Online Colleges in California

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If your “California dream” is to attend one of the country’s top colleges or universities, you’re in luck!

Online Colleges in California

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!

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 programs, their public and private universities have continued to rank among the top in the nation.

Overview of Higher Education in California

Student getting online college degree in one of California's colleges

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. 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

Online college student from California, attending class lecture

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

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).

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 make it easy to find scholarships that are open to you.

Here are a few available to California residents:


Scholarship Name Details

Scholarship amount

California Association of Collectors Educational Scholarship High School Juniors and Seniors who will be attending an accredited college, university or trade school within 12 months; Essay required

1st Place: $2500
2nd Place: $2000

3rd Place: $1500

Frederick and Demi Seguritan Scholarship


First Generation Asian-American who will be a freshman at an accredited 4-year school; Academic and financial requirements

$5000 per year

Dorothy and Robert DeBolt Scholarship


California youth who was adopted after being in California foster system


Clair A. Hill Scholarship


UC or CSU student pursuing a degree in water resources field


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

Online Colleges in California Location Annual Tuition Accreditation Application Fee
Humboldt State University Arcata, California $7,209  Regional  $55
Azusa Pacific University Azusa, California $36,120  Regional  $45
California State University – Bakersfield Bakersfield, California $6,857  Regional  $55
California State University – Dominguez Hills Carson, California $6,423  Regional  $55
California State University – Chico Chico, California $7,040  Regional  $55
Vanguard University Costa Mesa, California $31,430  Regional  $45
Trident University International Cypress, California $9,000  Regional  $0
California State University – Fresno Fresno, California $6,313  Regional  $55
Fresno Pacific University Fresno, California $29,320  Regional  $40
California State University – Fullerton Fullerton, California $6,560  Regional  $55
Hope International University Fullerton, California $30,550  Regional  $40
California State University – East Bay Hayward, California $6,564  Regional  $55
LA Film School Hollywood, California $29,520 National  $75
Brandman University Irvine, California $12,300  Regional  $0
National University La Jolla, California $13,016  Regional  $60
Biola University La Mirada, California $36,696  Regional  $45
University of La Verne La Verne, California $39,900  Regional  $50
Abraham Lincoln University Los Angeles, California $30,500 National $50
California Southern University Los Angeles, California $9,000  Regional  $75
University of California – Los Angeles Los Angeles, California $12,920  Regional  $70
University of Southern California Los Angeles, California $52,283  Regional  $80
Pepperdine University Malibu, California $50,022  Regional  $65
California State University – Northridge Northridge, California $6,587  Regional  $55
Saybrook University Oakland, California $23,589  Regional  $0
California Baptist University Riverside, California $31,372  Regional  $45
La Sierra University Riverside, California $31,590  Regional  $0
California State University – Sacramento Sacramento, California $6,900  Regional  $55
California State University – San Bernardino San Bernardino, California $6,610  Regional  $55
California Miramar University San Diego, California $7,960  National  $0
University of San Diego San Diego, California $46,140  Regional  $55
Academy of Art University San Francisco, California $24,664  Regional  $100
Golden Gate University San Francisco, California $15,205  Regional  $55
University of San Francisco San Francisco, California $44,494  Regional  $65
Santa Barbara City College Santa Barbara, California $1,374  Regional  $46
Stanford University Stanford, California $47,940  Regional  $90
California State University – Stanislaus Turlock, California $6,728  Regional  $55
San Joaquin Valley College Visalia, California $30,175  Regional  $0


A group of college students from a university in California

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.

Ready to start your journey?
Elizabeth Abner
WRITTEN BY Elizabeth Abner

Elizabeth is pursuing a Doctor of Philosophy in Foreign Policy and earned her master's degree in business administration. For her undergraduate studies, she earned a Bachelor of Arts in Business Administration with a concentration in international business. Elizabeth's research is focused on universities offering online degree programs.