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Study in California

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Discover the QS rankings for top universities in the USA 2020

There are many reasons to study in California: world-class universities with a welcoming attitude towards international students, a sun-kissed climate, world-famous beaches, exciting cities, a high standard of living, an assortment of cultural riches and an undisputed position at the cutting edge of modern technology, to name a few.

Home to Los Angeles – the entertainment capital of the world and the US’s second-largest city by population – California is known as the “golden state” due to its history in gold mining and its characteristic golden-brown hills in the summer. Now, this golden nickname also seems an apt reference to the state’s renowned glamour; from 2003 to 2011 it was even run by a movie star – Arnold Schwarzenegger (“the Governator”), famous for his roles in action films such as The Terminator and Predator

California is also famed for its prestigious universities, which include the world-famous Stanford University, the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), the University of California, Berkeley, and University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA).

If you have your sights set on studying in the golden state, scroll down for more information about top universities in California, student life, and some of our favorite facts about California.

Universities in California


As you might expect, given the fact California is home to Silicon Valley and some of the most innovative companies in the world, universities in California include many of the most prestigious institutions in the US. In the QS World University Rankings® 2019, California’s Stanford University is ranked second in both the world and the US, while the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) is ranked fourth in the world. 

Stanford is located in the northwest of the Silicon Valley region, while Caltech is in Pasadena, close to Los Angeles. Both are the top private research universities in California – but another two of the top universities in California are part of the state’s public university system. The public University of California system has 10 campuses, and its two main universities, the University of California, Berkeley (known as UCS, UC Berkeley or just Berkeley, and widely known as “Cal”) and University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) rank at 27th and 32nd in the world respectively.

Other top universities in California include:

*For information about ranking categories, and answers to other frequently asked questions, click here.

Several Californian universities also have the distinction of achieving impressive spots in the QS Graduate Employability Rankings 2019, with three in the global top 10: Stanford and UCLA share second place, while the University of California, Berkeley (UCB) is eighth. All three are ranked particularly highly for the alumni outcomes and employer reputation indicators. Find out more here.

Life in California

Los Angeles

As well as the film industry based in Hollywood, California is also a major power when it comes to music, having produced artists including *deep breath*: The Beach Boys, The Byrds, Guns N’ Roses, Red Hot Chili Peppers, 2Pac, Dr Dre, Snoop Dogg, Carlos Santana, Frank Zappa, Mötley Crüe, Thirty Seconds to Mars and Iron Butterfly, along with a number of established orchestras.

Alongside its central position in contemporary pop culture, California is also a significant contributor in the agricultural, aerospace, biotechnology and manufacturing sectors, and is famously home to Silicon Valley – one of the world’s leading centers of high-tech innovation.

The state’s diverse spread of talents is matched by the diversity of its cultural and ethnic composition. According to the most recent US Census data (2010), approximately 38 percent of California residents class themselves as Hispanic or Latino and 13 percent as Asian. Just over six percent are black, and almost five percent have two or more races. California is considered one of the most liberal US states, with a tolerant attitude towards LGBT policies, and it was one of the first states to legalize same-sex marriage.

In addition to the vibrant metropolises of Los AngelesSan Diego and San Francisco (all three of which rank among the world’s top 100 cities for students), California also has some of the US’s most stunning and diverse natural scenery, ranging from blissful beaches to snow-capped mountains. It’s no wonder, then, that California also has a reputation for its environmentalism and conservation efforts, and some of the strongest environmental laws in the US. 

Indeed, California’s numerous national parks, including Yosemite National Park and Sequoia National Park (the native home of the giant sequoia trees – the largest living organisms on Earth), would be reason enough to visit by themselves. The state’s stunning natural attractions include imposing cliffs, clear streams and waterfalls, groves of giant redwood (sequoia) trees, an inland salt lake, two large lakes (Lake Tahoe and Clear Lake) and a diverse range of habitats and wildlife.

In short, whatever your passion – be it technology, music, world cultures, conservation, acting, photography or computer programming – if you study in California you’ll find an environment conducive to all forms of discovery, exploration, adventure and entrepreneurship.

Facts about California 

San Francisco

  • Located on the west coast of the US; borders with Oregon to the north, Nevada and Arizona to the east, Mexico to the south, and the Pacific Ocean to the west
  • State capital is Sacramento and largest city is Los Angeles
  • Total population is around 39.5 million, the largest population of any single US state and approximately 12 percent of all US residents
  • State motto is Eureka!
  • You will likely spend between $9,800 – 11,100 on room and board per academic year while you study in California.
  • About 45 percent of California’s total surface area is covered by forests
  • Of the thousands of companies headquartered in Silicon Valley, those in the Fortune 1000 include Apple Inc., Adobe, eBay, Google, Facebook, Hewlett-Packard, Intel, Netflix and Yahoo!
  • California cultivates at least half of the fresh fruit produced in the US
  • It has the largest trees (giant sequoia), the tallest trees (coast or California redwood) and the oldest trees (bristlecone pine) in the world
  • Per capita energy use is one of the lowest of any US state 
  • Fastest growing solar energy market in the US – with several solar power plants and the capacity for 1.2 gigawatts, the equivalent of two large conventional power plants
  • Several dams across the state provide hydro-electric power
  • Contains both the highest and lowest points in the contiguous United States
  • Known for its car culture, California’s well-known Golden Gate Bridge was once the longest suspension bridge main span in the world
  • Famous actors and actresses born in California include Jennifer Aniston, Cameron Diaz, Leonardo DiCaprio, Dustin Hoffman, Tom Hanks, Clint Eastwood and Gwyneth Paltrow

Choose to study in California and you really will be spoilt for choice in all kinds of way – from great universities, to activity-packed cities, and diverse post-graduation employment prospects.

This article was originally published in December 2010. It was most recently updated in September 2018.

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Hi Omair, please have a look at our lists of scholarships for Pakistani students and list of medical scholarships around the world.

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Respóndeme rápidamente por favor. Necesito saber universidades públicas o no públicas, pero alguna BUENA universidad APROPIADA para estudiar enfermedades mentales. ¡Gracias!

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Answer me quickly please. I need to know public or not public universities, but some GOOD university PROPERLY to study mental illnesses. Thank you!

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Hi Ghulam, here's a link to our latest rankings by subject for mathematics - the results can be narrowed down to show only US universities. You can find out about the process of studying in the US in our guide. Hope this helps! 

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Hi Rajan, I can't recommend particular universities, but here's a link to our rankings by subject for mathematics, with the results narrowed down to show only US universities. You can find out more about studying in the US at graduate level in our new Top Grad School Guide 2016-2017. :)

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Hi Subir, I've replied to your comment here. It might also be worth checking Caltech's official website for details on funding opportunities for a PhD there. Good luck!

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Hi Romeo, I've replied to your comment here. :)

Hi, I'm a Belgian student who just graduated a bachelor's degree in Sports Management. I now want to get my Master's degree in America. I read some information about studying it in California, but now I was wondering which university would be the best to study this, even out California. Is there also a course to become a players agent? Could you please help me? I truly appreciate it!
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Hi Siti, I'd recommend having a look on the University of Southern California's official website for details on any scholarships they have on offer. :)