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Best universities in California 2022

Explore the best universities in California determined by data collected by the Wall Street Journal and Times Higher Education

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November 2 2021
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.

The state’s relaxed, welcoming reputation and powerhouse tech sector make it a prime destination for foreign students.

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The California state university system is the largest in the country, with about 430,000 students. The state has numerous world-class public and private universities including University of California, Berkeley.

These are the best universities in California, based on the Wall Street Journal/Times Higher Education US College Rankings 2022.

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1. Stanford University

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

The university sits at the heart of Silicon Valley and its graduates have founded 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 US 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 that 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 universities globally. Stanford is well-known as one of the best law schools in the US.

The main campus, one of the largest in the US covers over 8,000 acres in Palo Alto between the cities of San Francisco and San Jose.

2. California Institute of Technology

The California Institute of Technology or 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. The alumni and faculty include 72 Nobel Laureates and six recipients of the Turing Award for computer science. 

The university also operates the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the research and development centre for the 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”.

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3. University of Southern California 

The University of Southern California is a private research university in Los Angeles. It was founded in 1880 and is one of the oldest private universities in California. 

The university's official mascot is Traveler, a white Andalusian horse. It first appeared at a football game in 1961 and was known as Traveler I. The current horse is Traveler VII.

Because of its proximity to Hollywood, the university's campus has featured in many films including Forrest GumpGhostbustersThe Social Network and Legally Blonde, as well as several TV shows.

The Daily Trojan, the student newspaper, was first established in 1912 and is published Monday to Friday during autumn and spring. 

Top universities in California 2022

Click each institution to view its Times Higher Education World University Rankings 2022 profile

California Rank 2022US College Rank 2022University City 
12Stanford UniversityStanford
27California Institute of TechnologyPasadena
319University of Southern CaliforniaLos Angeles
425Pomona CollegeClaremont
527University of California, Los AngelesLos Angeles
634Claremont McKenna CollegeClaremont
7=36University of California, BerkeleyBerkeley
8=40University of California, DavisDavis
9=43University of California, San DiegoLa Jolla
1067Scripps CollegeClaremont
1174Santa Clara UniversitySanta Clara
1276University of California, Santa BarbaraSanta Barbara
1387University of California, IrvineIrvine
1488Pitzer CollegeClaremont
1590Marymount UniversityLos Angeles
1695Occidental CollegeLos Angeles
1796University of the PacificStockton
18=152University of San DiegoSan Diego
19=154University of San FranciscoSan Francisco
20=158Chapman UniversityOrange
21=175Pepperdine UniversityMalibu
22=184University of California, RiversideRiverside
23189California Polytechnic State University, San Luis ObispoSan Luis Obispo
=24=197California Institute of the ArtsValencia
=24=197Saint Mary's College of CaliforniaMoraga
=24=197Westmont CollegeSanta Barbara
27=236Mount Saint Mary's UniversityLos Angeles
28=251San Diego State UniversitySan Diego
29=264University of California, Santa CruzSanta Cruz
30=286Dominican University of CaliforniaSan Rafael
31=291San Jose State UniversitySan Jose
32=299California State University, Long BeachLong Beach
33=313University of RedlandsRedlands
=34=327Pacific UniversityAzusa
=34=327Point Loma Nazarene UniversitySan Diego
=36=333California State University, ChicoChico
=36=333Whittier CollegeWhittier
38=337California State University, FresnoFresno
39=344California State Polytechnic University, PomonaPomona
40368California Lutheran UniversityThousand Oaks
41=372California State University, NorthridgeNorthridge
42376California College of the ArtsSan Francisco
43=377California State University, SacramentoSacramento
44=383California State University, Monterey BaySeaside
45=392California State University, FullertonFullerton
=46401-500California State University, BakersfieldBakersfield
=46401-500California State University, East BayHayward
=46401-500California State University, Los AngelesLos Angeles
=46401-500California State University, San BernardinoSan Bernardino
=46401-500California State University, San MarcosSan Marcos
=46401-500Notre Dame de Namur UniversityBelmont
=46401-500San Francisco State UniversitySan Francisco
=53501-600Biola UniversityLa Mirada
=53501-600California State University, Dominguez HillsCarson
=53501-600Humboldt State UniversityArcata
=53501-600University of La VerneLa Verne
=53501-600Sonoma State UniversityRohnert Park
=58600+California Baptist UniversityRiverside
=58600+Concordia University IrvineIrvine
=58600+La Sierra UniversityRiverside
=58600+Vanguard UniversityCosta Mesa
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