Best universities in California 2018

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

October 30 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.

These are the best universities in California based on the Wall Street Journal/Times Higher Education US College Rankings 2018


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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 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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2. 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".

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 now known as Traveler VII.

Due to its proximity to Hollywood, the university's campus has featured in many films including Forrest Gump, Ghostbusters, The Social Network and Legally Blonde. A number of TV shows have also used the USC campus as a filming location. 

The Daily Trojan is the student newspaper and was first established in 1912. It is the primary source of news and information for the campus and is published from Monday to Friday during autumn and spring. 


Top universities in California 2018

Click each institution to view its World University Rankings 2018 profile

California Rank 2018 WSJ/THE US College Rank University City
1 =3 Stanford University Stanford
2 7 California Institute of Technology Pasadena
3 =15 University of Southern California Los Angeles
4 25 University of California, Los Angeles Los Angeles
5 26 Pomona College Claremont
6 35 Claremont McKenna College Claremont
7 =40 University of California, Berkeley Berkeley
8 46 University of California, Davis Davis
9 47 University of California, San Diego La Jolla
10 91 Occidental College Los Angeles
11 =93 Scripps College Claremont
12 99 University of California, Santa Barbara Santa Barbara
13 =115 Pitzer College Claremont
14 =117 University of the Pacific Stockton
15 =128 Loyola Marymount University Los Angeles
16 =134 ArtCenter College of Design Pasadena
17 139 University of California, Irvine Irvine
18 =155 Pepperdine University Malibu
19 =164 University of San Diego San Diego
20 168 Santa Clara University Santa Clara
21 =177 Chapman University Orange
22 =203 Saint Mary's College of California Moraga
=23 =220 Otis College of Art and Design Los Angeles
=23 =220 University of San Francisco San Francisco
25 =228 California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo San Luis Obispo
26 =251 Dominican University of California San Rafael
27 =257 Westmont College Santa Barbara
28 =272 University of California, Riverside Riverside
29 =286 University of California, Santa Cruz Santa Cruz
30 =289 California College of the Arts San Francisco
=31 =296 California Institute of the Arts Valencia
=31 =296 Whittier College Whittier
33 =298 Mount Saint Mary's University Los Angeles
34 =306 Point Loma Nazarene University San Diego
35 =343 University of Redlands Redlands
36 =360 Azusa Pacific University Azusa
=37 =377 California State University Maritime Academy Vallejo
=37 =377 San Diego State University San Diego
39 =437 California Lutheran University Thousand Oaks
40 =470 California State University, Chico Chico
41 =473 California State University, Long Beach Long Beach
42 =489 California State Polytechnic University, Pomona Pomona
43 =500 California State University, Fresno Fresno
=44 501-600 California State University, Monterey Bay Seaside
=44 501-600 California State University, Stanislaus Turlock
=44 501-600 University of La Verne La Verne
=44 501-600 The Master's University Santa Clarita
=44 501-600 San Jose State University San Jose
=49 601-800 Biola University La Mirada
=49 601-800 California Baptist University Riverside
=49 601-800 California State University, Bakersfield Bakersfield
=49 601-800 California State University, East Bay Hayward
=49 601-800 California State University, Fullerton Fullerton
=49 601-800 California State University, Los Angeles Los Angeles
=49 601-800 California State University, Northridge Northridge
=49 601-800 California State University, Sacramento Sacramento
=49 601-800 California State University, San Bernardino San Bernardino
=49 601-800 California State University, San Marcos San Marcos
=49 601-800 Concordia University Irvine Irvine
=49 601-800 La Sierra University Riverside
=49 601-800 Notre Dame de Namur University Belmont
=49 601-800 San Francisco State University San Francisco
=49 601-800 Sonoma State University Rohnert Park
=64 > 800 California State University, Dominguez Hills Carson
=64 > 800 Humboldt State University Arcata
=64 > 800 Pacific Union College Angwin
=64 > 800 Vanguard University Costa Mesa
=64 > 800 William Jessup University Rocklin

Read more: Best universities in Los Angeles

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