2017 Best Colleges in California

The Best Colleges ranking is based on rigorous analysis of academic, admissions, financial, and student life data from the U.S. Department of Education along with millions of reviews from students and alumni. The ranking compares more than 1,000 top colleges and universities in the U.S.
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Viewing 1-25 of 99
  1. 1

    Stanford University

    • Stanford, CA
    • 1,087 reviews
    Sophomore:I've really enjoyed Stanford so far.
    Academics are certainly challenging, but rewarding, and students usually aren't excessively stressed about grades.
    Professors are, for the most part, incredibly knowledgeable and care about students, but there are some (particularly those teaching intro classes) who could use some improvement.
    The local area can be a bit expensive and far away (especially without a car).
    Currently, the administration is facing a lot of criticism about the school's handling of sexual assault. It's not the best situation, but a lot of the criticism also comes from Stanford's own professors and students, so I do still feel relatively safe and supported on campus.
    More about Stanford University
  2. 2

    Pomona College

    • Claremont, CA
    • 347 reviews
    Junior:Pomona's largest assets are not its $2b endowment, its buildings, or its location, but rather its people. Here, some of the world's most inquisitive, interesting, and downright intelligent students come together in the pursuit of knowledge and with the intention of changing the world. Professors care deeply about students and are some of the most well-regarded in their fields, a rare combination that allows for students to do meaningful work and learn from people who love to teach, never a teacher's assistant. The admitted class of 2021 is made up of 56.7% domestic students of color, plus 11.4% international students, making Pomona's the most diverse campus in the country.
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  3. 3

    California Institute of Technology

    • Pasadena, CA
    • 106 reviews
    Freshman:As a freshman in the second term, the experience here has been pretty positive. The coursework is definitely challenging, but it keeps me motivated to pursue higher goals. I am extremely grateful for finding such a like-minded community of scholars who are supportive and caring.
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  4. 4

    University of Southern California

    • Los Angeles, CA
    • 3,316 reviews
    Sophomore:I love attending the University of Southern California! The school has high caliber academics, a competitive yet fun environment for students of all majors, and a gorgeous campus. USC is a bit expensive however, hardworking students can come in with large scholarships to defray this cost. I definitely think that this experience is worth the cost of living and expenses out here and will truly pay off in the end. I have definitely met life long friends and have made unforgettable memories throughout my time here!
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  5. 5

    University of California - Los Angeles

    • Los Angeles, CA
    • 4,399 reviews
    Freshman:The first thing that comes to mind is the housing here at UCLA. I was lucky enough to receive one of the better, newer buildings, so my experience here has been great. The study and social lounges are equipped with new, comfortable furniture and lights that turn on and off depending on the amount of activity in the room it reads. The food is great. We have restaurants similar to Panda Express and Chipotle, and they are right below my building so it's not much of a walk at all!
    Additionally, there are resources all around campus that are noticeably accessible to me, such as math tutoring from fraternities/sororities, counseling programs, clubs and activities that offer social circles, essay reviewers, and so on.
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  6. 6

    Harvey Mudd College

    • Claremont, CA
    • 122 reviews
    College Freshman:Although Harvey Mudd is very difficult, and teachers will definitely push you with hard coursework, I've so far rarely felt alone. Teachers are accessible, there are always other classmates to work with and get help from, and the environment feels very positive in general, with a lot of interest in the wellbeing of the students. It's a great challenge.
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  7. 7

    Claremont McKenna College

    • Claremont, CA
    • 402 reviews
    College Senior:I've had some great classes and experiences at CMC, and a few that weren't so great. Anyone coming to CMC should be aware that the social scene is pretty centered on alcohol and partying (though there is a substance free dorm with a strong culture, and a surprisingly high number of people who don't drink/go out). Thankfully, the parties are on campus, hosted by the student government, and open to everyone. There isn't a whole lot of the sketchiness or exclusivity that usually comes with frat parties at larger schools, since parties are open to everyone. I see this as a huge benefit of the school, though I no longer regularly attend parties.

    It's really easy to get involved in things you're interested in, whether that's student government, a club, or research. Research opportunities are probably more available for Econ majors than others, and in the sciences/engineering you won't have the same kind of research experiences you would at a school that has real researchers.

    We have some great professors here. Philosophy is by far the best, and there are some excellent professors in probably all of our other departments as well. In my opinion as someone majoring in both, our government and economics departments aren't deserving of the reputations they have. I wouldn't come here looking to study science, engineering, or pre-med, unless I'm also really interested in studying the humanities/social sciences. Classwork is generally reasonable, though challenging. People are motivated, but not super competitive with each other or stressed out, which is great.

    Many CMC students are smart, motivated, and interested in their academic subjects. Others are more interested in partying. Many are a mix of both. People are not particularly artsy or creative; if you are, you might feel that side of yourself slipping away over your four years here (though we're getting better and now have a dedicated music space on campus). It can feel small after 4 years, but overall great!
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  8. 8

    University of California - Berkeley

    • Berkeley, CA
    • 3,635 reviews
    Senior:My experience at UC Berkeley has been amazing. The professors are my favorite part. They are so knowledgeable, and some are even famous, in their field of study. The best part? They genuinely care about our, the students, growth! UC Berkeley professors are not just looking for a pay check, they are looking to share knowledge with students that they believe are important. My least favorite part of Cal, housing. Ugh! Good housing is not only hard to come by, but its inflated! I hope UC Berkeley looks into creating more affordable and comfortable student housing.
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  9. 9

    Scripps College

    • Claremont, CA
    • 425 reviews
    Sophomore:Great academic programs that are also very flexible. Diversity in the student body is getting better, overall a supportive academic and living community!
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  10. 10

    University of California - Santa Barbara

    • Santa Barbara, CA
    • 4,061 reviews
    Freshman:This school is utterly fantastic. I came here out of state and it's almost everything I expected in terms of academics and student life. This school has great programs in econ, communications, engineering, and tons more and it's generally not too stressful to handle unless it's dead week. This is the kind of campus that you just feel great being here. IV is right next door and it has some pretty great food spots and I get great vibes from the housing and students living here (I'll be moving here next year as well). Weather is chillier than I thought but it's awesome being on the beach everyday and parties by the ocean have been unforgettable. The people here are cool and unique, so you will surly find your niche here in due time. There seem to always be parties/socials going on too if you're into that! I have much more to experience in my time here but UCSB has treated me very well and I encourage anybody to at least apply here. In conclusion,come to this school; you won't regret it.
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  11. 11

    Pitzer College

    • Claremont, CA
    • 594 reviews
    Senior:I am currently a senior at Pitzer and have loved my experience here! The social life is amazing and inclusive, the academics are rigorous but the professors are always there to help, and the campus and students are quirky as ever.
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  12. 12

    Santa Clara University

    • Santa Clara, CA
    • 1,260 reviews
    Senior:Absolutely loved the school as a whole. My favorite thing is how close I am with a bunch of my professors; I regularly converse with them outside of class and consider them friends as well as educators. They even sometimes go with us students to a bar! I would give 5 stars, but I had a few issues with my program in particular. If you plan on going here, check out your specific program of interest first, because the quality varies within each department.
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  13. 13

    University of California - Davis

    • Davis, CA
    • 4,043 reviews
    Freshman:UC Davis has a beautiful campus, and is one of the best to come to when you are interested in agricultural/environmental sciences because of all the hands-on experience available. There are many opportunities for involvement through volunteer work, clubs and internships, and plenty of resources for help, such as the Dean's office, major advising, and fellow students. Academic wise, classes will be difficult no matter where you go, and Davis is no exception, so my advice is don't give up (tutoring services available). Time management is big since quarters pass by so quickly, so stay organized.
    Choosing a college that is a "perfect fit" is difficult, so I feel visiting for a tour is a great way to get a feel for the campus vibe (Davis is big on bikes due to the large campus). Researching what majors they have to offer, location, and anything else you find important for your college experience is also great way to start. Good luck finding your match whether or not it is at UC Davis!
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  14. 14

    University of California - San Diego

    • La Jolla, CA
    • 3,090 reviews
    Freshman:I love UCSD! The welcoming atmosphere, the interesting class, and all of the clubs and orgs you can be a part of. I've already made some amazing friends here, joined cool clubs, attended fun events, and learned quite a bit in class. I'm especially a fan of the 6-college system, because it creates the feel of both a small college and a big university in one place.
    My only critique would be that the prices are quite high. For everything. Food is expensive, tuition, activities, and the like. It makes it especially hard for an out-of-state student to make it here.
    Also, I love the fact that the school is not much of a party school, because I was looking for a university where I could hang out and party, and still feel safe. Everyone is still friendly and wonderful, and it also makes it easier to study and find cool ways to spend your time.
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  15. 15

    Loyola Marymount University

    • Los Angeles, CA
    • 1,483 reviews
    Sophomore:I came here being skeptical. However, I have been impressed ever since I got here! The campus as a whole is so well-maintained. People are so kind and the campus is pretty! Professors are caring and classes are interactive. The food is honestly simplistic, but delicious at the same time. Library is just gorgeous! I have also just realized that LMU is ranked 3rd in the West. Lastly, if safety is one of your main concerns? Don't worry! I have been feeling safe since day 1. I love it here!

    P. S: For you to have a chance to get admitted here, you would at least need 3.0 GPA.
    More about Loyola Marymount University
  16. 16
    Freshman:I love attending Cal Poly! After just one quarter, I really have nothing bad to say about my experience here. I would have to say the best part has been the environment and the incredible people I am surrounded by. Everyone from the staff to the professors to the students is helpful and friendly and I feel so welcome here. They did a great job at helping the freshman to have a smooth transition to college life and to make friends. The food is not what comes from a gourmet five star restaurant, but this is college, and there are so many options for everyone. Even more options will be available soon with the new housing and dining areas being built. The surroundings are beautiful and the campus is very active as well! Students are very driven to succeed and I always feel safe on campus. I am so glad that I get to call myself a mustang!
    More about California Polytechnic State University - San Luis Obispo
  17. 17

    Pepperdine University

    • Malibu, CA
    • 1,128 reviews
    Senior:Pepperdine has given me the best four years I could have ever asked for. With small class sizes (avg 15-30), attentive professors and cozy campus, it's the perfect institution for students that prefer a tight-knit community. Most people you meet at Pepperdine are genuine, kind and want to create positive impact in the world.

    Academically, it is at times not challenging enough for high-caliber students, but that really depends on the major you choose. Many professors were industry professionals before Professors are usually flexible with due dates and very understanding of students' needs.

    The best part of my Pepperdine education was being able to study abroad in Argentina for one academic year. The special thing about Pepperdine's study abroad program is that they have their own campuses instead of placing students in local universities, which has its pros and cons.

    Overall, I have thoroughly enjoyed my experience at Pepperdine and am really sad to be graduating soon!
    More about Pepperdine University
  18. 18

    University of California - Irvine

    • Irvine, CA
    • 3,301 reviews
    College Sophomore:College has been an experience that has greatly positively impacted my life. Not only had it made me more independent but it has opened my eyes to real life. Although courses are more difficult than those in high school, these courses not only teach you valuable material but help you learn to manage your time more efficiently. Without doubt, the college experience and meeting new people as well as building more connections is extremely important!
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  19. 19

    University of San Francisco

    • San Francisco, CA
    • 1,942 reviews
    College Junior:My overall experience from the application process to starting my second semester has been amazing. When I reached out for information and answers to my questions throughout the application process, I was met with caring and extremely helpful staff. They truly wanted to help and guide me through the process, something I had never experienced before with other schools. I am extremely grateful for not only the school administration, but also for my amazing academic advisor/professor Dru Bhattacharya! From the minute I was accepted into the MPH program, he helped me get a scholarship for my first semester of school, and checked up on my progress often. Overall, I am extremely happy with my experience at USF!
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  20. 20

    Occidental College

    • Los Angeles, CA
    • 418 reviews
    Sophomore:Occidental is a great small liberal arts college. The faculty and administration truly care about the individual students. The population is diverse, and the college is very close to Los Angeles and Pasadena, so there is opportunity to get off campus and go into the city. Additionally, there are plenty of internships and opportunities to make contacts with businesses and firms that do business in Los Angeles.
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  21. 21

    University of San Diego

    • San Diego, CA
    • 1,703 reviews
    Freshman:As a freshman this year, my experience so far has been great! The professors are incredibly helpful and most have found the balance between challenging students while providing opportunities to succeed in class. The location is in a prime city with access to the beach, city life, and lots of culture. Students come from all over, offering diversity and the chance to meet new people from other states and countries.
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  22. 22

    Chapman University

    • Orange, CA
    • 1,954 reviews
    Freshman:There are a lot of great things about Chapman University. There are a lot of activities to do around campus and everyone is really kind. The classes are small and even the professors in larger classes really take it to an individual level and enjoy questions to make sure everyone is on the same page. The dorms are really great, you don't have to worry about walking down the hall to use the bathroom! The weather is also great, and even when it's getting a little too hot, you can always turn your air conditioning on. Some things I would change about Chapman is their food options because they're not very healthy.
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  23. 23

    Biola University

    • La Mirada, CA
    • 2,026 reviews
    Junior:Biola is a Biblically sound, private Christian University. The people are extremely friendly and are usually God- fearing. Pretty much every professor is conservative and wants to get to know you on a personal level outside of the classroom. The campus environment is warm and welcoming, and it is very easy to make friends. Located in Southern California, Biola is close to many famous destinations like the beach, LA, and Disneyland! Dorm life is a major part of the campus community, but I am sure commuters are just as satisfied. I love Biola. The professors have taught me a lot about thinking Biblically about everything, the people are beautiful, the weather is great, and my friends are incredible. You should definitely check it out!
    More about Biola University
  24. 24

    University of the Pacific

    • Stockton, CA
    • 1,108 reviews
    College Sophomore:I love Pacific! I'm from SoCal so I love the weather. It's really hot around August/September because it's the end of summer, but it cools down for the rest of the year. I'm an engineering major and the classes are challenging enough that you can do well, but at the same time they really make you think. Most professors are very helpful; however, I've heard that there are some bad ones. Dorming is great everywhere except the quads (I heard it's really quiet so unless you like that you might wanna live somewhere else.) The food in the UC gets old fast because they offer the same things every week so you might go off campus on the weekends a lot to eat. The diversity of people on campus is why I chose Pacific. Yeah there's about 30% asians, but it is way different from my mostly white high school. People that I have met and interacted with are very friendly and willing to help out new freshmen. I've heard that some people act high-schoolish and that is true, but that's a small amount of people compared to the 3000 that are on campus. Sororities are cliquey and exclusive, but you can still be friends with individual girls. My RA was in one and she said that it's not the sisterly lifestyle that they say it will be because there's a head bitch in every house even tridelta... I would stay away from social greek life.
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  25. 25

    Westmont College

    • Santa Barbara, CA
    • 448 reviews
    Freshman:Westmont College does a fantastic job of combing academics, spiritual growth, and social activity. The Christ-centered learning promotes a kind and encouraging student body. While there is not great diversity at Westmont, the staff and student government does an excellent job of promoting diversity awareness and celebration of other cultures. I am extremely grateful that I chose to attend Westmont, and I would highly encourage other students to consider the college.
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