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

Find Out Exactly What You
Should Be Paid

46University of California - Santa Cruz (UCSC)(In-State)
20 Year Net ROI$349,000
Total 4 Year Cost$135,000
Grad Rate77%
Time to Graduate4 Years
Loan Amt$23,400
47 (tie)San Diego State University (SDSU) - Main Campus(Out-of-State)
20 Year Net ROI$347,000
Total 4 Year Cost$148,000
Grad Rate66%
Time to Graduate5 Years
Loan Amt$23,900
47 (tie)University of Redlands(Private)
20 Year Net ROI$347,000
Total 4 Year Cost$238,000
Grad Rate69%
Time to Graduate4 Years
Loan Amt$30,500
49 (tie)California State University - Long Beach (CSULB)(Out-of-State)
20 Year Net ROI$346,000
Total 4 Year Cost$136,000
Grad Rate65%
Time to Graduate5 Years
Loan Amt$22,000
49 (tie)Sonoma State University(In-State)
20 Year Net ROI$346,000
Total 4 Year Cost$95,900
Grad Rate55%
Time to Graduate5 Years
Loan Amt$23,400
51California State University - Stanislaus(In-State)
20 Year Net ROI$343,000
Total 4 Year Cost$83,600
Grad Rate53%
Time to Graduate5 Years
Loan Amt$20,800
52California State University - Fresno (Fresno State)(Out-of-State)
20 Year Net ROI$338,000
Total 4 Year Cost$127,000
Grad Rate52%
Time to Graduate5 Years
Loan Amt$20,300
53California State University - Northridge (CSUN)(Out-of-State)
20 Year Net ROI$337,000
Total 4 Year Cost$135,000
Grad Rate47%
Time to Graduate5 Years
Loan Amt$19,800
54 (tie)Notre Dame de Namur University (NDNU)(Private)
20 Year Net ROI$330,000
Total 4 Year Cost$199,000
Grad Rate53%
Time to Graduate4 Years
Loan Amt$27,900
54 (tie)University of San Diego (USD)(Private)
20 Year Net ROI$330,000
Total 4 Year Cost$236,000
Grad Rate77%
Time to Graduate4 Years
Loan Amt$30,100
56Holy Names College(Private)
20 Year Net ROI$329,000
Total 4 Year Cost$200,000
Grad Rate50%
Time to Graduate5 Years
Loan Amt$31,700
57California State University - Fullerton (CSUF)(Out-of-State)
20 Year Net ROI$325,000
Total 4 Year Cost$142,000
Grad Rate56%
Time to Graduate5 Years
Loan Amt$21,800
58Menlo College(Private)
20 Year Net ROI$323,000
Total 4 Year Cost$217,000
Grad Rate43%
Time to Graduate4 Years
Loan Amt$27,700
59California College of the Arts(Private)
20 Year Net ROI$321,000
Total 4 Year Cost$229,000
Grad Rate54%
Time to Graduate5 Years
Loan Amt$27,500
60Pepperdine University(Private)
20 Year Net ROI$319,000
Total 4 Year Cost$250,000
Grad Rate84%
Time to Graduate4 Years
Loan Amt$28,400

*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 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.