Top 10 Universities in California in 2024

Going to a university is an exciting experience that not only allows you to study, it also allows you to learn new things. California is home to more than 280 universities that offer different courses. Some of those universities rank among the best in the world because of their level of study, acceptance, and environment. Here is the list of the top 10 universities in California.

List of 10 Best Universities In California

1. Stanford University

2. University of California, Berkeley

3. California Institute of Technology (Caltech)

4. University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA)

5. University of Southern California (USC)

6. University of California, San Diego (UCSD)

7. University of California, Irvine (UCI)

8. University of California, Davis (UC Davis)

9.  University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB)

10. University of California, Riverside (UCR)

1. Stanford University

Stanford is a well-known prestigious private coeducational university in California for higher education. Dedicated after their late son, Leland Jr., the institution was founded in 1885 by railroad magnate Leland Stanford and his wife, Jane. It formally opened its doors in 1891. The university’s commitment to excellence and innovation continues to shape the future of education and scholarship.

Stanford University receives a high volume of applications for admission each year. The university typically receives tens of thousands of applications annually for undergraduate programs alone. The exact number fluctuates yearly, but it often exceeds 40,000 applications. This competitive applicant pool vies for a limited number of spots, with the university’s acceptance rate typically remaining below 5%.

The number of applicants for graduate programs varies depending on the specific program and department. However, graduate programs at Stanford are also highly competitive, attracting applicants from around the world.

Stanford’s location in Silicon Valley, the epicenter of technology and innovation, has played a significant role in its prominence. The university’s close ties with leading tech companies facilitate valuable partnerships, internships, and entrepreneurial opportunities for students and faculty alike.

Stanford University encompasses various specific departments for higher education, including the School of Humanities and Sciences, School of Engineering, Graduate School of Business, School of Medicine, and School of Law. It houses schools dedicated to Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences, Education, and Humanities, each offering specialized programs and research opportunities tailored to their respective fields.

2. University of California, Berkeley

The University of California, Berkeley, stands as a residential research institution renowned for its undergraduate and doctoral programs. Established in 1868, Berkeley has solidified its reputation for academic excellence and innovation over the years. The university’s commitment to fostering knowledge and scholarship is evident in its diverse array of programs and research initiatives. With its founding principles rooted in public service and accessibility, Berkeley continues to shape the future of education, attracting students and scholars from around the world.

UC Berkeley receives a significant number of applications for admission annually. With the exact number fluctuating each year but often exceeding 50,000 applications. This competitive applicant pool reflects the university’s esteemed status and rigorous academic standards.

The number of applicants for graduate programs at UC Berkeley varies across departments and fields of study, with each program attracting a diverse and talented pool of candidates. Graduate programs at Berkeley are highly competitive, drawing applicants from diverse backgrounds and disciplines.

Berkeley’s location in the San Francisco Bay Area, renowned for its cultural diversity and innovation, contributes to its prominence in academia. The university’s proximity to leading companies and research institutions provides students and faculty with unparalleled opportunities for collaboration, internships, and entrepreneurial endeavors.

Within UC Berkeley’s esteemed academic community, specific departments cater to various fields of study, including the College of Letters and Science, College of Engineering, Haas School of Business, School of Public Health, and School of Law, among others. Each department offers specialized programs and research opportunities tailored to meet the evolving demands of their respective disciplines, ensuring that Berkeley remains at the forefront of academic excellence and innovation.

3. California Institute of Technology (Caltech)

Caltech, located in Pasadena, California, is a leading private research university dedicated to pure and applied sciences. Founded in 1891, it has attracted influential scientists like George Ellery Hale and Robert Andrews Millikan, contributing to its prestige in technological innovation. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory was established in the mid-20th century and managed by Caltech. With six academic divisions focused on science and engineering, Caltech manages significant sponsored research and boasts a 124-acre primary campus. The university’s commitment to excellence is reflected in its 79 Nobel laureates, the highest per capita in America, and its significant contributions to breakthroughs in sustainability, quantum physics, and other fields.

Admissions at Caltech are exceptionally competitive, with a 2.7% admit rate for the Class of 2026. Despite being test-blind, Caltech continues to attract top-tier applicants, boasting high test scores and ranking as one of the hardest colleges to gain acceptance to in the U.S. With a commitment to diversity, the university enrolled 48% women and 32% from underrepresented ancestries in the Class of 2025. The yield rate for the Class of 2027 is estimated at 66–67%, reflecting the institution’s appeal to admitted students.

Caltech’s undergraduate program prioritizes arts and sciences, offering 28 majors and 12 minors across six divisions. Interdisciplinary options include Applied Physics and Bioengineering, with popular majors including Computer Science and Electrical Engineering. The core curriculum has evolved for flexibility, and students often take heavy academic loads, with about 20% double-majoring. Graduates enjoy lucrative career prospects, with a median early career salary of $83,400 and $143,100 mid-career. Additionally, Caltech collaborates with the University of Southern California for Army and Air Force ROTC programs.

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4. University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA)

UCLA is a public research university in Los Angeles. Traces its origins to 1881 and became part of the University of California system in 1919. Offering 337 undergraduate and graduate programs. It is the most applied-to university in the US, with over 174,000 undergraduate applications in Fall 2022. UCLA comprises the College of Letters and Science and twelve professional schools, spanning disciplines from arts and architecture to law and public health. Known as the Bruins, UCLA’s student-athletes compete in the Pac-12 Conference, boasting an impressive record with 121 NCAA team championships and 270 Olympic medals. With a distinguished faculty and students, including Nobel laureates and Turing Award winners. UCLA is recognized as a Public Ivy and a leading institution in academia and research.

UCLA’s admissions are renowned for their selectivity, rated “Most Selective” by U.S. News & World Report and with a 98 out of 99 selectivity rating from The Princeton Review. With 149,815 freshman applications for Fall 2021, UCLA maintains rigorous admission standards, admitting only 12.3% of applicants overall. Admissions rates vary by residency, with California residents facing a 12.0% admission rate and out-of-state U.S. residents at 16.4%. Despite challenges post-Proposition 209, UCLA has adopted a holistic admissions process since Fall 2007 to ensure equitable opportunities for all applicants.

UCLA boasts nationally top-ranked departments like Clinical Psychology and Fine Arts, alongside globally acclaimed disciplines including Chemistry and Mathematics. With consistent recognition across prestigious rankings, UCLA solidifies its position as a leading institution in diverse academic fields both nationally and internationally.

5. University of Southern California (USC)

The University of Southern California (USC) in Los Angeles, founded in 1880, stands as California’s oldest private research university. With its Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences and 22 other schools, USC enrolls around 21,000 undergraduates and 28,500 post-graduate students from diverse backgrounds. A member of the Association of American Notable Students achievements include numerous Academy and Emmy Awards, with USC producing more alumni billionaires and Nobel Laureates than most other institutions.

USC maintains a reputation for its highly selective admissions process. With over 70,000 applications for the undergraduate class of 2021, only 12% were admitted. Enrolled freshmen for Fall 2019 showcased impressive SAT and ACT scores, with the middle 50% range reflecting academic excellence. USC’s popularity is evident, ranked as the 10th most applied-to university in the nation for Fall 2014. USC’s need-blind admission policy ensures equitable opportunities for domestic applicants.

At the University of Southern California (USC), major departments include the Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences, USC Viterbi School of Engineering, USC Marshall School of Business, and USC School of Cinematic Arts. The Keck School of Medicine, USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, and USC Rossier School of Education are integral parts of USC’s academic landscape. These departments offer diverse undergraduate and graduate programs, ranging from liberal arts and engineering to business, medicine, communication, journalism, and education, providing students with comprehensive educational opportunities.

6. University of California, San Diego (UCSD)

The University of California, San Diego (UC San Diego) is a renowned public research university that was established in 1960. Offering over 200 undergraduate and graduate programs. It serves a diverse student body of 33,096 undergraduates and 9,872 graduates across. It is an expansive 2,178-acre campus with twelve schools and eight residential colleges. UC San Diego is renowned for its research excellence, with 27 Nobel Prizes among its faculty and alumni. Ranked 7th in research and development expenditures, it’s a leading institution fostering innovation and academic achievement.

For Fall 2022, the university received 150,963 applications, with just 31,102 prospective freshmen admitted, resulting in an acceptance rate of 23.7%. Despite occasional mishaps, such as mistakenly sending Admit Day emails to all freshmen applicants in 2009, UC San Diego maintains its commitment to excellence in admissions. Graduate admissions are primarily managed by the Office of Graduate Studies, although certain schools like the Rady School of Management and Scripps Institution of Oceanography handle their admissions independently. Notably, the School of Medicine admitted only 5% of its applicants for Fall 2012, highlighting the competitiveness of UC San Diego’s graduate programs.

UC San Diego boasts top rankings across various departments, nationally and globally. Domestically, specialties like biomedical engineering, neuroscience, and econometrics rank among the top 10. Internationally, departments such as biology, computer science, and economics consistently rank within the top 20. UC San Diego’s mechanical engineering program holds the top spot among public universities in the US and maintains a strong global presence. The university’s achievements span diverse fields, including social psychology, oceanography, and theatre, showcasing its commitment to excellence in education and research.

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7. University of California, Irvine (UCI)

UC Irvine is a prominent public research university in California, that offers a wide array of undergraduate and graduate degrees. Renowned for its high research activity, it boasts significant research expenditures and membership in prestigious associations. With affiliations including a leading medical center and an acclaimed Earth System Science Department, UC Irvine has earned recognition as a “Public Ivy.” Its athletic program, the Anteaters, has a rich history of success in NCAA Division I competition. The university boasts an impressive roster of accomplished alumni and faculty, including Nobel Prize laureates and Pulitzer Prize winners.

UC Irvine is highly selective, and ranked as one of the most selective universities in the U.S. It receives a vast number of applications and admits a small percentage of applicants, with a 21% acceptance rate for fall 2022. The incoming freshmen predominantly hail from various counties in California. The university’s admissions process employs a comprehensive review program, considering various factors beyond academic records, including personal circumstances and extracurricular activities. Residency plays a role in tuition expenses, with out-of-state fees significantly higher.

UC Irvine (UCI) houses a diverse array of departments spanning various disciplines. Notably, it hosts the pioneering Earth System Science Department, the first of its kind in the United States. Furthermore, it encompasses departments in health sciences, arts, engineering, social sciences, and more. Each department contributes to UCI’s reputation as a leading research institution and offers a comprehensive academic experience to its students.

8. University of California, Davis (UC Davis)

UC Davis is a prominent research university that began as an agricultural branch and now stands as the northernmost campus in the UC system. It offers diverse graduate and professional programs, including medicine and veterinary medicine, alongside 90 research programs. The university is highly regarded for its research activities and athletic prowess, with notable achievements in academia and sports, including Olympic medals and prestigious awards like Nobel Prizes and Pulitzer Prizes.

Admission to UC Davis is highly competitive. In Fall 2019, the university received over 78,000 freshman applications, admitting only 39.1% of applicants. Enrolled freshmen boasted an average GPA of 4.13 and SAT scores ranging between 610 and 710 for reading, 630–790 for math, and an ACT Composite score of 28–34. In 2021, UC Davis experienced a surge in applications, receiving over 105,000 applicants, with an admission rate of 37.5% for the incoming freshman class.

UC Davis is distinguished by its renowned departments, with standout programs in agriculture, veterinary medicine, and life sciences. The School of Veterinary Medicine holds a prestigious position as the largest of its kind in the U.S. Furthermore, the university excels in various fields such as medicine, law, education, nursing, and business management. UC Davis continues to foster innovation and excellence across its academic spectrum, solidifying its status as a top-tier institution in higher education and research.

9. University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB)

UC Santa Barbara offers a wide range of programs through its undergraduate colleges and graduate schools in California. Situated on a former WWII-era Marine Corps air station. The University is known for its high research activity and prestigious research centers. With a distinguished faculty, including Nobel Prize winners, UCSB is a hub of academic excellence and innovation.

Admission to UC Santa Barbara University has discontinued the use of SAT or ACT scores in admission decisions or for scholarships. For the incoming freshman class of 2022, UCSB had an acceptance rate of 25.8%, with over 111,000 applicants, 28,589 admissions, and 4,968 enrollments. The average High School GPA of admitted students was 4.29, reflecting the rigorous academic standards of the university.

UC Santa Barbara features a variety of distinguished departments across its campus. With a focus on academic excellence and innovation, departments such as physics, engineering, environmental science, and psychology stand out. The university’s commitment to research is evident in its highly selective admissions process and its renowned faculty, which includes Nobel Prize winners and members of prestigious academies. Through its diverse array of programs and departments, UC Santa Barbara continues to uphold its reputation as a top-tier institution for higher education and research.

10. University of California, Riverside (UCR)

UC Riverside is a part of the University of California system. It is a leading public research university in Riverside with additional facilities in Palm Desert. Originating from the UC Citrus Experiment Station in 1907, it has evolved into a comprehensive institution with a focus on research and innovation. Notably, UCR hosts the School of Medicine, the first new research-based public medical school in 40 years. Recognized for its high research activity, UCR is a member of the prestigious Association of American Universities. The university’s sports teams, known as the Highlanders, compete in NCAA Division I, embodying the campus’s elevated spirit and achievements.

In Fall 2018, out of nearly 50,000 new admissions, approximately 50.6% were admitted. The average GPA of enrolled freshmen was 3.83, with SAT scores averaging 620 for reading & writing and 635 for math. Notably, UCR boasts a diverse student body, with a significant percentage of first-generation college students and individuals from low-income backgrounds. Despite challenges, UCR has maintained graduation rates consistent with national averages, showcasing its commitment to diversity and student success in higher education.

Areas of study include biology, engineering, business, and the humanities. The university’s commitment to diversity is reflected in its student body and academic offerings. With a focus on research and innovation, UCR provides students with opportunities to excel in their chosen fields and contribute to the advancement of knowledge.


California’s universities provide a range of academic programs and research opportunities. Situated in vibrant communities, these universities foster innovation, diversity, and collaboration, preparing students for success in various fields. With their renowned faculties, California universities play a pivotal role in shaping the future of higher education and innovation. This article has listed the top universities in California.


What Is The Number 1 University In California?

Stanford University is widely regarded as the number 1 university in California. It is esteemed for its academic excellence, research contributions, and global reputation.

What Are The Top 4 Campuses In The University of California?

The top 4 University of California campuses typically include UC Berkeley, UCLA, UC San Diego, and UC Davis. These campuses consistently rank highly for their academic programs and research endeavors.

Which University In California Is Best For International Students?

Stanford University, UC Berkeley, UCLA, and USC are often considered the best options for international students in California. These universities offer comprehensive support services, diverse student communities, and globally recognized academic programs.

Which University of California Is Easiest to Get Into?

UC Merced is the easiest school to get into with an impressive acceptance rate of 87%, making it one of the most welcoming campuses within the UC system.

Is California the Best Place to Study?

California is often considered an excellent place to study due to its diverse range of top-tier universities and colleges, beautiful weather, cultural diversity, and strong economy.

Oleksandra Mamchii

Working as a academic lead at Best Diplomats.

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