2017 RANKING & REVIEWS
TOP RANKING BEST UNIVERSITIES IN CALIFORNIA


Finding the Top Universities in California | What Are the Best Universities California Has to Offer?

If you’re looking for a prime area to go to college, California is one of the most popular. Many students look for the best universities in California and the cheapest universities in California to go to school due to the excellent California climate.

Top 6 Best Universities in California

Award Emblem: Top 6 Best Universities in California

In a survey by HotelsCombined from more than 87,000 hotel bookings around the U.S., California ranked as the #1 most popular destination. Besides enjoying the nice weather and beaches, you can also find some of the best and largest universities in California.

Universities in California offer a wide variety of educational choices. If you want to find one of the top California universities with an outstanding sports program, look no further than the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA).

If a career in math and science is your goal, you can visit the best California state university that’s a world-renowned science and engineering school: California Institute of Technology (Caltech).

The point is that there are many good universities in California to choose from, and we are going to review the six best California universities in this article.

We’ve chosen a mix of the cheapest universities in California and the largest universities in California for our ranking and comparison. We’ll go through the key programs each school offers, the standard tuition to attend, and what makes each of these California best universities special.

See Also: Best Architecture Schools in the U.S. | Ranking | Architecture Universities in the USA



AdvisoryHQ’s List of the Top 6 Best Universities in California

List is sorted alphabetically (click any of the school names below to go directly to the detailed review section for that school):


Top 6 Largest and Cheapest Universities in California | Brief Comparison & Ranking

Top Universities in California

Average Undergraduate Tuition/Fees/ Room/Board

Best Universities California Location

California Institute of Technology

$68,901

Pasadena, CA

California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo

$26,148 (CA Resident)

$37,308 (Non-CA Resident)

San Luis Obispo, CA

California State University, Los Angeles

$24,839 (CA Resident)

$34,343 (Non-CA Resident)

Los Angeles, CA

Stanford University

$69,109

Stanford, CA

University of California, Los Angeles

$34,191 (CA Resident)

$62,205 (Non-CA Resident)

Los Angeles, CA

University of California, San Diego

$30,615 (CA Resident)

$58,629 (Non-CA Resident)

La Jolia, CA

Table: Top 6 Cheapest and Largest Universities in California | Above list is sorted alphabetically



Best Universities in California FAQ | How Can I Get the CA Resident Rate?

When looking at the difference in the cost of tuition at the top California universities, you may wonder how to get the lower California Resident rate if you don’t live there.

It’s not as easy as just moving to California before the school-year starts. The state has strict requirements for students to qualify when attending universities in California.

Here are some of the criteria for determining who qualifies for the CA Resident tuition. It comes from the website of one of the schools on our list of the best California universities, the University of California San Diego (UC San Diego).

Best Universities In California

Image Source: Top Universities in California

Definition of “California resident”

  • Is a U.S. citizen.
  • Is a permanent resident or other immigrant, OR
  • Is a nonimmigrant who is not precluded from establishing a domicile in the United States.
  • Is someone who has been conferred lawful presence in the U.S. through Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and holds an approved I-821D.

Conditions to Establish Residence for Tuition Purposes

Physical presence: You must be physically present in California for more than one year (366 days), immediately prior to the residence determination date. Staying in California just to go to school doesn’t count.

Intent to become a California resident: You have to demonstrate your intent to become a permanent resident. Some indications include having a California driver’s license or ID card or opening California-based bank accounts.

Financial independence: If you aren’t a dependent of a parent who is a California resident, you have to demonstrate financial independence (i.e., prove you’re not a dependent of parents in another state).



AdvisoryHQ’s Selection Methodology

What methodology does AdvisoryHQ use in selecting and finalizing the credit cards, financial products, firms, services, and products that are ranked on its various top-rated lists?

Please click here “AdvisoryHQ’s Ranking Methodologies” for a detailed review of AdvisoryHQ’s selection methodologies for ranking top-rated credit cards, financial accounts, firms, products, and services.


Detailed Review – Top Ranking Best Universities in California

Below, please find a detailed review of each school on our list of top universities in California. We have highlighted some of the factors that allowed these largest and cheapest universities in California to score so highly in our selection ranking.



California Institute of Technology Review


The California Institute of Technology, known as Caltech, may not be one of the cheapest universities in California, but it’s one of the most prestigious.  It has a 3:1 student-faculty ratio, making it one of the best California universities for personalized instruction.

This private university was started in 1891 by philanthropist Amos Throop in Pasadena, CA. Over the past century, Caltech has become world-renowned as the best California state university, or perhaps anywhere, to attend for science and engineering.

Top Universities in California

Image Source: Caltech | Top California Universities

Highlights That Make Caltech Stand Out as One of the Best Universities in California

This is one of the good universities in California to attend if you want to be close enough to Los Angeles to visit but don’t want to live there. The school is in the heart of Pasadena, which is about 30 minutes from LA.

The campus is 124-acres and situated at the foot of the San Gabriel Mountains. It’s also just 30 miles from the Pacific Ocean, so this is one of the California best universities for both mountain and beach sightseeing.

The School Manages the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL)

You can’t get much closer to math and science greatness than having a chance to visit NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Caltech manages the JPL for NASA and sends probes to explore the planets in our solar system.

That makes this one of the top universities in California to attend if you love the idea of exploring space and having a chance to see planetary exporation up close.

Top Research Centers

Whether you’re studying geology, astronomy, engineering, or human behavior, this is among the best California state universities to attend, because they have it all.

The multiple research centers and institutes at your disposal as a Caltech student include the following disciplines:

  • Astronomy and Planetary Science
  • Behavior and Economics
  • Computing
  • Earthquake Science and Engineering
  • Energy and the Environment
  • Engineering and Technology
  • Human Health
  • Humanities
  • Neuroscience

Don’t Miss: Best Accredited Online Colleges | Ranking | Best Accredited Online Universities



California Polytechnic State University,
San Luis Obispo Review


If you’re more interested in finding the cheapest universities in California that are also listed as best universities in California, then you’ll want to take a look at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obipo, or Cal Poly for short.

The school was founded in 1903 and its “learn-by-doing” philosophy still holds true today. It first began as a co-educational vocational high school and has since become one of the universities in California known as a leading undergraduate school in the west.

Cheapest Universities in California

Image Source: Cal Poly | Best Universities California

Highlights That Make Cal Poly Stand Out as One of the Best Universities in California

This is among the good universities in California to attend if you want a central location to see as much of the state as possible. Cal Poly is located in the coastal town of San Luis Obispo, which is about halfway between Los Angles and the San Francisco/San Jose area.

This is also one of the universities in California that is close to the famous “Wine Country,” which is just 27 miles away.

A few campus perks from this best California state university include the ability to eat in their Kennedy Library, and if you’d like to take a guided tour of their campus set on a hill, you can download their tour app.

Among the Best and Cheapest Universities in California

You can enjoy a great education at one of the universities in California without spending a ton at Cal Poly. For a CA Resident, the tuition is estimated at just $9,075 a year, and if you’re living on campus, the “all in” is estimated at $26,148.

According to CollegeCalc, their tuition is 17% cheaper than the national average public four-year tuition, and the cost is 74% cheaper than the average California tuition. That makes this one of the best and cheapest universities in California to attend.

Ranked Best in the West

U.S. News & World Report’s America’s Best Colleges guidebook ranked Cal Poly as No. 1 the public, master’s-level university in the west. They’ve earned this ranking for 24 consecutive years as one of the top California universities.

They were also recognized as one of the California best universities for diversity and were recognized as a leader in workplace staffing practices. They were awarded the 2017 Most Promising Places to Work in Student Affairs by Diverse Magazine.



California State University, Los Angeles Review


If you’re looking for one of the largest universities in California that is set in a more urban and “happening” area, you won’t be disappointed with California State University, Los Angeles, also known as Cal State LA.

The school was founded in 1947 and is located in the eastern region of Los Angeles, just five miles from the heart of downtown LA. The school prides itself on being among the top universities in California that rank high for the upward mobility of their students.

Largest Universities in California

Image Source: Cal State LA | Top Universities in California

Highlights That Make Cal State LA Stand Out as One of the Best Universities in California

Cal State LA has a lot going for it and it also comes in as one of the cheapest universities in California that is also one of the top universities in California. Tuition and fees for a CA Resident undergrad are just $6,632. For a non-resident, they’re $16,136.

The Luckman Fine Arts Complex

If you’re artistically inclined in visual or performing arts, then this is one of the best California universities to apply to. The Luckman Fine Arts Complex at Cal State LA is a place for artist to learn and perform.

Their Northwest Dance Project has been recognized for providing dancers and choreographers the resources needed to become a driving force in the dance world. So if you’re looking for a creative outlet in addition to an excellent education, this is one of the good universities in California to find both.

Small Campus Feel

This may not be one of the largest universities in California, and they want to keep it that way. One of the benefits of going to Cal State LA is the small campus feeling, so you feel like your teacher really knows who you are.

More than 90% of their classes have fewer than 50 students, so this is one of the best universities in California to go to if you like learning in smaller environments rather than in an auditorium with hundreds.

Related: Most Expensive Schools in the World | Ranking | Most Expensive Universities & Colleges in the World



Stanford University Review


For the next school on our list of the best and largest universities in California, we have one of the best well-known of the private universities in California – Stanford University.

The school was founded in 1891 and is known as one of the world’s leading teaching and research universities. This is one of the best universities in California to go to if you love learning about new technology and great sports teams, too.

Universities in California

Image Source: Stanford University | Top California Universities

Highlights That Make Stanford University Stand Out as One of the Best Universities in California

Stanford is located in the heart of Silicon Valley, right between San Francisco and San Jose, California, which makes it one of the best and largest universities in California to apply to if you’re looking for a career in the tech industry.

Learn from Nobel Laureates

Stanford is well-known for their world-class research facilities. With over 2,180 faculty members, including 19 Nobel laureates and four Pulitzer Prize winners, you know this is one of the top universities in California to attend if you want to learn from the best.

Top Athletics Department

This is a university that balances “geek” with “jock” beautifully. It’s not only the largest university in California to attend if you’re into technology and science, but they also have a reputation for an exceptional Athletics Department.

Stanford has won the Directors’ Cup, which honors the most successful program in NCAA Division I sports, for the last 22 years. Their sports program includes everything from the usual football, baseball, and basketball to sports like fencing, lacrosse, and rowing.



University of California, Los Angeles Review


The University of California, Los Angeles is best known for its acryonym, UCLA. It’s one of the best and largest universities in California and in its nearly 100 year history has become known as one of the public universities in California that is a top research college.

UCLA is part of the massive University of California System that began in 1869 and includes some of the best universities in California. The UC System emcompasses:

  • 10 Campuses (UCLA being one of them)
  • 5 Medical Centers
  • 3 National Laboratories

Top California Universities

Image Source: UCLA | Largest Universities in California

Highlights That Make UCLA Stand Out as One of the Best Universities in California

UCLA is one of the top universities in California for an “ultimately LA” location. The campus is surrounded by famous neighborhoods like Bel Air, Brentwood, and Beverly Hills. It’s also close to Hollywood for anyone who wants to pick up an acting gig or two.

Research That Matters

The average amount of money that UCLA receives each year for research projects, is a staggering $1 billion. If you want to make a difference researching and inventing new technologies, this is one of the largest universities in California where you’ll have the chance.

Their Technology Development Group manages an active portfolio of 2,950 inventions. This is also one of the top universities in California for new startups; their technology has helped create more then 140 companies.

Excellent Health Education Opportunities

If you’re interested in any facet of medicine, then UCLA is the best California state university for hands-on experience in multiple medical facilities.

For a health care degree, this is one of the largest and cheapest universities in California that also has over 200 of their physicians listed among the “Best Doctors in America.” They offer the following specialized health schools:

  • The David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA
  • UCLA’s School of Dentistry
  • UCLA’s School of Nursing
  • UCLA’s Fielding School of Public Health
  • UCLA’s Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior

Popular Article: Cheapest Universities in the USA for International Students | Guide | Affordable Universities in the USA


Free Wealth & Finance Software - Get Yours Now ►


University of California, San Diego Review


Another school that’s part of the system of the largest universities in California is the University of California, San Diego, or UC San Diego for short. The school traces its origins to the ocean, with the creation of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in 1903.

Today, the school is recognized as one of the top 15 research universities worldwide, making this one of the top universities in California to attend if you want to be a changemaker and make a “splash” in the world.

Best California State University

Image Source: UC San Diego | Best & Cheapest Universities in California

Highlights That Make UC San Diego Stand Out as One of the Best Universities in California

If you’re a beach lover, then UC San Diego is one of the good universities in California to attend to be just 12 minutes from the beach. The school is located in the La Jolla neighborhood of San Diego, CA, south of Los Angeles.

Enriching Student Opportunities

This school is one of the best California universities to attend for plenty of help with your education. They have multiple student opportunities to challenge and engage, including:

Skaggs School of Pharmacy

If you’re looking for a degree in the pharmaceutical sciences, then UC San Diego is one of the top universities in California because of their famous Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences. The school accepts just 60 students into each entering class.


Conclusion – Top 6 Best, Largest, and Cheapest Universities in California

If you’re looking for the best universities in California, you have plenty to choose from. From world-class private universities to some of the largest public universities in California with great reputations around the world.

There’s also no denying that the state has a lot to offer in the way of mountains, beaches, and famous cities and landmarks that give you plenty to do when you’re not in class.

And just because you may be attending one of the cheapest universities in California, with the stellar quality of all these schools, you can be assured that you’re still getting an award-winning education.

Read More: Top Aerospace Engineering Schools | Ranking | Best Aerospace Engineering Universities



AdvisoryHQ (AHQ) Disclaimer:

Reasonable efforts have been made by AdvisoryHQ to present accurate information, however all info is presented without warranty. Review AdvisoryHQ’s Terms for details. Also review each firm’s site for the most updated data, rates and info.

Note: Firms and products, including the one(s) reviewed above, may be AdvisoryHQ's affiliates. Click to view AdvisoryHQ's advertiser disclosures.