UC Schools Ranked: Discover The Best UC Schools in 2024

10/06/202451 minute read
UC Schools Ranked: Discover The Best UC Schools in 2024

As the CEO of Crimson Education, and having steered thousands of students through the maze of college admissions, I often get asked: “Which University of California school is the best?”

My answer? It really depends — on you, your goals, and what you’re looking for. While all UC schools offer great academic rigor and vibrant student life, each campus has its own unique setting, character, and ethos, in addition to distinctions based on academic offerings and majors.

Having worked closely with many students, I’ve learned that picking the “best” UC school is really about the “right fit,” but with nine different campuses to consider, navigating all the exciting options can feel a bit overwhelming.

Fortunately, getting a wide-angle view across all the campuses in one snapshot could be extremely helpful. So let’s do just that.

I am going to walk you through what makes each UC school stand out based on a wide array of factors, and I’ll highlight some of the key takeaways as we consider each metric.

Whether you're dreaming of a vibrant city campus, a school adorned with Nobel Laureates, an Oxford-style collegiate atmosphere, or a stunning coastal setting, you’ll find one or more UC schools offering what you want, along with other attractive features.

UC Schools: Attractive for So Many Reasons

The University of California (UC) system is a paragon of public higher education in the United States, with campuses renowned for blending top-tier research, student body diversity, and unwavering commitments to public service.

Established in 1868 with its flagship campus in Berkeley, the UC system has grown exponentially, but still barely keeps pace with demand, and now boasts nine unique campuses in locations across California.

Each UC school has its unique identity, strengths, and specialties. From Nobel laureates to pioneers in technology, arts, and social sciences, the UC system has been home to individuals who have left an indelible mark on the global stage.

As hubs of research and innovation, UC campuses have no doubt helped California’s economy rival those of entire countries, fueling groundbreaking discoveries in fields ranging from medicine to technology and giving birth to startups that have become global giants.

In addition to Silicon Valley’s global tech titans, UC schools, students, and researchers enjoy proximity to prestigious aerospace institutes such as the Ames Research Center, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and Lawrence-Berkeley/Lawrence Livermore National Laboratories — and now NASA is making plans to move in over the next decade as well.

And, let’s not forget California’s emerging biotech hubs, Hollywood’s global footprint in entertainment culture and business, as well as the state’s robust agricultural sector and highly diverse workforce…

Publicly funded, UC Schools also embody a strong commitment to diversity in a highly diverse state, so outside the classroom each campus thrives with public interest groups, cultural events, diverse student organizations, and abundant personal and professional growth opportunities.

Uc Shools Share

One UC System — Nine Different UC Experiences

Great as the UC schools are system-wide, to really appreciate the lure of a UC education you need to explore the system’s dynamic network of individual campuses to find the one that’s right for you.

Case in point, I’ve worked with certain students vying to get accepted to UC Berkeley, others laser-focused on attending UC Santa Cruz — students with very different interests and preferences informing their choices.

I can tell you that the UC Berkeley applicants were looking for high levels of challenge and lots of opportunities to establish professional networks, hardly a match for the relatively remote coastal hills and counter-culture atmosphere of UC Santa Cruz.

Likewise, the UC Santa Cruz applicants, enchanted by the allure of a more contemplative environment and the collegiate structure, would have felt out of place at the more impersonal and competitive UC Berkeley campus.

With each campus presenting such distinct characteristics, benefits, and opportunities, it’s crucial to find the campus that’s truly a good fit for your values, personality, and academic interests.

Introducing the Nine (or Ten) UC Campuses

Here are the individual UC Campuses you need to get to know and before you choose where to apply:

Additionally, the UC system includes a tenths campus, the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF). Unlike the other campuses, UCSF is exclusively dedicated to graduate-level health sciences. While it doesn't offer undergraduate programs, it's a global leader in medical research and education.

Again, each UC campus has unique features and characteristics and students often choose a specific UC school based on their desired major or career path, location, extracurricular activities, or sports teams.

Understanding what’s different about the schools and how the  schools stack up in national rankings across a range of factors is crucial for your decision-making process.

UC Schools: Overall Rankings

Let’s start with a more aerial view, in the form of overall rankings, and see how the individual campuses stack up; then we’ll look at more specific distinguishing factors, such as cost of attendance, majors offered, student diversity, and so on.

The overall rankings, from three respected sources — US News, Forbes, and Washington Monthly — are presented side by side for comparison.

Keep in mind that the rankings are calculated using different methodologies:

  • US News: Emphasizes academic reputation, graduation and retention rates, faculty resources, and student selectivity.
  • Forbes: Focuses on outcomes such as alumni salary, student debt, graduation rate, and return on investment.
  • Washington Monthly: Highlights social mobility, research, and public service contributions.

Averaged in this way, the rankings provide you a holistic view that balances academic prestige, financial outcomes, and social impact. But these overall are just a starting point; be sure to remember the following:

  • the UC schools themselves do not have an official ranking system
  • all the campuses offer excellent educational opportunities
  • each individual campus has unique characteristics

With this in mind, here are how the nine campuses stack up in overall rankings:

UC Schools Rank 2024-25
Overall RankUC NewsForbesWashington Monthly
UC Berkeley11559
UC San Diego3282120
UC Davis4283721
UC Santa Barbara5352467
UC Irvine6336163
UC Riverside7767564
UC Merced86017356
UC Santa Cruz98292133

Putting Overall Rankings Into Perspective

UC Berkeley ranks first, highlighting its world-class stature, the many Nobel laureates among its alumni and in its faculty ranks, its immense library holdings, and the school's robust graduate-level programs and research facilities.

Certainly world-leading in stature, don’t forget that much of what sets UCB apart revolves around its robust graduate programs, meaning prospective undergraduates shouldn’t just consider the school’s leading overall ranks, but learn more before deciding if the school’s a good fit.

UC Berkeley

UCLA follows closely, ranked 2nd, reflecting the broad appeal of a sun-drenched campus in a vibrant urban setting with an impressive array of strong undergraduate programs across STEM, Liberal Arts, the Humanities, and Visual and Performing Arts — perhaps explaining why so many students apply there.

Did you know that more students apply to UCLA than to UCB?

For the Class of 2027, UCLA was inundated with 145,000 applications for undergraduate admissions, 20,000 more than top-ranked UCB, and making UCLA’s acceptance rate a notch lower than UCB’s rate!

UC San Diego, 3rd, is urban but with a tourist and beaches vibe and highly regarded programs in psychology, economics, education, and engineering.

UC Davis, 4th, surrounded by nearby central valley farms and high mountains and forests, and prestigious internationally acclaimed wine-making regions is recognized for all-around excellence and a top destination for veterinary sciences, forestry, environmental sciences, and its undergraduate program in viticulture and enology!

UC Santa Barbara, 5th, deserves kudos for its beautiful location and beach attractions as well as many strong academic programs, particularly in engineering and environmental studies.

UC Irvine, 6th, is in a thriving suburb between LA and San Diego with access to warm beaches and strong programs in computer science, biological sciences, public health and business.

UC Riverside, 7th, is an oasis of learning in a suburb well east of the greater Los Angeles basin and best known for its high-ranking programs in engineering and technology. This campus also wins very high rankings for promoting social mobility — recruiting, retaining, and promoting underrepresented students.

Now, here’s another twist when it comes to the overall rankings. Did you notice that UC Merced and UC Santa Cruz are closely ranked for 8th and 9th places? Interestingly, UC Santa Cruz was established about 35 years ago, and Merced was viewed as sort of a sad step-child to the other UC campuses when it was founded nineteen years ago.

Now UC Merced has risen rapidly in overall rank to become more of a contender among its peers — more evidence that all UC schools offer great educational value and opportunities.

UC Santa Cruz stands out for the stunning beauty of its campus on hills with redwoods overlooking rugged coastline and for its Oxford-style college structures that make it feel more communal and welcoming.

UC Santa Cruz also has a bit of a counter-culture feel to it; founded in 1965 it hosted no organized athletic programs prior to 1980, and no fraternities or sororities before 1990.

UC Merced puts you close to the iconic Yosemite National Park, but, alas, not much else. UC Merced is, however, gaining a reputation for fostering interdisciplinary, research-driven undergraduate learning and, like UC Riverside, stands out for its strong commitment to social mobility.

Ranking UC Schools by Admissions Selectivity

Since UC schools are publicly funded by the State of California, with a mandate to make room for in-state students but are also so highly regarded for educational excellence, gaining admission to a UC school can be challenging. Here, you can see how each UC school ranks by their selectivity, based on acceptance rates and GPA ranges (25th-75th percentile).

UC Schools By Acceptance Rates and GPA Ranges
Acceptance RateGPA RangeSelectivity Rank
UCLA9%4.20 - 4.311
UC Berkeley11%4.15 - 4.292
UC Irvine21%4.13 - 4.293
UC San Diego24%4.11 - 4.294
UC Santa Barbara26%4.03 - 4.275
UC Davis37%4.07 - 4.286
UC Santa Cruz47%3.86 - 4.227
UC Riverside69%3.76 - 4.188
UC Merced89%3.48 - 4.089

The Most Selective UC Schools

UCLA and UC Berkeley stand out as the most selective UC schools, with acceptance rates of 9% and 11% respectively, and high GPA ranges.

These schools are often considered "reach" schools for many applicants due to their rigorous admissions standards, large applicant pools, and prestigious reputations.

If you decide one of these schools is the best fit for you, you’ll need to present exceptional academic achievements and well-rounded applications that can stand out in a crowded field to secure your spot.

Highly Competitive UC Schools

UC Irvine, UC San Diego, UC Santa Barbara, and UC Davis have acceptance rates ranging from 21% to 37%, representing another competitive tier of the UC system below UCB and UCLA.

These campuses are renowned for their strong academic programs and vibrant campus life. Students applying to UC Irvine, UC San Diego, UC Santa Barbara, and UC Davis should have strong GPAs and extracurricular achievements.

These schools can be considered "target" schools for students with solid academic records.

The More Accessible Yet Still Competitive UC Schools

UC Santa Cruz, UC Riverside, and UC Merced have higher acceptance rates, ranging from 47% to 89%, but still maintain high academic standards and require competitive applications.

These schools provide excellent education and unique opportunities, making them ideal "safety" schools for students aiming for a UC education.

It's important to note that gaining admission to these schools is by no means easy, and students should still strive to present their best possible applications.

UC Applications: Insights, Considerations, and Challenges

When applying to UC schools, it's essential to create a balanced college list that includes "reach," "target," and "safety" schools. This strategy maximizes your chances of gaining admission to a school that fits your academic profile and personal preferences.

Even the less selective UC schools offer outstanding education and can provide pathways to successful careers and further academic pursuits.

Remember, each UC campus has its unique strengths and appeals. Whether you’re drawn to the rigorous academics of UCLA and Berkeley, the vibrant campus life of UC San Diego and Santa Barbara, or the supportive community of UC Merced, there is a UC school that can provide an enriching and rewarding college experience.

It’s also important to note that finding an effective strategy for standing out in UC admissions has some special challenges.

  • Did you ace your SAT or ACT tests? That’s a great accomplishment, but may not impact your UC applications as all UC schools have test-blind admissions.
  • Also, UC schools rarely include letters of recommendation in the evaluation process, except sometimes as part of a supplemental review process.
  • Finally, UC schools don’t use the Common App, meaning you’ll need to fill out the “My UC Application” as the uniform app for any UC campus, adding another layer of challenge.

Ranking UC Schools by Cost of Attendance

The cost of attending a university is a significant factor for many students and their families. While the overall cost of attending UC schools is relatively similar campus-to-campus, variations in net price, big differences system-wide between in-state tuition and out-of-state tuition, and local differences impacting cost of living in a high cost of living state are factors to look into. Below is a breakdown of the UC schools ranked by their average net price, from lowest to highest:

Cost of Attendance of UC Schools
UniversityNet Price ($)In-State Tuition ($/year)Out-of-State Tuition ($/year)
UC Merced13,54913,65743,411
UC Irvine14,03313,77543,529
UC Riverside14,48713,75443,508
UC San Diego16,11114,70044,454
UC Santa Barbara16,87414,41744,171
UC Davis17,38514,64544,399
UC Santa Cruz17,97514,07043,824
UC Berkeley19,25714,22643,980

Breaking Down the Numbers

UC Merced has the lowest average net price at $13,549, making it the most affordable option among the UC schools. Its relatively low in-state tuition of $13,657/year also contributes to its affordability.

UC Irvine and UC Riverside follow with net prices of $14,033 and $14,487, respectively. Both schools offer competitive in-state tuition rates, making them attractive options for cost-conscious students.

UC San Diego, UCLA, and UC Santa Barbara have mid-range net prices, around $16,000 to $17,000. These schools balance affordability with their strong academic reputations and vibrant campus communities.

UC Davis and UC Santa Cruz are on the higher end of the net price spectrum, with costs of $17,385 and $17,975, respectively. Despite the higher costs, these schools offer unique programs and campus environments that may justify the investment for many students.

UC Berkeley has the highest average net price at $19,257. While it is the most expensive in terms of net price, its prestigious reputation and strong academic programs can make it a worthwhile choice for many students.

Additional Insights

  • In-State vs. Out-of-State Tuition: In-state tuition for UC schools ranges from approximately $13,000 to $14,700 per year, while out-of-state tuition — which applies to non-California residents and to international students calculating education costs — is significantly higher, ranging from around $43,000 to $44,500 per year. Out-of-state students should carefully consider these costs when planning their education budget.
  • Scholarships and Financial Aid: The average net price accounts for scholarships and grants, which can significantly reduce the overall cost. Prospective students are encouraged to explore all available financial aid options to help manage expenses.
  • Cost of Living: Beyond tuition and fees, the cost of living in different areas of California can impact your overall expenses. Urban campuses like UCLA and UC Berkeley may have higher living costs compared to more rural or suburban campuses like UC Merced, and due to limited housing availability, even the campuses in Santa Cruz, Davis, and Santa Barbara have high housing costs.

Overall, while the cost of attending UC schools is roughly similar and also a good value generally — even when paying out-of-state tuition, be sure to carefully consider net price, tuition rates, and financial aid options as you choose the best fit for your financial situation and educational goals.

Ranking UC Schools by Financial Aid Packages

Financial aid can significantly impact the affordability of a college education. The University of California (UC) schools offer various financial aid packages, including merit-based scholarships, which can help reduce the overall cost of attendance. Here’s a breakdown of the UC schools ranked by the average merit-based financial aid they offer, along with insights into their financial aid opportunities and other important considerations:

UC Schools by Financial Aid
UniversityMerit-Based Financial Aid ($/year)Rank
UC San Diego12,7011
UC Merced9,7452
UC Irvine8,4063
UC Santa Barbara8,1834
UC Davis7,5005
UC Santa Cruz7,5546
UC Berkeley7,2887
UC Riverside6,3209

Some Schools Offer More Support than Others

UC San Diego leads with an impressive average merit-based financial aid package of $12,701 per year. This substantial aid can significantly offset the cost of attendance, making it an attractive option for high-achieving students.

UC Merced offers an average of $9,745 per year in merit-based financial aid. As the newest campus in the UC system, it provides robust support to students, which can be particularly beneficial given its already lower net price.

UC Irvine and UC Santa Barbara offer strong financial aid packages, averaging $8,406 and $8,183 per year, respectively. These schools are committed to making education accessible and affordable, providing substantial aid to eligible students.

UC Davis and UC Santa Cruz offer average merit-based financial aid packages of $7,500 and $7,554 per year, respectively. Both campuses support students through various scholarships and grants, helping to reduce the financial burden.

UC Berkeley and UCLA provide average merit-based financial aid packages of $7,288 and $6,573 per year, respectively. While these amounts are lower compared to some other UC campuses, these prestigious institutions also offer numerous need-based aid opportunities and scholarships.

UC Riverside offers an average of $6,320 per year in merit-based financial aid. Although it ranks lowest in this category, UC Riverside provides various financial aid programs and initiatives to support its diverse student body.

Important Considerations:

  • Need-Based Aid: In addition to merit-based scholarships, UC schools also offer various forms of need-based financial aid that can significantly reduce cost of attendance for students from low-income families. Need-based aid can include grants, work-study opportunities, and student loans. Remember, that both UC Riverside and UC Merced have notoriety for providing exceptional support for social mobility.
  • Scholarship Opportunities: Each UC campus has a range of scholarships available, including those for academic excellence, leadership, community service, and specific fields of study. Prospective students should explore these opportunities and apply early.
  • Application Process: To maximize financial aid opportunities, students should complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and the California Dream Act Application (if applicable) by the priority deadlines. These applications determine eligibility for federal, state, and institutional aid.

Despite the different financial offerings, all of the UC schools make significant efforts to provide additional financial support for students with limited resources.

This support can significantly reduce education costs, and again reflects the system-wide commitment to access, opportunity, and diversity and is another reminder of the overall educational value you’ll find attending a UC school.

Ranking UC Schools by International Students

The percentage of international students at a university can indicate the level of diversity and global engagement on campus, a factor some students I’ve worked with care about a lot. Here’s a breakdown of the UC schools by their international student population:

UC Schools by Percentage of International Student
University% International Students
UC Berkeley22%
UC San Diego17%
UC Davis15%
UC Santa Barbara14%
UC Irvine20%
UC Riverside13%
UC Merced12%
UC Santa Cruz11%

Key Takeaways

  • High International Presence: UC Berkeley, UCLA, and UC Irvine have the highest percentages of international students, reflecting their global reputation and appeal. These campuses offer a diverse and multicultural environment, which can enrich the academic and social experience for all students.
  • Moderate International Presence: UC San Diego, UC Davis, and UC Santa Barbara have significant international student populations, providing a blend of cultural diversity and a strong focus on international research and collaboration.
  • Lower International Presence: UC Riverside, UC Merced, and UC Santa Cruz have lower percentages of international students. These campuses may offer a more locally focused experience, although they still provide opportunities for international engagement and study abroad programs.

This metric could be of interest to both US students and international ones. You can see that the differences in international presence are significant across the various UC campuses, so if it’s a factor you care about, the table above is one to refer back to as you home in on your top choices.

A Day in the Life: UCLA Student

Ranking UC Schools by Yield Rates

Yield rates, or the percentage of admitted students who choose to enroll, can indicate a school’s desirability and student satisfaction. Here’s a breakdown of the UC schools by their yield rates:

UC Schools by Yield Rates
UniversityYield Rate (%)
UC Berkeley45%
UC San Diego35%
UC Irvine31%
UC Davis30%
UC Santa Barbara28%
UC Riverside24%
UC Santa Cruz22%
UC Merced18%


  • High Yield Rates: UC Berkeley and UCLA have the highest yield rates, indicating their strong appeal and the high number of admitted students who choose to enroll. This reflects their prestigious reputations and desirable campus experiences.
  • Moderate Yield Rates: UC San Diego, UC Davis, and UC Irvine have moderate yield rates. These schools are also highly regarded and attract a significant number of their admitted students.
  • Lower Yield Rates: UC Santa Barbara, UC Riverside, UC Merced, and UC Santa Cruz have lower yield rates. While these campuses may not have as high of a yield rate as Berkeley or UCLA, they still offer excellent education and unique opportunities that attract a diverse student body.

Yield rates offer another angle on gauging school quality based on others’ decision making, but it’s important to keep in mind that each individual student choice depends on a variety of circumstances, making it important to take stock of your own aspirations, goals, and interests to discern which schools are not just “the best” but also the best fit.

UC Schools Ranked by Majors on Offer

When it comes to picking a university, finding ones with top-ranked academic programs that align with your own major and career goals can be one of the more important factors you’ll want to consider.

I've always been fascinated by how the University of California (UC) system caters to such a diverse range of interests with its specialized programs.

Whether you’re drawn to the sciences, arts, or public policy, there’s likely one or two UC campuses that specialize more than some of the others in what you love.

The table below will help you quickly compare each UC school based on different majors offered and which academic programs and departments stand out. I hope this snapshot and the additional commentary will help you find your best UC options based on academic fit.

UC Schools by Majors on Offer
UniversityUnique Majors
UC BerkeleyCeltic Studies; Classics; Data Science; Nuclear Engineering; Social Welfare; Psychology; Political Science; Geophysics
UCLAClimate Science; Architectural Studies; Public Affairs; Psychology; Ethnomusicology; Design Media Arts
UC San DiegoPharmacological Chemistry; Cognitive Science; NanoEngineering; Marine Biology; Speculative Design
UC DavisAnimal Science; Hydrology; Viticulture & Enology; Wildlife, Fish & Conservation Biology
UC Santa BarbaraActuarial Science; Classics; Aquatic Biology; Biopsychology; Zoology; Language, Culture & Society
UC IrvineNursing Science; Informatics; Criminology; Law & Society; Urban Studies
UC RiversideCreative Writing; Learning and Behavioral Studies; Business Administration; Public Policy
UC MercedEarth Systems Science; Critical Race & Ethnic Studies; Global Arts Studies; Public Health
UC Santa CruzAstrophysics; Community Studies; Technology & Information Management; Art & Design: Games & Playable Media

For students interested in Science and Engineering, several UC campuses offer unique programs:

  • UC Berkeley: Data Science, Nuclear Engineering, Geophysics
  • UC San Diego: Pharmacological Chemistry, NanoEngineering, Marine Biology
  • UC Davis: Hydrology, Animal Science, Viticulture & Enology
  • UC Santa Cruz: Astrophysics, Technology & Information Management

These campuses are ideal for students looking to engage in cutting-edge research and pursue careers in scientific and engineering fields.

Students passionate about Environmental and Agricultural Sciences should consider:

  • UC Davis: Animal Science, Hydrology, Viticulture & Enology, Wildlife, Fish & Conservation Biology
  • UC Berkeley: Geophysics
  • UC Santa Barbara: Aquatic Biology, Zoology
  • UCLA: Climate Science

These schools provide robust programs focused on sustainability, environmental impact, and agricultural innovation.

Arts and Humanities For those interested in the Arts and Humanities, the following UC campuses offer specialized majors:

  • UCLA: Ethnomusicology, Design Media Arts, Architectural Studies
  • UC Riverside: Creative Writing, Learning and Behavioral Studies
  • UC Santa Cruz: Art & Design: Games & Playable Media, Community Studies
  • UC Berkeley: Celtic Studies, Social Welfare, Classics

These campuses are well-suited for students aiming to explore creative fields and cultural studies.

Students looking to study Social Sciences and Public Affairs might find these campuses particularly appealing:

  • UC Irvine: Criminology, Law & Society, Urban Studies
  • UCLA: Public Affairs
  • UC Merced: Critical Race & Ethnic Studies, Public Health
  • UC Riverside: Public Policy, Business Administration

These programs prepare students for careers in government, non-profits, public policy, and business.

For those pursuing Health Sciences, consider:

  • UC Irvine: Nursing Science
  • UC Merced: Public Health
  • UC San Diego: Cognitive Science, Pharmacological Chemistry

These campuses offer strong programs in healthcare, public health, and related fields.

Choosing the Right Campus for Your Major

During my time guiding students, I’ve seen firsthand the importance of matching your personal interests with the right programs. Whether your career track is cutting-edge technology, you’re passionate about protecting the environment, eager to find a strong visual and performing arts faculty and community, or driven to shape public policy, the UC system has a place for you.

Reflecting on career goals and what excites you the most academically are crucial factors in finding the UC schools that best fit your aspirations.

A Day in the Life: UC Berkeley Student

Ranking UC Schools by Location

Location is a critical factor for many students when choosing a college because it defines the setting for your classes as well as the surrounding environment.

From bustling urban environments filled with thriving business communities and nightlife, to serene or more populous coastal retreats, or more classic western backdrops dotted with smaller towns, farms, ranchlands, and mountains, the University of California (UC) system offers locales for almost any interest and any temperament!

UC Los Angeles (UCLA) Westwood, Los Angeles - Vibrant, diverse city - Access to cultural and professional opportunities - Sunny climate - Proximity to beaches and entertainment industry- High cost of living - Heavy traffic - Urban environment may be overwhelming
UC Berkeley Berkeley, SF Bay Area - Culturally rich, progressive area - Proximity to San Francisco - Mild climate - Intellectual atmosphere- High cost of living - Limited parking - Earthquake risk
UC Santa Barbara Santa Barbara - Stunning coastal setting - Relaxed, beach-town vibe - Proximity to ocean and outdoor activities- High cost of living - Limited public transportation - Smaller city
UC San Diego La Jolla, San Diego - Beautiful beaches - Excellent weather - Laid-back lifestyle - Proximity to biotech industry- High cost of living - Distance from major city centers - Limited on-campus housing
UC Irvine Irvine, Orange County - Safe, family-friendly area - Mediterranean climate - Proximity to beaches and theme parks - Suburban comfort- High cost of living - Suburban sprawl - Limited nightlife
UC Santa Cruz Santa Cruz - Natural beauty - Laid-back coastal charm - Proximity to Silicon Valley - Unique forested campus- High cost of living - Smaller town - Limited public transportation
UC Davis Davis, near Sacramento - Friendly college town - Strong sense of community - Proximity to Sacramento - Access to outdoor recreation - Smaller town - Hot summers - Limited entertainment options
UC Riverside Riverside, Inland Empire - More affordable cost of living - Growing economy - Proximity to LA, Palm Springs, national parks- Hot, dry climate - Air quality issues - Less cultural amenities
UC MercedMerced, Central Valley- Close-knit campus community - Affordable living - Proximity to Yosemite National Park- Remote location - Limited entertainment and dining options - Developing area

Each UC campus's location provides unique advantages and experiences, catering to a wide range of preferences and lifestyles.

In fact, it’s hard to find any state in the US with more varied geographies, climates, and lifestyles than California, so I strongly encourage you to reflect on the kind of setting you’re looking for, given the array of opportunities the UC system offers. 

Whether you're drawn to the bustling city life of Los Angeles, the intellectual atmosphere of the Bay Area, or the natural beauty of coastal California, or you want to study forestry, veterinary science, or agriculture in an apt setting, there's a UC campus that's perfectly suited to your needs.

Ranking UC Schools by Campus and Class Size

When choosing a university, both campus size and student-to-faculty ratio are also crucial factors, affecting everything from the range of courses and topics you can study, to class availability, your opportunities to interact directly with professors, and the overall feel of the campus and campus life. 

With these considerations in mind, the chart below compares the nine UC campuses based on their undergraduate enrollment and student-to-faculty ratios:

UC Schools by Campus and Class Size
UniversityUndergraduate EnrollmentStudent/Faculty RatioRank by EnrollmentRank by Ratio
UC San Diego 33,09619:115
UC Berkeley 32,47920:127
UCLA 32,42318:133
UC Davis 31,53221:148
UC Irvine 28,66218:153
UC Santa Barbara 23,45917:162
UC Riverside 22,91124:179
UC Santa Cruz 17,81224:189
UC Merced8,34319:195

Large Campuses: UC San Diego, UC Berkeley, UCLA, and UC Davis

These campuses have the largest undergraduate enrollments, each exceeding 30,000 students. A larger campus can offer a wide variety of programs, clubs, and extracurricular activities, providing a vibrant and diverse student life.

However, it can also mean larger class sizes and potentially less personalized attention from faculty. Students who thrive in bustling, dynamic environments might find these campuses particularly appealing.

Mid-Sized Campuses: UC Irvine and UC Santa Barbara

With enrollments ranging from approximately 23,000 to 28,000 students, these mid-sized campuses offer a balance between the vast resources of a large university and the more intimate community feel of a smaller institution.

Both UC Irvine and UC Santa Barbara also boast favorable student-to-faculty ratios (18:1 and 17:1, respectively), which can enhance access to faculty and personalized support.

Smaller Campuses: UC Riverside, UC Santa Cruz, and UC Merced

These campuses have smaller undergraduate enrollments, providing a more close-knit community feel. UC Merced, the smallest with just over 8,000 students, offers the most intimate setting, ideal for those who prefer smaller class sizes and a tight-knit campus community.

Smaller campuses can foster stronger connections with peers and professors, although they may have fewer program offerings and extracurricular options compared to larger campuses.

Importance of Class Size and Student-to-Faculty Ratio

Class size and student-to-faculty ratio are vital considerations for several reasons:

  • Personalized Attention: Smaller classes often mean more direct interaction with professors, allowing for personalized guidance and support.
  • Accessibility: A lower student-to-faculty ratio generally means faculty are more accessible outside of class for mentoring and assistance.
  • Community Feel: Smaller campuses can foster a sense of community, making it easier to form close relationships with peers and faculty.
  • Resources: Larger campuses may offer more extensive resources, including research opportunities, facilities, and a wider range of courses and programs.

When deciding on a UC campus, consider your learning preferences and the type of environment in which you thrive. Whether you prefer the bustling atmosphere of a large campus or the intimate feel of a smaller one, the UC system offers a range of options to suit your needs.


Choosing the right University of California (UC) campus is an exciting decision because it will shape so many important aspects of your college experience — from the academic reputation that matters to you and vibe of the location, to the financial considerations and specific programs on offer. Each UC campus has its own unique allure and strengths, whether it’s the prestigious academics and faculty luminaries at UC Berkeley and UCLA, the innovation ethos at UC San Diego, or the distinctive majors you can pursue at UC Davis and UC Santa Cruz.

As someone who has guided many students through the maze of college decisions, I understand the process can also be daunting. It’s not just about where you’ll study, but where you will grow, explore, and perhaps even transform over the next few years. That's why our team of experts is here to help you sift through the options and find a UC school that resonates with your personal and academic dreams.

Curious about which UC campus might be the right fit for you? Let’s talk. Schedule a free consultation with Crimson Education today, and let’s start shaping your future together.

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