California has long been known for its beaches, laid-back vibe, and innovation in both culture and technology. Between Hollywood and Silicon Valley, the state’s industry runs the gamut from entertainment to technology. As the third-largest state in the U.S. and the most populous, the state has also expanded its influence in the realm of education. With at least 139 private colleges and universities, three state graduate institutions, 32 traditional four-year public institutions, and even more community college options, prospective students seeking to further their education have plenty of options in California schools and degrees.
On this site, feel free to peruse California’s different types of universities, colleges, and degrees.
California’s Public and Private Universities
The Prestigious University of California System
University of California system has campuses scattered throughout the state. Despite having the same title, each university offers a unique and separate set of programs. Not all of these schools were founded as part of the UC system.
In 1919, the University of California in Los Angeles joined the UC system after being founded as a branch of the California State Normal School in 1882. In 1868, the University of California at Berkeley was founded as both the first land-grant university in California and the founding school in the UC system.
The UC system is unique in that not only are the programs offered at each school different, but many of the universities specialize in research as well. Many UC system schools are ranked among the top universities in the world, and the University of California schools in Berkeley, Davis, Santa Cruz, Irvine, Los Angeles, Santa Barbara, and San Diego are all considered Public Ivy schools.
The UC system’s multiple campuses offer at least 350 degrees, both undergraduate and graduate. This public research university system directly operates ten campuses, one affiliated law school, and a national laboratory. The newest campus location was opened in 2005 in Merced, California.
California State University (CSU) System
Cal State is a public university system in California. It is one of three public higher education systems in the state, including the California UC system and the California Community Colleges. Cal State, however, is the largest higher education system in the country.
CSU oversees 23 campuses and eight off-campus centers. Created in 1960, the system was formed under the California Master Plan for Higher Education. It descends from the California State Normal Schools, which were founded in 1857.
The Cal State system has a number of degrees for undergraduate and graduate students to choose from, with 1,800 degree programs in at least 240 different subject areas available for students across the system’s campuses. The founding campus in the Cal State system is San Jose State University (SJSU), which was founded in 1857 and later became the first school with the California State University label. The WASC Senior College and University Commission has accredited SJSU, which offers 150 bachelor’s degrees, 95 master’s degrees, and five doctoral degrees.
The most recently opened school was christened in 2002 and named California State University Channel Islands. The UCS claims to have the most diverse student body in the U.S., and at least 477,000 students are educated at CSU’s various campuses around the state.
Californias Private Schools
California is home to at least 139 private colleges and universities, many of which have rich histories and have hosted students who went on to add major contributions to the world. It is unclear what private school is the oldest in California. University of the Pacific claims to be the state’s first university, and Santa Clara University asserts that it is the oldest institution of higher education in California. Both were founded in 1851. Regardless of which came first, both continue to operate today.
University of the Pacific is a Methodist-affiliated university with undergraduate and graduate programs and schools specializing in business, dentistry, education, engineering, international studies, law, music, pharmacy, and health sciences. Santa Clara University was founded as a Jesuit university and is classified as a doctoral/professional institution. Students who have graduated from this university have gone on to win many nominations or honors in award competitions such as the Oscars, Grammys, Pulitzer Prizes, and NBA MVP Awards. Among the alumni are also politicians and business innovators.
One cannot mention California private universities without talking about Stanford University. Listed by various ranking publications as the number one private university in California and as number three among universities nationwide, Stanford was established in 1891 as a co-educational school. With 40 academic departments, undergraduate and graduate programs, and its own think tank (the Hoover Institute), the school and its students have continued to stand out in the field of academia and beyond, with Nobel laureates, Turing award laureates, and eight field medalists claiming association with Stanford as having been either faculty, staff, or students.
California Community Colleges
The California Community Colleges (CCC) network offers students their choice of subject and geographic location with its 116 schools and numerous classrooms and centers around the state. Students come to CCC campuses with varying goals. Some are interested in gaining personal growth, getting professional training, earning their associates, or collecting credits for transfer to a traditional four-year university later. Furthermore, California community colleges offer many online and distance learning programs to offer students greater flexibility. In fact, many of their off-campus classrooms are located in communities that might not otherwise have access to these course offerings. These off-campus courses operate from places like high schools and shopping malls, and there are even some international study opportunities.
CCC schools have Associate Degree Transfer programs, Career Education programs, and a bachelor’s degree program that has only recently been instituted. Campuses can be found up and down California in major cities like San Francisco, San Jose, Sacramento, and San Diego, and they can also be found in less populated areas. In terms of the transfer program, CCC transfers 80,000 students a year to University of California and California State University campuses, according to the system’s website. The CCC prides itself on its work to fight income inequality and provide equality in education access.
Colleges and Schools in California
Public health is a field concerned with what public institutions and groups can do to create conditions where people and communities can be healthy. A key value of public health is the prevention of health issues. This can look like clean air, clean water, safe workplaces, reduced, gun violence, studies on obesity and high blood pressure, and improved disaster response, among many other initiatives. Public health was ranked as the 26th most popular program in the U.S. as of the end of 2022. California has a number of public health degree programs, departments, and schools.
The University of California, Berkeley, was the number one school for the study of public health in California in 2022, according to College Factual rankings. It was listed as number 8 in College Factual’s national ranking of the best schools for public health, and number 17 by Best College Rankings in terms of overall school rankings. The University of California, Los Angeles, came in second for the best public health schools in California, and Stanford came in third. All three of these schools offer up to a public health doctoral degree, and they have bachelor’s and master’s degrees in this field as well.
The field of nursing requires robust training, and students begin this training in a school nursing program. Students who major in nursing or attend a nursing school go on to work in areas like nursing administration, nursing research, and clinical nursing. Along with traditional coursework in science, the humanities, and the foundational theories and concepts of nursing, students do lab work and gain clinical experience.
There are at least 159 programs in nursing across California, including associate degree programs, bachelor degree programs, and entry-level master’s degree programs, according to the State of California’s website. The top nursing school in California, according to nursingprocess.org, is the University of San Francisco’s School of Nursing and Health Professions. The school, located in Laurel Heights, has a simulated hospital environment where students can practice clinical nursing skills before doing their work in community settings, where they gain their clinical practice hours.
California State University in Long Beach has a nursing program that has been ranked highly as well. Its new nursing building has classrooms, teaching labs, and computer labs, and students of the program have the opportunity to interact with the community in various ways, including via the Health on Wheels clinic, which is a program sponsored by the nursing school in collaboration with the city of Norfolk.
Information Technology and Computer Science
Computer science and information technology are two related but different fields. Luckily, both tend to go hand in hand in schools and departments that focus on technology. Computer science is the study of computers and computing, which includes foundations in theory and algorithms, hardware, software, and information processing methods. Information technology, on the other hand, is the study of using digital and physical technology to store, process, secure, and manage information and data. Computer science is the twelfth most popular program in the country, whereas information technology is ranked 42nd most popular on some rankings.
In California, Stanford University was ranked first in computer science studies in College Factual’s rankings. The California Institute of Technology, located in Pasadena, ranked second, and the University of California in Berkeley came in third in the state. The University of California in San Diego, the University of Southern California, and the University of California in Santa Cruz were ranked as the top three California universities for information technology degrees. At UC San Diego and USC, the highest degree a student can earn in information technology is a master’s, while students at UC Santa Cruz can earn a bachelor’s in information technology.
The physical therapy field is an old one, with historians tracing the practice back to 460 B.C. It is believed that Hippocrates used physical therapy methods to help his patients. The field is broad in that it uses many different techniques and treatments to help bring relief to patients. Patients that come to physical therapy are generally dealing with diseases, injuries, or deformities that make movement painful or difficult.
The University of Southern California is listed in the top five universities in the country for earning a physical therapy degree, and it hits the top for physical therapy programs in California. USC’s program offers a traditional and hybrid program. Students attend classes either online or on-campus and gain immersive experiences at the school regardless of whether they attend on a hybrid basis or a traditional basis. The school has 14 labs and two research centers where students do research on rehabilitation under faculty supervision.
Loma Linda is another school ranked highly for its physical therapy program. The school offers four graduate-level programs in physical therapy: a physical therapy assistant degree, a physical therapy post-professional Doctorate of Physical Therapy (DPT), and a physical therapy Ph.D. The programs offer research-based coursework and residential clinical experience, including opportunities at the Medical Center’s Outpatient Rehabilitation Center and via the Street Medicine program in which students provide services to low-income people in San Bernadino, Haiti, Ethiopia, China, or Mexico.
The definition of public affairs is broad and debated within the industry. Generally, it is the effort of organizations to manage and monitor their business or organizational affairs. It is also often defined as the efforts between two or more groups often related to business or government. It deals with strategizing government relations, communications, management of issues, and corporate citizenship. Those who earn a public affairs degree often enter jobs in communication, lobbying, administration, or policy creation. In terms of schools in public affairs in California, the University of California in Berkeley is rated as number one in California by U.S. News and World Report. The public affairs program at UC Berkeley focuses on policy analysis. Students learn from faculty, researchers, and practitioners who are at the forefront of conversations regarding public policy issues like education, social justice, prison reform, climate change, and many more. Students engage in a capstone project using a real-world client. In the project, students analyze pressing issues facing the organization they have chosen. The University of Southern California is another top university listed on U.S. News rankings for its public affairs programs. The program offers two certificate options, one in public policy and one in public and county management. Students also take part in residencies where they gain hands-on experience in the field.
The study of business is a broad one, and students entering this field of study may be interested in a variety of subjects and career paths, including accounting, e-commerce, economics, entrepreneurship, ethics, finance, general management, health care administration, human resources management, leadership, organizational behavior, production and operations management, marketing, technology, and many other areas related to business.
Stanford University is considered the top business school in California. Ranked at number three in U.S. News’ national rankings for best business schools, the university’s business school offers a Master in Business Administration; a one-year, mid-career MSx program; Ph.D. programs; and business fellowships.
University of California, Berkeley, is ranked number eight nationally for business programs, and it trains its future business leaders in the Haas School of Business. Haas offers a number of business education programs at the undergraduate and graduate levels.
The third most recognized business school in California is the University of California, Los Angeles. UCLA Anderson School of Management is home to a number of business programs, including MBA, FEMBA, EMBA, MFE, MSBA, and Ph.D. programs.
Social work is concerned with people and promoting change at the community and individual levels. Those who study this field may enter jobs related to direct care, counseling, family advocacy, casework, behavioral health technicians, child welfare, addiction counseling, case management, and many others.
Once again, the University of California, Berkeley, takes the number one spot in California for schools of social work. The University of Southern California and the University of California in Los Angeles also sit high on the list of schools for social work. UC Berkeley’s social welfare options include bachelor’s, master’s, certificate, and Ph.D. programs.
USC offers an online social work program that is highly rated, and it is taught out of the USC Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work, which claims to be the first private research institution to offer an online social work master’s degree. UC Los Angeles offers a Ph.D. and an MSW. These programs focus on practical application, either of research for the doctorate programs or of social work principles to real-world work in a clinical setting.
Psychology as a degree program is a popular choice among students, both at the undergraduate and graduate levels. The degree is ranked in the top ten in the U.S. by multiple ranking lists. Psychology is a broad field with applications in many areas beyond psychology and mental health. While students who study psychology may go on to enter the field in clinical or research settings, many take on jobs in business, communications, economics, management, and many other industries.
Stanford University is ranked number two in the country overall by Best Colleges’ rankings, and College Factual puts the school at number one for schools of psychology in California. The highest degree Stanford offers in psychology is a doctorate. The school’s psychology department offers a Master of Arts in psychology, a Ph.D., and a psychology undergraduate degree.
University of California in Los Angeles is also highly ranked for its psychology program offerings. Undergraduate students can choose from three majors, including a Psychology B.A., a Cognitive Science B.S., and a Psychobiology B.S. The graduate research programs offer specialization in behavioral neuroscience, clinical psychology, cognitive neuroscience, cognitive psychology, computational cognition, developmental psychology, health psychology, learning and behavior, quantitative psychology, social psychology, and social and affective neuroscience.
Generally, the main difference between a psychology degree and a counseling degree is the application and the goal of attending the program. Counseling degrees are generally geared toward training future counselors, and their curriculum is designed to meet academic requirements for specific licensure, depending on the specific counseling field.
One of the top counseling schools in California is The Chicago School of Professional Psychology at Los Angeles has undergraduate, graduate, and certificate programs in a variety of areas related to counseling, psychology, mental health, and the helping profession. Students interested in counseling specifically have a number of options at the school, with specialized courses in forensic psychology, behavior therapy, public health, and organizational leadership being among the less generalized fields. The school also offers an M.A. in Clinical Mental Health Counseling for those planning to pursue licensure. Founded in 1979 as an institution dedicated to academic training in the field of psychology, the school has since expanded its offerings beyond and into counseling, nursing, education, business, and others.
Education is one of the most popular degrees in America. Coming in at number four in some rankings, education as a field of study has remained a sought-after career and study option for many for a long time. While there are plenty of California schools with education degrees and departments, some stand out above the rest.
Once again, the University of California in Los Angeles and Stanford have topped the list made by U.S. News rankings, with UC Irvine taking third place in the state. UC Irvine’s School of Education is a hub for research and teaching and offers undergraduate, master’s, and doctoral degrees, including a Bachelor of Arts in Education Sciences, a Master of Arts in Teaching with a teaching credential, and a Ph.D. in Education.
The UCLA School of Education and Information Studies offers an undergraduate degree in Education and Social Transformation or a minor in Education Studies. They also offer graduate degree options. The School of Education and Information Studies is UCLA’s longest-running school and began as a teacher’s college.
Finally, Stanford’s Graduate School of Education began as an education department when it opened in 1891. It became a school in its own right in 1917. With 22 doctorate degrees, the school has no shortage of specialized areas of study, and students get the benefit of Stanford’s numerous research centers, which specialize in areas like education policy analysis, teaching best practices, early math education, and organizational research, among many others.