San Diego State University
San Diego State University finishes first on our list of the top universities and colleges in Southern California due to its many high-quality degree programs and its affordable tuition. Undergraduate degree programs range from Aerospace Engineering to Journalism. Graduate programs include Creative Writing, Geophysics, Applied Mathematics and many more.
California State University – Long Beach
California State University – Long Beach is the highest-ranking institution from the Los Angeles area on our list. CSULB, as it is commonly known, offers a very wide range of undergraduate and graduate degrees through eight colleges. CSULB also offers vocational programs in areas like Medical Coding and Law Enforcement that culminate in a certificate.
University of California – Los Angeles
The University of California – Los Angeles is one of the best-known and most prestigious institutions in Southern California. It is quite selective for a public university, as California residents need to be ranked in the top 9% of their high school graduating class to be considered. UCLA is known for offering generous financial aid packages to its students, including Regents Scholarships.
University of California – Irvine
The University of California – Irvine is often regarded as one of the top public universities in the country, never mind Southern California. UC Irvine offers over 200 degree programs. UC Irvine also offers over 170 study abroad programs.
University of California – San Diego
The University of California – San Diego may finish behind local rival SDSU, but it is still a highly ranked public university. UCSD has an enrollment of 39,000, and it is growing rapidly. California applicants must have at least a 3.0 high school GPA, while non-resident applicants must have at least a 3.4 GPA.
University of California – Riverside
The University of California – Riverside is another highly rated Southern California campus within the UC system. UCR has an enrollment of roughly 24,000. It has over 170 degree programs.
Soka University of America
The Soka University of America is a newer private university that focuses on the liberal arts. SUA offers a Bachelor’s in Liberal Arts with concentrations in Humanities, Environmental Sciences, Life Sciences, International Studies, or Social and Behavioral Sciences. All students are required to spend a semester studying abroad.
Point Loma Nazarene University
Point Loma Nazarene University in San Diego is a top private university with a Christian affiliation. It offers many undergraduate programs; it also offers graduate programs in Clinical Counseling, Nursing Practice, and Education.
Pomona College in Claremont is one of the leading liberal arts colleges in the country. It offers degree programs not just in the humanities, but also in science (which is rare for a liberal arts college). Pomona offers students over 50 different study abroad programs.
California Institute of Technology
The California Institute of Technology, often called CalTech, is one of the top STEM institutions in the world. It is very selective, and applicants must show evidence of academic success in STEM fields. CalTech enrolls about 2,500 students in its undergraduate and graduate programs combined.
Loyola Marymount University
Loyola Marmount University is a Catholic institution in Los Angeles. It offers roughly 60 undergraduate majors and 40 graduate programs. LMU is especially well-known for its excellent film school.
Claremont McKenna College
Claremont McKenna College is another top liberal arts college in Claremont. CMC emphasizes experiential learning, which is rare for a liberal arts school. The vast majority of students complete at least one internship.
University of San Diego
The University of San Diego is a private Catholic institution with an enrollment of roughly 9,000. It offers many undergraduate and graduate degree programs, including a well-respected MBA program. It also offers a unique Master’s in Peace Studies.
Pitzer College is another member of the seven Claremont Colleges, which are a highly rated group of liberal arts colleges. It is very small, only enrolling 1,000 or so students. It is unique in that students design their own majors.
Harvey Mudd College
Harvey Mudd College is another one of the Claremont Colleges. It is unique amongst the group in that it is focused on STEM education. Most of the programs offered at HMC are in math or science-related fields.
University of Southern California
The University of Southern California is the largest and best-known private institution in Southern California. Its 47,000 students pursue over 100 different degree programs. USC is another institution that is well-known for its film school, which is often ranked among the finest in the world.
Pepperdine University is a private Christian university in Malibu. Pepperdine offers more than 80 degree programs. It is home to a well-known law school.
Scripps College, a member of The Claremont Colleges, is dedicated to educating women for lives of leadership, service, integrity, and creativity. Scripps offers a rigorous interdisciplinary curriculum, a robust intellectual community, a commitment to diversity and inclusion, and a rich residential experience.
Chapman University in Orange, CA is a private Christian university. It enrolls roughly 10,000 students. Chapman is known for being very generous with its financial aid packages, with roughly 80% of students receiving aid.
Occidental College is a leading liberal arts college in Los Angeles. It offers more than 40 degree programs, and students can also create their own major. Occidental will meet 100% of a student’s financial aid needs.
Our Ranking Methodology
We ranked the schools on this list using a formula that produces a rating for each school. Our formula takes two vital statistics (yearly tuition rate and graduation rate) into account. Several of the schools on this list have different tuition rates for California residents and non-residents. If this is the case, we only looked at the school’s resident tuition rate. Our formula took the tuition rate and added a multiple taken from the percentage of enrolled students who did not end up graduating from the school. Here’s an example: College #1 has a yearly tuition rate of $50,000 and a graduation rate of 80%. Its rating would be 60,000 (50,000 x 120%). The schools on this list are ranked from lowest rating to highest, as a low rating is positive when using our formula.
Check out our best colleges in Northern California here.
Students looking for the best colleges in Southern California can find the school they’re looking for through our site.
Representatives of the schools on this list can contact us if they need to make any corrections or ask us any questions.