Universities in San Diego - QS Best Student Cities Ranking | Top Universities

San Diego

By Sabrina Collier

Updated March 22, 2021 Updated March 22, 2021

San Diego for students

Climbing four places in the Best Student Cities ranking this year is San Diego. Many universities and private colleges are located in San Diego and three of these rank within the top 1,000 in the QS World University Rankings® 2021.

The highest ranking university in the city is the University of California, San Diego placing 54th in the world this year.

The second-largest city in the US state of California, San Diego is located on the west coast of the US near to the border with Mexico. It earns its top score in the desirability indicator this year, ranking 49th worldwide.

Would San Diego get your vote? Tell us why.

Best universities in San Diego - QS Best Student Cities ranking: 76th

University of California, San Diego (UCSD) (54th); San Diego State University (801-1000); University of San Diego (801-1000)

More about San Diego

Number of universities ranked by QS


Highest-ranked institution

University of California, San Diego (UCSD) (54th)



Average international fees (at ranked unis)


Desirability rank


Employer Activity rank


Affordability rank


Student View rank


To find out how each of the above categories is calculated, view the methodology.

Why study in San Diego?

Great beaches

Surfing and sunbathing on San Diego’s beaches are two popular activities for students looking to unwind after a busy day of lectures.

Being able to travel

As San Diego is located right next to the Mexican border, students often go over to visit Mexico and experience the nightlife and the food.

Exciting nightlife

San Diego is known for its excellent parties and nightlife. With nightclubs, bars and concerts, there’s something for everyone.

The universities

San Diego is home to plenty of great universities, including the top-ranking university in the city, UCSD.

Cost of studying in San Diego

The cost of studying and living in San Diego isn’t cheap, and the affordability indicator reflects this, with the city ranking 111th in the world.

The cost of studying in San Diego is around US$15,000 per year– a lot cheaper than other cities in California, such as Los Angeles, where tuition fees cost an average of US$36,500 per year.

Numbeo estimates that a one-bedroom apartment in the city center will cost around US$2,176 per month. Although this sounds expensive, it’s seven percent lower than Los Angeles.

In addition to this, Numbeo estimates that a single person living in San Diego will need an extra US$1,010 monthly for living costs.

Life & culture in San Diego

With attractive beaches and numerous tourist attractions, the city has been given the nickname ‘America's Finest City’. It’s also often featured in lists of the safest cities in the US and is known for having excellent weather all year round.

The 1,200-acre Balboa Park is a popular spot for local culture, as it contains many green spaces as well as museums, theaters and the world-famous San Diego Zoo.

Due to its location as a border town, San Diego is heavily influenced by both Mexican and American cultures, resulting in a wide range of cuisines to sample in the city’s many restaurants.

The city is also well known for its craft-brewing scene, with the city and county (of the same name) often called ‘America's craft beer capital’.

Careers in San Diego

San Diego has lots of jobs available for graduates, particularly in the healthcare and tech industries, which tend to have plenty of roles available for highly skilled graduates as these roles are usually highly specialized and require technical expertise.

The presence of UCSD and other research institutions has helped to fuel the biotechnology and healthcare industries in the city.

International trade also plays a major role in contributing to San Diego’s economy, particularly due to the city sharing a border with Mexico. 

This article was originally published in November 2015 . It was last updated in March 2021

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Written by

The former Assistant Editor of TopUniversities.com, Sabrina wrote and edited articles to guide students from around the world on a wide range of topics. She has a bachelor's degree in English Literature and Creative Writing from Aberystwyth University and grew up in Staffordshire, UK. 

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