University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA)

UCLA (University of California, Los Angeles) is one of the best colleges in the state, experts say. (Photo by Jimmy on Unsplash)

With its beautiful beaches, mountains, and weather, California is truly a vacationer’s paradise. College students, however, are perhaps even more likely to find their dream destination within the more than 400 colleges and universities in California. With so many great options within the state, finding the best California colleges is important when applying to schools. 

Many of California’s top colleges are churning out top performers in their industries, with research showing that graduates of Stanford University and several other California colleges make top dollar after finishing their degree.

And for a state with one of the highest costs of living, higher earning potential often leads to higher job and life satisfaction. In fact, a recent study found that multiple California towns top the list of America’s happiest cities. 

With so many high-ranking institutions within California’s borders, it can be difficult to narrow down the very best. That’s why Study Finds searched the internet for ten expert rankings and compiled this list of the best California colleges. These are our top picks, but if you have a selection that we haven’t listed, be sure to let us know in the comments below.

The List: Best California Colleges, According To Experts

1. Stanford University

As the undisputed top choice among all ten rankings we reviewed, Stanford University is easily California’s number one school. “Stanford University is one of the most prestigious universities – not just in California but across the globe,” says Intelligent. “Stanford faculty are luminaries in their fields; among their ranks are dozens of Nobel laureates, Pulitzer Prize winners, National Medal of Science recipients, and Macarthur fellows.”

Stanford is among the most prestigious universities in the country, but those who do earn admission are thoroughly rewarded for their efforts. “If you can get into Stanford (only 5% of applicants do), the university has enough resources to help you pay for it,” Nasdaq says. “Parents earning less than $150,000 aren’t expected to pay tuition; those earning less than $75,000 are not expected to contribute anything to their students’ college costs.”

The benefits of a Stanford education last long after graduation, with the median salary of new graduates sitting at $73,900 and rising to $141,300 within six years. The school is known for its strength in research, and its Silicon Valley location lends itself to a particularly high focus on innovation and ingenuity. “Due to its academic strength, wealth, and proximity to Silicon Valley, it is often cited as one of the world’s most prestigious universities,” adds Prepler.

Stanford University
Stanford University campus (Photo by Y S on Unsplash)

2. University of California, Berkeley

Coming in at number two on our ranking, the University of California at Berkeley (UC Berkeley) is highly regarded for its academic rigor, resources, and alumni network. “University of California, Berkeley is consistently ranked the #1 public university in California, United States, and the world by outlets such as U.S. News & World Report and Times Higher Education,” says Intelligent. “Located in the San Francisco Bay Area, UC Berkeley is its own world within a world, with a range of multidisciplinary labs, research centers, museums and institutes all on one campus.”

With a total enrollment of more than 45,000 students, UC Berkeley has the resources to match its size and cater to individual needs. “While UC Berkeley is a large research university, Berkeley students can still enjoy small class sizes in upper-level courses,” says College Advisor. “In fact, about half of UC Berkeley’s classes include less than 20 students.”

Academic opportunities are vast at UC Berkeley due to its wide range of programs and fields of study. “Berkeley has 14 schools and colleges, including a number of graduate and professional schools, such as the School of Optometry and the Graduate School of Journalism,” says US News. “Other graduate programs offered include those in the highly ranked Haas School of Business, Graduate School of Education, College of Engineering and School of Law.”

football field at UC Berkeley
UC Berkeley’s football field (Photo by Naveen Venkatesan on Unsplash)

3. University of California, Los Angeles

The University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) is nestled in California’s most famous city, and the opportunities for entertainment, career, and more are certainly a fit for its location. “UCLA is one of the best colleges in California, with plenty of opportunities for students to engage both on campus and in the broader Los Angeles area,” says College Advisor.

Perhaps obviously, UCLA is a fantastic place to be for those who envision a future in the entertainment industry. “UCLA is known for stellar academics across disciplines, but it truly shines in Theater, Film, and Television,” notes Intelligent. “Taking advantage of its location in the heart of Los Angeles, UCLA has educated household name actors like Mayim Bialik, George Takei, and James Franco.”

Students with aspirations outside of Hollywood are just as able to find a program that fits their needs at UCLA. “With 109 academic departments and more than 125 majors offered, as well as an average of one billion dollars funded for research every year and half a million patrons attending visual, performing, and media arts events, UCLA has no shortage of opportunities for students to showcase achievement, breakthrough, and optimism,” Cappex says. “Bruin alumni have a collection of awards, honors, and titles, including Nobel Laureate and MacArthur Fellow, Olympic gold medals and NCAA titles.”

4. California Institute of Technology

For those headed into STEM fields, the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) is world-renowned. “In just over 120 years, Caltech has produced 34 Nobel laureates and counting and has contributed to many advances in science and technology,” says Intelligent. “The university’s science and engineering programs are world-renowned. The high Caltech ranking illustrates the school’s vast resources and strong programs across a variety of scientific disciplines,” College Advisor adds. 

In addition to its vast resources, Caltech provides exceptional opportunities for individual enrichment. “Caltech is home to several research centers including the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the International Observatory Network, and the Caltech Seismological Laboratory,” Cappex states.

“Counting faculty and postdoctoral fellows, there’s a 1:1 ratio of doctoral researchers to students on campus. Such a ratio provides many opportunities for students to take part in research projects and gain meaningful experiences in the lab,” Intelligent says.

5. University of Southern California

Rounding out our list, the University of Southern California (USC) boasts highly regarded undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral programs for its students. USC is a particularly strong choice for incoming undergraduate students hoping to continue their studies with postgraduate education. In fact, “the number of graduate students exceeds the number of undergraduates at USC, with students enrolled in such programs as the highly ranked Marshall School of Business, Rossier School of Education, Andrew and Erna Viterbi School of Engineering, Gould School of Law, Keck School of Medicine and School of Social Work,” says US News

Outside of the classroom, USC is recognized as a top school in multiple areas. “The university stands out for its strong athletics, school spirit, and alumni network,” says Intelligent. “Graduates of USC are Trojans for life and benefit from the university’s extensive, well-connected, and influential group of alumni across the globe. Notable alumni include Neil Armstrong, George Lucas, Jane Goodall, and even Will Ferrell.”

Naturally, USC has graduated many recognizable Hollywood names. But its contributions extend far beyond the entertainment industry. “USC has historically educated a large number of the region’s business leaders and professionals,” says Cappex. “The USC name can open doors across industries,” Intelligent adds.

a graduate posing in front of USC Marshall banner
A USC Marshall Graduate (Photo by David Garry on Unsplash)


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