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2021 Best Colleges for the Money (With Aid) in California

90 Colleges
$18,375 Avg Cost (With Aid)*
4.5 Years Avg Time to Graduate*

When pursuing a degree in today's world, there are many different options to choose from. College Factual has developed its Best California Schools For The Money For Those Getting Aid ranking as one tool you can use to help make this decision.

After analyzing 90 schools, we came up with our list of those that were the best for overall value for the money with aid in California. This ranking isn't just a listing of 'cheap' schools. Instead, it is noting which schools offer a high quality education for a reasonable price. Thus, one college may rank better than another, but the second school could have a lower average cost.

See what other factors we include in our ranking methodology.

To calculate the average cost amount, we sum up the total expenses to attend a school - such as tuition, fees, room and board, books and supplies, and other living expenses - and then subtract the average financial aid award a student receives. So it is an approximation of how much you will have to pay out-of-pocket each year on average.

Customizing Your List

Since one ranking on its own is not enough to give you a complete understanding of your educational options, you can refine this list by location and field of study. We've also developed a number of other tools and rankings based on other factors. These other rankings highlight colleges that excel in other factors such as overall quality or diversity as well as schools that excel in serving different groups of students such as veterans or returnings adults.

You can create your own custom comparison that focuses on the factors most important to you using our tool, College Combat. We encourage you to try it out and pit your favorite colleges and universities head to head!

Top Colleges for the Money (With Aid) in California

Learn more about these excellent schools below:

#1

Soka University of America

Aliso Viejo, California

Soka University of America tops this year’s ranking as the best school for overall value for the money with aid in California. Aliso Viejo, California is the setting for this small institution of higher learning. The private not-for-profit school handed out bachelor’s degrees to 118 students in 2018-2019.

At Soka University, the average time it takes a student to graduate is 4.0 years, and it costs students who receive aid about $16,398 per year to attend the school. This makes the estimated cost of a bachelor’s degree from Soka University be around $66,412. When students graduate in a lesser amount of time, they can save thousands of dollars.

The school has an excellent freshman retention rate of 94%, which means students like the school well enough to return for a second year. Soka University excels when it comes to quality. It’s ranked in the top 15% of all schools on our Best Colleges in California list.

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#2

University of California - San Diego

La Jolla, California

You’ll join some of the best and brightest minds around if you attend University of California - San Diego. The school came in at #2 in California on this year’s best value ranking. Located in La Jolla, California, the large public school handed out 8,037 bachelor’s degrees in 2018-2019.

The average student at UCSD graduates in less than 4.3 years, and the estimated yearly cost for the school is $15,543 for students who receive aid. Thus, the average cost to get a bachelor’s degree from the UCSD is $67,301. When you graduate sooner, you can save a lot of money.

The school has an impressive student loan default rate. It’s only 1.7%, which is much lower than the national rate of 10.1%. UCSD excels when it comes to quality. It’s ranked in the top 15% of all schools on our Best Colleges in California list.

Full University of California - San Diego Report

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#3

University of California - Los Angeles

Los Angeles, California

You’ll join some of the best and brightest minds around if you attend University of California - Los Angeles. The school came in at #3 in California on this year’s best value ranking. Located in Los Angeles, California, the large public school awarded 9,069 diplomas to qualifed bachelor’s degree students in 2018-2019.

It takes the average student at UCLA about 4.2 years to graduate, and the yearly average cost to attend the school is $16,880 for students who receive aid. Putting this cost and the average time to graduate together, we find that the average amount you’ll pay to get a bachelor’s degree from UCLA is $70,390. When students graduate in a lesser amount of time, they can save thousands of dollars.

With a freshman retention rate of 97%, the school does an excellent job of retaining its students. As a testament to the quality of education it offers, UCLA also is in the top 10% of our Best Colleges in California ranking.

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#4

University of California - Irvine

Irvine, California

You’ll join some of the best and brightest minds around if you attend University of California - Irvine. The school came in at #4 in California on this year’s best value ranking. UC Irvine is located in Irvine, California and has a large student population. In 2018-2019, this school awarded 8,394 bachelor’s degrees to qualified undergradutates.

It takes about 4.2 years for the average student at UC Irvine to complete their degree, and on average, the annual cost to attend the school is $16,719 for students who receive aid. Looking at these numbers together, we estimate that the average cost of a bachelor’s degree from UC Irvine is about $70,387. Graduating sooner can prevent you from having to pay more money out of pocket.

Students who start out at the school are likely to stick around. The freshman retention rate is 94%. In addition to its great value ranking, UC Irvine is in the top 15% of all schools on our Best Colleges in California list.

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#5

University of California - Davis

Davis, California

Out of the 90 schools in California that were part of this year’s ranking, University of California - Davis landed the #5 spot on the list. This large public school is located in Davis, California, and it awarded 8,711 bachelor’s degrees in 2018-2019.

It takes about 4.3 years for the average student at UC Davis to complete their degree, and the estimated yearly cost for the school is $18,018 for students who receive aid. This makes the estimated cost of a bachelor’s degree from UC Davis be around $78,018. Graduating sooner can prevent you from having to pay more money out of pocket.

With a freshman retention rate of 93%, the school does an excellent job of retaining its students. UC Davis excels when it comes to quality. It’s ranked in the top 10% of all schools on our Best Colleges in California list.

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#6

University of California - Santa Barbara

Santa Barbara, California

University of California - Santa Barbara landed the #6 spot on the 2021 Best Value Colleges in California ranking. Located in Santa Barbara, California, the large public school handed out 6,327 bachelor’s degrees in 2018-2019.

It takes the average student at UCSB about 4.2 years to graduate, and the estimated yearly cost for the school is $18,338 for students who receive aid. This makes the estimated cost of a bachelor’s degree from UCSB be around $76,836. Graduating sooner can prevent you from having to pay more money out of pocket.

The school has an impressive student loan default rate. It’s only 2.3%, which is much lower than the national rate of 10.1%. On top of its placing in our value rankings, UCSB also did well on our Best Colleges in California list. It’s in the top 15% of all schools reviewed in this analysis.

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#7

University of California - Riverside

Riverside, California

University of California - Riverside landed the #7 spot on the 2021 Best Value Colleges in California ranking. UCR is located in Riverside, California and has a large student population. In 2018-2019, this school awarded 4,649 bachelor’s degrees to qualified undergradutates.

The average amount of time it takes for a student to receive their degree at UCR is 4.3 years, and the estimated yearly cost for the school is $17,110 for students who receive aid. Putting this cost and the average time to graduate together, we find that the average amount you’ll pay to get a bachelor’s degree from UCR is $73,573. When you graduate sooner, you can save a lot of money.

The low student loan default rate of 2.8% is a good sign that students have an easier time paying off their loans than they might at other schools. For comparison, the national default rate is 10.1%.

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#8

Mills College

Oakland, California

Mills College did quite well in the 2021 Best Value Colleges in California ranking, coming in at #8. Located in Oakland, California, the small private not-for-profit school awarded 178 diplomas to qualifed bachelor’s degree students in 2018-2019.

The average student at Mills graduates in less than 4.2 years, and the average full-time cost to attend the school for students who receive aid is around $15,260. When we combine these numbers, we estimate that the cost to get a bachelor’s degree from Mills is $64,702. Graduating sooner can prevent you from having to pay more money out of pocket.

The student loan default rate at the school is 3.5%, which is quite low when compared to the national default rate of 10.1%.

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#9

University of California - Merced

Merced, California

With a ranking of #9, University of California - Merced did quite well on the 2021 Best Colleges for the Money in California list. Merced, California is the setting for this medium-sized institution of higher learning. The public school handed out bachelor’s degrees to 1,442 students in 2018-2019.

It takes the average student at University of California - Merced about 4.5 years to graduate, and it costs students who receive aid about $14,779 per year to attend the school. Putting this cost and the average time to graduate together, we find that the average amount you’ll pay to get a bachelor’s degree from University of California - Merced is $66,358. Graduating sooner can prevent you from having to pay more money out of pocket.

The school has an impressive student loan default rate. It’s only 2.9%, which is much lower than the national rate of 10.1%.

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#10

University of California - Berkeley

Berkeley, California

University of California - Berkeley came in at #10 in this year’s edition of the Best Colleges for the Money in California ranking. Located in Berkeley, California, the large public school handed out 9,627 bachelor’s degrees in 2018-2019.

At UC Berkeley, the average time it takes a student to graduate is 4.2 years, and the average full-time cost to attend the school for students who receive aid is around $20,383. This makes the estimated cost of a bachelor’s degree from UC Berkeley be around $85,812. When students graduate in a lesser amount of time, they can save thousands of dollars.

The school has an impressive student loan default rate. It’s only 2.0%, which is much lower than the national rate of 10.1%. UC Berkeley excels when it comes to quality. It’s ranked in the top 10% of all schools on our Best Colleges in California list.

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#11

Pomona College

Claremont, California

Pomona College ranked #11 on this year’s Best Colleges for the Money in California list. Located in Claremont, California, the small private not-for-profit school awarded 449 diplomas to qualifed bachelor’s degree students in 2018-2019.

The average amount of time it takes for a student to receive their degree at Pomona is 4.1 years, and it costs students who receive aid about $24,580 per year to attend the school. This makes the estimated cost of a bachelor’s degree from Pomona be around $100,778. If you can shave even one term off your degree, you can save a substantial amount of money.

With a student-to-faculty rate of 7 to 1, it’s easy to see that the school is committed to helping their undergraduates succeed. Pomona also took the #3 spot in our Best Colleges in California rankings.

Full Pomona College Report

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#12

University of California - Santa Cruz

Santa Cruz, California

University of California - Santa Cruz did quite well in the 2021 Best Value Colleges in California ranking, coming in at #12. Santa Cruz, California is the setting for this fairly large institution of higher learning. The public school handed out bachelor’s degrees to 4,713 students in 2018-2019.

It takes about 4.4 years for the average student at UC Santa Cruz to complete their degree, and the estimated yearly cost for the school is $18,797 for students who receive aid. Looking at these numbers together, we estimate that the average cost of a bachelor’s degree from UC Santa Cruz is about $82,331. When you graduate sooner, you can save a lot of money.

The low student loan default rate of 3.7% is a good sign that students have an easier time paying off their loans than they might at other schools. For comparison, the national default rate is 10.1%.

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California Polytechnic State University - San Luis Obispo came in at #13 in this year’s edition of the Best Colleges for the Money in California ranking. Cal Poly San Luis Obispo is a public institution located in San Luis Obispo, California. The school has a large population, and it awarded 5,185 bachelor’s degrees in 2018-2019.

It takes the average student at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo about 4.5 years to graduate, and the average full-time cost to attend the school for students who receive aid is around $22,172. This means that the average student pays around $99,109 to get a bachelor’s degree from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. When students graduate in a lesser amount of time, they can save thousands of dollars.

With a freshman retention rate of 95%, the school does an excellent job of retaining its students. In addition to its great value ranking, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo is in the top 20% of all schools on our Best Colleges in California list.

Full California Polytechnic State University - San Luis Obispo Report

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California State University Maritime Academy came in at #14 in this year’s edition of the Best Colleges for the Money in California ranking. Located in Vallejo, California, the small public school handed out 257 bachelor’s degrees in 2018-2019.

It takes the average student at Cal Maritime about 4.3 years to graduate, and the average full-time cost to attend the school for students who receive aid is around $19,174. When we combine these numbers, we estimate that the cost to get a bachelor’s degree from Cal Maritime is $82,065. Graduating sooner can prevent you from having to pay more money out of pocket.

Full California State University Maritime Academy Report

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#15

Thomas Aquinas College

Santa Paula, California

Thomas Aquinas College landed the #15 spot on the 2021 Best Value Colleges in California ranking. Located in Santa Paula, California, the small private not-for-profit school handed out 83 bachelor’s degrees in 2018-2019.

It takes about 4.2 years for the average student at TAC to complete their degree, and it costs students who receive aid about $24,861 per year to attend the school. This means that the average student pays around $103,670 to get a bachelor’s degree from TAC. When you graduate sooner, you can save a lot of money.

The school has an excellent freshman retention rate of 92%, which means students like the school well enough to return for a second year. TAC also claimed a spot on our Best Colleges in California list. It’s in the top 20% of all schools in this category.

Full Thomas Aquinas College Report

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#16

California State University - Long Beach

Long Beach, California

With a ranking of #16, California State University - Long Beach did quite well on the 2021 Best Colleges for the Money in California list. This large public school is located in Long Beach, California, and it awarded 8,950 bachelor’s degrees in 2018-2019.

It takes the average student at Cal State Long Beach about 5.0 years to graduate, and it costs students who receive aid about $16,698 per year to attend the school. Putting this cost and the average time to graduate together, we find that the average amount you’ll pay to get a bachelor’s degree from Cal State Long Beach is $82,822. The sooner a student graduates, the more money they can save.

With a freshman retention rate of 88%, the school does an excellent job of retaining its students.

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#17

Stanford University

Stanford, California

With a ranking of #17, Stanford University did quite well on the 2021 Best Colleges for the Money in California list. Stanford University is a fairly large private not-for-profit school located in Stanford, California that handed out 1,892 bachelor’s degrees in 2018-2019.

At Stanford, the average time it takes a student to graduate is 4.2 years, and the estimated yearly cost for the school is $27,464 for students who receive aid. This makes the estimated cost of a bachelor’s degree from Stanford be around $116,722. When you graduate sooner, you can save a lot of money.

The school has an excellent freshman retention rate of 98%, which means students like the school well enough to return for a second year. Stanford did well in our quality rankings, too. It placed #2 on our Best Colleges in California list.

Full Stanford University Report

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California State University - Fresno ranked #18 on this year’s Best Colleges for the Money in California list. Located in Fresno, California, the large public school awarded 4,921 diplomas to qualifed bachelor’s degree students in 2018-2019.

It takes about 5.0 years for the average student at Fresno State to complete their degree, and the yearly average cost to attend the school is $12,215 for students who receive aid. This makes the estimated cost of a bachelor’s degree from Fresno State be around $60,586. Graduating sooner can prevent you from having to pay more money out of pocket.

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California State University - Chico came in at #19 in this year’s edition of the Best Colleges for the Money in California ranking. Chico State is a fairly large public school situated in Chico, California. It awarded 4,417 bachelor’s degrees in 2018-2019.

It takes about 4.7 years for the average student at Chico State to complete their degree, and the yearly average cost to attend the school is $17,216 for students who receive aid. This means that the average student pays around $81,087 to get a bachelor’s degree from Chico State. The sooner a student graduates, the more money they can save.

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California State University - Monterey Bay did quite well in the 2021 Best Value Colleges in California ranking, coming in at #20. California State University - Monterey Bay is a medium-sized public school situated in Seaside, California. It awarded 1,953 bachelor’s degrees in 2018-2019.

It takes the average student at California State University - Monterey Bay about 4.7 years to graduate, and the estimated yearly cost for the school is $16,152 for students who receive aid. This means that the average student pays around $75,107 to get a bachelor’s degree from California State University - Monterey Bay. The sooner a student graduates, the more money they can save.

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#21

California State University - Northridge

Northridge, California

California State University - Northridge landed the #21 spot on the 2021 Best Value Colleges in California ranking. California State University - Northridge is a large public school situated in Northridge, California. It awarded 9,062 bachelor’s degrees in 2018-2019.

At California State University - Northridge, the average time it takes a student to graduate is 5.0 years, and it costs students who receive aid about $14,548 per year to attend the school. This means that the average student pays around $72,158 to get a bachelor’s degree from California State University - Northridge. When students graduate in a lesser amount of time, they can save thousands of dollars.

The low student loan default rate of 3.7% is a good sign that students have an easier time paying off their loans than they might at other schools. For comparison, the national default rate is 10.1%.

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#22

San Diego State University

San Diego, California

San Diego State University ranked #22 on this year’s Best Colleges for the Money in California list. Located in San Diego, California, the large public school awarded 8,159 diplomas to qualifed bachelor’s degree students in 2018-2019.

At SDSU, the average time it takes a student to graduate is 4.6 years, and the estimated yearly cost for the school is $22,152 for students who receive aid. When we combine these numbers, we estimate that the cost to get a bachelor’s degree from SDSU is $101,899. When students graduate in a lesser amount of time, they can save thousands of dollars.

The student loan default rate at the school is 2.9%, which is quite low when compared to the national default rate of 10.1%.

Full San Diego State University Report

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California State University - Stanislaus came in at #23 in this year’s edition of the Best Colleges for the Money in California ranking. Cal State Stanislaus is a public institution located in Turlock, California. The school has a fairly large population, and it awarded 2,332 bachelor’s degrees in 2018-2019.

At Cal State Stanislaus, the average time it takes a student to graduate is 5.0 years, and it costs students who receive aid about $14,068 per year to attend the school. Putting this cost and the average time to graduate together, we find that the average amount you’ll pay to get a bachelor’s degree from Cal State Stanislaus is $70,059. Graduating sooner can prevent you from having to pay more money out of pocket.

The school has an impressive student loan default rate. It’s only 4.4%, which is much lower than the national rate of 10.1%.

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California State Polytechnic University - Pomona ranked #24 on this year’s Best Colleges for the Money in California list. CSU Pomona is a public institution located in Pomona, California. The school has a large population, and it awarded 4,810 bachelor’s degrees in 2018-2019.

At CSU Pomona, the average time it takes a student to graduate is 4.9 years, and the estimated yearly cost for the school is $20,073 for students who receive aid. When we combine these numbers, we estimate that the cost to get a bachelor’s degree from CSU Pomona is $98,358. Graduating sooner can prevent you from having to pay more money out of pocket.

The school has an excellent freshman retention rate of 86%, which means students like the school well enough to return for a second year.

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#25

California State University - Fullerton

Fullerton, California

California State University - Fullerton did quite well in the 2021 Best Value Colleges in California ranking, coming in at #25. Located in Fullerton, California, the large public school awarded 9,996 diplomas to qualifed bachelor’s degree students in 2018-2019.

The average amount of time it takes for a student to receive their degree at Cal State Fullerton is 4.9 years, and the yearly average cost to attend the school is $19,775 for students who receive aid. This makes the estimated cost of a bachelor’s degree from Cal State Fullerton be around $96,106. When you graduate sooner, you can save a lot of money.

The school has an impressive student loan default rate. It’s only 2.6%, which is much lower than the national rate of 10.1%.

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Notes and References

Footnotes

*These averages are for the top 25 schools only.

  • For our state-specific rankings, we use in-state tuition to calculate average cost. For our national and regional rankings, we use a weighted average of in-state and non-resident tuition.

References

  • The Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), a branch of the U.S. Department of Education (DOE) serves as the core of our data about colleges.
  • Some other college data, including much of the graduate earnings data, comes from the U.S. Department of Education’s (College Scorecard).
  • Information about the national average student loan default rate is from the U.S. Department of Education and refers to data about the 2016 borrower cohort tracking period for which the cohort default rate (CDR) was 10.1%.

More about our data sources and methodologies.

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