Top Universities in California

a beautiful landscape on a bright day
Madeleine Karydes
Madeleine Karydes

Madeleine attended UC Berkeley and double-majored in English and Media Studies. She is now an integral part of the Empowerly team.

The top universities in California are prestigious, and forerunners in their respective fields in many ways. Are you curious if one of these California schools is perfect for you? Let’s take a look at the rankings, and learn a little more about each campus.

Beyond that, we’ll review the most important information to gather if you are able to visit campuses. Each year, students ask us whether they should go on a college tour to learn more about the universities where they are applying. If you’re interested in any California universities, it can make smart travel sense to see a few in one go!

What are you looking for in a California school?

There are some iconic images that probably come to mind when you hear “California.” Whether or not you’re from the Golden State, there’s a lot to appreciate. Palm trees, Hollywood, iced drinks, endless beaches, perfect 73-degree weather ten months of the year… While you can absolutely find those things in your college experience, we have some other criteria in mind, too.

Most of the factors our graphic design superhero, Sophia Minhas, considered are academic. When looking at the (lengthy) list, some of those factors include:

  • Overall cost and value of your degree
  • Acceptance difficulty
  • Average GPA, SAT, and ACT scores of the admitted classes
  • Location
  • Education reputation

Ultimately, we’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: the college you choose should be the right fit for you. While your college experience is important, and you want to make the most of your years, don’t let the concept of California distract you too much from your studies.

Now, let’s look at the Top California Universities according to recent research… 

Above, you can download the graphic if you’d like to read more closely, annotate, and do your own research on this list to see if any of these programs could make it onto your final college list.

Now that you’re ready for your beach vacation–I mean, university tours–let’s get packing.

Keep in mind:

While it’s useful to visit campuses in person so you can gather information, it will not radically change college admissions chances to any school. That being said, college tours offer a chance for parents and students to bond while traveling and learning more about the next transition in life.

Some schools do track visits and engagement, but with millions of data points each day, especially for Ivy League colleges and the like, it is unlikely that one or two college visits will tip the scale for most students. We know schools like Emory and Washington University in St. Louis closely track visits, and we often help students craft these campus tours. If you want more detailed information on a college-by-college basis, feel free to reach out to the Empowerly team.

Best Practices of a College Visit:

If you decide to visit a college, we do recommend a few best practices. First, try to visit during the school year and make return overnight stays at any schools that you are serious about. We recommend doing this for only 2-3 schools, and to include a target school in that group. Many students only visit their reach colleges, which creates what we call the “Dream School Predicament.” Students spend too much time on their reach college applications and end up not polishing target school applications, creating a difference in application quality.

How to Plan a College Tour

Going through the admissions office directly can be valuable, but we actually suggest reaching out to friends or distant high school classmates who are at the school to get an informal college tour. This will give you a real perspective on what goes on, where students hang out, and the campus vibe. Read College Confidential and other blog sites but be cautious. Those sites are best for information about traditions, school life, or parent reflections when doing a college visit.

Take notes. Note down the small instances or things that appeal to you. Maybe it is a fact on the tour that you remember or it’s the smiling student walking to history class. The more specific and detailed evidence you collect, the better you can incorporate these moments into your essays and truly stand out. This is probably the most important activity you can do on any college visit.


The Big Picture

College tours are a great stress relief and an informal introduction to college life. If students and parents understand this fact going in, it will help temper expectations related to admissions. Many schools do track visits, and they can be mentioned during admissions review. However, it is not going to increase admissions chances by 50% – it may help a waitlisted candidate instead be accepted. With this in mind, if you take notes during these tours of very specific moments, and then use these in admissions essays, it can greatly affect the quality of your application. This in turn can boost your chances by 50% at some schools that really do look at essays closely.

Call us today. We will be happy to answer your questions about how to get started and set you up with a complimentary consultation session to share more information about our program and approach. Your road to college admissions and beyond should be as individualized as you are. We are here to help you fall in love with your true best-fit schools, and hopefully, to make the process valuable.

Questions? Let us know!