The Best UC Schools | 2024 Rankings + Key Stats

Discover the top UC schools
April 1, 2024
8 min read


Reviewed by:

Former Admissions Committee Member, Columbia University

Reviewed: 4/1/24

Are you considering applying to a college within the UC system? Read on to learn more about the best UC schools.

The University of California's family of schools are some of the most recognizable schools in the nation, and for a good reason. 

Many schools within the system carry a certain prestige and pedigree that can't be replicated elsewhere. Others within the system can be considered the best value schools for higher education that you can find in the nation.

When it comes to choosing a school within the UC system, which ones are the best choice? We'll be counting down the top University of California schools for undergraduate education, breaking down the acceptance rate, tuition costs, and GPA requirements.

Let’s get into it.

How the UC Schools are Ranked?

UC schools are rated based on several key factors to understand how they perform and compare with one another:

  • Graduation Rates: This tells us how many students finish their degree programs on time. It's a measure of how effective the schools are at helping students succeed.
  • Social Mobility: This looks at how well students from lower-income backgrounds do after they graduate. It shows if the schools are helping students overcome economic barriers.
  • Faculty Resources: This includes class sizes, student-faculty ratios, and teacher qualifications. Schools with strong faculty resources usually provide a better learning environment.
  • Borrower Debt: This tells us how much debt students end up with after they graduate. Lower debt levels mean students can afford their education without taking on too many loans.
  • Retention Rates: This measures the percentage of first-year students who stick around for a second year. Higher retention rates mean students are happy and satisfied with their school.

Considering these factors gives us a good overall picture of how UC schools are doing in terms of student success and academic quality. While no ranking system is perfect, looking at these metrics can help students and educators make informed decisions about which UC school might be the best fit for them.

UC Schools Ranked

Here, you'll find a list of the best UC schools within the system. Read on below!

University of California, Berkeley

UC Berkeley is first on the list of best University of California schools. 

Established in 1868, more than 150 years ago, UC Berkeley has had a long history of scientific and innovative milestones and social and cultural movements.

Berkeley is the most selective out of the UC family, as they are looking for students with the same problem-solving and difference-making mentality that many of their alumni already possess. The acceptance rate at Berkeley is 11%.

Berkeley has pioneered the idea of approaching applications with a holistic view. The admissions council knows that grades sometimes tell only some of the story. Therefore, they will evaluate applications based on students' life experiences, supplementary essays, and values.

However, since UC Berkeley is so competitive, successful applicants usually have a high GPA. For context, the average GPA of incoming Berkeley students is 3.89.

Tuition for residents is $10,071.50, while tuition for non-residents is $26,358.50.

University of California, Los Angeles

If you crave a fast-paced city life, you'll want to choose the second UC school on our list: the University of California, Los Angeles, otherwise known as UCLA.

Founded in 1919, it boasts many different award-winning programs, like engineering, management, and law, and, like its sister school, Berekely, is consistently ranked as one of the best colleges worldwide.


Admissions for UCLA are competitive as well, with an average acceptance rate of 9%.

When it comes to tuition, you can't get a better bang for your buck than UCLA. The school provides a world-class education for less than a world-class cost. As a matter of fact, US News has rated UCLA 1st for Public Schools and 20th for Best National Universities. 

The tuition for California residents varies depending on the housing option:

  • UCLA Residence Halls: $42,127
  • Off-Campus Apartments: $43,161
  • Commuter: $33,759

For nonresidents, the tuition is as follows:

  • UCLA Residence Halls: $76,327
    Off-Campus Apartments: $77,361
  • Commuter: $67,959

University of California, Santa Barbara

In contrast, if you're looking for a more suburban feel when it comes to college, look 100 miles out from UCLA and check out UC Santa Barbara. The school is recognized as a leader in the sciences and research and is one of California's best schools. 

As a result of its success, admissions at UC Santa Barbara can be selective. The current acceptance rate is 27.9%. 

UC Santa Barbara

Source: University of California, Santa Barbara

The cost breakdown for UC Santa Barbara varies for California residents and non-resident students. California residents pay around $41,289, and non-residents approximately $73,863. For undergraduate apartments or living at home, California residents are charged about $36,381, and non-residents approximately $68,955.

University of California, Irvine

Established in 1965, UC Irvine is the youngest member of the Association of American Universities, an organization composed of America's leading research universities. 

The school is known for its state-of-the-art research practices, alongside leadership in sustainability and diversity. It’s no wonder UC Irvine is one of the leading colleges in California, making it a popular pick for students aiming for a high-quality education.

Source: University of California, Irvine

The acceptance rate at UC Irvine is 25.7%. On average, you should aim for a GPA close to the school’s average of 4.0. 

The tuition for both resident and nonresident students at UCI is $12,522.00.

University of California, San Diego

If you're a lover of the ocean, you will want to take advantage of attending UC San Diego. Located in the coastal community of La Jolla, San Diego, UC San Diego is well known for its biology and science programs, ranking in the top 10 of many. 

UC San Diego

UC San Diego has an acceptance rate of 24%. If UC San Diego is your target school, you should aim for a GPA of 3.9 or higher to gain acceptance. 

The tuition for California resident students at UC San Diego is $18,480, and there is an additional non-resident supplemental tuition of $32,574 for non-California residents.

University of California, Davis

Dubbed "California's college town," there's never been a place more welcoming for college students than Davis, California - home of UC Davis. The school is one of California's top universities and an excellent pick for anyone who is a natural problem solver dedicated to helping residents of California and the world.

UC Davis

UC Davis has an average acceptance rate of 41.8%. If you're a prospective student looking to attend this school, you'll need an average GPA of around 4.03. 

UC Davis is one of the more affordable schools within the UC system and has long been recognized as a school with remarkable value due to its reduced tuition and prime location in a low-cost-of-living area. The tuition for all types of student housing arrangements (on-campus residence hall, on-campus apartments, off-campus, and living at home) is $14,436.

University of California, Santa Cruz

UC Santa Cruz combines the best of both worlds - a small, liberal arts college feel combined with an extensive public university system, so you don't have to choose between both!

University of California, Santa Cruz

Source: University of California, Santa Cruz

You'll also get the best of both worlds with its beautiful campus setting - due to its proximity to the Pacific Ocean and California's breathtaking mountains.

UC Santa Cruz has an acceptance rate of 62.8%. The tuition for entering students in all three categories (on-campus, off-campus, and commuter) is $16,044 for California residents and $34,200 for non-residents.

University of California, Riverside

Did you know that UC Riverside was named the 2nd Public University for Social Mobility in the nation? The school prides itself on a diverse background of students with a strong will to be changemakers for our future.

University of California, Riverside

Source: University of California, Riverside

The acceptance rate for UC Riverside is 70.3%. The tuition fee for in-state and out-of-state students at the University of California, Riverside, is $13,752.

University of California, Merced

UC Merced is the newest school to join the UC system, established in 2005. Despite its short years of tenure, the school is still one of California's top colleges. With only 25 programs, you'll get a more intimate feel for your classes and studies, an experience, unlike any other school within the UC family.

University of California, Merced

Source: University of California, Merced

UC Merced has an acceptance rate of 88.3%. The tuition for undergraduates starting at the University of California, Merced, is as follows:

  • On-Campus: $34,200 for California residents, $78,210 for non-residents.
  • Off-Campus: $34,200 for California residents, $71,300 for non-residents.
  • At-Home: $34,200 for California residents, $66,578 for non-residents.

Now, let's dive into the data and rankings for each UC school in the chart below. This information will give you a clear picture of how California State's top schools compare, assisting you in your college selection process.

Before You Apply

Because the UC schools all belong to the same family, they generally have the exact basic requirements. For example, all schools have eliminated the SAT/ACT requirement for admission and require a minimum GPA of 3.0 for residents and 3.4 for non-residents for consideration. 

Despite having a basic GPA requirement, you'll want to aim for as high of a GPA as possible, especially if you're considering applying to more prestigious schools within the family, such as UCLA and UC Berkeley.

As for any college application, you must have completed high school or received your GED to apply successfully. Since the UC system has such a significant presence in California, it's ideal for them to have California residents at their campuses. 

Suppose you're a California resident who does not receive an acceptance to any of the colleges of your choice. In that case, you will automatically be considered for a UC campus with open spots as long as you rank in the top 9% of your graduating class or in comparison to all of California's high school students. 

Another added perk of the UC school system is that you can be considered for all UC schools when you apply. This will save you time and stress, as you won't have to worry about handing in your college applications on time!

UC Rankings US News Ranking Year Est. Acceptance Rate GPA Range
UCLA 1 (15) (tie) 1919 9% 4.20-4.31
UC Berkeley 1 (15) (tie) 1868 11% 4.15-4.29
UC San Diego 2 (28) (tie) 1960 24% 4.11-4.29
UC Davis 2 (28) (tie) 1905 41.8% 4.03-4.27
UC Irvine 3 (33) (tie) 1965 25.7% 4.07-4.28
UC Santa Barbara 4 (35) 1891 27.9% 4.13-4.29
UC Merced 5 (60) 2005 88.3% 3.48-4.08
UC Riverside 6 (76) 1954 70.3% 3.76-4.18
UC Santa Cruz 7 (82) 1965 62.8% 3.86-4.22

Choosing the Best UC School for You

Nine different schools within the UC family can be a large variety to choose from, so if you would like to attend college in California, you'll want to pick the school that best fits your needs, wants, and desires.

Your choice should also primarily depend on the undergraduate program you choose to study alongside your preferred campus setting. Do you prefer the hustle and bustle of city life or a more laid-back, suburban environment? Are you up for large class sizes, or would you rather have smaller and more intimate classes?

UC Rankings

While rankings can be helpful, they don't tell the whole story. Each UC campus has a unique atmosphere and opportunities. Look beyond rankings to find the best fit for you.

Consider Campus Location

California offers diverse locations, and each UC campus is situated in a different area. Think about your preferred setting, whether it's a bustling city or a tranquil town, and how it aligns with your career goals.

Evaluate Campus Communities

Each UC campus has its own character and student community. Some are known for activism, while others are newer and still defining their identity. Consider the campus culture that resonates with you.

Check Majors and Programs

Look into the majors and programs offered at each UC campus, especially if you have a specific field of study in mind. Some campuses offer unique majors that might align with your interests.

Explore Research Opportunities

UC schools provide ample research opportunities. Delve into the research projects and faculty expertise at each campus to find areas that excite you.

Make an Informed Decision

Research thoroughly, visit campuses if possible, and consider factors like campus size, location, and academic resources. Applying to a few UC schools that match your preferences can increase your chances of finding the right fit.

Whatever your preferences are, there's no doubt that one school in the UC system is right for you. Making that choice requires a little bit of research and soul-searching on your part!

Still deciding which UC school to choose? Take our 3-minute Which UC School Should I Go To? quiz to find the right fit for you!

FAQs: Best UC Schools

If you still have questions about the best schools in the UC system, we've answered the most frequently asked questions below. 

1. Which UC School is the Best?

While any school within the UC system is a good choice for an undergraduate degree, the University of California—Berkeley is the best UC school based on its prestige, cutting-edge programs, and award-winning faculty.

2. Which is the Nicest UC Campus?

While the definition of the nicest UC campus depends on personal preferences, UC Santa Cruz is a great pick based on its proximity to the ocean and California's beautiful mountains. 

3. What is the Hardest UC School to Get Into?

The most challenging UC school to get into is UCLA, with an acceptance rate of 11%.  

4. Which UC School Has the Largest Campus?

The University of California, Davis, is the largest University of California campus.

. It's also the third largest in terms of the number of students.

5. Which University of California School Has the Highest Acceptance Rate?

UC Merced typically has the highest acceptance rate of the UC schools. As of the latest data, it's around 85.4%, meaning a large proportion of applicants are accepted.

6. Which University of California School Has the Smallest Campus?

UC Merced has the smallest campus of the UC schools. It's home to about 8,000 undergraduate students, making it relatively smaller compared to other UC campuses.

    Final Thoughts

    The UC system of schools is world-renowned for a good reason. Each of the ten schools within the family offers an undergraduate experience unlike any other.

    Whether you prefer a smaller, tight-knit, busy and populated campus or one with a liberal arts feel, there is a UC campus school for everyone. Make sure that the one that you choose is an excellent fit with your likes, dislikes, and personality. We wish you the best of luck with your application!

    Subscribe to Our Newsletter
    Thanks ! You're now subscribed!
    Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.

    Get A Free Consultation

    Speak to a college admissions expert about how we can help you get into your dream school
    Schedule a Call

    You May Also Like

    Before you go, here are a few facts about us!
    The Quad Factor: Working with us can increase your chances of admission by 11x!

    The Best of the Best: Our team comprises of only 99th percentile tutors and admissions counselors from top-ranking universities, meaning you work with only the most experienced, talented experts.

    The Free Consultation: Our experts would love to get to know you, your background, goals, and needs. From there, they match you with a best-fit consultant who will create a detailed project plan and application strategy focused on your success.