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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.

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 2022 US College Rank 2022 University  City 
1 2 Stanford University Stanford
2 7 California Institute of Technology Pasadena
3 19 University of Southern California Los Angeles
4 25 Pomona College Claremont
5 27 University of California, Los Angeles Los Angeles
6 34 Claremont McKenna College Claremont
7 =36 University of California, Berkeley Berkeley
8 =40 University of California, Davis Davis
9 =43 University of California, San Diego La Jolla
10 67 Scripps College Claremont
11 74 Santa Clara University Santa Clara
12 76 University of California, Santa Barbara Santa Barbara
13 87 University of California, Irvine Irvine
14 88 Pitzer College Claremont
15 90 Marymount University Los Angeles
16 95 Occidental College Los Angeles
17 96 University of the Pacific Stockton
18 =152 University of San Diego San Diego
19 =154 University of San Francisco San Francisco
20 =158 Chapman University Orange
21 =175 Pepperdine University Malibu
22 =184 University of California, Riverside Riverside
23 189 California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo San Luis Obispo
=24 =197 California Institute of the Arts Valencia
=24 =197 Saint Mary's College of California Moraga
=24 =197 Westmont College Santa Barbara
27 =236 Mount Saint Mary's University Los Angeles
28 =251 San Diego State University San Diego
29 =264 University of California, Santa Cruz Santa Cruz
30 =286 Dominican University of California San Rafael
31 =291 San Jose State University San Jose
32 =299 California State University, Long Beach Long Beach
33 =313 University of Redlands Redlands
=34 =327 Pacific University Azusa
=34 =327 Point Loma Nazarene University San Diego
=36 =333 California State University, Chico Chico
=36 =333 Whittier College Whittier
38 =337 California State University, Fresno Fresno
39 =344 California State Polytechnic University, Pomona Pomona
40 368 California Lutheran University Thousand Oaks
41 =372 California State University, Northridge Northridge
42 376 California College of the Arts San Francisco
43 =377 California State University, Sacramento Sacramento
44 =383 California State University, Monterey Bay Seaside
45 =392 California State University, Fullerton Fullerton
=46 401-500 California State University, Bakersfield Bakersfield
=46 401-500 California State University, East Bay Hayward
=46 401-500 California State University, Los Angeles Los Angeles
=46 401-500 California State University, San Bernardino San Bernardino
=46 401-500 California State University, San Marcos San Marcos
=46 401-500 Notre Dame de Namur University Belmont
=46 401-500 San Francisco State University San Francisco
=53 501-600 Biola University La Mirada
=53 501-600 California State University, Dominguez Hills Carson
=53 501-600 Humboldt State University Arcata
=53 501-600 University of La Verne La Verne
=53 501-600 Sonoma State University Rohnert Park
=58 600+ California Baptist University Riverside
=58 600+ Concordia University Irvine Irvine
=58 600+ La Sierra University Riverside
=58 600+ Vanguard University Costa Mesa
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