Best Colleges in California for 2021

When it comes to destinations for university study, it's little surprise that California is a consistently top choice. Not only does it have a world-leading tech sector and excellent higher education institutions, but it also enjoys year-round sunshine, world-famous cities, and beautiful natural scenery — all of which make the 'golden state' a prime destination for domestic and international students alike.

The internet, the personal computer and the movie industry are all synonymous with California and it has a justified reputation for liberal thinking and innovation.

Colleges in California offer students a variety of experiences, with a mix of small liberal arts colleges and large research institutions located throughout the state and in world-renowned cities such as Los Angeles, San Francisco and San Diego.

The state has numerous public and private universities, many of which are considered among the best not only in the US, but in the entire world. Those currently in the Top 25 National Universities (according to U.S News and World Report 2021) include Stanford University, the California Institute of Technology, the University of Southern California (pictured below), and University of California schools UCLA and UC Berkeley.

Other Top 100 ranked universities include UC Santa Barbara (UCSB), UC San Diego, UC Irvine, UC Davis, Pepperdine University, Santa Clara University, Loyola Marymount University, UC Riverside, University of San Diego, UC Merced and UC Santa Cruz.

Also ranked among the top National Universities are University of San Francisco, Chapman University and San Diego State University.

An excellent state university system

The California state university system is the largest in the country, with over 450,000 students, 23 campuses and eight off-campus centers. It educates the most ethnically, economically and academically diverse student body in the nation. Among the excellent schools within the system are founding campus California State University San Jose, California State University Long Beach and California State University Fullerton.

As Kings partner university in California, students on the Guaranteed Outcome programs are able to spend their first two years at California State University Fullerton, adapting to US university life with on-campus support, before generally transferring to complete their bachelor's degree at another top ranked university.

Choosing your California university

If you are set on studying at university in California, there are many different factors to consider when it comes to making your choices — all of which progression advisors at Kings will help with.

Of course, location will be a factor, and will inform your decision based on the kind of lifestyle and environment that would be the best fit for you. Whether you would prefer urban or rural, city, coast or even mountains, there will be plenty of options to choose from in this famous west coast state.

An even more important consideration will be the reputation that your possible college has within your specific planned area of study, or undergraduate major. While there is no one subject ranking system which categorically defines an acknowledged hierarchy, there are several organisations which publish rankings, based on varying methodology. These include U.S News and World Report, Forbes, Niche and Times Higher Education (THE).

Below we look at some of the best universities in the state by subject areas. Whilst the lists should not be considered definitive or exhaustive, the schools highlighted regularly feature in relevant subject rankings, or have a generally acknowledged reputation for the quality of their programs in the specified field.

Best Colleges in California

Table of Contents

Category #1: Best Colleges in California for Business

Category #2: Best Colleges in California for Psychology

Category #3: Best Colleges in California for Engineering

Category #4: Best Colleges in California for Computer Science

Category #5: Best Colleges in California for Pre-med

Study at university in California with Kings

Category #1: Best Colleges in California for Business

The Californian universities below are particularly renowned for the quality of their business programs, and offer a range of undergraduate degrees and graduate programs through their business schools. With so many thriving and world-leading centers of business and innovation located within the state, California is an excellent choice when it comes to study within this field in the United States.

As stated on the Marshall Business School website, 'L.A. is one of the world’s most vibrant and dynamic metropolises, serving as a learning lab for understanding diverse business environments.' UC Irvine's Paul Merage School of Business, located on the 'Tech Coast' states that 'Experiential learning components continue to provide real-world education, allowing teams of students to immerse themselves in valuable projects with area companies.''

College #1: University of Southern California

University of Southern California is a private institution that was founded in 1880. The Marshall School of Business is one of the university’s many schools and colleges, and is known to emphasize entrepreneurship and innovation, collaborative research and social responsibility. Marshall offers a huge range of concentrations, including accounting, economics, entrepreneurship, finance, health care administration, human resources management, international business, leadership, marketing, not-for-profit management, sports business, and supply chain management/logistics.

The undergraduate accounting and entrepreneurial studies programs at Marshall often receive national accolades and are known for their originality and innovation. For example, the World Bachelor of Business (WBB) is the only 4-year, 3-continent, 3-degree program in the world, and Marshall is home to the nation’s first integrated entrepreneurship program. It is also the only school which offers a Business and Cinematic Arts program in conjunction with the No. 1 film school in the world (USC's School of Cinematic Arts).

Location: USC's central campus, referred to as the University Park campus, is located in LA's Downtown Arts and Education Corridor.
Tuition and fees: $59,072.
Acceptance rate: 11%.

College #2: UC Berkeley

Founded as the first University of California campus in 1868, Berkeley is a research university with a world-class reputation. Berkeley’s Haas School of Business is the second-oldest business school in the country. Six degree programs are offered to over 2,200 students who come from around the globe. The programs and research are organized into three institutes: the Institute for Business Innovation, the Institute for Business and Social Impact, and the Energy Institute. Business school grads make up an alumni network of approximately 40,000, located all over the world.

Berkeley Haas faculty are known for their business research excellence. In addition to two Nobel Prizes, they have won awards for pioneering research knowledge in game theory, behavior finance, Open Innovation, and knowledge management.

Haas was ranked #3 in the U.S. News and World Report’s Best Undergraduate Business Schools category for 2021.

Location: Berkeley, San Francisco Bay
Tuition and fees: In-state $14,226; out-of-state $43,980.
Acceptance rate: 17%.

College #3: UC Irvine

Founded in 1965, this Southern California institution is a large public university in a mid-sized city halfway between Los Angeles and San Diego. The University of California—Irvine was ranked #35 in the National Universities category of the U.S News and World Report 2021, #32 in the Business Programs category and #29 in Management category.

Located on Orange County’s “Tech Coast,“ the University's Paul Merage School of Business is surrounded by some of the world's most innovative and successful businesses including Amazon, Google, Disney, Experian, Hyundai and Taco Bell. The school offers a bachelor of arts in Business Administration and a Bachelor of Science in Business Information Management. Through concentrations and electives, each major provides the opportunity for students to design an interdisciplinary curriculum according to their unique interests and goals.

Graduate degrees at the school include MBA programs in Entrepreneurship, Digital Transformation and Real Estate, and specialized Master’s programs in Accounting, Finance, and Business Analytics.

Location: Irvine.
Tuition and fees: In-state $13,932; out-of-state $43,686.
Acceptance rate: 27%.

College #4: Santa Clara University


Mariusz S. Jurgielewicz/Shutterstock.com

Santa Clara University is a private institution that was founded in 1851. It's a medium sized private university in a mid sized city within the San Francisco Bay area. It is currently ranked #53 in the National Universities category of the U.S News and World Report 2021, #67 in the Business Programs category, #12 in the Entrepreneurship category and #44 in Accounting.

Located in the heart of innovation, Silicon Valley, the top-ranked degree programs at the University's Leavey School of Business provide rigorous study and high impact experiential learning. Undergraduate majors at the school include Accounting, Accounting and Information Systems, Economics, Finance, Management, Marketing and Management Information Systems.

Location: Santa Clara, an hour from San Francisco.
Tuition and fees: $55,629.
Acceptance rate: 49%

College #5: Pepperdine University

Pepperdine University is a private institution that was founded in 1937. It is located in the Santa Monica Mountain foothills, in picturesque Malibu. Pepperdine University's ranking in the 2021 U.S News and World Report's National Universities category was #49, and it was #53 in the Business programs category.

The bachelor of science in business administration degree program at Pepperdine's Seaver College prepares students for careers in accounting, business, or management, and offers an excellent foundation for graduate work in business administration. Pepperdine's Graziadio Business School offers a range of highly regarded business programs for graduate students.

Location: Malibu.
Tuition and fees: $58,002.
Acceptance rate: 32%

Category #2: Best Colleges in California for Psychology

Psychology is a multifaceted discipline and includes many sub-fields of study such areas as human development, sports, health, clinical, social behavior and cognitive processes.

California is home to many of America's top universities for the study of Psychology, with three of 'Best Psychology Schools' according to the U.S News and World's most recent ranking being situated in the state. One of these (Stanford University) is in fact also considered to be the current world-leader in degree-level Psychology studies.

College #1: Stanford University


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Stanford is currently ranked number 1 in the world for Psychology by THE World rankings 2021. It is also top in the U.S News and World Report's Top Psychology Schools listings.

Among the first departments established at Stanford University, the Department of Psychology has a long-standing tradition of ground-breaking theoretical research that also has a tangible and far-reaching impact in the real world.

The substantive areas remain developmental, social, affective science, cognitive and neurological psychology.

Location: Stanford, Palo Alto
Tuition and fees: $56,169
Acceptance rate:4%.

College #2: University of California, Berkeley

As the flagship public land-grant research institution of the statewide system, the University of California, Berkeley is home to over 37,500 students on its huge campus on the eastern shore of the San Francisco Bay.

Ranked 22nd in the U.S. News and World Report's National University category, it is also joint #1 with Stanford in the Report's Top Psychology Schools listings. The THE World rankings in 2021 have it as #4 in the world for university studies in Psychology.

Location Berkeley, San Francisco Bay
Tuition and fees: In-state $14,226; out-of-state $43,980.
Acceptance rate:17%.

College #3: UCLA

Psychology is just one of the many subject areas in which UCLA excels, being ranked #10 in the world for Psychology by Times Higher Education World University rankings 2021 and #3 in U.S. News and World Report's Top Psychology Schools listings. Niche list it #3 in their rankings for 'Best Colleges for Psychology in California'. It is ranked #20 in the National Universities category and #1 in the Top Public Schools category of the U.S News and World Report 2021.

Location: Los Angeles (Westwood neighborhood)
Tuition and fees: in-state $13,226; out-of-state $42,980.
Acceptance rate: 12%.

College #4: Pomona College

Pomona College is located in Claremont, California, 35 miles east of downtown Los Angeles near the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains. it is ranked #4 in National Liberal Arts Colleges category by U.S. News and World Report. Niche list it 4th in their rankings for 'Best Colleges for Psychology in California':

The College's Psychological Science major and minor provides students with a strong background in human behavior, psychological theories and empirical findings with a heavy emphasis on empirical research and laboratory experience.

Location: Claremont
Tuition and fees: $54,774.
Acceptance rate: 7%

College #5: University of California, Davis

The University of California, Davis is currently ranked #39 in the National Universities category of U.S. News and World Report. Its specific rank for Psychology schools is #26. The current Times Higher Education World University rankings place it #46 globally for degree-level Psychology studies.

Psychology is the top major at UC Davis.

Location: 5 miles from Sacramento
Tuition and fees: In-state $14,653; out-of-state $44,407.
Acceptance rate: 39%

Category #3: Best Colleges in California for Engineering

Whether you're drawn to one of the many state colleges or universities or one of the private institutions, you will find a wide range of engineering degrees in California — from aeronautics to materials engineering, there are a huge range of specialisms available. Many universities offer bachelor, master and doctoral degrees.

College #1: Stanford University

Stanford is was ranked #3 in the world for Eng and Tech by THE World rankings 2021, and #2 in US News and World Report Undergraduate Engineering Programs rankings. As may to be expected, Stanford's School of Engineering is home to world-renowned faculty, and over 60 state-of-the art university centers and labs.

Engineering is one of the university’s most popular majors, and roughly 1,600 undergraduates and 3,200 graduate students take degrees through the school’s nine academic departments: Aeronautics and Astronautics, Bioengineering, Chemical Engineering, Civil and Environmental Engineering, Computer Science, Electrical Engineering, Management Science and Engineering, Materials Science and Engineering, and Mechanical Engineering.

Stanford's location in the heart of Silicon Valley offers a range of opportunities for internships and learning experiences.

Location: Stanford, Palo Alto
Tuition and fees: $56,169
Acceptance rate: 4%.

College #2: UC Berkeley

UC Berkeley Engineering is consistently ranked among the top engineering schools, including by U.S. News & World Report, which ranks it second nationally for undergraduate programs, third nationally for graduate programs, and seventh globally overall in 2021.

Engineering School Specialty Rankings according to US.News and World Report in 2021 also list Berkeley #1 in the US for Electrical/Electronic/Communications Engineering, Civil Engineering, and EnvironmentalEngineering, #2 for Chemical and Materials Engineering, #3 for Industrial/Manufacturing/Systems Engineering, Mechanical Engineering and Nuclear Engineering, and #4 for Biomedical Engineering.

Location: Berkeley, San Francisco Bay.
Tuition and fees: In-state $14,226; out-of-state $43,980.
Acceptance rate: 17%.

College #3: Cal Institute of Technology


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California Institute of Technology is a private, not-for-profit college based in Pasadena. It is ranked #5 in the U.S. News and World Report Engineering rankings and #9 within National Universities in 2021. It is ranked #4 globally in the Times Higher Education World University rankings in 2021.

Caltech has six academic divisions with a strong emphasis on science and technology teaching and research. The university has a very competitive admissions process, which ensures that only a small number of the most able students are enrolled. Caltech’s modest size also ensures an intense focus for its research activities and close collaborations between faculty across traditional disciplines.

Caltech has a high research output and many cutting edge facilities, both on and off campus. These include the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the Caltech Seismological Laboratory and the International Observatory Network.

The alumni and faculty of Caltech have been awarded 39 Nobel Prizes, one Fields Medal, six Turing Awards and 71 United States National Medal of Science or Technology. Four chief scientists of the US Air Force have also attended the institution.

Location: Pasadena.
Tuition and fees: $56,862.
Acceptance rate: 6%.

College #4: California Polytechnic State University (Cal Poly) — San Luis Obispo

Established as a vocational college in 1901, California Polytechnic State University (often known as Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, or Cal Poly for short) is a public university, with one of the largest college campuses in the United States. It is located in San Luis Obispo, halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco. Students can study bachelor’s or master’s degrees (it does not grant doctoral degrees) at one of the six colleges, in including the College of Engineering.

Undergraduate students can choose from almost 70 majors, with Cal Poly’s highly ranked engineering programs as the most popular choice. The University was #8 for Engineering Programs (no doctorate) in the U.S. News and World Report's 2021 rankings.

There are more than 80 state-of-the-art laboratories and 50 clubs dedicated specifically to the Cal Poly College of Engineering.

Location: San Luis Obispo.
Tuition and fees: In-state $9,948; out-of-state $21,828.
Acceptance rate: 28%

College #5: UC Santa Barbara

University of California—Santa Barbara, often abbreviated as UCSB, is a public institution that was founded in 1909. It is known as a 'Public Ivy' university in recognition of its excellence and in the 2021 edition of Best Colleges is National Universities, ranked #30. It is located 100 miles up the coast from Los Angeles, on cliffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean.

The College of Engineering, which focuses its interdisciplinary research on biomolecular and computation science and engineering, is regarded as being among the top engineering schools in the world. UCSB has ranked among the world's top two public universities for scientific impact of research in engineering and physical sciences for the past ten years. (Leiden Rankings, 2011-2020)

In 2021, UCSB was ranked #37 for Best Undergraduate Engineering Programs by U.S News and World Report, and #16 for Chemical , #14 for Materials at schools whose highest degree is a doctorate.

Location: Santa Barbara
Tuition and fees: In-state $14,391; out-of-state $44,145.
Acceptance rate: 30%

Category #4: Best Colleges in California for Computer Science

Computer Science is undoubtedly one of California's most attractive study options — both at undergraduate and graduate level. The state's IT industry is by far the largest in the country, and enrollment on a Computer Science degree here will not only give you the skills necessary for the field, but often too the chance to gain precious hands-on experience through placements and internships within world-class tech companies.

College #1: Stanford University

Stanford University is a recognised global leader in the Computer Science education. It is currently ranked number 2 in the world for the subject by the THE World rankings. It is also placed 2nd by U.S News and World Report in their specific Computer Science rankings.

Stanford is based in famous Palo Alto, one of the principal cities of Silicon Valley, and headquarters of a number of high-technology companies, including Hewlett-Packard (HP), Tesla and Skype.

Location: Stanford, Palo Alto
Tuition and fees: $56,169
Acceptance rate: 4%.

College #2: California Institute of Technology

California Institute of Technology, or Caltech, as it is also known, is a private institution that was founded in 1891. It is currently ranked #9 in the U.S News and World report's National Universities rankings, and has two top 10 rankings for Computer Science related subjects too: it is ranked #5 for Computer Science and #9 for Software Engineering.

Location: Pasadena, California, approximately 11 miles northeast of Los Angeles.
Tuition and fees: $56,862.
Acceptance rate: 6%.

College #3: UC Berkeley

One of the US's consistently top colleges across so many fields, UC Berkeley once again features in our selection of top 5 universities. It is currently ranked #2 in the world for Computer Science by THE World University rankings. It is also ranked #2 by U.S News and World Report in their specific Computer Science rankings.

Location: Berkeley, San Francisco Bay
Tuition and fees: In-state $14,226; out-of-state $43,980.
Acceptance rate: 17%.

College #4: Harvey Mudd College

Harvey Mudd College is a private institution that was founded in 1955. Located in Claremont, 35 miles east of downtown LA, Harvey Mudd is recognized as one of the country’s top math, science and engineering undergraduate colleges.

It was listed #4 for Computer Engineering and #20 for Computer Science by U.S News and World Report in their 2021 rankings.

Harvey Mudd College offers a Bachelor of Science degree in math, science and engineering majors. The school is part of the Claremont Colleges consortium, which includes Scripps College, Claremont McKenna College, Pomona College, Pitzer College, Claremont Graduate University and Keck Graduate Institute of Applied Life Sciences.

Location: Claremont
Tuition and fees: $58,660.
Acceptance rate: 14%

College #5: University of California, San Diego

Part of the University of California, UC—San Diego is a public institution that was founded in 1960. In 2021, it is ranked #35 in the U.S. News and World Report's National Universities category and is also highly ranked for many of the Computer Science related specialisms: it is #16 for Computer Science, #19 for Artificial Intelligence, #2 for Biocomputing/Bioinformatics/Biotechnology, #12 for Computer Systems, #9 for Cybersecurity, #13 for Data Analytics/Science, and #14 for Programming Languages.

The Jacobs School of Engineering at the university offers a range of undergraduate majors, including Computer Science, Computer Engineering and Bioinformatics.

Location: La Jolla.
Tuition and fees: In-state $14,451; out-of-state $44,205.
Acceptance rate: 32%

Category #5: Best Colleges in California for Pre Med

"Pre-med" is not actually a specific major, it is the term used by students in the US to show that they want to go to med school and are taking the classes they need to get there. In other words, it is a pre-professional path that students choose when aiming for a career in the health professions.

Any major can be pre-med as long as you take the classes required to go to med school, and in fact, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges, just a little over half of all students applying to med school majored in the biological sciences. The others majored in a variety of areas, including humanities, math, social sciences, and physical sciences.

Pre-med students need a lot of specialized resources and opportunities as undergraduates in order to boost their med school applications. It's important that aspiring medical professionals to attend schools that aren't only highly ranked but that also provide specialized support to pre-meds.

College #1: Stanford University

As a pre-med student at Stanford, you'll benefit from its proximity to a top-ranked medical school. In addition, dedicated pre-med advisors are available to discuss ideas, plan coursework, and give you options for gaining experience in the field. They also offer internship opportunities for undergraduate students.

Location: Stanford, Palo Alto.
Tuition and fees: $56,169
Acceptance rate: 4%.

College #2: University of Southern California

At USC's Dornsife — the College of Letters, Arts and Sciences, students benefit from a range of services and involvement opportunities to help them prepare for a career in the health professions.

According to their website, declaring a Pre-Health emphasis at USC grants students access to the dedicated USC Dornsife-Keck Pre-Health Center., where thet will meet with pre-health advisors, enroll in all the requisite pre-health coursework, and be exposed to an array of resources and opportunities such as volunteering and shadowing. There are also specific workshops and seminars to help with the health school application process.

Location: USC's central campus, referred to as the University Park campus, is located in LA's Downtown Arts and Education Corridor.
Tuition and fees: $59,072.
Acceptance rate: 11%.

College #3: UCLA


UCLA's David Geffen School of Medicine was tied #6 for research in the U.S. News & World Report 2021 rankings.

As an undergraduate, pre-med students are encouraged to volunteer at the medical center or other L.A. medical organizations. They can conduct research through the Student Research Program and honors theses.

Some of the possible pre-med degrees include B.S. in Bioengineering, B.S. in Biological Chemistry, B.S. in Chemistry/Materials Science, B.S. in Molecular Biology B.S. in Neuroscience.

Location: Los Angeles (Westwood neighborhood)
Tuition and fees: in-state $13,226; out-of-state $42,980.
Acceptance rate: 12%.

College #4: Pepperdine University


Pepperdine University offers pre-health curricula for students who plan to apply for admission to professional programs such as medicine, dentistry, and veterinary medicine.

There are also many opportunities for pre-health students on campus, including relevant clubs and seminars with pre-health speakers, who address a wide variety of topics throughout the year. There are also opportunities for employment, shadowing, internships and volunteering.

For the past several years the medical school acceptance rate has been 70% to 80%. The acceptance rate for those students who have high grade point averages (GPAs) and competitive Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) scores is almost 100%.

Location: Malibu.
Tuition and fees: $58,002.
Acceptance rate: 32%

College #5: Pomona College

Through the course of a liberal arts education, Pomona College offers a strong science program with extensive laboratory experience and close faculty/student interaction (advising and faculty support: 1-2 pre-health advisor), and there is a close-knit pre-health community.

In 2018, the average acceptance rate of Pomona alumni to medical schools was 85%.

Research & fellowship opportunities are available, as is physician shadowing.

Location: Claremont
Tuition and fees: $54,774.
Acceptance rate: 7%

Study at university in California with Kings

We hope that this article has helped you understand more about the best schools in California for various degree subjects.

More information about Kings' partner university in California, and our Guaranteed Outcome programs can be found on our website, however if you would like receive more detailed information about the Kings and our programs can help you access these top universities, please get in touch with us at enquiries@kingseducation.com.

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