If your “California dream” is to attend one of the country’s top colleges or universities, you’re in luck!
California, US’s most heavily populated state, is home to some of the largest education systems in the country, including three public segments — the University of California (UC), the California State University (CSU), and the California Community Colleges — and hundreds of private institutions. In total, the state’s colleges and universities enroll almost three million students!
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And their size is matched by quality. Even as the state has shifted its focus and funding to meet increasing demands for community college and online college programs, their public and private universities have continued to rank among the top in the nation.
Overview of Higher Education in California
California boasts 420 higher education institutions, more than any other US state! A 2018-2019 report from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) says that of the 420, 151 are public, 148 are non-profit, and 121 are for-profit.
With so many schools to choose from, many students will compare tuition prices. NCES reported that the average in-state student would pay $8,118 per year to attend one of California’s public 4-year institutions, a considerable amount less than the national average of $9,212. Out-of-state students pay $31,423, on average.
Unlike most states, California does not have a coordinating body that oversees its higher education systems. Instead the state relies heavily on the 1960 California Master Plan for Higher Education, which established University of California (UC) as the primary research institution, and California State University (CSU) as the primary professional institution.
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The plan also guarantees admission to UC or CSU to top high school graduates, and admission to community colleges for all graduates. The state of California is known for having outstanding schools. In US News and World Reports annual rankings for 2021, University of California—Los Angeles is the #1 choice for “Top Public School among National Universities.” A #2 is University of California—Berkeley.
In the “National University” rankings, you’ll find Stanford University and California Institute of Technology among the top 10. Pomona College and Claremont McKenna College rank in the top 10 National Liberal Arts Colleges. At the regional level, 8 of the top 15 schools in the western region are located in California!
About Online Colleges in California
The NCES reports that in 2018, 11.6% of California’s undergraduate and graduate students were enrolled in exclusively online degree programs, while 17.5% were enrolled in a hybrid of online and on-campus courses.
Top universities across California offer online degree programs at all levels. Highly-ranked California Baptist University (CBU) offers more than 40 online bachelor, master and doctorate degree programs. The state’s focus on online learning opportunities is most apparent at the community college level.
When a budget shortfall forced community colleges to turn away more than 600,000 students, California turned to online learning as a budget-friendly way to meet enrollment demands. Schools worked to develop more robust online offerings, and the California Virtual Campus – Online Education Initiative (OEI)) was established to ensure access to and success of those programs.
OEI’s mission to connect the state’s community colleges resulted in the CVC Exchange, launched in Spring 2017. This tool allows students to easily register for an online course at a participating college if that same course is full or unavailable at their home school.
Scholarships and Financial Aid in California
To secure financial aid in California, you will need to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). To complete the FAFSA, you must provide financial information for yourself and your parents (unless you’re considered independent). This will be used to determine what financial aid you are offered.
Be sure to complete the FAFSA as soon as possible. It becomes available each year on October 1, and funds are awarded on a first come, first served bases. If you are not a US citizen, you will need to fill out the California Dream Act Application (CADAA).
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To supplement federal financial aid, California offers the CalGrant program. There are three types of Cal Grants — A, B and C — but you don’t have to figure out which to apply for. Your eligibility will be based on your FAFSA or CADAA responses, your GPA, the colleges you list on your FAFSA and whether you’re a recent high school graduate.
Scholarships are another form of financial aid that does not have to be repaid. Scholarship search sites like Fastweb.com make it easy to find scholarships that are open to you.
Here are a few available to California residents:
|Scholarship Name||Scholarship amount|
|California Association of Collectors Educational Scholarship||1st Place: $2500
2nd Place: $2000
3rd Place: $1500
|Clair A. Hill Scholarship||$5000|
|Dorothy and Robert DeBolt Scholarship||$3000|
|Frederick and Demi Seguritan Scholarship||$5000 per year|
The individual colleges and universities in California also offer their own scholarships and grants, so check with the financial aid office at the school(s) of your choice.
List of Online Colleges in California
Methodology: The following school list is in alphabetical order. To be included, a college or university must be regionally accredited and offer degree programs online or in a hybrid format.
Academy of Art University offers online programs that may be attended part-time or full-time. Students may choose between asynchronous or synchronous classes. The school offers certificate programs and associate, bachelor’s, and master’s degree programs. Fields of study include animation and visual effects, fashion, motion pictures and television, and more.
Academy of Art University is accredited by the WASC Senior College and University Commission.
Azusa Pacific University offers online degree programs that are designed to provide students with a God-focused education. Many of their graduate programs are available in low-residency formats. APU offers certification programs and degree programs for associate through doctorate degrees. Students can earn degrees in the music industry, higher education, criminal justice, and more.
Azusa Pacific University is accredited by the WASC Senior College and University Commission.
Biola University strives to give its students a high-quality education while also integrating Biblical values. Students pursuing bachelor’s degrees take 7 week courses and can choose from degrees like Early Childhood and Biblical Ministries. Master’s degree options include Public Health, Public Relations and Reputation Management, and Intercultural Studies.
Biola University is accredited by the WASC Senior College and University Commission.
California Baptist University is committed to giving its online students a quality education at a fraction of the cost. Bachelor’s students can potentially earn their degrees in 2 years, while master’s and doctoral candidates may be able to finish a year earlier. Students can choose from fields of study like cybersecurity, kinesiology, and sociology.
California Baptist University is accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior College and University Commission.
California Southern University aims to make the online learning experience easier by putting everything students need in one centralized hub. New classes start each month. Students can earn certificates and bachelor’s, master’s, and doctorate degrees in a variety of fields. Degrees offered include a PsyD, a BBA, an MBA, a DBA, and a BS in Nursing.
California Southern University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.
California State University—Bakersfield offers a limited number of bachelor’s and master’s degrees through its Extended Education program. Students can also earn professional certificates and undergo online training. CSUB offers online bachelor’s degrees in communications and sociology. They offer master’s degrees in computer science, social work, education, administration, and kinesiology.
California State University – Bakersfield is accredited by the WASC Senior College and University Commission.
California State University—Chico has a distance and online education program featuring fully online and hybrid degrees. Only some courses are asynchronous. Many of the school’s online classes follow a traditional semester, but some are shortened. Students at Chico State can earn either bachelor’s or master’s degrees. Degree options include a BA in Sociology and an MS in Math Education.
California State University – Chico is accredited by the WASC Senior College and University Commission.
California State University—Dominguez Hills has several recognitions for its distance learning program. Many of its programs are fully online and asynchronous. There are also a few hybrid programs available.
CSUDH offers an online degree completion program for students who have already completed 60 credits towards their bachelor’s degree. There are bachelor’s and master’s degree programs in public administration, science nursing, and more.
CSU Dominguez Hills is accredited by the WASC Senior College and University Commission.
California State University—East Bay offers degree programs that are either fully online or hybrid. Students taking accelerated classes can potentially earn a bachelor’s or master’s degree in just 2 years. Cal State East Bay offers nine degrees, including a BA in Ethnic Studies, a BS in Recreation, and a Master’s in Education Leadership.
Cal State East Bay is accredited by the WASC Senior College and University Commission.
California State University—Fresno’s Continuing and Global Education program offers online degree programs, certification programs, and workshops. Fresno State is dedicated to helping nontraditional students earn degrees and advance in their careers. Students can enroll in undergraduate and graduate programs in fields like business administration, water resource management, and social science.
California State University – Fresno is accredited by the WASC Senior College and University Commission.
California State University—Fullerton is designated as a Hispanic Serving Institution. They work with Extension and International Programs (EIP) to provide students with online degrees. CSUF students can earn their bachelor’s or master’s degrees in a limited number of fields, like business administration or social work. Students may also participate in the Pre-Health Postbaccalaureate program.
California State University – Fullerton is accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior College and University Commission.
California State University—Northridge has offered online degrees for over 20 years. While a good portion of each program can be completed asynchronously, CSUN has virtual, live class meeting requirements. CSUN guarantees a tuition rate lock. Students can earn a Bachelor’s in Public Sector Management or master’s degrees in fields like humanities or taxation.
CSU Northridge is accredited by the WASC Senior College and University Commission.
California State University—Sacramento’s online program is designed to give students virtual classroom experiences and flexible courses to fit into their schedules.
Students can choose from bachelor’s, master’s, and certificate programs in fields like sign language, criminal justice, and emergency medical services (paramedic). Sacramento State also has degree completion programs for those who want to finish their bachelor’s degrees.
California State University – Sacramento is accredited by the WASC Senior College and University Commission.
California State University—San Bernardino gives students the option between entirely online courses and hybrid programs. Some fully online programs still require students to come to campus once near the end of their program. Students can pursue bachelor’s or master’s degrees in several fields, including social sciences, business administration, and nursing.
California State University – San Bernardino is accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges.
California State University—Stanislaus’s online degree programs are only for California residents because the school isn’t authorized to offer online degrees to non-residents.
Stanislaus State offers five different degree programs. Four of the degrees can be earned completely online: the BA in Gender Studies, the BS in Leadership Studies, the BS in Nursing, and the MBA. The MSW in Social Work can be earned in a hybrid program.
CSU Stanislaus is accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges.
Fresno Pacific University is recognized as a Hispanic-Serving Institution. The school is also dedicated to giving students a Christian-focused education along with strong academics. FPU online offers 20 online programs ranging from degree completion to master’s degrees. Online courses are either 6 or 12 weeks long. Students can major in fields like administrative services, school counseling, and more.
Fresno Pacific University is accredited by the WASC Senior College and University Commission.
Golden Gate University has been innovating the online degree experience since 1998. They strive to give online students the same academic excellence as their on-campus counterparts.
Students may attend asynchronous or synchronous classes. GGU isn’t authorized to offer online degrees to students residing in certain states. The school offers certification, bachelor’s, and master’s programs in fields like finance, marketing, and more.
GGU is accredited by WASC Senior College and University Commission.
Hope International University’s goal is to give its online students the same attention on-campus students receive. Courses are taken in 8 week modules, with three modules per term. Students can pursue associate or bachelor’s degrees in fields like human development or Christian ministry. They may pursue master’s degrees in fields like marriage and family therapy or education.
Hope International University is accredited by the WASC Senior College and University Commission.
Humboldt State University is dedicated to providing online students with a high-quality education that is equivalent to what they would get on campus. At Humboldt, online students may pursue 3 different degrees: a BA in Leadership offered in a bachelor’s completion program, an MSW in Social Work, and an MA in Applied Anthropology.
Humboldt State University is accredited by the WASC Senior College and University Commission.
La Sierra University’s School of Education offers hybrid online programs. The programs are mostly online, but most require some on-campus courses as well. Online classes are typically asynchronous with a few synchronous options. New classes start quarterly. Students may pursue an MA in Teaching Elementary Education or an MA in Teaching Secondary Education.
La Sierra University is accredited through the WASC Senior College and University Commission.
National University is dedicated to offering online and on-site programs that fit in with a nontraditional student’s busy life. To help with this, the school offers courses that are just 4 weeks long. NU offers online programs for associate, bachelor’s, master’s, and doctorate degrees and certificates and credentials. Students may major in fields like forensic sciences, paralegal studies, sport psychology, and more.
National University is accredited by the WASC Senior College and University Commission.
Pepperdine University strives to instill Christian values in its rigorous academic programs. Students are typically required to attend live online classes and at least one residency program. Pepperdine offers a Bachelor’s in Management. It also offers several master’s degree programs in areas like clinical psychology, human resources, public policy and leadership, and legal studies.
Pepperdine is accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges—Senior College and University Commission.
San Joaquin Valley College is devoted to preparing students for professional careers immediately after college. SJVC offers accelerated programs to get students into their careers faster. The school offers training, certification, and bachelor’s degree programs. Students can choose to pursue studies in several professional fields, including respiratory therapy, dental hygiene, and health care management.
San Joaquin Valley College is accredited by the WASC Senior College and University Commission.
Santa Barbara City College works to provide students with a convenient way to continue their education. Many programs can be completed entirely online, but some do require experiences on campus. SBCC currently offers associate degrees and certificates, as well as skill competencies and department awards. Areas of study offered include computer information systems and film and media studies.
Santa Barbara City College is accredited by the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges of the Western Association of Schools and Colleges.
Saybrook University has been helping students meet their career goals through distance education since the 1970s. The school offers individualized mentorships that can be accessed throughout their programs. All programs are low residency, but Saybrook has quite a few locations to make it easier for students to attend. Students may pursue master’s or doctorate degrees in fields like mind-body medicine or psychology.
Saybrook University is accredited by the Senior Commission of Western Association of Schools and Colleges.
Stanford University’s online program aims to provide students with a rigorous education from its world-renowned professors. Online degrees come with the prestige of the Stanford name. Stanford Online offers 60 graduate and certificate programs. Students can study in fields like aeronautics and astronautics, genetics and genomics, and artificial intelligence.
Stanford is accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior College and University Commission.
Trident University International offers entirely online degree programs that are accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC). Trident strives to provide students with an affordable and flexible education from an elite college. Students may pursue associate, bachelor’s, master’s, or doctorate degrees. Fields of study offered include homeland security, educational leadership, and information technology management.
Trident University International is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.
The University of California—Los Angeles offers continuing education programs for learners looking to finish their education, advance in their careers, or switch careers. The school is divided into several centers focused on specific fields. Students may earn graduate certificates in fields like entertainment, law, medicine, early childhood education, dentistry, and neuroscience.
UCLA is accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges.
The University of Laverne offers bachelor’s, master’s, and doctorate degrees, many of which can be completed entirely online. Online degrees are currently only available in certain states. U.S. News & World Report ranked Laverne as one of the top online colleges for bachelor’s degrees. Students may earn degrees in fields like nursing or public administration.
The University of La Verne is accredited by the Senior College Commission of the
Students at the University of San Diego may earn their graduate degrees while continuing to work. Courses are asynchronous to help fit students’ schedules. Students may earn master’s degrees in a variety of fields, including humanitarian action and cybersecurity. USD is authorized to offer degrees to residents of all but nine states.
The University of San Diego is accredited by the Western Association and Schools and Colleges.
The University of San Francisco is rooted in the Jesuit faith and, as such, has a deep commitment to social justice and helping others in the community. Students in USF’s online degree programs earn the same diplomas as their counterparts attending on campus. USF currently offers an MS in Nursing and a Master of Public Health.
The University of San Francisco is accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior College and University Commission.
Vanguard University is committed to offering students an academically rigorous, Christ-centered education. Its online programs are designed to provide students with the same education students on campus receive.
Programs are designed to be flexible to fit into the schedules of working adults and nontraditional students. Students may continue their education in academic fields like nursing, psychology, anti-human trafficking, theology, and early childhood.
Vanguard is accredited by the WASC Senior College and University Commission.
California’s higher education system is vast, with thousands of degree programs available to millions of students. But even with such staggering numbers, California’s colleges and universities continue to be recognized as the best because of the state’s dedication to providing access to and success in higher education.