Best Value Colleges in California

The California College ROI Report shows students and their families which California colleges provide the highest return on investment for their educational dollars.  Read More

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1Harvey Mudd College(Private)
20 Year Net ROI$985,300
Total 4 Year Cost$237,700
Grad Rate91%
Time to Graduate4 Years
Loan Amt$21,920
2California Institute of Technology (Caltech)(Private)
20 Year Net ROI$901,400
Total 4 Year Cost$221,600
Grad Rate93%
Time to Graduate4 Years
Loan Amt$22,160
3Stanford University(Private)
20 Year Net ROI$809,700
Total 4 Year Cost$233,300
Grad Rate96%
Time to Graduate4 Years
Loan Amt$29,880
4University of California - Berkeley(In-State)
20 Year Net ROI$703,100
Total 4 Year Cost$129,900
Grad Rate91%
Time to Graduate4 Years
Loan Amt$23,360
5California Polytechnic State University (CalPoly) - San Luis Obispo(In-State)
20 Year Net ROI$669,800
Total 4 Year Cost$93,200
Grad Rate70%
Time to Graduate5 Years
Loan Amt$23,360
6University of California - San Diego (UCSD)(In-State)
20 Year Net ROI$625,000
Total 4 Year Cost$118,000
Grad Rate86%
Time to Graduate4 Years
Loan Amt$22,440
7California Polytechnic State University (CalPoly) - San Luis Obispo(Out-of-State)
20 Year Net ROI$624,600
Total 4 Year Cost$138,400
Grad Rate70%
Time to Graduate5 Years
Loan Amt$23,360
8University of California - Berkeley(Out-of-State)
20 Year Net ROI$611,600
Total 4 Year Cost$221,400
Grad Rate91%
Time to Graduate4 Years
Loan Amt$23,360
9Santa Clara University(Private)
20 Year Net ROI$596,200
Total 4 Year Cost$226,800
Grad Rate84%
Time to Graduate4 Years
Loan Amt$27,120
10Saint Mary's College of California(Private)
20 Year Net ROI$561,000
Total 4 Year Cost$222,000
Grad Rate68%
Time to Graduate4 Years
Loan Amt$36,640
11California State Polytechnic University - Pomona(In-State)
20 Year Net ROI$559,100
Total 4 Year Cost$83,900
Grad Rate52%
Time to Graduate5 Years
Loan Amt$23,360
12San Jose State University (SJSU)(In-State)
20 Year Net ROI$540,000
Total 4 Year Cost$93,000
Grad Rate48%
Time to Graduate5 Years
Loan Amt$20,960
13University of California - Irvine (UCI)(In-State)
20 Year Net ROI$535,000
Total 4 Year Cost$118,000
Grad Rate86%
Time to Graduate4 Years
Loan Amt$21,440
14University of California - San Diego (UCSD)(Out-of-State)
20 Year Net ROI$533,500
Total 4 Year Cost$209,500
Grad Rate86%
Time to Graduate4 Years
Loan Amt$22,440
15California State Polytechnic University - Pomona(Out-of-State)
20 Year Net ROI$514,000
Total 4 Year Cost$129,000
Grad Rate52%
Time to Graduate5 Years
Loan Amt$23,360

*NOTE: Unranked schools on this list don’t have on-campus living options, so on-campus costs are not available.

Students who attend college in the Golden State enjoy some of the best values for college education along with sunny weather, beaches, mountains and some of the most exciting and beautiful cities in the world. Whether you want to attend college in California because of the academic prestige, high college ROI or just because of the sunshine, consider using PayScale's data to research the best value colleges in California before you apply.

When it comes to college return on investment, California is home to some of the best 20 year net ROIs in the country. Harvey Mudd College in Claremont, California, has the highest return on investment of any college in the United States. Alumni who attend Harvey Mudd report a net profit of $985,300 over 20 years, even when they pay full price (no financial aid) to attend school. With the average financial aid figures from Harvey Mudd lowering the cost and attending the school, the 20 Year ROI for Havey Mudd alumni soars to $1,104,500.

Why do Harvey Mudd alumni earn so much? Harvey Mudd is a competitive, highly academic school, and the vast majority of its students earn STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) degrees that lead to very high-paying jobs, like engineers, technologists, software developers, etc. This has made Harvey Mudd a hotspot for tech and engineering companies and led to high alumni salaries. Harvey Mudd is the alma mater of some famous astronauts, including George "Pinky" Nelson and Stan Love.

But Harvey Mudd isn't the only private engineering school that dominates both the national and California College ROI Report rankings. The second highest college ROI in the state goes to The California Institute of Technology, commonly called Caltech, in Pasadena. Caltech alumni report a median return of investment of $901,400 in twenty years after graduating. Like Harvey Mudd, Caltech is an engineering powerhouse, and is home to NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Famous Caltech alumni include Harold McGhee, food scientist; Astronaut and United States Senator Harrison Schmitt and more. 18 Caltech alumni have won a Nobel Prize.

Even though it is a private school, Stanford University is one of the best value colleges California students graduate from. Stanford, home to the Cardinals, is often called "The Ivy League of the West" and actually beats all the real Ivy League Schools in terms of best return on investment. The 20 Year Net ROI of a Stanford education is $809,700. Since Stanford is located in Palo Alto, the heart of the Silicon Valley, it's no surprise that super talented alumni go on to earn high salaries and get a good value for their tuition money.

California is also home to one of the most famous public college systems in the world, the University of California colleges. The UC system provides real value of college education California residents benefit from. It includes 10 campuses: Berkeley, often referred to as "Cal," Davis, Irvine (UCI), Los Angeles (UCLA), Merced, Riverside, Santa Barbara (UCSB), Santa Cruz, San Diego (UCSD) and San Francisco. UC schools offer a great value, especially for in-state residents -- the cost of attending a University of California school for California residents is less than half of that of most private colleges, and at some campuses, like The University of California, Irvine, up to 48 percent of students qualify for Pell Grants and receive financial aid. Berkeley boasts the highest ROI of any UC school over 20 years ($703,100, or $769,900 with the average financial aid package included), followed by UC San Diego (located in La Jolla). UC Irvine, in Orange County, and UCLA, in Westwood, also rank high in terms of college return on investment California students use to build strong careers.