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.

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RankSchool Name20 Year Net ROI
Total 4 Year Cost
Graduation Rate
Typical Years to Graduate
Average Loan Amount
Rank:1School Name:20 Year Net ROI:$1,140,000Total 4 Year Cost:$272,000Graduation Rate:93%Typical Years to Graduate:4Average Loan Amount:$25,500
Rank:2School Name:20 Year Net ROI:$919,000Total 4 Year Cost:$250,000Graduation Rate:94%Typical Years to Graduate:4Average Loan Amount:$30,900
Rank:3School Name:20 Year Net ROI:$897,000Total 4 Year Cost:$87,700Graduation Rate:62%Typical Years to Graduate:4Average Loan Amount:$28,600
Rank:4School Name:20 Year Net ROI:$853,000Total 4 Year Cost:$132,000Graduation Rate:62%Typical Years to Graduate:4Average Loan Amount:$28,600
Rank:5School Name:20 Year Net ROI:$840,000Total 4 Year Cost:$255,000Graduation Rate:94%Typical Years to Graduate:4Average Loan Amount:$32,200
Rank:6School Name:20 Year Net ROI:$792,000Total 4 Year Cost:$139,000Graduation Rate:92%Typical Years to Graduate:4Average Loan Amount:$23,900
Rank:7School Name:20 Year Net ROI:$730,000Total 4 Year Cost:$262,000Graduation Rate:93%Typical Years to Graduate:4Average Loan Amount:$23,900
Rank:8School Name:20 Year Net ROI:$716,000Total 4 Year Cost:$100,000Graduation Rate:80%Typical Years to Graduate:5Average Loan Amount:$22,500
Rank:9School Name:20 Year Net ROI:$695,000Total 4 Year Cost:$236,000Graduation Rate:92%Typical Years to Graduate:4Average Loan Amount:$23,900
Rank:10School Name:20 Year Net ROI:$695,000Total 4 Year Cost:$251,000Graduation Rate:89%Typical Years to Graduate:4Average Loan Amount:$26,400

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. 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 three of the colleges with some of the highest 20-year net ROIs are private schools. The California Institute of Technology, known as 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, 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 sometimes beats all the real Ivy League Schools in terms of best return on investment nationally. 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. The University of California at Berkeley is the oldest UC school and almost always boasts the highest ROI.