Best universities in California

Explore the best universities in California determined by data collected by Times Higher Education

February 24 2017
Top universities in California

California has it all: glorious sunshine, perfect beaches, bustling cities, rugged mountains and some of the most prestigious universities in the world. From the showbiz whirl of Hollywood to the cutting-edge innovation of Silicon Valley, California has been the birthplace of culture and technology that has spread around the globe.

Known as "the golden state", California has attracted people from across the globe with its promise of freedom and riches ever since the gold rush in the mid-1800s. The state’s relaxed, welcoming reputation and powerhouse tech sector make it a prime destination for foreign students.

California has a beautiful and diverse range of landscapes, from the rugged peaks of the Sierra Nevada mountains in the east to the beautiful Pacific coastline in the west, from the mighty northern redwood forests to the majestic Mojave Desert in the south.

The internet, the personal computer, the film industry and hippy counter-culture all have roots in California and the state has a reputation as a liberal, inventive place that encourages new people and new ideas.

The California state university system is the largest in the country, with around 430,000 students. The state has numerous world-class public and private universities including Stanford University, the California Institute of Technology, the University of Southern California, University of California Los Angeles and University of California Berkeley.

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Stanford University

Stanford, or Leland Stanford Junior University (to give it its full name) is a private research university founded in 1891 by the railroad tycoon and former senator Leland Stanford and his wife Jane Stanford.

The university sits at the heart of Silicon Valley and its graduates have been responsible for founding some of the world’s leading technology companies including Hewlett-Packard, Snapchat, PayPal and Yahoo. The founders of Google also met while studying there.

The university’s faculty and alumni have made a huge contribution to science, politics and business in the USA and Stanford boasts 30 billionaires among its alumni, the second highest of any university.

Stanford is home to the National Accelerator Laboratory which undertakes advanced research in particle physics. The university was also instrumental in creating some of the networks which became the basis of the early internet.

The university’s role in creating the US tech sector has led to its reputation as one of the most prestigious higher education institutions in the world and the rankings place Stanford among the top few universities globally.

The main campus covers over 8,000 acres in Palo Alto between the cities of San Francisco and San Jose. The main campus is one of the largest in the US and is home to most of the undergraduate student body.

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California Institute of Technology

Caltech is one of the world’s leading science and engineering higher education institutions. The private research and teaching university was founded in 1891 in Pasadena just northeast of Los Angeles.

Caltech has had a strong focus on science since the early 1900s and has turned out many great scientific minds. The alumni and faculty include 34 winners of the Nobel Prize and six recipients of the Turing Award for computer science. As well as a reputation for world-leading research, Caltech is also renowned for the quality of its teaching and is ranked first in the USA for the number of graduates who go on to study a PhD.

The university also operates the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the research and development centre for US space agency which builds and operates robotic space craft. Many Caltech faculty are affiliated with NASA and several astronauts are counted among its alumni.

The Caltech campus covers 124 acres and is home to most of the undergraduate population. There is a reputation for practical jokes and pranks among Caltech students including one occasion where the world-famous Hollywood sign was changed to read "Caltech".

 University of California, Los Angeles

The University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) is a public research university in the city of Los Angeles. UCLA forms part of the California state university system and was founded as the southern branch of the University of California in 1919. UCLA can trace its history back further to its origins as a teacher training college founded in 1882.

UCLA has grown and matured into one of the most respected higher education institutions in the USA. The university also ranks in the top handful of universities in the world in terms of the quality of its academics. There are 14 Nobel laureates and three Fields Medal winners among the UCLA community.

There are five undergraduate schools: the College of Letters and Science; Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science (HSSEAS); School of the Arts and Architecture; School of Theatre, Film and Television; and School of Nursing. There are also seven professional schools and four professional health science schools. 

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