Best Value Colleges in California

California is home to more colleges than any other state in the country, and PayScale has the data to help you find out which California colleges provide the highest return on investment for students and their families.

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.  Read More

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1California Institute of Technology (Caltech)(Private)
20 Year Net ROI$973,000
Total 4 Year Cost$230,000
Grad Rate92%
Time to Graduate4 Years
Loan Amt$19,000
2Harvey Mudd College(Private)
20 Year Net ROI$945,000
Total 4 Year Cost$249,000
Grad Rate90%
Time to Graduate4 Years
Loan Amt$24,400
3Stanford University(Private)
20 Year Net ROI$854,000
Total 4 Year Cost$240,000
Grad Rate95%
Time to Graduate4 Years
Loan Amt$29,100
4University of California - Berkeley(In-State)
20 Year Net ROI$806,000
Total 4 Year Cost$133,000
Grad Rate91%
Time to Graduate4 Years
Loan Amt$23,300
5University of California - Berkeley(Out-of-State)
20 Year Net ROI$715,000
Total 4 Year Cost$225,000
Grad Rate91%
Time to Graduate4 Years
Loan Amt$23,300
6California Polytechnic State University (CalPoly) - San Luis Obispo(In-State)
20 Year Net ROI$698,000
Total 4 Year Cost$96,300
Grad Rate75%
Time to Graduate5 Years
Loan Amt$23,400
7California Polytechnic State University (CalPoly) - San Luis Obispo(Out-of-State)
20 Year Net ROI$653,000
Total 4 Year Cost$141,000
Grad Rate75%
Time to Graduate5 Years
Loan Amt$23,400
8University of California - San Diego (UCSD)(In-State)
20 Year Net ROI$643,000
Total 4 Year Cost$121,000
Grad Rate86%
Time to Graduate4 Years
Loan Amt$22,600
9Santa Clara University(Private)
20 Year Net ROI$609,000
Total 4 Year Cost$235,000
Grad Rate85%
Time to Graduate4 Years
Loan Amt$29,400
10San Jose State University (SJSU)(In-State)
20 Year Net ROI$597,000
Total 4 Year Cost$96,600
Grad Rate52%
Time to Graduate5 Years
Loan Amt$21,900
11California State Polytechnic University - Pomona(In-State)
20 Year Net ROI$585,000
Total 4 Year Cost$89,200
Grad Rate56%
Time to Graduate5 Years
Loan Amt$22,700
12University of California - Los Angeles (UCLA)(In-State)
20 Year Net ROI$555,000
Total 4 Year Cost$129,000
Grad Rate91%
Time to Graduate4 Years
Loan Amt$25,000
13San Jose State University (SJSU)(Out-of-State)
20 Year Net ROI$552,000
Total 4 Year Cost$142,000
Grad Rate52%
Time to Graduate5 Years
Loan Amt$21,900
14University of California - San Diego (UCSD)(Out-of-State)
20 Year Net ROI$551,000
Total 4 Year Cost$213,000
Grad Rate86%
Time to Graduate4 Years
Loan Amt$22,600
15California State Polytechnic University - Pomona(Out-of-State)
20 Year Net ROI$540,000
Total 4 Year Cost$134,000
Grad Rate56%
Time to Graduate5 Years
Loan Amt$22,700

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

But California is also home to some of the best public and private colleges in the country, both in terms of academic prestige and in terms of alumni outcomes. 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.

California is famous for its public school system, but the three colleges with the highest 20-year net ROIs are private schools. The California Institute of Technology, known as CalTech, provides the highest ROI overall. In the 20 years after graduation, alumni earn a 20-year net ROI of $973,000. CalTech is famous for its association with NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), and is located in Pasadena. Famous Caltech alumni include Harold McGhee, food scientist; Astronaut and United States Senator Harrison Schmitt and more. Eighteen Caltech alumni have won a Nobel Prize.

Harvey Mudd College in Claremont, California, has the third-highest return on investment of any college in the United States and the second-highest in the state of California. Alumni who attend Harvey Mudd report a net profit of $945,000 over 20 years, even when they pay full price to attend the school. Harvey Mudd is the alma mater of some famous astronauts, including George "Pinky" Nelson and Stan Love.

Why do Harvey Mudd and CalTech alumni earn so much? Both are competitive, highly academic schools, and focus almost exclusively on STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) degrees that lead to very high-paying jobs, like engineers, technologists, software developers, etc. They are also located close to big engineering employers and just a few hours from the Silicon Valley.

Though not a true Ivy League school, Stanford 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 nationally. The 20-year net ROI of a Stanford education is $854,000 without financial aid, and over a million dollars with the average financial aid package factored in. (It should be noted that Stanford guarantees financial assistance for all students who demonstrate need if they are accepted, however, getting in is hard. Stanford is one of the most selective schools in the country.) 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. The UC system provides real value for California residents. 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.

The University of California at Berkeley is the oldest UC school and boasts the highest ROI. The Golden Bears have the highest annualized ROI of any California college.