Top Universities in California | Top Universities

Top Universities in California

By Craig O

Updated April 14, 2021 Updated April 14, 2021

Home to Hollywood, the Golden Gate Bridge and nearly 40 million people, California is also where some of the top universities in the US are based.

In total, 15 universities from the state are included in the QS World University Rankings 2020, including two which are ranked among the five best universities in the world.

QS World University Rankings 2020 – Top Universities in California

California Rank

Global Rank




Stanford University



California Institute of Technology (Caltech)



University of California, Berkeley (UCB)



University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA)



University of California, San Diego (UCSD)



University of California, Davis (UCD)



University of Southern California



University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB)



University of California, Irvine (UCI)



University of California, Santa Cruz (UCSC)



University of California, Riverside (UCR)



San Diego State University



University of San Diego



University of San Francisco



University of the Pacific

Best university in California: Stanford University

As the second-best university in the world, Stanford University is heads and shoulders above the other universities in the state. Located in the heart of California’s Silicon Valley region, Stanford has produced so many future business leaders that it’s been nicknamed the ‘billionaire factory’.

It is by far the most reputable university in California with both academics and employers (metrics used in our rankings methodology), while also possessing a higher proportion of international faculty than any other university in the state.

Best university in California for research: California Institute of Technology (Caltech)

Only three places behind Stanford in our global ranking, Caltech has plenty to recommend it. Based in Pasadena, close to Los Angeles, Caltech is an ideal study destination for anyone interested in science and engineering.

While Stanford performs better overall in our ranking, Caltech is the top institution in the state for research output, measured by how many research citations per faculty member the university has produced. Only three universities in the world out-perform Caltech for this metric.

Best public university in California: University of California, Berkeley (UCB)

architecture ranking

If you’re a Californian resident, one of the big questions you’ll have to answer when choosing universities to apply to is whether you opt for a public or private institution. While private universities usually offer a better academic experience, public universities have the benefit of cheaper tuition.

So, while Stanford and Caltech are clearly the top universities in California, they are both private universities. For this reason, UCB should also be seriously considered as a study destination.

The public University of California system has 10 campuses, many of which are included in our ranking above. UCB benefits from a stronger reputation with academics and employers around the world than any of the other public institutions in the state. It also produces more research and hires more international faculty members.

To find out more about top universities in the rest of the US, click here.

This article was originally published in June 2019 . It was last updated in April 2021

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Written by

As Head of Content, Craig is responsible for all articles and guides published across TopUniversities and TopMBA. He has nearly 10 years of experience writing for a student audience and extensive knowledge of universities and study programs around the world.

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