Degree Options and Schools in California

We all know California is a great vacation destination, but is it a good place to go to college? Yes! California is a great place to get an education, and the generally temperate weather and combined opportunities for nightlife and outdoor recreation that scarce few other states in the U.S. can match are only the beginning.

Why go to school in California?

Here are a few statistics that demonstrate the understood value of colleges in California:

  • California is home to two of the smartest cities in the country in 2012, according to a U.S. News and World Report survey that looked at the percentage of residents who had earned at least a bachelor's degree. San Francisco (No. 2) and San Diego (No. 9) had populations of 50 and 40 percent degree-holders, respectively.
  • The American Institute for Economic Research (AIER) included five California cities —  San Francisco, San Diego, Los Angeles, San Jose and Sacramento — on its list of top college destinations for 2014. San Francisco took the No. 3 spot among major metro areas, and San Jose ranked No. 1 among mid-sized cities.
  • A recent list on City-Data.com reveals the 100 cities with the highest percentage of college students per capita, and two California college towns are in the top 15. Stanford (No. 13) and Isla Vista (No. 7) are home respective college student populations of 73.6 and 76.6 percent.

Not only that, but certain California metro areas contain hundreds of institutions of higher learning. According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), the Los Angeles area is home to more than 150 of the two-year and four-year colleges in California, and in just the 15 miles around central San Francisco there are nearly 50 degree-granting schools.

There are also plenty of great online colleges in California, naturally, but students who have the sort of schedule or learning style that allows them to attend full-time education on campus would be hard pressed to find a better state in which to do it. Let's take a look at the California higher education scene in a little more detail.

Students interested in a more complete list of California-based institutions offering online degrees can start by exploring this map, which shows the location of 2- and 4-year colleges in the state based on 2013 data from the National Center for Education Statistics. Once you identify schools located nearby, it's easy to explore what online degrees might be offered near you. (Mobile users will need to visit the full Schools.com site to use the map.)

What are some of the best places to get degrees in California?

The influence of economic geography can scarcely be overstated when deciding which degree to get in a given region. Some degrees have more value than others in certain job markets, and finding the right match between your education and the demands of a regional workforce can mean the difference between a frustrating job search and a fruitful one.

In Silicon Valley, for example, it's widely known that degrees in computer science, programming, engineering, systems analysis and related disciplines are hot commodities, but it's important to note that candidates with associate or bachelor's degrees in these fields aren't likely to be very competitive on the local job market. There are so many highly educated people vying for jobs in the San Jose area that a graduate or post-grad education is practically mandatory.

Finding the right match between your education and the demands of a regional workforce can mean the difference between a frustrating job search and a fruitful one.

Graduates in Sacramento, on the other hand, don't necessarily need to spend as many years in school as their Bay Area counterparts, but there aren't quite as many tech firms hiring in the area either. The California state government calls the area home, so degrees in public policy and political science may carry more weight among the city's top employers than they do in other places.

Graduates in the Los Angeles metro area can often find an industry that lines up with their talents, which might simply be because the city is so big and has such a diverse range of working environments. With all the entertainment and media infrastructure in the LA area, though, students who majored in marketing, public relations, graphic design and related fields might have an easier time putting their degree to work here than in other cities. Of course, LA is also no slouch when it comes to high-tech employment, so computer science and its associated degrees could hold some value as well.

Featured colleges in California

Navigating the extraordinary variety of colleges in California can seem like an overwhelming task, particularly if you don't have even a general idea of where to start. Here's some detail on a few colleges in California, from large and prestigious old-guard institutions to small regional learning centers that might surprise you:



Examples of top programs

University of California - Berkeley

SF Bay Area, 5 miles north of Oakland

Business, finance, non-profit management, educational psychology, civil engineering, computer engineering, intellectual property law, ecology, biology, chemistry, biochemistry, computer science, geophysics, economics, history, American literature, physics, math, psychology, public policy, sociology, statistics

University of Southern California (USC)

Los Angeles

Occupational therapy, physical therapy, accounting, marketing, entrepreneurship, computer engineering, international business, tax law, chemistry, clinical psychology, medical research, artificial intelligence, earth sciences, social work, public affairs, pharmacy, fine arts

American River College


Biological sciences, earth science, nursing, health education, English, journalism, modern languages, music, fine arts, new media, accounting, office administration, management, marketing, real estate, social sciences

California Polytechnic State University - San Luis Obispo

Central coast, about 90 miles north of Santa Barbara

Aerospace engineering, manufacturing/industrial engineering, electrical engineering, mechanical engineering, civil engineering, business administration

California State University - Long Beach

South Central Los Angeles

Business administration, health care management, fine arts, physical therapy, public affairs, social work, speech-language pathology, education, nursing, engineering, part-time MBA

San Diego State University

San Diego

International business, education, chemistry, clinical psychology, audiology, health care management, fine arts, mathematics, psychology, public affairs, public health, social work, rehabilitation counseling, speech-language pathology, engineering

There are also plenty of community colleges in California where students can earn two- and four-year degrees, get career training, tackle some general education requirements or get their academic legs back under them after a period of time spent away from school. Many courses at California community colleges are offered both on campus and online, so students with tricky schedules may also be able to find a way to begin or resume their path to a continued education.

1. “The Top 10 Smartest Cities In America," Neil Johnson, U.S. News University Connection, http://www.usnewsuniversitydirectory.com/articles/top-10-smartest-cities-in-america_12429.aspx, accessed March 2015
2. "American Institute for Economic Research Unveils 2014-2015 Ranking of Best US. Cities for College Students," American Institute for Economic Research, https://www.aier.org/american-institute-economic-research-unveils-2014-2015-ranking-best-us-cities-college-students, accessed March 2015
3. Programs of Study, American River College, http://www.arc.losrios.edu/programs_of_study.htm, accessed March 2015
4. Top 100 Cities with highest percentage of college students, City-Data.com, http://www.city-data.com/top15.html, accessed March 2015
5. College Navigator - Los Angeles Area, National Center for Education Statistics, http://nces.ed.gov/collegenavigator/?s=all&zc=90001&zd=50&of=3&ic=1+2, accessed March 2015
6. College Navigator - San Francisco Area, National Center for Education Statistics, http://nces.ed.gov/collegenavigator/?s=all&zc=94102&zd=15&of=3&ic=1+2, accessed March 2015
7. American River College, Community Colleges, U.S. News and World Report, http://www.usnews.com/education/community-colleges/american-river-college-CC00174, accessed March 2015
8. California Polytechnic State University - San Luis Obispo, Overall Rankings, U.S. News and World Report, http://colleges.usnews.rankingsandreviews.com/best-colleges/california-polytechnic-state-university-san-luis-obispo-110422/overall-rankings, accessed March 2015
9. California State University - Long Beach, Overall Rankings, U.S. News and World Report, http://colleges.usnews.rankingsandreviews.com/best-colleges/california-state-university-long-beach-110583/overall-rankings, accessed March 2015
10. San Diego State University, Overall Rankings, U.S. News and World Report, http://colleges.usnews.rankingsandreviews.com/best-colleges/san-diego-state-university-122409/overall-rankings, accessed March 2015
11. University of California - Berkeley, Overall Rankings, U.S. News and World Report, http://colleges.usnews.rankingsandreviews.com/best-colleges/university-of-california-berkeley-110635/overall-rankings, accessed March 2015
12. University of Southern California, Overall Rankings, U.S. News and World Report, http://colleges.usnews.rankingsandreviews.com/best-colleges/university-of-southern-california-123961/overall-rankings, accessed March 2015

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