California’s universities

California’s universities

The universities of California

KE’s center in the West of the USA is in Santa Clara, California, and it’s natural that a lot of students will be considering the state of California for their future studies: for many, it’s one of the most accessible states, and it includes two of America’s most famous cities, San Francisco and Los Angeles.   But what are the options for university study?

First of all, we should perhaps consider the scale of the question by asking another: how many universities are there in California?  The answer is: somewhere between 130 and 160, depending on how you define ‘university’!   Trying to make some sense of this situation is clearly not an easy task, but let’s try!

It’s possible to identify three distinct groups.

First of all, there is the University of California system.   UC campuses are a part of a publicly funded system which currently has around 240,000 students.  They are found across much of the state: there are ten in all, of which nine accept undergraduate students.  To all intents and purposes, they feel like independent universities, but they are ultimately governed within the one UC system.  In one of the ranking systems (International Colleges and Universities 2016), UCs occupy of 9 of the top 12 places in the state.  Which tells us something about where they stand…

Clearly, the UCs are competitive – they aim to attract the best students from the state and beyond.  The highest ranking of all is generally UC Berkeley, and since that is close to our study centre, we include a visit for all students spending two weeks with KE in California.  Entrance to all the UCs is inevitably highly competitive, so you will need to be a pretty strong candidate if you’re considering one of them.

It’s worth noting that number three in the UC list is UC Davis, which KE students spending two weeks in California also have the chance to visit.

The second group is comprised of the California State University system.  With 23 campuses, and 480,000 students, this public university system is even larger than the UCs; in fact, it’s the largest public university system in the US.  The names are deceptively similar, and there are similarities in the state-wide scope of both the UC and the ‘Cal State’ systems, and in a pattern of autonomous campuses operating under the one umbrella.

As a general rule, the admission criteria are higher for the UCs than they are for the Cal State universities.   That said, the Cal States still dominate the top half of the California ranking systems, and they provide an education which is widely respected and accepted – they offer an excellent choice for many able students.  And Cal State alumni have influence: 1 in 10 of all employees in California is a Cal State graduate.

All the students studying at Santa Clara will have the chance to visit one of the ‘Cal States’: San Jose, a university often seen as a key source of able graduates for Silicon Valley companies.

The third group in California is the private universities.  Now it should be said that, just because these universities are private, that does not mean that they are necessarily more expensive for international students to attend, and in fact many of them offer scholarships.  You should really consider what they have to offer and decide whether they are right for you.

KE includes visits to the three highest-ranking private universities in the San Francisco area.

Stanford, in the heart of Silicon Valley, is one of the most prestigious, and its magnificent campus has to be one of the world’s most attractive.  The University of San Francisco (introduced on our KE study visit to San Francisco) has one of the country’s most impressive locations, right in the heart of the most iconic parts of the city.  And finally Santa Clara University, our host university: intimate, selective, and located in the very center of Silicon Valley.

The list goes on from there.  Some of the smaller institutions focus on a fairly narrow range of study, and might well be considered if your interests fall within that range.  But clearly, as one looks toward the lower-ranking institutions, some care should be taken.

Just to conclude, we should just mention that the universities in California do not offer the only pathway to a degree.  One other option involves starting off at a community college.  Community colleges are publicly-funded institutions found across the state.  There are over 100 of them, and they cater for 2.4 million students!  As you might imagine, they offer a wide range of courses, both academic and vocational.   The pathway you would be pursuing involves two years at a community college, then a transfer to a university, followed by just two years there – after which you emerge with a standard degree.  This is a perfectly realistic option, and has a number of advantages.  First of all, it’s a more cost-efficient way of getting a degree, as community college fees are much lower than those of universities.  But more importantly, perhaps, this route gives you the option of starting off at a lower level, with less pressure to begin with.  It’s not to be recommended for everyone, but it certainly works really well for many students.

If you choose to study in California, no matter what your background or level of academic achievement, there will be an option which is suitable for you.  And if you decide to join a KE summer program, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to look around and to look into those options in much more detail.  For more information, visit our dates and fees.


The UCs are (from north to south):

Davis, Berkeley, Santa Cruz, Merced, Santa Barbara, Los Angeles (UCLA), Riverside, Irvine, San Diego – also San Francisco (but not for undergraduate degrees)

The Cal States are (from north to south):

Humboldt, Chico, Sacramento, Sonoma, California Maritime, East Bay, San Francisco, Stanislaus, San Jose, Monterey Bay, Fresno, Bakersfield, San Luis Obispo, Channel Islands, Northridge, Pomona, Los Angeles, Dominguez Hills, San Bernardino, Long Beach, Fullerton, San Marcos, San Diego

The top 25 universities in California (as per International Colleges and Universities 2016) are listed below.  We’re highlighting in red the ones we visit: you can see we show you a pretty good selection!  And do remember that there are around 150 universities in California, so all the ones listed below are all high-ranking.

  1.       Stanford University  
  2.       University of California, Berkeley  
  3.       University of California, Los Angeles  
  4.       University of California, Davis  
  5.       University of California, San Diego  
  6.       University of California, Irvine  
  7.       University of Southern California  
  8.       California Institute of Technology  
  9.       University of California, Santa Barbara  
  10.   University of California, Santa Cruz  
  11.   University of California, Riverside  
  12.   University of California, San Francisco  
  13.   San Diego State University  
  14.   San Jose State University  
  15.   California State University, Fullerton  
  16.   San Francisco State University  
  17.   California State University, Northridge  
  18.   California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo  
  19.   California State University, Long Beach  
  20.   Santa Clara University  
  21.   California State University, Sacramento  
  22.   California State University, Chico  
  23.   University of San Francisco  
  24.   California State Polytechnic University, Pomona  
  25.   California State University, Dominguez Hills