top-rated education with over 200 degree programs to choose from and a relatively low student to faculty ratio of 18 to one. UCSB is divided into five colleges, three of which offer bachelor’s degrees – the College of Creative Studies, offering eight majors to nearly 400 students including Art, Biology, Computing, Music Composition, and Writing and Literature; the College of Engineering, with just under 1500 students and five majors to choose from including Chemical Engineering, Computer Science, and Technology Management; and the largest school, the College of Letters and Science, offering 18,000 undergraduates a comprehensive liberal arts education.
As a major research university students have the opportunity to work closely with faculty members in a field of their choice with more than half of all undergraduate students participating in research during their four-year degree. UCSB houses 12 National Research Centers including the California Nanosystems Institute and the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis. UCSB is ranked #1 Green School for public universities by the Princeton Review and has the most LEED-certified buildings in the UC system. UCSB runs on a quarter system.
Accreditation: The University of California – Santa Barbara is regionally accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges.
#15. University of California – San Diego
The University of California – San Diego (UCSD) was founded in 1960 in the La Jolla neighborhood of San Diego as one of the research universities in the UC system. Located along the cliffs of the Pacific Ocean, UCSD enrolls over 28,000 undergraduate students each year in more than 130 degree programs across six undergraduate colleges. In addition, UCSD houses five graduate and professional schools, of which many are nationally recognized in their fields, including the School of Medicine and Jacobs School of Engineering. Ranked #12 Top Public School in the nation by U.S. News and World Report, UCSD boasts a 95% freshman retention rate and a 19 to one student to faculty ratio. Campus life at UCSD has much to offer as well, with all first and second year students eligible for on-campus housing, an active Greek life, and hundreds of campus organizations and athletic opportunities. In addition, UCSD hosts an International House where more than 350 students from over 30 countries live and learn together.
UCSD offers countless opportunities for both undergraduate and graduate students to conduct research with faculty who are experts in their fields using a multidisciplinary approach. Student opportunities are maximized through the Academic Internship Program, the Research Experience and Applied Learning Portal which connects students to research opportunities on campus and in the community, through the Faculty Mentorship program for juniors and seniors interested in graduate school, and through the UC Scholars Program, an eight-week summer research experience. All of these opportunities are well-supported with over $130 billion in annual research funding.
Accreditation: The University of California – San Diego is regionally accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges.
#16. University of California – Irvine
As one of ten research universities in the UC system, the University of California – Irvine (UCI) enrolls nearly 30,000 undergraduate students each year. Ranked #1 among U.S. Universities “doing the most good for the American dream” by the New York Times because of its dedication to economic diversity, 75% of all UC Irvine students receive financial aid and nearly 40% of students receive federal Pell grants. In addition to economic diversity amongst its students, UCI emphasizes institutional diversity at all levels through dedicated departments such as the Office of Inclusive Excellence and the Office of Equal Opportunity and Diversity, and through various advisory committees focusing on things like gender equity all the way to vendor diversity as a way to support small businesses in the community.
Founded in 1965, UCI offers more than 80 majors with an 18 to one student to faculty ratio. UCI’s extensive library system includes four different libraries that are visited by nearly 2 million people per year and includes almost 4 million electronic and print volumes. In addition, students are encouraged and supported in conducting faculty-mentored research through the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP).
Accreditation: The University of California – Irvine is regionally accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges.
#17. University of California – Davis
The University of California – Davis (UC Davis) is located in the small city of Davis in Northern California, just a 20-minute drive from Sacramento and less than a two-hour drive from the San Francisco Bay Area, Lake Tahoe, and Napa Valley. Founded in 1909 as an agricultural school, UC Davis became it’s own campus in the UC system in 1959 and is located on over 5,000 acres of land. Because of it’s history, UC Davis is known worldwide for its agricultural programs as well as for veterinary medicine, consistently ranked #1 in the world in veterinary science and #2 in agriculture and forestry. In addition, UC Davis is ranked #7 Top Public School in the nation by U.S. News and World Report.
UC Davis offers over 100 undergraduate degrees in areas as diverse as Sustainable Environmental Design, Marine and Coastal Science, Classical Civilization, and Cinema and Digital Media. Undergraduates are also encouraged in their pursuit of research through internships on campus, through the UC Davis Medical Center, or with local industry under the mentorship of a faculty member. Students even have the chance to present their findings at an annual conference dedicated to undergraduate research and to publish their work in an undergraduate journal. UC Davis offers generous aid packages to students with 51% of those pursuing a bachelor’s degree graduating with no debt in the 2016 – 2017 academic year. With over 30,000 undergraduate students, UC Davis also provides countless opportunities for social engagement through NCAA Division I Athletics, 800 student clubs, and over 70 fraternities & sororities, student government and ethnic and cultural organizations.
Accreditation: The University of California – Davis is regionally accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges.
#18. Santa Clara University
Santa Clara University (Santa Clara) was founded in 1851, just one year after California became a state, making it the oldest institution of higher learning in California. Located in Santa Clara in the heart of Silicon Valley, Santa Clara University is a private Jesuit school with a grounding in ethics and social justice. Santa Clara is recognized for its high-tech innovation and entrepreneurial mindset with U.S. News and World Report ranking it #1 Regional University in the West with a perfect overall score of 100. With nearly 5,500 undergraduate students, campus life at Santa Clara has countless opportunities for involvement ranging from NCAA Division I athletics to campus ministry to the Santa Clara Community Action Program, all of which can be explored through the Center for Student Involvement. Additionally, all first-year and most second-year students live on campus in one of eight Residential Learning Communities built around themes that give students the opportunity to live in a tight-knit community of students with similar interests. Juniors and Seniors can choose to live on campus as well in one of the townhouse-style villas.
Santa Clara offers more than 50 majors across three schools for undergraduates – the College of Arts and Sciences, the School of Engineering, and the Leavey School of Business. Throughout their time at Santa Clara, students have the opportunity to get hands-on experience through community-based coursework, internships, and independent research, while nearly one-third of Santa Clara undergraduates spend a semester studying abroad. Santa Clara also boasts one of the highest graduation rates of 90% within six years of enrollment.
Accreditation: Santa Clara University is regionally accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges.
#19. Loyola Marymount University
Located near the ocean in Los Angeles and just a 20 minute drive from Venice and Santa Monica beaches, Loyola Marymount University (LMU) was founded in the early part of the 20th century in the Jesuit and Marymount traditions and is still rooted in Roman Catholicism. LMU’s mission is threefold, emphasizing “the encouragement of learning, the education of the whole person, and the service of faith and the promotion of justice.” With just over 6,000 undergraduate students, LMU’s average class size is 20 and the student to faculty ratio is 11 to one. LMU offers 60 majors for undergraduates to choose from, with the most popular being Visual and Performing Arts, Marketing, Journalism, Social Sciences, and Business. LMU has one of the oldest and best-known entrepreneurship majors through the College of Business Administration’s Entrepreneurship Program, ranked #11 in the nation by U.S. News and World Report for Best Undergraduate Entrepreneurship programs. Students who are interested in media have the opportunity to get involved in award-winning student media programs including the campus newspaper, radio station, or tv station.
Student life at LMU is active and engaged with over 170 student organizations to get involved in on campus as well as community service opportunities with 350 community organizations, leading the Princeton Review to rank LMU #7 for Students Most Engaged in Community Service. Over half of undergraduate students live on campus in traditional dorms, suites or apartments, some with ocean views. Additionally, more than 500 students participate in one of LMU’s 50 Study Abroad programs around the world. 85% of students receive financial aid and 97% of students graduating with a bachelor’s degree have work or are in graduate school within six months of graduating.
Accreditation: Loyola Marymount University is regionally accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges.
#20. University of San Diego
Founded in 1949, the University of San Diego (USD) is a private Roman Catholic research university located on the Pacific Rim just 22 miles from the U.S. border with Mexico. With almost 9,000 students, nearly 5,800 of whom are pursuing a bachelor’s degree, USD offers excellent research and interdisciplinary study opportunities along with a 15 to one student-to-faculty ratio and an average class size of 22. With 42 bachelor’s degrees and advanced degrees in law, nursing, engineering and theology offered across nine schools, USD provides students “‘real-world’ learning platforms for broad-based innovation and dynamic creativity, advanced intellectual skills and a keen sense of personal and social responsibility.” USD puts a strong emphasis on developing “change makers” across all programs, as one of only 41 universities recognized worldwide by the Ashoka U designation, reflecting the school’s commitment “to develop ethical and responsible leaders committed to the common good.” In addition, USD has been recognized as a national leader in undergraduate student participation in Study Abroad with over 50% traveling overseas for either a year, semester, summer or intercession program in one of 80 programs offered in 30 countries around the world.
USD offers an active student life on campus and beyond with opportunities to get involved in the local community around San Diego. More than 80% of the USD student community engages in active outreach and community service in partnership with local organizations through the Community Service Learning department. USD also boasts the Kroc School of Peace Studies, the “global hub for peacebuilding and social innovation.” Over 95% of freshman and 46% of all undergrads live on campus in one of the Living Learning Communities formed around themes or areas of interest and engagement. There are 175 student-led clubs and organizations including a variety of Greek and honor societies, along with 17 athletic teams that compete in the NCAA Division I. While a Catholic university, USD “welcomes and respects those whose lives are formed by different traditions” and recognizes “their important contributions to the liberal arts community and to a pluralistic society.” USD boasts a 90% freshman retention rate.
Accreditation: The University of San Diego is regionally accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges.
#21. Thomas Aquinas College
Thomas Aquinas College is a small liberal arts college founded in 1971 in the Roman Catholic tradition. Offering only one degree – the Bachelor of Arts in Liberal Arts – Thomas Aquinas is built on a four-year interdisciplinary course of study with no majors, no minors, and no other types of specialization. With only 370 students, all classes are between 14 – 18 students and use the method of sustained conversation in the tutorial, seminar, and laboratory settings. There are no textbooks and no lectures – only emphasis on developing students’ skills in “critically reading and analyzing texts, in mathematical demonstration, and in laboratory investigation.” Students read the original writings of historians, mathematicians, scientists, and others, including Homer, Plato, Shakespeare, Einstein, and St. Thomas Aquinas among many others.
Located in Ventura County along the Los Padres National Forest, Thomas Aquinas is fairly secluded while being only a short drive to Santa Paula and only 65 miles northwest of Los Angeles. Students live on campus in residential housing, participate in daily Mass, and have the opportunity to get involved in several student organizations or intramural sports. Hiking in the adjacent Los Padres National Forest, day trips to the beach, and excursions to cultural events in L.A. are all common weekend activities. Students follow a more formal dress code than other colleges as well as a code of conduct that “encourages habits appropriate to the pursuit of wisdom and true friendship.”
Accreditation: Thomas Aquinas College is regionally accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges.
#22. University of California – Santa Cruz
As one of the ten campuses in the UC system, the University of California – Santa Cruz (UC Santa Cruz) is a public research university that was founded in 1965. The campus of UC Santa Cruz is over 2,000 acres and includes 25 miles of hiking and jogging trails. Students also have easy access to the nearby beaches and the town of Santa Cruz, as well as the countless resources in Silicon Valley and San Francisco only 75 miles away. UC Santa Cruz enrolls around 17,000 undergraduate students each year, making up the vast majority of the school’s 18,700 students. Students choose from 65 majors in five divisions – Art, Humanities, Physical and Biological Sciences, Social Sciences, and the Jack Baskin School of Engineering. With the school’s emphasis on undergraduate studies, students pursuing a bachelor’s degree have opportunities for faculty-mentored research in all divisions. UC Santa Cruz is nationally known for its astronomy and space sciences programs.
UC Santa Cruz is divided into 10 residential colleges, providing students with the opportunity to live and study in a community of students around a particular theme while receiving academic support by dedicated faculty members. All undergraduate students are affiliated with one of these colleges, independent of their major, whether they live on campus or not. Each college has a particular theme with core courses associated. Examples include the Rachel Carson College with an emphasis on Environment and Society, the Crown College focusing on Science, Technology, and Society, the Kresge College built on the theme of Power and Representation, and College Nine formed around International and Global Perspectives. In addition, there are over 150 student organizations on campus in areas of academics and athletics, or with ethnic, political, religious, and cultural focuses.
Accreditation: The University of California – Santa Cruz is regionally accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges.
#23. Chapman University
Chapman University is a private university originally founded as Hesperian College in 1861 in Woodland, CA. Planned to open at the moment that Abraham Lincoln was inaugurated president of the country, Hesperian filled a need in California as a university open to all, even before the public university system was founded in the state. Eventually the college moved to Orange and was renamed Chapman University. Located in the Old Towne neighborhood of Orange, Chapman students live in the midst of a charming town with cafes and shops while also living close to some of the areas greatest attractions located only 30 miles from Los Angeles and under a 30-minute drive to Long Beach and Disneyland. The vast majority of first-year students live on campus their first year and 89% choose to stay on campus for their second year.
Chapman enrolls nearly 6500 undergraduate students each year, offering 49 majors, a 14 to one student to faculty ratio, and an average class size of 23. Students are encouraged to delve into interdisciplinary studies through study abroad programs, through research and collaboration with faculty members across the disciplines, and through a General Education Program that requires students to take courses in Shared Inquiry Areas and in the Global Studies Cluster. Chapman is ranked #5 Best Regional University West and #3 Best Undergraduate Teaching Program in the West by U.S. News and World Report. The student body at Chapman is diverse, coming from 49 states and 82 countries, 40% of whom identify as Persons of Color. In addition, 20% of Chapman undergraduates are first-generation college students and 81% receive financial aid.
Accreditation: Chapman University is regionally accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges.
Tuition: Very Expensive
#24. University of San Francisco
Located in the heart of San Francisco between the Golden Gate Bridge and Golden Gate Park, the University of San Francisco (USF) is a private, non-profit university that was founded in 1855 in the Jesuit Catholic tradition. USF prides itself on being “progressive, entrepreneurial, diverse, and passionate,” much like the city it was founded in. In fact, USF employs more women faculty than men and in Fall 2018 nearly 75% of enrolled freshmen identify as students of color, leading the Chronicle of Higher Education to rank it 3rd in undergraduate ethnic diversity among four-year private non-profit colleges while U.S. News and World Report ranks it 6th in ethnic diversity overall.
With over 11,000 students, nearly 7,000 of which are undergraduates, USF is divided into five schools including the College of Arts and Sciences, the School of Management, and the School of Nursing and Health Professions all of which offer undergraduate degrees. All students take a Core Curriculum which gives them “a common foundation for thinking critically with an eye toward a greater good.” USF also offers many first-year seminars, almost all of which count toward Core requirements. Examples of seminars include Food and Farming, Media and Pop Culture in San Francisco, Golden Gate Park and Youth in the City. Students have the option of living on campus in residence halls including five living-learning communities and an option for gender-inclusive housing. In addition to being located in one of the most vibrant cities in the country, there are nearly 100 student clubs and organizations at USF to get involved in, including one of the oldest student theater groups in the nation, the USF College Players.
Accreditation: The University of San Francisco is regionally accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges.
#25. University of the Pacific
Established in 1851, the University of the Pacific (Pacific) is the oldest chartered university in California. As a private, non-profit university in Stockton, Pacific is home to the papers of environmentalist John Muir and to a large collection based on the work of Jazz musician and Pacific alumnus Dave Brubeck. Pacific has many centers, clinics and institutes including the Brubeck Institute and the John Muir Center, as well as the Center for Community Involvement and the Center for Business and Policy Research which provides quarterly economic forecasts of California and of 10 major cities within the state. These Centers and Institutes are focal points for Pacific’s emphasis on research and involvement within the broader community. Students can pursue their research interests through the Office of Research and Scholarship and the Pacific Fellowship Office, connecting them to prestigious fellowships and funding for undergraduate and graduate research.
Pacific is organized into 11 schools across three campuses, with the majority of undergraduates studying and living on the main campus in Stockton. There are over 80 majors for Pacific’s 3,800 undergraduates to choose from including pre-pharmacy, biology, international studies, business, sports sciences and engineering among many others. Pacific offers small class sizes with an average of 19 and a 12 to one student to faculty ratio across all disciplines. In addition, Pacific’s Office of International Programs and Services offers 200 programs in their Education Abroad program. Nearly 90% of Pacific students receive financial aid averaging $28,000 per student.
Accreditation: The University of the Pacific is regionally accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges.
#26. Westmont College
Westmont College is a small interdenominational Christian liberal arts school entirely dedicated to undergraduate study. Founded in 1937, Westmont moved to its current location near Santa Barbara in 1945 and eventually grew to a campus of 111 acres. Westmont enrolls just over 1300 students each year providing small classes and a 10 to one student to faculty with 26 majors to choose from, including economics and business, French, history, interdisciplinary studies, kinesiology, social sciences, and religious studies. Interdisciplinary studies and mentoring relationships with faculty are emphasized at this small residential campus where nearly all faculty members are full-time. Between 60 – 70% of all students participate in an off-campus study program many of which are led by faculty during the summers in places like Jerusalem, East Asia, Istanbul, Uganda and Mexico. In addition, students can enroll in semester-long programs in San Francisco or Washington D.C. or abroad in Europe, Costa Rica, Africa, or Israel among other locations. Students also have the opportunity to spend a semester studying at one of the other 12 colleges or universities within the Christian College Consortium.
Located in the foothills of the Santa Ynez Mountains in Montecito, just east of Santa Barbara, Westmont is situated in an ideal location within minutes of hiking trails and a short drive or shuttle ride to the beach or to downtown Santa Barbara. As a residential campus, most students live on campus in one of six residence halls but there is also the option of an off-campus apartment complex closer to the ocean for upper-division students. An active student life includes chapel services, the annual dorm competition,”Spring Sing,” held at a major venue in Santa Barbara, and 32 student-led clubs and organizations including the Pre-Health Club, an ultimate frisbee team, and many dance groups. Students are also actively engaged in the broader community serving in more than 30 student-led ministries including Potter’s Clay, a Spring Break trip to Ensenada, Mexico. The Center for Social Entrepreneurship Program is a new initiative located in downtown Santa Barbara and houses a range of “interdisciplinary and innovative initiatives and programs in social change, problem solving, and community engagement.”
Accreditation: Westmont College is regionally accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges.
#27. University of La Verne
Founded by members of the Church of the Brethren in 1891, the University of La Verne is a private non-profit university in La Verne just 35 miles east of Los Angeles. With over 8,000 students in bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral programs La Verne has an impressive 15 to one student to faculty ratio and an average class size of only 16. La Verne is organized into four colleges, three of which offer undergraduate degrees – the College of Arts and Sciences with 42 undergraduate programs, the College of Business and Management with 11 undergraduate programs, and La Fetra College of Education with two undergraduate programs. Offering both traditional and online courses at the undergraduate and master’s level, La Verne also has six satellite campuses throughout Southern California.
At the main campus in La Verne, students live and work in a small town setting just outside L.A., one of the biggest cultural centers in the nation. On campus, students have the opportunity to join any of the 80 plus student-led organizations and clubs or one of the 21 sports teams in NCAA Division III. Students also have the opportunity to study abroad on one of six continents for a semester or an entire year or to participate in a “study abroad tour” for a week or two, led by La Verne faculty members.
Accreditation: The University of La Verne is regionally accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges.
#28. California Polytechnic State University – San Luis Obispo
California Polytechnic State University – San Luis Obispo (Cal Poly) is one of two polytechnic campuses in the 23 institution California State University system, the largest four-year public university system in the country. With in-state tuition under $10,000 per year, Cal Poly is very affordable. Cal Poly’s emphasis on undergraduate education – with the vast majority of it’s 22,000 students enrolled in bachelor’s degree programs – gives students nearly 70 majors to choose from across six colleges. Cal Poly’s “learn by doing” philosophy is incorporated into all aspects of student life including in the classroom through activities, discussions, lab and fieldwork with plenty of opportunity for collaboration and hands-on projects. In addition, all students are encouraged to participate in an internship or co-op experience through regional businesses, organizations and nonprofits like Apple, Boeing, Disney, the National Park Service and many more. Nearly one-quarter of all students participate in a study abroad program through one of 500 programs in 75 countries around the world.
Located on 6,000 acres in the college town of San Luis Obispo, halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco and less than a 15 minute drive to the beach, Cal Poly is in an ideal location for outdoor recreation and local community engagement. With over 300 student-run organizations and clubs, 21 athletic teams that compete in the NCAA Division I, a state-of-the-art recreation center, and a large University Union which acts as the hub for on-campus activity, student life is rich and full of diverse opportunities. Ranked #12 Regional University West by U.S. News and World Report, Cal Poly also boasts an impressive 95% retention rate of freshman students returning for their second year.
Accreditation: California Polytechnic State University – San Luis Obispo is regionally accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges.
In-State: Very Affordable
#29. Biola University
Established in 1908 in La Mirada, just 16 miles from downtown Los Angeles, Biola University is a private Christian university that enrolls more than 6,000 students each year. Originally founded as the Bible Institute of L.A., Biola emphasizes “biblically centered education, intentional spiritual development, and vocational preparation.” Offering over 150 programs across nine schools, Biola students have 47 diverse undergraduate majors to choose from that complement it’s required minor in Biblical Studies. All undergraduate students are required to take Core curriculum credits, 30 in Biblical Studies and Theology and 44 in General Education courses covering areas like Behavioral Science, English, Communication, Fine Arts, and Math and Science, making for an inter-disciplinary education no matter what major a student chooses. Students can also apply for admission to the well-known Torrey Honors Institute, a classical literature great books program that was started in 1995. While the curriculum of the institute replaces the majority of Core curriculum courses, students are required to complete an additional 4-unit senior thesis and have the option of participating in a summer study program at Cambridge.
Beyond the classroom, students participate in weekly chapel services and conferences, fulfilling the requirement to attend five conference sessions and 20 chapel services each semester. The Missions Conference held each Spring semester is the second largest missions conference in the world. Other conferences include the annual Bible Media Conference and conferences on intelligent design. Students may also participate in any of the 65 plus student organizations and clubs on campus, the most popular of which are the Student Government Association and the Student Missionary Union.
Accreditation: Biola University is regionally accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges.
#30. St. Mary’s College of California
St. Mary’s College of California is a private Catholic liberal arts school located just 20 miles east of San Francisco in the small town of Moraga. Founded in 1863 by the Christian Brothers, the largest Catholic order dedicated solely to teaching, St. Mary’s is rooted in three traditions – the liberal arts, the Catholic faith, and the Lasallian order, after Saint John Baptist de la Salle, the founder of the Christian Brothers. Distinctive of a Lasallian school within the Catholic tradition is its “awareness of the consequences of economic and social injustice and its commitment to the poor.” As such, St. Mary’s students are guided by the five Lasallian Core Principles – concern for the poor and social justice, faith in the presence of God, quality of education, respect for all persons, and inclusive community.
St. Mary’s enrolls nearly 4,000 students each year with more than 2,600 pursuing bachelor’s degrees in one of 43 majors across four schools. Some of the more popular majors include Business, Management and Marketing, Social Sciences, Humanities, Psychology and Biomedical Sciences. St. Mary’s students have close mentoring relationships and active dialogue with their professors across all disciplines with an 11 to one student to faculty ratio and an average class size of 19. Ranked #8 Regional University West by U.S. News and World Report, St. Mary’s boasts an 87% retention rate for freshman students and offers financial aid to over 90% of students. In addition, St. Mary’s is nationally recognized for its Catholic Institute for Lasallian Social Action, a center for social service through which nearly half of all students engage in a service project during their time at St. Mary’s. On campus, students have the opportunity to engage in any of the 35 student-run clubs and organizations, in intramural or recreational sports, or on one of the 16 NCAA Division I athletic teams. Almost all freshmen live on campus in one of 13 residence halls, with 8 townhouse complexes for upper division students. Resident life is guided by the Christian Brothers as well as by trained student advisors and professional staff. St. Mary’s has a new performing arts center, a state-of-the-art science building, and a recreation center built in 2015 that includes a rock climbing wall, an aquatic center, 3 full-size courts, and an 8,000 square foot fitness center.
Accreditation: St. Mary’s College of California is regionally accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges.
#31. Dominican University of California
Founded in 1890 by the Dominican Sisters of San Rafael, the Dominican University of California is a private non-profit university located just 12 miles north of the Golden Gate Bridge in the San Francisco Bay Area. Dominican’s mission is to “educate and prepare students to be ethical leaders and socially responsible global citizens who incorporate the Dominican values of study, reflection, community and service into their lives.” With just over 1700 total students enrolled each year, Dominican provides an intimate setting for learning with an average class size of 16 and an impressive 10 to one student to faculty ratio. Offering 60 programs of study across three schools, some of the most popular majors include the Health Professions, Business, Management and Marketing, Psychology, Biological and Biomedical Science, and the Social Sciences. Dominican’s science education is research-intensive with undergraduate students across all disciplines encouraged to present at national academic conferences. Dominican also offers a unique Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in partnership with one of the premier dance institutions in the country, combining the liberal arts education and social values of a Dominican education with the “technically rigorous and artistically expansive dance training” of the Alonzo Kings LINES Ballet School in San Francisco.
With an emphasis on applied learning through leadership development, service learning opportunities, and study abroad programs, as well as interdisciplinary study through its Core curriculum and a rigorous first-year program known as “First Year Experience Big History,” Dominican students have countless opportunities to engage both the community at Dominican as well as the broader community. Dominican’s Service-Learning Program includes 29 designated courses and 16 faculty members with nearly 400 students involved each semester with more than 25 community partners. With its emphasis on experiential learning, Dominican also offers a Colloquium Program – learning communities that enable students to engage in problem-based learning, collaborative assignments or projects and student-led seminars.
Accreditation: Dominican University of California is regionally accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges.
#32. Mills College
Mills College is an independent liberal arts college for women with graduate programs for both women and men. Originally founded in 1852 as the Young Ladies Seminary and eventually renamed after it was purchased by Susan and Cyrus Mills, Mills was the first women’s college west of the Rocky Mountains. Now home to 1300 students, 761 of whom are undergraduates, Mills is ranked #7 in Regional Universities West and #3 in Best Value Schools West by U.S. News and World Report. With over 50 undergraduate majors and the option to create their own major, Mills students have the opportunity to gain an education that “combines transformative learning, leadership development, community engagement, and career preparation that is highly personal” with a 10 to one student to faculty ratio and an average class size of 17. The top five majors at Mills are English, Sociology, Psychology, Biology, and Economics. Located in Oakland, in the heart of the San Francisco Bay Area and near Silicon Valley, Mills College offers a unique and intimate community with easy access to some of the region’s best resources through internships, experiential projects and collaborations with diverse Bay Area organizations, undergraduate research opportunities, and the option to study abroad.
Known for it’s comprehensive liberal arts education and for its commitment to inclusion, diversity, and social justice, Mills consistently challenges the status quo through its approach to education as well as through its policies. In 2014 Mills became the first single-sex college in the country to implement an admission policy welcoming transgender and gender-fluid students. In addition, Mills became the first private college in California to implement a tuition reset in Fall 2018, reducing tuition by 36%. Students are still eligible for scholarships and need-based financial aid even with this reduced tuition, with more than 80% of undergraduate students receiving financial aid. True to its commitment to diversity, 57% of undergraduate students are persons of color, 51% of undergraduate students identify as LGBTQ, and 32% of Mills students are first-generation college students. In addition, the entire admissions process is highly personal and is test optional.
Accreditation: Mills College is regionally accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges.
#33. University of Redlands
Founded in 1907, the University of Redlands (U of R) is a private university with its main campus in Redlands, a small city just 10 miles east of San Bernardino, with an additional 10 regional campuses throughout Southern California that focus on education for working adults. The College of Arts and Sciences is the main undergraduate college with just over 2400 students and over 40 areas of study ranging from Chemistry to Studio Art to Communication Sciences and Disorders. U of R’s 13 to one student to faculty ratio and small classes enable students to have close mentoring relationships with faculty members. In addition, students have the option to apply for the Johnston Center for Integrative Studies, a unique center that allows students to craft their own major along with dedicated faculty members. Rather than receiving traditional letter grades, most Johnston students receive narrative feedback from professors at the end of courses. Nearly 200 students live and study together in two residence halls with classrooms, community spaces, a coffeehouse and faculty offices.
U of R is committed to developing and sustaining a rich and meaningful community for students on campus. All U of R students are required to live on campus throughout their time of study with only a few exceptions. Residential communities are built around themes including citizenship in the global environment, social justice, environmentally-conscious and sustainable living, and music. Students also have plenty of opportunities to get involved in student life through more than 120 student-run clubs and organizations and through NCAA Division III sports teams. Study Abroad is highly encouraged for all U of R students with many options including semester or year long programs worldwide or May term options led by U of R faculty members. Since the 1960s U of R has also welcomed students to study abroad at its very own facility in Salzburg, Austria through its “Semester in Salzburg” program.
Accreditation: The University of Redlands is regionally accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges.
#34. California Lutheran University
California Lutheran University (Cal Lutheran) was founded in 1959 in Thousand Oaks, halfway between Los Angeles and Santa Barbara and just 20 miles inland from the Pacific Ocean. As one of 26 colleges and universities affiliated with the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, Cal Lutheran is a private liberal arts university with an emphasis on educating leaders for a “global society who are strong in character and judgment, confident in their identity and vocation, and committed to service and justice.” Cal Lutheran offers undergraduate, graduate, and professional programs, with an Adult Degree Evening Program that makes it possible for returning adult students to receive a bachelor’s degree. With 4,400 students total at both the main campus in Thousand Oaks and at the four satellite campuses throughout the region, Cal Lutheran is committed to having small classes across all levels and disciplines with the average class having 15 students. The traditional undergraduate program offers 37 majors across two of the four schools – the College of Arts and Sciences and the School of Management. The evening bachelor’s program offers eight majors, including Accounting, Communication, Criminology and Criminal Justice, and Organizational Leadership.
Cal Lutheran guarantees all undergraduate students residency on campus if they elect it, and requires freshman and sophomore students to live on campus or at home with families. Campus housing options include traditional residence halls and a choice of apartment-style halls for upper division students. Nearly 90% of first-year students live on campus while just over half of all undergraduates stay on campus for the duration of their time at Cal Lutheran. Athletics are a focus at Cal Lutheran with a 96,000 square foot sports and fitness center, a large aquatic center where the U.S. Men’s Olympic Water Polo team trains, and a football stadium that has been used by the LA Rams and the Dallas Cowboys for training. Athletic teams at Cal Lutheran compete in the NCAA Division III. Students come from 42 states and 49 countries, while 97% of new students in Fall 2018 received some form of financial aid.
Accreditation: California Lutheran University is regionally accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges.
#35. Point Loma Nazarene University
Located on the Point Loma oceanfront of San Diego, Point Loma Nazarene University (PLNU) is a private Christian liberal arts school that was founded in 1902. Affiliated with the Church of the Nazarene, PLNU invites students to “partake in an academic environment shaped by excellence and rooted in a Christian understanding of the world.” With a strong emphasis on vocation, students are encouraged to develop their unique gifts and passions in a rigorous academic environment through small classes, mentoring relationships with faculty members, a close-knit community with fellow students, and the opportunity to study abroad. Additionally, for those who are undecided on a major or vocational path, students may turn to the Offices of Strengths and Vocation. Ranked #17 in Regional Universities West by U.S. News and World Report, PLNU boasts an 89% retention rate for freshmen students while 90% of undergraduates receive financial aid with the average yearly financial aid package nearing $28,000.
With 3,100 undergraduate students pursuing 60 different programs of study ranging from the more common English, Business, and Chemistry, to the less-common Athletic Coaching, Broadcast Journalism, and Youth Ministry, PLNU students pursue diverse interests and callings. All students, regardless of major, are eligible to participate in the “Community Classroom,” an intercultural off-campus program in the nearby City Heights neighborhood. A variety of general education courses are taught by PLNU faculty, including Christian Formation and Ministry, Ethics, Elementary Spanish, and Race and Ethnicity. Community Classroom students also have the option of living off-campus in City Heights for the semester. All full-time undergraduate students are required to attend Chapel services and have the opportunity to participate in more than 50 student clubs and organizations and over 25 ministry and faith opportunities.
Accreditation: Point Loma Nazarene University is regionally accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges.
#36. Azusa Pacific University
Azusa Pacific University (APU) is a private evangelical Christian university that was founded in 1899 in Southern California. Now with nearly 10,000 students enrolled in bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral programs with online course available, APU is a comprehensive university with its main campus in Azusa, just 26 miles northeast of Los Angeles, and with eight additional satellite campuses throughout Southern California. From the very beginning APU’s commitment to “‘God First’ and excellence in higher education'” has led to an exploration and deepening of faith in all areas of the school – in the classroom, in local and international outreach, in Chapel services, in the residence halls, and in student life activities. The “Four Cornerstones” of an APU education are Christ, Scholarship, Community and Service with local and international opportunities for outreach and mission.
With nearly 5,700 undergraduate students, APU offers 62 majors and an impressive 10 to one student to faculty ratio. The General Education Program focuses on five major outcome areas with courses in each area – Intellectual and Practical Skills, Biblical, Theological, and Philosophical Formation, Knowledge of Human Cultures and the Physical and Natural World, Personal and Social Responsibility, and Integrative and Applied Learning. In addition, off-campus study programs include semester, year-long and faculty-led summer terms, including the High Sierra Semester, LA Term, South Africa Semester, and Ecuador Semester among others. On the main campus in Azusa students have access to the recently built state-of-the-art 72,000 square foot Segerstrom Science Center, which serves multiple disciplines and the broader community, and the Wynn Academic Center, along with residential halls and apartment-style living complexes and athletic facilities. 68% of all undergraduate students live on campus.
Accreditation: Azusa Pacific University is regionally accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges.
#37. University of California – Riverside
Originally founded as a Citrus Experiment Station in 1907 in Inland Southern California, the University of California – Riverside (UCR) is now one of 10 comprehensive research universities in the prestigious UC system. Located in the city of Riverside, UCR’s enrollment has nearly tripled in the past 25 years to over 23,000 students total, with more than 21,000 students enrolled in undergraduate programs. With all this growth UCR has already begun construction on one of two new multidisciplinary research buildings with plans to add new residential halls and recreational and dining facilities in the next few years. UCR offers 101 bachelor degree programs across three schools – The College of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences, the Marlan and Rosemary Bourns College of Engineering, and the College of Natural and Agricultural Sciences – as well as 55 master’s degrees and 55 PhD programs across four professional schools in business, education, medicine and public policy.
Consistently ranked as one of the most diverse campuses within the UC system, UCR is a member of the University Innovation Alliance, a coalition of public research universities committed to increasing the number and diversity of college graduates from low-income backgrounds, as well as first-generation students and students of color. UCR enrolls more Pell Grant recipients than all Ivy League institutions combined, and just a little under 60% of undergraduates are first-generation college students. In addition, in 2016 UCR was recognized by the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities for its graduation rate success in “achieving near parity across racial-ethnic, socio-economic, and gender boundaries.” While nearly 70% of UCR students are commuters and freshmen are not required to live on campus, there are plenty of opportunities for students to get involved with over 300 student-led organizations and clubs including 40 fraternities and sororities, and with athletic teams competing in the Big West Conference of the NCAA Division I. Undergraduate research is encouraged and well-funded while the UCR library gives students access to 3 million volumes of books, 2.2 million microforms, and 30,000 titles of print and electronic serials. In addition, UCR students can join the more than 4,500 UC students in the UC Education Abroad Program studying for a full-year or a short-term program in one of 43 counties around the world.
Accreditation: University of California – Riverside is regionally accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges.
#38. Whittier College
Whittier College was founded in 1887 by the Religious Society of Friends as a private four-year liberal arts school in Whittier, CA. No longer associated with the Society of Friends, Whittier College continues to maintain its commitment to the Quaker values of “truth, acceptance, justice, community, service, and diversity” in every area, including in its Liberal Arts Education Program Core, with all Core requirements focusing on four areas – Community, Communication, Cultural Perspectives, and Connections. In addition, as one of the most diverse liberal arts institutions in the nation, over 50% of Whittier’s nearly 2,000 students and over a quarter of faculty are people of color. With a strong emphasis on building and maintaining community amongst students, faculty, and staff, Whittier offers a low student-to-faculty ratio of 12 to one and an average class size of 19, enabling students and faculty to form strong mentoring relationships. This mentoring relationship begins with the First Year Experience, during which each incoming student is paired with a Faculty Mentor who teaches the Freshman Writing Seminar and serves as the student’s advisor until a major is chosen.
Undergraduate students choose from over 30 majors, the most popular being Social Sciences, Biological and Biomedical Sciences, Psychology, Business, Management, and Marketing, and Parks, Recreation, Leisure and Fitness Studies. Students may also apply to be a part of the Whittier Scholars Program which allows students to design their own major and entire college experience in conjunction with a Whittier faculty member, combining “academics, internships, fellowships, and service learning.” All students have the opportunity to participate in January Term – an intensive three or four-week term that allows students to explore an area or course that may not be offered during the traditional semesters, or to participate in faculty-led travel courses all over the world. Service learning is also an important part of the college experience at Whittier with 300 – 400 students working in the community through internships or through volunteer services each year. 85% of Whittier students receive financial aid and 89% of graduates finish their degree within four years.
Accreditation: Whittier College is regionally accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges.
#39. University of California – Merced
Founded in 2005 and located in the heart of San Joaquin Valley in Central California, the University of California – Merced (UC Merced) is the tenth and newest school in the UC system. Founded with a mission to make attending a UC school attainable for more high school graduates in California, and with a specific goal of increasing the number of students from the San Joaquin Valley who attend college, nearly all of UC Merced’s students come from California, split evenly across the state. In addition, nearly 60% of UC Merced’s students are people of color with 70% being the first in their family to attend college. With just under 8,000 students, UC Merced is the fastest growing public university in the country with plans to nearly double the physical capacity of the campus by Fall 2020. In addition, UC Merced has implemented a “Triple Net Zero Commitment,” pledging to “consume zero net energy, and produce zero waste and zero net greenhouse gas emissions” by 2020 through a campus-wide plan that involves solar power, a comprehensive recycling and compost system, and smart-energy use transportation systems. UC Merced is also the only university in the country to have all of its building certified LEED for green building practices and operations.
UC Merced offers 14 graduate programs and 22 bachelor degrees across three schools – the School of Engineering, the School of Natural Sciences, and the School of Social Sciences, Humanities and Arts. Degrees are offered in the areas of Social Sciences, Arts, Humanities, Engineering, and Natural Sciences. Reflecting the campus culture of “entrepreneurship, innovation, and creativity,” UC Merced implemented a new General Education Program in Fall 2018 that “empowers students to share their learning and skills to address the local and global challenges of an interconnected, changing world” and “nurtures the spirit of inquiry, building students’ knowledge of disciplines, cultures, and perspectives by fostering collaboration, communication, and ethical action.”
Accreditation: University of California – Merced is regionally accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges.
#40. San Diego State University
San Diego State University (SDSU) is one of the 23 member institutions in the California State University System and is the largest and oldest institution of higher learning in San Diego County. Founded in 1897, SDSU moved to its current location on 233 acres in 1931 with Mission-Revival style buildings centered around a main quad. With over 30,000 undergraduate students and nearly 6,000 graduate students, SDCU offers 95 bachelor’s degrees, 78 master’s degrees, and 22 doctoral degree programs across eight schools. The most popular majors at SDSU include Business, Management, and Marketing, Social Sciences, Health Professions, Engineering and Psychology. SDSU boasts a freshman retention rate of 89%, a mark of student satisfaction and of a sustainable education. In addition, in October 2018 U.S. News and World Report ranked SDSU #1 in graduation rate performance, while the Education Trust found that, over a ten-year period from 2003 – 2013, SDSU is one of only 26 higher institutions to “have increased six-year graduation rates for all students while also closing the gap between six-year graduation rates for underrepresented students and white students.”
SDSU puts a strong emphasis on research with $134 million in research funding last year going to many diverse research areas and facilities, including the Coastal Waters Laboratory, the Donald P. Shiley BioScience Center, and the SDSU Visualization Center. SDSU’s top-ranked entrepreneurship programs are run through the Lavin Entrepreneurship Center of the Business Administration school and the Zahn Center for Innovation Platform Launchpad. Students can also study abroad in one of 400 education programs in 52 countries across the world.
Accreditation: San Diego State University is regionally accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges.
In-State: Very Affordable
#41. Mount St. Mary’s University
A private Catholic liberal arts college primarily for women, Mount St. Mary’s University (the Mount) has two campuses within 16 miles of each other near downtown Los Angeles. Founded by the Sister’s of St. Joseph of Carondelet in 1925, the Mount focuses on developing women leaders and is “dedicated to providing a superior education enhanced by an emphasis on building leadership skills and fostering a spirit to serve others.” Ranked #18 in Regional Universities West by U.S. News and World Report, students at the Mount have 30 majors to choose from and the benefit of close mentoring relationships with professors with a student-to-faculty ratio of 11 to one. The most popular majors are the Health Professions, Social Sciences, Psychology, Business, Management, and Marketing, Public Administration, and Social Service Professions.
True to its commitment to further the leadership of women in the public sphere, the Mount is involved in many projects and public events that work to further its mission. Every year since 2012, the Center for the Advancement of Women at the Mount releases a Report on the Status of Women and Girls in California at a public event “to foster conversation and inspire action to address continuing inequalities and gender gaps.” The Mount is also part of the Women in Public Service Project with other prestigious women’s colleges across the country, which “identifies and educates a new generation of women committed to public service on a global level.” More than 70% of enrolled students at the Mount are students of color, while nearly 60% of the entering freshman class in Fall 2018 are first-generation college students. Additionally, nearly 70% of graduates go on to earn advanced degrees either at the Mount or at other leading universities around the country.
Accreditation: Mount Saint Mary’s University is regionally accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges.
#42. California State University – Maritime Academy
Founded in 1929, California State University – Maritime Academy (CSUM) is one of the 23 public institutions in the California State University system located at the northern end of the San Francisco Bay in Vallejo. CSUM enrolls just under 2,000 students, offering small class sizes and a low student-to-faculty ratio of 14. As the only degree-granting maritime academy in the west, students choose from only six majors, each focused on the maritime industry and related fields on land or at sea – International Business and Logistics, Facilities Engineering Technology, Global Studies and Maritime Affairs, Marine Engineering Technology, Marine Transportation or Mechanical Engineering.
CSUM requires that all students intern with a government agency, on a commercial ship, or at shore-side companies during their undergraduate studies. CSUM boasts the highest job-placement rate of all the California State Universities, with 94% of graduates in 2016 confirming employment in their field by August 2016. While not a military academy, CSUM shares similar values of leadership and accountability while also requiring students to wear a uniform during the class day. In addition, all students are considered cadets in the Corps of Cadets, forming the basic organizational structure of the Academy and all are required to spend at least one summer training on the university’s training ship, the Golden Bear, putting into practice the technological and leadership skills learned in the classroom. CSUM is ranked #3 in Regional Colleges West and #1 Top Public School Regional Colleges West by U.S. News and World Report.
Accreditation: California State University – Maritime Academy is regionally accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges.
In-State: Very Affordable
#43. Fresno Pacific University
Fresno Pacific University (FPU) was founded in 1944 by the Mennonite Brethren Church. As a private, Christian university, FPU welcomes those from all denominations and faith traditions, representing 31 countries and 31 different religious denominations in Fall 2018. The main campus of about 50 acres is located in Southeast Fresno in the San Joaquin Valley, with centers in North Fresno, Visalia, Bakersfield, and Merced. FPU enrolls just over 4100 students each year in undergraduate and graduate programs and an additional 14,000 across the country and the world in professional development studies programs. With over 100 areas of study and 30 bachelor degree options, the top five majors for traditional undergraduate students are Psychology, Criminal Justice, Kinesiology, Liberal Studies and Pre-Health Sciences. FPU is organized into five schools – the School of Business, the School of Education, the School of Humanities, Religion and Social Sciences, the School of Natural Science, and the Biblical Seminary. Students also have the option of enrolling in the University Scholars Program with intimate class sizes, student leadership opportunities including presentation and discussion facilitation, and thematic focus and organization. Students who complete 15 units of USP courses graduate as FPU Scholars.
FPU offers four different kinds of on-campus housing options – modules, suites, apartments, and houses. With all students under age 21 required to live on campus, FPU emphasizes the importance of building community through shared living experiences, recognizing that “the welcoming atmosphere, sense of belonging and variety of activities and opportunities enrich students’ spiritual, intellectual, emotional and physical lives.” Student-led clubs and organizations as diverse as the Amigos Unidos, Cheer, Classics, Colors of India, Dance, History, Missions, DREAMers and the Sunbird Conservatives all give students opportunities to get involved and connect with others in their community. FPU competes in the Pacific West Conference of the NCAA Division II with 16 teams total, 8 each for men and women.
Accreditation: Fresno Pacific University is regionally accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges.
#44. William Jessup University
A small Christian liberal arts school located in the greater Sacramento area in Rocklin, William Jessup University (WJU) was founded in 1939 and now enrolls just over 1200 undergraduates and 300 graduate students each year. “Big enough for opportunity and small enough for community,” WJU has an impressive student-to-faculty ratio of 12 to one and small class sizes, with U.S. News and World Report ranking it #2 in Regional Colleges West. The 18 undergraduate majors include Biology, Business, and Kinesiology, and Psychology, Environmental Science, Creative Arts, Liberal Studies, Public Policy, Theology, and Christian Leadership. For students interested in a teaching career, traditional undergraduates can work towards their California teaching certification within the Liberal Studies major. In addition, WJU offers a Masters of Arts in Teaching program along with other graduate programs in Business Administration, Psychology and Counseling, Sports Management, and Leadership with a concentration in Christian Ministry.
WJU’s mission of working “in partnership with the Church” to “educate transformational leaders for the glory of God” is seen in all areas of the school – in classrooms, in residential life, in student-faculty mentoring relationships, and in community service opportunities. On campus, 53% of all undergraduate students live in state-of-the-art residence halls designed with community in mind that include a shared living space and kitchenette as well as study lounges. Upperclassmen have the option to live in the on-campus apartments. Chapel services are held twice a week and students have opportunities to get involved in both local and global outreach “to live out their faith with action” as “an imperative of the Christian Higher Education experience.” Additionally, all global outreach trips that are sponsored by the Campus Ministries department count toward the required Spiritual Life Credits.
Accreditation: William Jessup University is regionally accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges.
#45. San Diego Christian College
San Diego Christian College (SDCC) is a small, private, Evangelical Christian college located in Santee, a suburb of San Diego. Founded in 1970 by a group of pastors in the local area, including the author of the Left Behind series, Tim LaHaye, SDCC “aims to prepare academically equipped, culturally and globally involved graduates with a biblical worldview and godly character to serve God.” Ranked #11 in Regional Colleges West by U.S. News and World Report, SDCC offers nine bachelor degrees to its roughly 650 undergraduate students including Biblical Studies, Business Administration, Communication, Interdisciplinary Studies, Kinesiology and Rehabilitative Science, and Liberal Studies. SDCC also confers a small number of master’s degrees each year in Leadership and Teaching and offers a low student-to-faculty ratio of 12 to one across all levels.
Student life at SDCC is active with Alpha Freshman Small groups, intramural sports teams, and a student leadership organization, along with monthly and annual events such as Homecoming, beach trips, and awards nights. Weekly Chapel gives students a chance to come together in a worship-service setting, and worship arts ministry teams and local and global mission trips provide opportunities for students to actively live out their faith. Campus residences are set up as individual apartments with separate bedrooms and shared living, bathrooms, and kitchens. There are also outdoor communal gathering spaces including fire pits and grills for students to take advantage of year round.
Accreditation: San Diego Christian College is regionally accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges.
#46. Concordia University – Irvine
Founded in 1972 by the Lutheran Church Missouri – Synod, Concordia University – Irvine (CUI) is one of 10 colleges and universities around the country that are part of the Concordia University System. With a strong Lutheran identity, CUI’s motto is “Grace Alone, Faith Alone” with the mission of being “guided by the great Commission of Christ Jesus and the Lutheran Confessions” to “empower students through the liberal arts and professional studies for lives of learning, service and leadership.” CUI has a thriving Campus Ministry that puts on five different Chapel services per week with more than 1300 in attendance, offers dozens of small group Bible studies, and serves countries around the world through student mission trips. In addition, students have the option of living on campus in one of six Living Learning Communities that are each distinctive and based on a theme, aiming to “promote faithfulness” and “encourage student choice and design.” Students under the age of 21 are required to live on campus and have the option of living in one of four residence halls in addition to the Living Learning Communities.
CUI enrolls just over 4,300 students each year in their bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degree programs with online and satellite campus options. Almost 1600 undergraduate students have the choice of 26 majors, including Actuarial Science, Theater, Behavioral Sciences, Biblical Studies, Child Development, Church Music, and Graphic Design. In addition to the bachelor’s degree programs, CUI also offers nine graduate degrees, six adult bachelor’s degrees online, and four different nursing programs. CUI is divided into five schools – Christ College, the School of Arts and Sciences, the School of Business, the School of Education, and the School of Professional Studies.
Accreditation: Concordia University – Irvine is regionally accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges.
#47. California State University – Long Beach
California State University – Long Beach (Cal State Long Beach) is the third largest of the 23 institutions that make up the California State University system with nearly 38,000 students enrolled each year. In Fall 2018 Cal State Long Beach received 102,000 applications for undergraduate enrollment, the most of any CSU campus. Cal State Long Beach boasts a freshman retention rate of 88% and has been ranked one of the most diverse universities in the West and #3 in Top Public Schools for Regional Universities West by U.S. News and World Report. Located only 3 miles from the Pacific Ocean in Long Beach on 323 acres, Cal State Long Beach offers students an incredible location along with state-of-the-art buildings and amenities. The 180,000 square-foot University Student Union building is in the center of campus and includes offices, study lounges, a ballroom, a food court, a bowling alley, an arcade and a movie theater, while the Recreation and Wellness Center, built in 2010, offers plenty of space for various recreational activities, including fitness programs, courts for volleyball, badminton, basketball and other sports, a rock climbing wall and an indoor track. The iconic Walter Pyramid rises 18-stories high as the school’s state-of-the-art sporting complex that can seat 5,000. In addition, Cal State Long Beach boasts a highly ranked art museum that is open and free to the public, while also hosting the largest publicly funded art school west of the Mississippi.
With undergraduate tuition for in-state students under $7,000 in Fall 2018, Cal State Long Beach is one of the most affordable universities in the country, ranked as one of America’s Best Value Colleges by the Princeton Review. Divided into nine schools, the most popular undergraduate majors include Business and Marketing, Health Professions, Social Sciences, Communications and Journalism. Graduate programs are offered through the College of Business Administration, the College of Engineering, and the College of Health and Human Services among others. Freshman students are required to live on campus or at home with family, with traditional residential halls, residential colleges, and themed living-learning communities as on-campus residential options.
Accreditation: California State University – Long Beach is regionally accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges.
In-State: Very Affordable
#48. California State University – Fullerton
The largest of the 23 institutions in the California State University system, California State University – Fullerton (Cal State Fullerton) enrolls over 40,000 students each year with 35,000 undergraduates and just over 5,000 graduate students. Located in the center of Orange County and only 30 miles from Los Angeles with a branch campus in Irvine and satellite campuses in Garden Grove and Santa Ana, Cal State Fullerton employs nearly 4,000 faculty and staff while many alumni remain in the area after graduation. Cal State Fullerton offers 110 degrees including 56 undergraduate programs and 54 graduate programs across eight colleges, including the Mihaylo College of Business and Economics, the College of Education, the College of Humanities and Social Sciences, and the College of Health and Human Development. With low tuition for in-state students, Cal State Fullerton has an impression 87% freshman retention rate.
Primarily a commuter school with only 1% of students living on campus, students have opportunities to get involved in campus life through the more than 50 student-led clubs including Greek organizations and intramural teams. Cal State Fullerton competes as the “Titans” in the Big West Conference of the NCAA Division I with more than a dozen teams. Students also have the opportunity to participate in faculty-student collaborative research through the recently developed Titan Research Gateway within the Office of Research and Sponsored Projects.
Accreditation: California State University – Fullerton is regionally accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges.
In-State: Very Affordable
#49. California Baptist University
California Baptist University (Cal Baptist) is a private Christian liberal arts school founded by the California Southern Baptist Convention in 1950. With its main campus in the historic Magnolia Avenue district of Riverside, and with satellite campuses throughout Riverside and San Bernardino Counties, Cal Baptist enrolls over 10,000 students with nearly 7,500 pursuing bachelor’s degrees. Divided into ten colleges and schools, Cal Baptist offers 76 undergraduate majors with well over 150 concentrations, 31 master’s degrees and three doctoral degrees. Ranked #32 in Regional Universities West by U.S. News and World Report, Cal Baptist offers small class sizes and a low student-to-faculty ratio of 17 to one. With a mission to help “students understand and engage” their purpose “by providing a Christ-centered educational experience that integrates academics with spiritual and social development opportunities,” Cal Baptist provides students with opportunities to get involved in the local and global community through their International Service Project and their U.S. Projects, giving students the opportunity to engage in cross-cultural experiences.
Competing primarily in the Western Athletic Conference of the NCAA Division I, Cal Baptist’s athletic teams have gained national attention for winning several regional and national championships in men’s and women’s sports including basketball and swimming. In addition, a new recreation center was opened in 2013 providing a wide range of recreational facilities along with one of the largest aquatic centers in the region. With 40% of students living on campus in residential halls or apartments, there are many ways for students to get involved in campus life through student-led clubs or organizations and through the school’s Campus Ministry.
Accreditation: California Baptist University is regionally accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges.
#50. California State University – Chico
Founded in 1887 as the second oldest of the 23 member institutions of the California State University system, California State University – Chico (Chico State) is located 90 miles North of Sacramento in the heart of downtown Chico. Ranked #41 in Regional Universities West by the U.S. News and World Report, Chico State enrolls nearly 18,000 students each year from 43 countries and 34 states. Offering over 300 fields of study at the bachelor’s and master’s levels, the most popular majors are Business Administration, Psychology, Criminal Justice, Liberal Studies and Pre-Nursing. With the average undergraduate class size of 30 and the student-to-faculty ratio of 23 to one, Chico State boasts an 84% retention rate for freshman students.
Chico State’s location provides students with the opportunity for holistic living during their college years with the potential for walking or biking around campus and town year round, to attend local farmer’s markets, and to participate in the vibrant arts, culture, and social scene in the local community. Chico is a bike-friendly city even hosting an annual 100-mile bicycle race each April. In addition, students have the opportunity to join any of the more than 200 student clubs and organizations on campus, including Greek life, or one of the dozen athletic teams that compete in the NCAA Division II. Chico State is also home to an 800 acre farm and has over 2300 acres of ecological reserves.
Accreditation: California State University – Chico is regionally accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges.
In-State: Very Affordable