To identify the Best Colleges in California for 2018 we averaged the latest results from the most respected college ranking systems with thousands of real student review scores from around the web to produce a unique College Consensus rating for each school. You won’t find a more comprehensive ranking of the top colleges and universities in California anywhere. Read more about our rankings methodology and sources at our about page.
Claremont McKenna College
Harvey Mudd College
California Institute of Technology
University of California-Berkeley
University of California-Los Angeles
Santa Clara University
University of Southern California
William Jessup University
Loyola Marymount University
Thomas Aquinas College
University of California-Santa Barbara
California Polytechnic State University-San Luis Obispo
University of California-San Diego
University of Redlands
University of California-Davis
Saint Mary’s College of California
University of San Diego
San Diego Christian College
Ranking the best colleges in California is not a task for the faint of heart; no other single state has more world-class, prestigious, selective universities and colleges than California, America’s most populated, most influential state. It’s no wonder – there is a job to be done in higher education that takes place on an unprecedented scale in California, providing opportunity and career preparation for the most diverse populace in the most diverse nation in the world, in more fields and disciplines than seem possible.
Yet the best colleges in California meet all of these needs, from the major public research institutions of the University of California System and the California State University System (which boasts several of the world’s top-ranked public universities – and best campus recreation centers), to the elite liberal arts colleges in Claremont (which are also where students will find some of the state’s best college dorms). California is the home of Stanford University, the heart of Silicon Valley and the greatest rival to MIT, and to Caltech, an international STEM center. Whatever kind of education, in whatever format and whatever discipline, a student could want, is available in California.
Why Are So Many of the Best Colleges in California?
So much of American life finds its heart in California, and preparing students for leadership and service in those fields is higher education’s responsibility. In the third-largest state by land size, and the largest in population, government, law, and education in California is a labor on par with most nations – California’s economy, in fact, is the sixth largest in the world, and the Los Angeles and San Francisco metropolitan areas are the second and third-largest economic centers (after New York City). California’s economy is complex; the biggest wine industry in the US, the center of the technology industry, and nearly the whole of the film and television industry, are centered in California. California’s best colleges and universities carry their weight, from UCLA’s influential entertainment programs to Stanford’s world-shaking engineering and technology.
California’s population is just as complex as its economy. From the time of the Gold Rush, California has been a land of migrants, drawing Americans from the East – first to the gold fields and the boom towns, then to the fertile farmland, and then to the growing and vibrant cities. California drew immigrants from another East, too – the Far East, where immigrants from China, Japan, and the rest of the Pacific Rim transformed the culture and society of the place. Today, more than 15% of California’s population is of Asian or Pacific Islander descent. Of course, California was once part of Mexico, with Southern California sharing a long stretch of border with our neighbor to the south, and nearly 40% of Californians are Hispanic or Latinx.
From this diversity, California has crafted a culture that is many cultures. The sheer size of California means that there are many Californias (as recent attempts to break up the state have demonstrated), with Southern and Northern California as distinct as, say, Florida is from New York – though both regions are home to some of the best mountain colleges in the US. The Bay Area and Silicon Valley are worlds removed from the fertile central California, and the Mojave might as well be Arizona. Still, the best California colleges have something for everyone, from working adults to young people from underrepresented backgrounds, from environmentalists to the techno-faithful to avant-garde artists. For the first time, in 2010, people born in California outnumber people who moved to California from somewhere else; Californians are Californians.
The Future of California Higher Education
For a long time, California was the future of America, and in the 21st century, we can see what that future looks like – at least in higher education. The best California colleges have helped shape American culture, giving us some of the most influential college rock bands and game-changing, most educated rappers. And as the United States continues to change and develop, California’s higher education system is definitely going to continue to show the way: with public universities that take diversity and service seriously, liberal arts colleges that fuse tradition with innovation, and innovative research institutions that push technology and human potential forward daily.