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Top Universities in California

By Craig O

Updated May 18, 2021 Updated May 18, 2021
  • 38 Californian universities are found in this year's QS World University Rankings: USA 2021.
  • Three of these are in the USA top 10.

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, 38 universities from the state are included in the QS World University Rankings: USA 2021, including three ranked amongst the top 10 universities in the USA. The rankings are based on 17 indicators, assessing different aspects of the schools, from employability to learning experience. Find out more about the methodology here.  

Read on to discover more about the top 10 schools in California.

QS World University Rankings: USA  2021 – Top 10 Universities in California  

California Rank  

USA  Rank  

University  

1  

Stanford University  

2  

University of California, Berkeley (UCB)  

3  

University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA)  

4  

14= 

University of Southern California  

5  

21 

California Institute of Technology (Caltech)  

6  

27 

University of California, San Diego (UCSD)  

7  

34 

University of California, Davis (UCD)  

8  

43 

University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB)  

9  

45= 

University of California, Irvine (UCI)  

10= 

80= 

University of California, Riverside (UCR)  

10= 

80= 

University of California, Santa Cruz (UCSC) 

=10. University of California, Santa Cruz (UCSC)  

ucsc

Topping off our countdown of the top schools in California in 2021 is the University of California, Santa Cruz, up an impressive 14 places to rank joint 80th in the USA. 

With over 2,000 acres of land, UCSC overlooks the scenic Monterey Bay. This public university was founded in 1965, and since then has grown to teach more than 19,000 students. It has 106 programmes on offer for undergraduates and postgraduates.  

=10. University of California, Riverside (UCR)   

ucr

Ranking in joint 10th this year is the University of California, Riverside (UCR). UCR places in joint 80th in the USA, after rising 25 positions in the index. 

UCR prides itself on being diverse, inclusive and globally focused. It has more than 26,000 students and 1,100 faculty, including two Nobel Prize winners and 13 members of the National Academies of Science and Medicine. 

9. University of California, Irvine (UCI)  

uci

Image: Allyunion  at  English Wikipedia 

Next up is the University of California, Irvine (UCI), taking ninth place in California and joint 45th in the USA. UCI scores best in the diversity and internationalisation indicator, ranking in joint 21st. The university has more than 37,000 students. 

Founded in 1965, UCI is a public research university and a member of the prestigious Association of American Universities. In the centre of its campus is Aldrich Park: a lush green area with more than 11,000 trees that students can enjoy between lectures.

8. University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB)  

ucsb

The University of California, Santa Barbara rises an incredible 32 positions this year to rank 43rd in the USA. It is also the eighth best university in the state of California and is the best school in the US for diversity and internationalisation. 

UCSB is a leading research institution with a strong focus on liberal arts. It aims to help students develop independent thought, critical reasoning and creativity. UCSB has been consistently ranked amongst the greenest public universities and the university places an emphasis the importance of sustainability.  

7. University of California, Davis (UCD)   

ucd

In seventh place, we have the University of California, Davis (UCD), ranking 34th in the USA this year after dropping six positions in the index. The school has around 37,580 students and a student to faculty ratio of 20:1. Students love cycling around UCD’s campus – every day there are over 22,000 bikes on campus.  

Research is a big part of UCD, with the university receiving US$941 million (around £666 million) in research funding in 2019-20. It isn’t just faculty members and graduate students producing research, however – around 50 percent of undergraduate students conduct research and creative projects beyond the classroom.  

6. University of California, San Diego (UCSD)   

ucsd

The University of California, San Diego is the sixth best school in California this year, placing 27th in the USA. UCSD earns its highest score in the diversity and internationalisation indicator, placing third in the USA.  
 
Founded in 1960, UCSD is a public research university which aims to educate the next generation of global leaders to drive innovation, fuel economic growth and make the world a better place.  

5. California Institute of Technology (Caltech)

caltechDespite falling two places in the USA rankings this year, California Institute of Technology (Caltech) performs well, placing 21st in the USA and fifth in California.  Based in Pasadena, close to Los Angeles, Caltech is an ideal study destination for anyone interested in science and engineering.  

Although Stanford is the best university overall, Caltech is the best school for learning experience, ranking joint first in the US. Caltech has a 3 to 1 student faculty ratio, and the school is associated with 76 Nobel laureates.  

4. University of Southern California   

university of southern california

In fourth place we have the University of Southern California (USC), rising one place to rank joint 14th in the USA this year. The university performs particularly well in the learning experience indicator, placing eighth in the US.  

USC is one of the world’s leading private research universities and a global centre for arts, technology and international business. The school has a total of 19,500 undergraduate students and 26,500 graduate students. Its diverse curriculum provides opportunities for interdisciplinary study and collaborations with leading researchers.  

3. University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA)   

UCLA

Up one place to rank fifth in the USA and third in California is UCLA. UCLA earns a high score in the research indicator, a reflection of the high quality of research output at the school.  

UCLA describes itself as a truly international university, with students coming from nearly 90 countries to attend the school. It earns a high score in the diversity and internationalisation indicator, ranking in joint third in the USA.  

2. University of California, Berkeley (UCB)   

Berkley

The University of California, Berkeley is the highest ranked public university in the USA, the second best in California and the fourth best school in the country. Included amongst its faculty, alumni and researchers are 14 Nobel Prize winners, 13 faculty MacArthur Fellows, two Turing Award winners and three Pulitzer Prize winners. 

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.  

1. Stanford University    

Stanford

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 , Stanford has produced so many future business leaders that it’s been nicknamed the ‘billionaire factory’.  

The school earns particularly high scores in the research and employability indicators, ranking second in the US for both.   

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