Online Colleges in California

California has long had a history of working to serve its students at all academic levels, from implementing accessibility programs to enabling a range of student-focused initiatives within the statewide university systems. In the 165 years since the founding of the state's first institute of higher learning in Santa Clara County, the educational culture in California has moved to embrace provisions for an ever wider variety of students and their goals.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), there were more than 350 campus-based and online schools and colleges in California in 2016. Here's a table that shows which cities in California have the largest number of students living in them, along with additional data on population and educational attainment from the U.S. Census Bureau:

City Total estimated population
(U.S. Census, 2015)
No. of enrolled students
(NCES, 2016)
Student population percentage % of residents with bachelor's degrees
(U.S. Census, 2015)
Los Angeles 3,971,883 165,160 4.15 percent 31.5 percent
San Diego 1,394,928 98,451 7.05 percent 42.3 percent
Sacramento 490,712 96,266 19.6 percent 29.3 percent
San Francisco 864,816 65,762 7.60 percent 52.9 percent
Fullerton 140,847 64,508 45.8 percent 37.1 percent
San Jose 1,026,908 50,918 4.95 percent 38.2 percent
Fresno 520,052 48,944 9.41 percent 20.1 percent

Online Schools in California

Students interested in a broader survey of the online schools and colleges in California can check out this map. It shows the location of the colleges in California that report offering online undergraduate or graduate degrees, based on data from the NCES. (Mobile users may need to visit the full Schools.com site to use the map.)

Online Education Options in California

There are a couple of distinct upsides to earning your degree through online programs. In California, schools may ask less per credit hour for coursework delivered online, which can be a welcome break to students living in big cities or other expensive areas, and the relaxed scheduling and travel requirements can make it possible for residents of rural parts of the state whose physical distance from a campus-based school has been the main obstacle to their continued education.

Some schools and colleges in California are offering world-class degrees, also — take a look at what some of the national and international ranking agencies are saying about a few of the campus-based and online programs in California.

Globally Ranked Traditional and Online Colleges in California

The Center for World University Rankings (CWUR) combines data from eight institutional criteria, including quality of education and faculty, alumni employment, number of patents owned and volume of citations in research journals. Here are some of the California schools that fell among the top 100 in the most recent CWUR report:

  • Stanford University: No. 2
  • University of California, Berkeley: No. 7
  • California Institute of Technology: No. 11
  • University of California, Los Angeles: No. 15
  • University of California, San Diego: No. 17
  • University of California, San Francisco: No. 18
  • University of Southern California: No. 44
  • University of California, Davis: No. 49
  • University of California, Santa Barbara: No. 58
  • University of California, Irvine: No. 88

Other California schools also made the full list of 1,000 campuses worldwide — UC Santa Cruz at No. 150, UC Riverside at No. 217 and San Diego State University at 376, most notably — and online degrees can be had at even some of the top 50 universities in the world.

Top Degree Programs at Online Colleges in California

U.S. News and World Report ranks online degrees in several subjects, and a few of the online programs in California have made very impressive showings over the last few years. Graduate programs tended to get more attention than online undergraduate degrees in 2016, particularly among California schools with high marks for name recognition:

  • The University of California, Los Angeles, for example, took home the No. 1 spot in the nation for online graduate programs in engineering.
  • The University of Southern California — where, incidentally, the No.2 graduate engineering program is based — was deemed best in the nation for online computer information technology degrees.
  • California State University, Fullerton and California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo also both made the U.S. News top 25 for online engineering degrees.

Lesser-known schools and colleges in California were recognized more for their online bachelor's programs in the 2016 U.S. News report:

  • The University of La Verne was the top school in the state for online undergrads, tying for No. 24 nationwide.
  • California Baptist University in Riverside came in second on that list among California schools.
  • Brandman University in Irvine rounded out the statewide top 3 with a national rank of No. 47 for its online undergraduate degrees.

California also houses four institutions that can lay claim to an uncommon distinction. Forbes assessed the programs of 400 top U.S. colleges and universities and found that:

  • Harvey Mudd College in Claremont and the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena were among the 10 best schools in the country for women in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields in the past decade (2010).
  • What's more, Westmont College in Santa Barbara and California State University, Chico made the top 15 for STEM schools serving ethnic and cultural minority students.

Industries and Degrees to Get in California

Job market projections from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) and the State of California Employment Development Department suggest massive growth for select occupations over the next several years. Here's a quick list of degrees available at traditional and online schools in California that relate to some of the hotter jobs on the statewide market:

  • Job openings for market research analysts are expected to increase almost 40 percent in California between 2014 and 2024, according to state projections. If you're thinking about market research as a career — one with a statewide mean wage of $81,250 in 2015, according to the BLS — you can go a few different ways with your education. Naturally, earning a degree in market research can help, and those trained in statistics or mathematics tend to be highly sought-after, but graduates with degrees in psychology, sociology, communications or business also have sturdy prospects in the field.
  • Degrees in business administration have long been among the most popular study plans in the country, and the most recent numbers released by the Employment Development Department show that several of the careers in that discipline are shortly expected to experience considerable gains. Jobs for logisticians, for example, who coordinate supply chain dynamics for an organization, are projected to increase by at least 2,500 by 2014. The Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree is a common rung on this professional ladder, and several online programs in California can help you earn one on your own time.
  • Technical medical professions are part of another fast-rising occupational group, and diagnostic medical sonographers are the current statistical period's standout example of this trend. Statewide figures place sonography at No. 12 on the list of fastest growing professions, citing an expected expansion of 42.6 percent. Completing a formal education in sonography is the most direct way to qualify for a chance at the statewide mean annual sonographer's wage of $95,880, although it's up to the employer whether a certificate, associate degree or bachelor's degree is most desirable.
  • It's not just the technical side of health care that's growing, either. Jobs at all levels of the nursing profession are projected to see considerable employment growth on the current statewide forecast. There's a 28 percent increase expected in career opportunities for nurse practitioners, 25.7 percent growth in positions for licensed vocational nurses and a 20 percent rise in nurse anesthetist positions. Some nursing jobs require more schooling than others, often including a RN to BSN degree or a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) program, but academic nursing programs are among some of the more common degrees available online and often can have their schedules tailored to suit a working nurse's busy professional life.
  • It would be off-brand for California not to have a hot market for tech jobs, and the current projections scarcely disappoint in that regard. Biomedical engineering finds itself among the 15 fastest-growing fields in the state with its expected growth of 42.6 percent, while computer-focused jobs such as information security analyst (36.5 percent) and computer systems analyst (27 percent) are also forecast to grow quite a bit faster than the statewide mean of 13.4 percent. While biomedical engineers typically need a master's degree targeted to their specific discipline, many other tech jobs in California look for candidates with training in computer science, information systems or software engineering.

Featured Online Schools in California

It would take more space than we have here to list the high points of every single one of the campus-based and online colleges in California, but we can definitely pick out a few and showcase their top subjects of study. Here's a table that lists a handful of California schools and a few of their notable academic programs:

Institution name Online degrees? Top programs
Stanford University No Business, education, engineering, law, math, medical research, biological sciences, chemistry, physics, Earth sciences, computer science, economics, English, fine arts, history, political science, psychology, sociology, statistics
University of California, Los Angeles Yes Business, law, primary care medicine, engineering (on campus and online), public health, social work, nursing, public affairs, clinical psychology, political science, physics, math, history, library and information studies, fine arts, education, health care management, economics
University of Southern California Yes Engineering (on campus and online), computer science (on campus and online), public affairs, physical therapy, occupational therapy, pharmacy, physician assisting, law, education, business
San Diego State University Yes Nursing, public health, psychology, rehabilitation counseling, health care management, clinical psychology, speech-language pathology, fine arts, education (online and on campus), social work, audiology, engineering, chemistry
California State University, Fullerton Yes

Engineering (online), nursing, graduate business (online), fine arts, public affairs, social work, education (online), speech-language pathology

San Jose State University Yes Occupational therapy, library and information studies, social work, fine arts, public affairs, speech-language pathology, graduate nursing
University of San Francisco Yes

Graduate nursing (on campus and online), law, education (on campus and online), public affairs, business

Check out our listings on the page for more on-campus and online schools in California and get enrolled today.

1. History, Santa Clara University, accessed July 25, 2016, https://www.scu.edu/aboutscu/history/;
2. College Navigator, National Center for Education Statistics, accessed July 25, 2016, http://nces.ed.gov/collegenavigator/?s=CA
3. QuickFacts, U.S. Census Bureau, accessed July 25, 2016: Los Angeles city, California, http://www.census.gov/quickfacts/table/PST045215/0644000; San Diego city, California, http://www.census.gov/quickfacts/table/PST045215/0666000; Sacramento city, California, http://www.census.gov/quickfacts/table/PST045215/0664000,00; San Francisco city, California, http://www.census.gov/quickfacts/table/PST045215/0667000,00; Fullerton city, California, http://www.census.gov/quickfacts/table/PST045215/0628000; San Jose city, California, http://www.census.gov/quickfacts/table/PST045215/0668000; Fresno city, California, http://www.census.gov/quickfacts/table/PST045215/0627000;
4. Top Universities, USA, Center for World University Rankings, accessed July 25, 2016, http://cwur.org/2015/usa.html
5. U.S. News and World Report, accessed July 25, 2016: Best Online Graduate Engineering Programs, http://www.usnews.com/education/online-education/engineering/rankings; Best Online Bachelor's Programs, http://www.usnews.com/education/online-education/bachelors/rankings?page=2
6. Overall Rankings, U.S. News and World Report, accessed July 25, 2016: Stanford University, http://colleges.usnews.rankingsandreviews.com/best-colleges/stanford-university-243744/overall-rankings; University of California - Los Angeles, http://colleges.usnews.rankingsandreviews.com/best-colleges/university-of-california-los-angeles-110662/overall-rankings; University of Southern California, http://colleges.usnews.rankingsandreviews.com/best-colleges/university-of-southern-california-123961/overall-rankings; California State University - Fullerton, http://colleges.usnews.rankingsandreviews.com/best-colleges/california-state-university-fullerton-110565/overall-rankings; San Diego State University, http://colleges.usnews.rankingsandreviews.com/best-colleges/san-diego-state-university-122409/overall-rankings; University of San Francisco, http://colleges.usnews.rankingsandreviews.com/best-colleges/university-of-san-francisco-122612/overall-rankings; San Jose State University, colleges.usnews.rankingsandreviews.com/best-colleges/university-of-san-francisco-122612/overall-rankings
7. Occupational Projections of Employment, Employment Development Department, State of California, accessed July 25, 2016, http://www.labormarketinfo.edd.ca.gov/cgi/dataanalysis/occprjReport.asp?menuchoice=occprj
8. Occupational Outlook Handbook, Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, accessed July 25, 2016: Market Research Analysts, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/business-and-financial/market-research-analysts.htm; Diagnostic Medical Sonographers and Cardiovascular Technologists and Technicians, Including Vascular Technologists, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/Healthcare/Diagnostic-medical-sonographers.htm; Biomedical Engineers, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/architecture-and-engineering/biomedical-engineers.htm; Logisticians, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/business-and-financial/logisticians.htm
9. Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2015, Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, accessed July 25, 2016: Market Research Analysts and Marketing Specialists, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes131161.htm; Diagnostic Medical Sonographers, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes292032.htm
10 Forbes, Best Colleges for Women and Minorities in STEM, accessed July 25, 2016: Article, http://www.forbes.com/2010/12/10/best-colleges-minorities-women-science-lifestyle-education-stem.html; Table, http://www.forbes.com/2010/12/10/best-colleges-minorities-women-science-lifestyle-education-stem-table.html

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