2023 best colleges in California

Take one part Massachussets' superior private universities and another part New York's excellent public college and university network, mix it in a beaker, and you got yourself California. Two networks of public universities - California State and University of California - offer the most affordable and convenient access to public education in the west (and arguably the country). While California State universities tend to be more vocationally driven, University of California unis - with crown jewels Berkeley, UCLA, and USC - are more research driven with more robust graduate offerings. And of course, Stanford is one of the country's top private universities.

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Net cost: The median annual cost of all students that receive any aid. This does not refer to the “sticker price”, the price listed by the college.

Earnings: The median earnings of all bachelor-level students 10 years after enrollment. This includes both students that do and do not graduate, across all majors.

Payback measures how long it takes the average student to pay back the total cost of attending college with marginal earnings. Marginal earnings are the difference between what the average student would have earned before attending college and what they earn afterwards.

EarningsPlus compares student earnings after college against a benchmark that Degreechoices adjusts based on each school’s unique mix of academic programs and the in-state/out-of-state composition of the student body.

Rankings: The ranking order is based on the economic score.The economic score is the combination of payback and earningsplus, and is how we determine a school’s rank. The lower the economic score the better.

Net cost
Payback
Earnings
EarningsPlus
Rankings
Ranking methodology
#1 in California | #5 in National Universities

Stanford University

Stanford, California

Economic score: 0.59

The Economic Score is the combination of payback and earningsplus, and is how we determine a school’s rank. The lower the economic score the better. For an analysis of how we arrive at the economic score, and a description of our data sources, please visit our methodology page.

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Net cost: $12,894

The median net cost of students who receive federal financial aid. This is lower than the price advertised by the school.

Payback: Under a year

Payback measures how long it takes the average student to pay back the total cost of attending college with marginal earnings. Marginal earnings are the difference between what the average student would have earned before attending college and what they earn afterwards.

Earnings: $97,798

Median earnings of all students 10 years after enrollment. Includes students that did not graduate.

EarningsPlus: + $22,872

EarningsPlus compares student earnings after college against a benchmark that Degreechoices adjusts based on each school’s unique mix of academic programs and the in-state/out-of-state composition of the student body.

Admission rate: 4%
Graduation rate: 96%

Graduation rates below the school’s state average are shown in red. Schools with graduation rates in the bottom 25% nationally (48%) are not ranked and are displayed at the end of the ranking list.

#2 in California

California State University, Los Angeles

Los Angeles, California

Economic score: 0.66

The Economic Score is the combination of payback and earningsplus, and is how we determine a school’s rank. The lower the economic score the better. For an analysis of how we arrive at the economic score, and a description of our data sources, please visit our methodology page.

View school
Net cost: $3,302

The median net cost of students who receive federal financial aid. This is lower than the price advertised by the school.

Payback: Under a year

Payback measures how long it takes the average student to pay back the total cost of attending college with marginal earnings. Marginal earnings are the difference between what the average student would have earned before attending college and what they earn afterwards.

Earnings: $51,997

Median earnings of all students 10 years after enrollment. Includes students that did not graduate.

EarningsPlus: - $4,271

EarningsPlus compares student earnings after college against a benchmark that Degreechoices adjusts based on each school’s unique mix of academic programs and the in-state/out-of-state composition of the student body.

Admission rate: 91%
Graduation rate: 69%

Graduation rates below the school’s state average are shown in red. Schools with graduation rates in the bottom 25% nationally (48%) are not ranked and are displayed at the end of the ranking list.

#3 in California | #9 in National Universities

California Institute of Technology

Pasadena, California

Economic score: 0.79

The Economic Score is the combination of payback and earningsplus, and is how we determine a school’s rank. The lower the economic score the better. For an analysis of how we arrive at the economic score, and a description of our data sources, please visit our methodology page.

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Net cost: $26,542

The median net cost of students who receive federal financial aid. This is lower than the price advertised by the school.

Payback: 1.3 years

Payback measures how long it takes the average student to pay back the total cost of attending college with marginal earnings. Marginal earnings are the difference between what the average student would have earned before attending college and what they earn afterwards.

Earnings: $112,166

Median earnings of all students 10 years after enrollment. Includes students that did not graduate.

EarningsPlus: + $49,768

EarningsPlus compares student earnings after college against a benchmark that Degreechoices adjusts based on each school’s unique mix of academic programs and the in-state/out-of-state composition of the student body.

Admission rate: 4%
Graduation rate: 94%

Graduation rates below the school’s state average are shown in red. Schools with graduation rates in the bottom 25% nationally (48%) are not ranked and are displayed at the end of the ranking list.

#4 in California

California State University, Dominguez Hills

Carson, California

Economic score: 0.89

The Economic Score is the combination of payback and earningsplus, and is how we determine a school’s rank. The lower the economic score the better. For an analysis of how we arrive at the economic score, and a description of our data sources, please visit our methodology page.

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Net cost: $4,026

The median net cost of students who receive federal financial aid. This is lower than the price advertised by the school.

Payback: Under a year

Payback measures how long it takes the average student to pay back the total cost of attending college with marginal earnings. Marginal earnings are the difference between what the average student would have earned before attending college and what they earn afterwards.

Earnings: $47,340

Median earnings of all students 10 years after enrollment. Includes students that did not graduate.

EarningsPlus: - $2,108

EarningsPlus compares student earnings after college against a benchmark that Degreechoices adjusts based on each school’s unique mix of academic programs and the in-state/out-of-state composition of the student body.

Admission rate: 90%
Graduation rate: 66%

Graduation rates below the school’s state average are shown in red. Schools with graduation rates in the bottom 25% nationally (48%) are not ranked and are displayed at the end of the ranking list.

#5 in California | #11 in National Universities

University of California, Berkeley

Berkeley, California

Economic score: 0.94

The Economic Score is the combination of payback and earningsplus, and is how we determine a school’s rank. The lower the economic score the better. For an analysis of how we arrive at the economic score, and a description of our data sources, please visit our methodology page.

View school
Net cost: $16,032

The median net cost of students who receive federal financial aid. This is lower than the price advertised by the school.

Payback: 1.2 years

Payback measures how long it takes the average student to pay back the total cost of attending college with marginal earnings. Marginal earnings are the difference between what the average student would have earned before attending college and what they earn afterwards.

Earnings: $80,364

Median earnings of all students 10 years after enrollment. Includes students that did not graduate.

EarningsPlus: + $18,102

EarningsPlus compares student earnings after college against a benchmark that Degreechoices adjusts based on each school’s unique mix of academic programs and the in-state/out-of-state composition of the student body.

Admission rate: 14%
Graduation rate: 94%

Graduation rates below the school’s state average are shown in red. Schools with graduation rates in the bottom 25% nationally (48%) are not ranked and are displayed at the end of the ranking list.

#6 in California | #1 in Liberal Arts

Harvey Mudd College

Claremont, California

Economic score: 1.05

The Economic Score is the combination of payback and earningsplus, and is how we determine a school’s rank. The lower the economic score the better. For an analysis of how we arrive at the economic score, and a description of our data sources, please visit our methodology page.

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Net cost: $33,467

The median net cost of students who receive federal financial aid. This is lower than the price advertised by the school.

Payback: 1.7 years

Payback measures how long it takes the average student to pay back the total cost of attending college with marginal earnings. Marginal earnings are the difference between what the average student would have earned before attending college and what they earn afterwards.

Earnings: $108,988

Median earnings of all students 10 years after enrollment. Includes students that did not graduate.

EarningsPlus: + $47,914

EarningsPlus compares student earnings after college against a benchmark that Degreechoices adjusts based on each school’s unique mix of academic programs and the in-state/out-of-state composition of the student body.

Admission rate: 10%
Graduation rate: 92%

Graduation rates below the school’s state average are shown in red. Schools with graduation rates in the bottom 25% nationally (48%) are not ranked and are displayed at the end of the ranking list.

#7 in California | #16 in National Universities

University of California, Irvine

Irvine, California

Economic score: 1.10

The Economic Score is the combination of payback and earningsplus, and is how we determine a school’s rank. The lower the economic score the better. For an analysis of how we arrive at the economic score, and a description of our data sources, please visit our methodology page.

View school
Net cost: $12,209

The median net cost of students who receive federal financial aid. This is lower than the price advertised by the school.

Payback: 1.1 years

Payback measures how long it takes the average student to pay back the total cost of attending college with marginal earnings. Marginal earnings are the difference between what the average student would have earned before attending college and what they earn afterwards.

Earnings: $71,961

Median earnings of all students 10 years after enrollment. Includes students that did not graduate.

EarningsPlus: + $141

EarningsPlus compares student earnings after college against a benchmark that Degreechoices adjusts based on each school’s unique mix of academic programs and the in-state/out-of-state composition of the student body.

Admission rate: 29%
Graduation rate: 87%

Graduation rates below the school’s state average are shown in red. Schools with graduation rates in the bottom 25% nationally (48%) are not ranked and are displayed at the end of the ranking list.

#8 in California

California State University, Stanislaus

Turlock, California

Economic score: 1.12

The Economic Score is the combination of payback and earningsplus, and is how we determine a school’s rank. The lower the economic score the better. For an analysis of how we arrive at the economic score, and a description of our data sources, please visit our methodology page.

View school
Net cost: $6,566

The median net cost of students who receive federal financial aid. This is lower than the price advertised by the school.

Payback: 1.1 years

Payback measures how long it takes the average student to pay back the total cost of attending college with marginal earnings. Marginal earnings are the difference between what the average student would have earned before attending college and what they earn afterwards.

Earnings: $53,964

Median earnings of all students 10 years after enrollment. Includes students that did not graduate.

EarningsPlus: - $1,133

EarningsPlus compares student earnings after college against a benchmark that Degreechoices adjusts based on each school’s unique mix of academic programs and the in-state/out-of-state composition of the student body.

Admission rate: 95%
Graduation rate: 72%

Graduation rates below the school’s state average are shown in red. Schools with graduation rates in the bottom 25% nationally (48%) are not ranked and are displayed at the end of the ranking list.

#9 in California | #2 in Liberal Arts

Claremont McKenna College

Claremont, California

Economic score: 1.12

The Economic Score is the combination of payback and earningsplus, and is how we determine a school’s rank. The lower the economic score the better. For an analysis of how we arrive at the economic score, and a description of our data sources, please visit our methodology page.

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Net cost: $21,993

The median net cost of students who receive federal financial aid. This is lower than the price advertised by the school.

Payback: 1.5 years

Payback measures how long it takes the average student to pay back the total cost of attending college with marginal earnings. Marginal earnings are the difference between what the average student would have earned before attending college and what they earn afterwards.

Earnings: $86,571

Median earnings of all students 10 years after enrollment. Includes students that did not graduate.

EarningsPlus: + $19,350

EarningsPlus compares student earnings after college against a benchmark that Degreechoices adjusts based on each school’s unique mix of academic programs and the in-state/out-of-state composition of the student body.

Admission rate: 11%
Graduation rate: 91%

Graduation rates below the school’s state average are shown in red. Schools with graduation rates in the bottom 25% nationally (48%) are not ranked and are displayed at the end of the ranking list.

#10 in California | #21 in National Universities

University of California, Los Angeles

Los Angeles, California

Economic score: 1.16

The Economic Score is the combination of payback and earningsplus, and is how we determine a school’s rank. The lower the economic score the better. For an analysis of how we arrive at the economic score, and a description of our data sources, please visit our methodology page.

View school
Net cost: $15,023

The median net cost of students who receive federal financial aid. This is lower than the price advertised by the school.

Payback: 1.3 years

Payback measures how long it takes the average student to pay back the total cost of attending college with marginal earnings. Marginal earnings are the difference between what the average student would have earned before attending college and what they earn afterwards.

Earnings: $73,744

Median earnings of all students 10 years after enrollment. Includes students that did not graduate.

EarningsPlus: + $5,913

EarningsPlus compares student earnings after college against a benchmark that Degreechoices adjusts based on each school’s unique mix of academic programs and the in-state/out-of-state composition of the student body.

Admission rate: 11%
Graduation rate: 92%

Graduation rates below the school’s state average are shown in red. Schools with graduation rates in the bottom 25% nationally (48%) are not ranked and are displayed at the end of the ranking list.

#11 in California | #24 in National Universities

California State University, Fresno

Fresno, California

Economic score: 1.22

The Economic Score is the combination of payback and earningsplus, and is how we determine a school’s rank. The lower the economic score the better. For an analysis of how we arrive at the economic score, and a description of our data sources, please visit our methodology page.

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Net cost: $6,230

The median net cost of students who receive federal financial aid. This is lower than the price advertised by the school.

Payback: 1.1 years

Payback measures how long it takes the average student to pay back the total cost of attending college with marginal earnings. Marginal earnings are the difference between what the average student would have earned before attending college and what they earn afterwards.

Earnings: $52,201

Median earnings of all students 10 years after enrollment. Includes students that did not graduate.

EarningsPlus: - $3,467

EarningsPlus compares student earnings after college against a benchmark that Degreechoices adjusts based on each school’s unique mix of academic programs and the in-state/out-of-state composition of the student body.

Admission rate: 97%
Graduation rate: 71%

Graduation rates below the school’s state average are shown in red. Schools with graduation rates in the bottom 25% nationally (48%) are not ranked and are displayed at the end of the ranking list.

#12 in California

California State University Maritime Academy

Vallejo, California

Economic score: 1.25

The Economic Score is the combination of payback and earningsplus, and is how we determine a school’s rank. The lower the economic score the better. For an analysis of how we arrive at the economic score, and a description of our data sources, please visit our methodology page.

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Net cost: $21,743

The median net cost of students who receive federal financial aid. This is lower than the price advertised by the school.

Payback: 1.4 years

Payback measures how long it takes the average student to pay back the total cost of attending college with marginal earnings. Marginal earnings are the difference between what the average student would have earned before attending college and what they earn afterwards.

Earnings: $91,461

Median earnings of all students 10 years after enrollment. Includes students that did not graduate.

EarningsPlus: + $10,234

EarningsPlus compares student earnings after college against a benchmark that Degreechoices adjusts based on each school’s unique mix of academic programs and the in-state/out-of-state composition of the student body.

Admission rate: 82%
Graduation rate: 69%

Graduation rates below the school’s state average are shown in red. Schools with graduation rates in the bottom 25% nationally (48%) are not ranked and are displayed at the end of the ranking list.

#13 in California | #25 in National Universities

California State University, Fullerton

Fullerton, California

Economic score: 1.29

The Economic Score is the combination of payback and earningsplus, and is how we determine a school’s rank. The lower the economic score the better. For an analysis of how we arrive at the economic score, and a description of our data sources, please visit our methodology page.

View school
Net cost: $8,003

The median net cost of students who receive federal financial aid. This is lower than the price advertised by the school.

Payback: 1.3 years

Payback measures how long it takes the average student to pay back the total cost of attending college with marginal earnings. Marginal earnings are the difference between what the average student would have earned before attending college and what they earn afterwards.

Earnings: $54,586

Median earnings of all students 10 years after enrollment. Includes students that did not graduate.

EarningsPlus: + $292

EarningsPlus compares student earnings after college against a benchmark that Degreechoices adjusts based on each school’s unique mix of academic programs and the in-state/out-of-state composition of the student body.

Admission rate: 59%
Graduation rate: 79%

Graduation rates below the school’s state average are shown in red. Schools with graduation rates in the bottom 25% nationally (48%) are not ranked and are displayed at the end of the ranking list.

#14 in California | #27 in National Universities

University of California, San Diego

La Jolla, California

Economic score: 1.30

The Economic Score is the combination of payback and earningsplus, and is how we determine a school’s rank. The lower the economic score the better. For an analysis of how we arrive at the economic score, and a description of our data sources, please visit our methodology page.

View school
Net cost: $15,240

The median net cost of students who receive federal financial aid. This is lower than the price advertised by the school.

Payback: 1.3 years

Payback measures how long it takes the average student to pay back the total cost of attending college with marginal earnings. Marginal earnings are the difference between what the average student would have earned before attending college and what they earn afterwards.

Earnings: $74,771

Median earnings of all students 10 years after enrollment. Includes students that did not graduate.

EarningsPlus: + $1,770

EarningsPlus compares student earnings after college against a benchmark that Degreechoices adjusts based on each school’s unique mix of academic programs and the in-state/out-of-state composition of the student body.

Admission rate: 34%
Graduation rate: 89%

Graduation rates below the school’s state average are shown in red. Schools with graduation rates in the bottom 25% nationally (48%) are not ranked and are displayed at the end of the ranking list.

#15 in California

California State University, Bakersfield

Bakersfield, California

Economic score: 1.41

The Economic Score is the combination of payback and earningsplus, and is how we determine a school’s rank. The lower the economic score the better. For an analysis of how we arrive at the economic score, and a description of our data sources, please visit our methodology page.

View school
Net cost: $7,454

The median net cost of students who receive federal financial aid. This is lower than the price advertised by the school.

Payback: 1.3 years

Payback measures how long it takes the average student to pay back the total cost of attending college with marginal earnings. Marginal earnings are the difference between what the average student would have earned before attending college and what they earn afterwards.

Earnings: $52,606

Median earnings of all students 10 years after enrollment. Includes students that did not graduate.

EarningsPlus: - $3,985

EarningsPlus compares student earnings after college against a benchmark that Degreechoices adjusts based on each school’s unique mix of academic programs and the in-state/out-of-state composition of the student body.

Admission rate: 85%
Graduation rate: 59%

Graduation rates below the school’s state average are shown in red. Schools with graduation rates in the bottom 25% nationally (48%) are not ranked and are displayed at the end of the ranking list.

#16 in California | #6 in Liberal Arts

Pomona College

Claremont, California

Economic score: 1.42

The Economic Score is the combination of payback and earningsplus, and is how we determine a school’s rank. The lower the economic score the better. For an analysis of how we arrive at the economic score, and a description of our data sources, please visit our methodology page.

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Net cost: $17,949

The median net cost of students who receive federal financial aid. This is lower than the price advertised by the school.

Payback: 1.7 years

Payback measures how long it takes the average student to pay back the total cost of attending college with marginal earnings. Marginal earnings are the difference between what the average student would have earned before attending college and what they earn afterwards.

Earnings: $69,149

Median earnings of all students 10 years after enrollment. Includes students that did not graduate.

EarningsPlus: + $15,802

EarningsPlus compares student earnings after college against a benchmark that Degreechoices adjusts based on each school’s unique mix of academic programs and the in-state/out-of-state composition of the student body.

Admission rate: 7%
Graduation rate: 95%

Graduation rates below the school’s state average are shown in red. Schools with graduation rates in the bottom 25% nationally (48%) are not ranked and are displayed at the end of the ranking list.

#17 in California | #37 in National Universities

University of California, Davis

Davis, California

Economic score: 1.46

The Economic Score is the combination of payback and earningsplus, and is how we determine a school’s rank. The lower the economic score the better. For an analysis of how we arrive at the economic score, and a description of our data sources, please visit our methodology page.

View school
Net cost: $15,768

The median net cost of students who receive federal financial aid. This is lower than the price advertised by the school.

Payback: 1.5 years

Payback measures how long it takes the average student to pay back the total cost of attending college with marginal earnings. Marginal earnings are the difference between what the average student would have earned before attending college and what they earn afterwards.

Earnings: $69,766

Median earnings of all students 10 years after enrollment. Includes students that did not graduate.

EarningsPlus: + $3,007

EarningsPlus compares student earnings after college against a benchmark that Degreechoices adjusts based on each school’s unique mix of academic programs and the in-state/out-of-state composition of the student body.

Admission rate: 49%
Graduation rate: 89%

Graduation rates below the school’s state average are shown in red. Schools with graduation rates in the bottom 25% nationally (48%) are not ranked and are displayed at the end of the ranking list.

#18 in California | #40 in National Universities

California State University, East Bay

Hayward, California

Economic score: 1.48

The Economic Score is the combination of payback and earningsplus, and is how we determine a school’s rank. The lower the economic score the better. For an analysis of how we arrive at the economic score, and a description of our data sources, please visit our methodology page.

View school
Net cost: $13,298

The median net cost of students who receive federal financial aid. This is lower than the price advertised by the school.

Payback: 1.7 years

Payback measures how long it takes the average student to pay back the total cost of attending college with marginal earnings. Marginal earnings are the difference between what the average student would have earned before attending college and what they earn afterwards.

Earnings: $60,920

Median earnings of all students 10 years after enrollment. Includes students that did not graduate.

EarningsPlus: + $7,554

EarningsPlus compares student earnings after college against a benchmark that Degreechoices adjusts based on each school’s unique mix of academic programs and the in-state/out-of-state composition of the student body.

Admission rate: 82%
Graduation rate: 70%

Graduation rates below the school’s state average are shown in red. Schools with graduation rates in the bottom 25% nationally (48%) are not ranked and are displayed at the end of the ranking list.

#19 in California | #41 in National Universities

California State University, Long Beach

Long Beach, California

Economic score: 1.49

The Economic Score is the combination of payback and earningsplus, and is how we determine a school’s rank. The lower the economic score the better. For an analysis of how we arrive at the economic score, and a description of our data sources, please visit our methodology page.

View school
Net cost: $10,054

The median net cost of students who receive federal financial aid. This is lower than the price advertised by the school.

Payback: 1.5 years

Payback measures how long it takes the average student to pay back the total cost of attending college with marginal earnings. Marginal earnings are the difference between what the average student would have earned before attending college and what they earn afterwards.

Earnings: $57,123

Median earnings of all students 10 years after enrollment. Includes students that did not graduate.

EarningsPlus: - $1,185

EarningsPlus compares student earnings after college against a benchmark that Degreechoices adjusts based on each school’s unique mix of academic programs and the in-state/out-of-state composition of the student body.

Admission rate: 47%
Graduation rate: 82%

Graduation rates below the school’s state average are shown in red. Schools with graduation rates in the bottom 25% nationally (48%) are not ranked and are displayed at the end of the ranking list.

#20 in California | #42 in National Universities

University of California, Santa Barbara

Santa Barbara, California

Economic score: 1.50

The Economic Score is the combination of payback and earningsplus, and is how we determine a school’s rank. The lower the economic score the better. For an analysis of how we arrive at the economic score, and a description of our data sources, please visit our methodology page.

View school
Net cost: $16,252

The median net cost of students who receive federal financial aid. This is lower than the price advertised by the school.

Payback: 1.7 years

Payback measures how long it takes the average student to pay back the total cost of attending college with marginal earnings. Marginal earnings are the difference between what the average student would have earned before attending college and what they earn afterwards.

Earnings: $66,491

Median earnings of all students 10 years after enrollment. Includes students that did not graduate.

EarningsPlus: + $5,736

EarningsPlus compares student earnings after college against a benchmark that Degreechoices adjusts based on each school’s unique mix of academic programs and the in-state/out-of-state composition of the student body.

Admission rate: 29%
Graduation rate: 86%

Graduation rates below the school’s state average are shown in red. Schools with graduation rates in the bottom 25% nationally (48%) are not ranked and are displayed at the end of the ranking list.

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