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2021 Best Colleges in California

116 Colleges
$63,692 Avg Salary*
72% Avg 4-Year Grad Rate*

It's not easy to decide which college to attend when you have so many options available. College Factual has developed its Top in California Colleges and Universities ranking as one item you can use to help make this decision.

Our analysis looked at 116 schools in California to determine which ones were the best in terms of overall quality. Our ranking methodology focuses on over 20 different objective factors - such as graduation rate, post graduate earnings, and a school's average expenditure per student - to make this determination.

Find out more about our ranking methodology.

Custom Rankings

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 who value diversity and value for your money.

We've created a tool called College Combat that lets you create your own customized comparisons based on the factors that matter the most to you. Test it out by comparing your favorite schools against others you are considering!

Top Colleges in California

Learn more about these excellent schools below:

#1

California Institute of Technology

Pasadena, California

Our analysis found California Institute of Technology to be the best school for overall quality in California in this year’s ranking. Caltech is a private not-for-profit institution located in Pasadena, California. The school has a small population, and it awarded 241 bachelor’s degrees in 2018-2019.

Since the school has a student-to-faculty rate of 3 to 1, those pursuing a bachelor’s degree will have more opportunities to interact with their professors. Graduates with a bachelor’s degree from Caltech make an average of $85,900 per year during the early years of their career.

Full California Institute of Technology Report

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#2

Stanford University

Stanford, California

Out of the 116 schools in California that were part of this year’s ranking, Stanford University landed the #2 spot on the list. This fairly large private not-for-profit school is located in Stanford, California, and it awarded 1,892 bachelor’s degrees in 2018-2019.

The school has an impressive student loan default rate. It’s only 1.0%, which is much lower than the national rate of 10.1%. The average salary of a graduate with a bachelor’s degree from Stanford is $94,000 during the early years of their career.

Full Stanford University Report

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#3

Pomona College

Claremont, California

Out of the 116 schools in California that were part of this year’s ranking, Pomona College landed the #3 spot on the list. This small private not-for-profit school is located in Claremont, California, and it awarded 449 bachelor’s degrees in 2018-2019.

Since the school has a student-to-faculty rate of 7 to 1, those pursuing a bachelor’s degree will have more opportunities to interact with their professors. The average salary of a graduate with a bachelor’s degree from Pomona is $58,100 during the early years of their career.

Full Pomona College Report

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#4

Harvey Mudd College

Claremont, California

The excellent bachelor’s degree programs at Harvey Mudd College helped the school earn the #4 place on this year’s ranking of the best schools in California. Harvey Mudd College is a private not-for-profit institution located in Claremont, California. The school has a small population, and it awarded 211 bachelor’s degrees in 2018-2019.

The 4-year grad rate at the school is 86%. That’s impressive when you compare it to the national rate of 33%. Upon graduation, bachelor’s degree recipients go on to jobs making an average salary of $88,800 during the early years of their career..

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#5

Claremont McKenna College

Claremont, California

A rank of #5 on our Best Colleges in California list means Claremont McKenna College is a great place for students working on their bachelor’s degree. Claremont McKenna is a private not-for-profit institution located in Claremont, California. The school has a small population, and it awarded 453 bachelor’s degrees in 2018-2019.

Bachelor’s degree students at the school tend to finish their degree on-time. The 4-year graduation rate is 77%, which is impressive compared to the national rate of 33%. Graduates with a bachelor’s degree from Claremont McKenna make an average of $72,900 per year during the early years of their career.

Full Claremont McKenna College Report

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#6

University of Southern California

Los Angeles, California

University of Southern California landed the #6 spot on the 2021 Best Colleges in California ranking. USC is a large private not-for-profit school situated in Los Angeles, California. It awarded 5,337 bachelor’s degrees in 2018-2019.

The 4-year grad rate at the school is 77%. That’s impressive when you compare it to the national rate of 33%. Graduates with a bachelor’s degree from USC make an average of $74,000 per year during the early years of their career.

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#7

Scripps College

Claremont, California

With a ranking of #7, Scripps College did quite well on the 2021 Best Colleges in California list. Scripps College is a small private not-for-profit school located in Claremont, California that handed out 278 bachelor’s degrees in 2018-2019.

With a freshman retention rate of 91%, the school does an excellent job of retaining its students. The average salary of a graduate with a bachelor’s degree from Scripps is $54,100 during the early years of their career.

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#8

University of California - Los Angeles

Los Angeles, California

University of California - Los Angeles did quite well in the 2021 Best Colleges in California ranking, coming in at #8. UCLA is a large public school situated in Los Angeles, California. It awarded 9,069 bachelor’s degrees in 2018-2019.

Students who start out at the school are likely to stick around. The freshman retention rate is 97%. Graduates with a bachelor’s degree from UCLA make an average of $60,700 per year during the early years of their career.

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#9

Santa Clara University

Santa Clara, California

Santa Clara University came in at #9 in this year’s edition of the Best Colleges in California ranking. SCU is a medium-sized private not-for-profit school situated in Santa Clara, California. It awarded 1,495 bachelor’s degrees in 2018-2019.

Students who start out at the school are likely to stick around. The freshman retention rate is 94%. Upon graduation, bachelor’s degree recipients go on to jobs making an average salary of $72,600 during the early years of their career..

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#10

University of California - Berkeley

Berkeley, California

University of California - Berkeley ranked #10 on this year’s Best Colleges in California list. UC Berkeley is a large public school situated in Berkeley, California. It awarded 9,627 bachelor’s degrees in 2018-2019.

Students who start out at the school are likely to stick around. The freshman retention rate is 97%. Upon graduation, bachelor’s degree recipients go on to jobs making an average salary of $64,700 during the early years of their career..

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#11

University of California - Davis

Davis, California

With a ranking of #11, University of California - Davis did quite well on the 2021 Best Colleges in California list. This large public school is located in Davis, California, and it awarded 8,711 bachelor’s degrees in 2018-2019.

Students who start out at the school are likely to stick around. The freshman retention rate is 93%. Upon graduation, bachelor’s degree recipients go on to jobs making an average salary of $58,200 during the early years of their career..

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#12

University of California - San Diego

La Jolla, California

University of California - San Diego landed the #12 spot on the 2021 Best Colleges in California ranking. UCSD is a large public school situated in La Jolla, California. It awarded 8,037 bachelor’s degrees in 2018-2019.

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% During the early years of their career, graduates from UCSD make an average of $59,900 a year.

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#13

Soka University of America

Aliso Viejo, California

Soka University of America ranked #13 on this year’s Best Colleges in California list. Soka University of America is a small private not-for-profit school located in Aliso Viejo, California that handed out 118 bachelor’s degrees in 2018-2019.

The school boasts an average 4-year graduation rate of 83%, which is excellent when compared to the national rate of 33%.

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#14

Occidental College

Los Angeles, California

Occidental College landed the #14 spot on the 2021 Best Colleges in California ranking. Oxy is a private not-for-profit institution located in Los Angeles, California. The school has a small population, and it awarded 529 bachelor’s degrees in 2018-2019.

Since the school has a student-to-faculty rate of 9 to 1, those pursuing a bachelor’s degree will have more opportunities to interact with their professors. Those who receive a bachelor’s degree from Oxy go into careers with an average salary of $50,600 during the early years of their career.

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#15

University of California - Irvine

Irvine, California

University of California - Irvine came in at #15 in this year’s edition of the Best Colleges in California ranking. Located in Irvine, California, the large public school awarded 8,394 diplomas to qualifed bachelor’s degree students in 2018-2019.

The school has an excellent freshman retention rate of 94%, which means students like the school well enough to return for a second year. The average salary of a graduate with a bachelor’s degree from UC Irvine is $58,400 during the early years of their career.

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#16

University of California - Santa Barbara

Santa Barbara, California

University of California - Santa Barbara landed the #16 spot on the 2021 Best Colleges in California ranking. Located in Santa Barbara, California, the large public school handed out 6,327 bachelor’s degrees in 2018-2019.

The school has an excellent freshman retention rate of 93%, which means students like the school well enough to return for a second year. Those who receive a bachelor’s degree from UCSB go into careers with an average salary of $55,300 during the early years of their career.

Full University of California - Santa Barbara Report

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#17

Loyola Marymount University

Los Angeles, California

Loyola Marymount University landed the #17 spot on the 2021 Best Colleges in California ranking. Located in Los Angeles, California, the medium-sized private not-for-profit school awarded 1,674 diplomas to qualifed bachelor’s degree students in 2018-2019.

Students who start out at the school are likely to stick around. The freshman retention rate is 91%. The average salary of a graduate with a bachelor’s degree from Loyola Marymount is $61,300 during the early years of their career.

Full Loyola Marymount University Report

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#18

Thomas Aquinas College

Santa Paula, California

Thomas Aquinas College ranked #18 on this year’s Best Colleges in California list. TAC is a small private not-for-profit school situated in Santa Paula, California. It awarded 83 bachelor’s degrees in 2018-2019.

The 4-year grad rate at the school is 80%. That’s impressive when you compare it to the national rate of 33%. Upon graduation, bachelor’s degree recipients go on to jobs making an average salary of $42,100 during the early years of their career..

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#19

Pepperdine University

Malibu, California

Pepperdine University ranked #19 on this year’s Best Colleges in California list. Located in Malibu, California, the medium-sized private not-for-profit school handed out 943 bachelor’s degrees in 2018-2019.

With a freshman retention rate of 90%, the school does an excellent job of retaining its students. Upon graduation, bachelor’s degree recipients go on to jobs making an average salary of $65,500 during the early years of their career..

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California Polytechnic State University - San Luis Obispo landed the #20 spot on the 2021 Best Colleges in California ranking.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.

With a freshman retention rate of 95%, the school does an excellent job of retaining its students. Those who receive a bachelor’s degree from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo go into careers with an average salary of $66,900 during the early years of their career.

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#21

University of San Diego

San Diego, California

University of San Diego landed the #21 spot on the 2021 Best Colleges in California ranking. Located in San Diego, California, the medium-sized private not-for-profit school awarded 1,501 diplomas to qualifed bachelor’s degree students in 2018-2019.

The low student loan default rate of 1.8% 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% During the early years of their career, graduates from U of San Diego make an average of $60,000 a year.

Full University of San Diego Report

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#22

Pitzer College

Claremont, California

Pitzer College landed the #22 spot on the 2021 Best Colleges in California ranking. Pitzer is a small private not-for-profit school situated in Claremont, California. It awarded 310 bachelor’s degrees in 2018-2019.

Bachelor’s degree students at the school tend to finish their degree on-time. The 4-year graduation rate is 83%, which is impressive compared to the national rate of 33%. The average salary of a graduate with a bachelor’s degree from Pitzer is $48,700 during the early years of their career.

Full Pitzer College Report

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#23

University of the Pacific

Stockton, California

University of the Pacific ranked #23 on this year’s Best Colleges in California list. Located in Stockton, California, the medium-sized private not-for-profit school awarded 815 diplomas to qualifed bachelor’s degree students in 2018-2019.

The low student loan default rate of 2.1% 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% During the early years of their career, graduates from Pacific make an average of $71,700 a year.

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#24

Chapman University

Orange, California

With a ranking of #24, Chapman University did quite well on the 2021 Best Colleges in California list. Located in Orange, California, the medium-sized private not-for-profit school handed out 1,717 bachelor’s degrees in 2018-2019.

The low student loan default rate of 1.8% 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% During the early years of their career, graduates from Chapman make an average of $54,500 a year.

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#25

University of California - Riverside

Riverside, California

University of California - Riverside did quite well in the 2021 Best Colleges in California ranking, coming in at #25. This large public school is located in Riverside, California, and it awarded 4,649 bachelor’s degrees in 2018-2019.

The school has an excellent freshman retention rate of 89%, which means students like the school well enough to return for a second year. The average salary of a graduate with a bachelor’s degree from UCR is $49,700 during the early years of their career.

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Notes and References

Footnotes

*These averages are for the top 25 schools only.

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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