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2021 Best Colleges for the Money in California

90 Colleges
$22,411 Avg Cost*
4.5 Years Avg Time to Graduate*

With all of the options you have for higher education today, it can be tough to choose which direction to take. At College Factual, we're committed to helping you make that decision by providing information such as that found in our Best Value California Schools ranking.

Our analysis looked at 90 schools to determine which ones were the best for overall value in California. It's important to note that this isn't just a listing of colleges and universities with the lowest sticker price. Instead, this ranking identifies schools that offer a high quality educational experience at a lower-than-expected price. Because of this, it is possible for one college to rank better than another, even if the latter college has a lower average cost.

Get more details on our ranking methodology.

When determining average cost, we look at total expenses, such as tuition, fees, books and supplies, room and board, and other living expenses, and then deduct the average amount of financial aid awarded to a student. This estimate is meant to give you a better picture of how much money you'll have to pay each year, either through self-pay, loans, or external scholarships.

One Size Does Not Fit All

We know that one set of rankings doesn't always help you determine the best school for you, so we've created the ability to narrow your list by location and field of study as well as alternative rankings that prioritize different factors, such as those of importance to veterans and returning adults or those seeking diversity and overall quality.

One of our other unique offerings is College Combat. This tool lets you build your own customized comparisons utilizing the factors that are most important to you. If you're torn between two schools, you can use it to help you see how they stack up against one another!

Top Colleges for the Money in California

Learn more about these excellent schools below:

#1

Soka University of America

Aliso Viejo, California

Our analysis found Soka University of America to be the best school for overall value in California in this year’s ranking. This small private not-for-profit school is located in Aliso Viejo, California, and it awarded 118 bachelor’s degrees in 2018-2019.

The average student at Soka University graduates in less than 4.0 years, and the average full-time cost to attend the school is around $16,398. 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.

With a freshman retention rate of 94%, the school does an excellent job of retaining its students. Soka University also claimed a spot on our Best Colleges in California list. It’s in the top 15% of all schools in this category.

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#2

Mills College

Oakland, California

You’ll be in good company if you decide to attend Mills College. It ranked #2 on our 2021 Best Value Colleges in California list. 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 is around $15,932. This makes the estimated cost of a bachelor’s degree from Mills be around $67,552. If you can shave even one term off your degree, you can save a substantial amount of money.

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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#3

University of California - Merced

Merced, California

You’ll be in good company if you decide to attend University of California - Merced. It ranked #3 on our 2021 Best Value Colleges in California list. University of California - Merced is a public institution located in Merced, California. The school has a medium-sized population, and it awarded 1,442 bachelor’s degrees in 2018-2019.

The average amount of time it takes for a student to receive their degree at University of California - Merced is 4.5 years, and the average full-time cost to attend the school is around $16,898. This makes the estimated cost of a bachelor’s degree from University of California - Merced be around $75,872. 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%.

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#4

University of California - Riverside

Riverside, California

Out of the 90 schools in California that were part of this year’s ranking, University of California - Riverside landed the #4 spot on the list. University of California - Riverside is a large public school located in Riverside, California that handed out 4,649 bachelor’s degrees in 2018-2019.

The average student at UCR graduates in less than 4.3 years, and on average, the annual cost to attend the school is $20,400. Thus, the average cost to get a bachelor’s degree from the UCR is $87,720. The sooner a student graduates, the more money they can save.

The school has an impressive student loan default rate. It’s only 2.8%, which is much lower than the national rate of 10.1%.

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#5

University of California - Irvine

Irvine, California

The excellent bachelor’s degree programs at University of California - Irvine helped the school earn the #5 place on this year’s ranking of the best schools for the money in California. Located in Irvine, California, the large public school awarded 8,394 diplomas to qualifed bachelor’s degree students in 2018-2019.

At UC Irvine, the average time it takes a student to graduate is 4.2 years, and it costs about $23,244 per year to attend the school. When we combine these numbers, we estimate that the cost to get a bachelor’s degree from UC Irvine is $97,857. The sooner a student graduates, the more money they can save.

The low student loan default rate of 1.7% 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%. As a testament to the quality of education it offers, UC Irvine also is in the top 15% of our Best Colleges in California ranking.

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#6

University of California - Los Angeles

Los Angeles, California

University of California - Los Angeles ranked #6 on this year’s Best Colleges for the Money in California list. Located in Los Angeles, California, the large public school awarded 9,069 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 UCLA is 4.2 years, and it costs about $24,445 per year to attend the school. This makes the estimated cost of a bachelor’s degree from UCLA be around $101,936. When you graduate sooner, you can save a lot of money.

The school has an impressive student loan default rate. It’s only 1.3%, which is much lower than the national rate of 10.1%. As a testament to the quality of education it offers, UCLA also is in the top 10% of our Best Colleges in California ranking.

Full University of California - Los Angeles Report

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#7

University of California - San Diego

La Jolla, California

University of California - San Diego came in at #7 in this year’s edition of the Best Colleges for the Money in California ranking. UCSD is a large public school situated in La Jolla, California. It awarded 8,037 bachelor’s degrees in 2018-2019.

At UCSD, the average time it takes a student to graduate is 4.3 years, and it costs about $23,232 per year to attend the school. This makes the estimated cost of a bachelor’s degree from UCSD be around $100,595. 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%. On top of its placing in our value rankings, UCSD also did well on our Best Colleges in California list. It’s in the top 15% of all schools reviewed in this analysis.

Full University of California - San Diego Report

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#8

University of California - Davis

Davis, California

University of California - Davis did quite well in the 2021 Best Value Colleges in California ranking, coming in at #8. UC Davis is located in Davis, California and has a large student population. In 2018-2019, this school awarded 8,711 bachelor’s degrees to qualified undergradutates.

At UC Davis, the average time it takes a student to graduate is 4.3 years, and it costs about $24,110 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 UC Davis is $104,396. When students graduate in a lesser amount of time, they can save thousands of dollars.

Students who start out at the school are likely to stick around. The freshman retention rate is 93%. On top of its placing in our value rankings, UC Davis also did well on our Best Colleges in California list. It’s in the top 10% of all schools reviewed in this analysis.

Full University of California - Davis Report

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#9

University of California - Santa Barbara

Santa Barbara, California

With a ranking of #9, University of California - Santa Barbara did quite well on the 2021 Best Colleges for the Money in California list. University of California - Santa Barbara is a large public school located in Santa Barbara, California that handed out 6,327 bachelor’s degrees in 2018-2019.

The average amount of time it takes for a student to receive their degree at UCSB is 4.2 years, and the average full-time cost to attend the school is around $25,340. Looking at these numbers together, we estimate that the average cost of a bachelor’s degree from UCSB is about $106,175. When students graduate in a lesser amount of time, they can save thousands of dollars.

Students who start out at the school are likely to stick around. The freshman retention rate is 93%. 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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#10

University of California - Berkeley

Berkeley, California

With a ranking of #10, University of California - Berkeley did quite well on the 2021 Best Colleges for the Money in California list. Berkeley, California is the setting for this large institution of higher learning. The public school handed out bachelor’s degrees to 9,627 students in 2018-2019.

It takes about 4.2 years for the average student at UC Berkeley to complete their degree, and the yearly average cost to attend the school is $28,550. This makes the estimated cost of a bachelor’s degree from UC Berkeley be around $120,196. If you can shave even one term off your degree, you can save a substantial amount of money.

The school has an excellent freshman retention rate of 97%, which means students like the school well enough to return for a second year. In addition to its great value ranking, UC Berkeley is in the top 10% of all schools on our Best Colleges in California list.

Full University of California - Berkeley Report

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California Polytechnic State University - San Luis Obispo ranked #11 on this year’s Best Colleges for the Money in California list. San Luis Obispo, California is the setting for this large institution of higher learning. The public school handed out bachelor’s degrees to 5,185 students in 2018-2019.

It takes the average student at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo about 4.5 years to graduate, and the estimated yearly cost for the school is $25,347. This means that the average student pays around $113,301 to get a bachelor’s degree from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. When you graduate sooner, you can save a lot of money.

The school has an excellent freshman retention rate of 95%, which means students like the school well enough to return for a second year. As a testament to the quality of education it offers, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo also is in the top 20% of our Best Colleges in California ranking.

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#12

California State University - Long Beach

Long Beach, California

California State University - Long Beach came in at #12 in this year’s edition of the Best Colleges for the Money in California ranking. Cal State Long Beach is a public institution located in Long Beach, California. The school has a large population, and it awarded 8,950 bachelor’s degrees in 2018-2019.

The average amount of time it takes for a student to receive their degree at Cal State Long Beach is 5.0 years, and the yearly average cost to attend the school is $19,180. Thus, the average cost to get a bachelor’s degree from the Cal State Long Beach is $95,133. 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 88%.

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#13

University of California - Santa Cruz

Santa Cruz, California

University of California - Santa Cruz came in at #13 in this year’s edition of the Best Colleges for the Money in California ranking. UC Santa Cruz is located in Santa Cruz, California and has a fairly large student population. In 2018-2019, this school awarded 4,713 bachelor’s degrees to qualified undergradutates.

The average student at UC Santa Cruz graduates in less than 4.4 years, and on average, the annual cost to attend the school is $24,532. This makes the estimated cost of a bachelor’s degree from UC Santa Cruz be around $107,450. When you graduate sooner, you can save a lot of money.

Students who start out at the school are likely to stick around. The freshman retention rate is 91%.

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With a ranking of #14, California State University Maritime Academy did quite well on the 2021 Best Colleges for the Money in California list. Cal Maritime is a small public school situated in Vallejo, California. It awarded 257 bachelor’s degrees in 2018-2019.

At Cal Maritime, the average time it takes a student to graduate is 4.3 years, and the yearly average cost to attend the school is $23,604. Thus, the average cost to get a bachelor’s degree from the Cal Maritime is $101,025. When you graduate sooner, you can save a lot of money.

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California State University - Fresno landed the #15 spot on the 2021 Best Value Colleges in California ranking. Fresno State is located in Fresno, California and has a large student population. In 2018-2019, this school awarded 4,921 bachelor’s degrees to qualified undergradutates.

The average amount of time it takes for a student to receive their degree at Fresno State is 5.0 years, and the yearly average cost to attend the school is $14,400. Looking at these numbers together, we estimate that the average cost of a bachelor’s degree from Fresno State is about $71,424. If you can shave even one term off your degree, you can save a substantial amount of money.

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#16

Thomas Aquinas College

Santa Paula, California

Thomas Aquinas College landed the #16 spot on the 2021 Best Value Colleges in California ranking. TAC is located in Santa Paula, California and has a small student population. In 2018-2019, this school awarded 83 bachelor’s degrees to qualified undergradutates.

The average amount of time it takes for a student to receive their degree at TAC is 4.2 years, and on average, the annual cost to attend the school is $29,916. Thus, the average cost to get a bachelor’s degree from the TAC is $124,750. When you graduate sooner, you can save a lot of money.

With a freshman retention rate of 92%, the school does an excellent job of retaining its students. As a testament to the quality of education it offers, TAC also is in the top 20% of our Best Colleges in California ranking.

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California State University - Chico did quite well in the 2021 Best Value Colleges in California ranking, coming in at #17. Chico, California is the setting for this fairly large institution of higher learning. The public school handed out bachelor’s degrees to 4,417 students in 2018-2019.

It takes the average student at Chico State about 4.7 years to graduate, and it costs about $20,464 per year to attend the school. This means that the average student pays around $96,385 to get a bachelor’s degree from Chico State. When you graduate sooner, you can save a lot of money.

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California State University - Stanislaus ranked #18 on this year’s Best Colleges for the Money in California list. Cal State Stanislaus is a fairly large public school situated in Turlock, California. It awarded 2,332 bachelor’s degrees in 2018-2019.

The average student at Cal State Stanislaus graduates in less than 5.0 years, and the estimated yearly cost for the school is $15,732. 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 $78,345. When students graduate in a lesser amount of time, they can save thousands of dollars.

The low student loan default rate of 4.4% 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 State University - Monterey Bay ranked #19 on this year’s Best Colleges for the Money in California list. Located in Seaside, California, the medium-sized public school handed out 1,953 bachelor’s degrees in 2018-2019.

The average amount of time it takes for a student to receive their degree at California State University - Monterey Bay is 4.7 years, and the estimated yearly cost for the school is $18,826. 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 California State University - Monterey Bay is $87,541. When you graduate sooner, you can save a lot of money.

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#20

California State University - Northridge

Northridge, California

California State University - Northridge came in at #20 in this year’s edition of the Best Colleges for the Money in California ranking. Located in Northridge, California, the large public school awarded 9,062 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 California State University - Northridge is 5.0 years, and on average, the annual cost to attend the school is $17,004. When we combine these numbers, we estimate that the cost to get a bachelor’s degree from California State University - Northridge is $84,340. Graduating sooner can prevent you from having to pay more money out of pocket.

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 State Polytechnic University - Pomona did quite well in the 2021 Best Value Colleges in California ranking, coming in at #21. 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.

The average student at CSU Pomona graduates in less than 4.9 years, and the estimated yearly cost for the school is $22,783. When we combine these numbers, we estimate that the cost to get a bachelor’s degree from CSU Pomona is $111,637. When students graduate in a lesser amount of time, they can save thousands of dollars.

With a freshman retention rate of 86%, the school does an excellent job of retaining its students.

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#22

California State University - Fullerton

Fullerton, California

California State University - Fullerton landed the #22 spot on the 2021 Best Value Colleges in California ranking. Located in Fullerton, California, the large public school awarded 9,996 diplomas to qualifed bachelor’s degree students in 2018-2019.

At Cal State Fullerton, the average time it takes a student to graduate is 4.9 years, and it costs about $22,338 per year to attend the school. This makes the estimated cost of a bachelor’s degree from Cal State Fullerton be around $108,563. When you graduate sooner, you can save a lot of money.

The low student loan default rate of 2.6% 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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#23

San Diego State University

San Diego, California

San Diego State University did quite well in the 2021 Best Value Colleges in California ranking, coming in at #23. San Diego State University is a large public school located in San Diego, California that handed out 8,159 bachelor’s degrees in 2018-2019.

The average student at SDSU graduates in less than 4.6 years, and it costs about $26,253 per year to attend the school. This means that the average student pays around $120,764 to get a bachelor’s degree from SDSU. 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%.

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#24

California State University - San Bernardino

San Bernardino, California

California State University - San Bernardino did quite well in the 2021 Best Value Colleges in California ranking, coming in at #24. Cal State San Bernardino is a large public school situated in San Bernardino, California. It awarded 4,453 bachelor’s degrees in 2018-2019.

The average amount of time it takes for a student to receive their degree at Cal State San Bernardino is 5.0 years, and on average, the annual cost to attend the school is $17,308. When we combine these numbers, we estimate that the cost to get a bachelor’s degree from Cal State San Bernardino is $87,405. When students graduate in a lesser amount of time, they can save thousands of dollars.

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#25

Pomona College

Claremont, California

Pomona College landed the #25 spot on the 2021 Best Value Colleges in California ranking. Pomona is located in Claremont, California and has a small student population. In 2018-2019, this school awarded 449 bachelor’s degrees to qualified undergradutates.

The average amount of time it takes for a student to receive their degree at Pomona is 4.1 years, and the estimated yearly cost for the school is $44,041. This means that the average student pays around $180,568 to get a bachelor’s degree from Pomona. When you graduate sooner, you can save a lot of money.

The impressive student-to-faculty rate of 7 to 1 means that students may have more opportunities to work more closely with their professors than they would at other schools. Pomona did well in our quality rankings, too. It placed #3 on our Best Colleges in California list.

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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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