Ranking the UC Schools (BEST to WORST)
The University of California schools are recognized as some of the best public schools in the world. These highly competitive, highly sought-after colleges are known for their academic excellence, groundbreaking research, exceptional faculty, diversity, and social mobility.
Nine UC campuses offer both undergraduate and graduate degrees. These include locations in Davis, Los Angeles, Santa Barbra, San Diego, Berkley, Irvine, Santa Cruz, Riverside, and Merced. There are over 285,000 students and 227,000 faculty and staff in the UC system.
Below we rank the UC schools in order from best to worst, based on academics, faculty, the campus community, acceptance rates, and more. There is also a University of California San Francisco, but that is a college only for graduate and professional endeavors, so our college ranking will not include it.
Table of Contents
1. UC Berkeley
The University of California Berkeley was the first UC school, founded in 1868. It is also arguably the best university in the UC system. The campus is 1232 acres situated on the San Francisco Bay. Its location is also highly revered, being that it is only a 20-minute drive from the heart of San Francisco.
According to the Academic Ranking of World Universities 2020 (the countries most-read college guide), UC Berkeley is the second-best public school in the nation.
In 2014 it was rated as the #1 best public school in the world by Shanghai Jiao Tong University!
The college first became well known in the 60s due to its liberal political activism, which is still recognized today. UCLA’s ethnic, religious, and political diversity also bring it praise.
2. UC Los Angeles
UCLA comes in as a close second to UC Berkeley. Both of these schools are the most competitive of the UC system, but with the lowest acceptance rate, UCLA is the hardest UC school to get in. High SAT scores are a must, among other factors.
UCLA receives more applications each year than any college in the world, and for a good reason! It was ranked the best public university in the nation in 2020 by US News and World Report. It is also the only leading research institution in the country established in the 20th century.
UCLA is the 2nd smallest of the UC campuses because of its location in the compact city of Los Angeles. It is about a 3rd of the size of UC Berkeley. It does, however, have the most students enrolled than any of the other UC colleges, with almost 45,000 students.
UC Los Angeles is known for both its academics and its atmosphere. 98% of first-year students live on campus at UCLA, which contributes to its strong student body and exciting campus culture. It is also the only UC school that is a member of the PAC 12.
3. UC San Diego
University of California San Diego is the southernmost UC college, on sunny San Diego’s coast. This school ranks third in the UC system. It is not only known for its proximity to the sought-after beach activities of Southern California but also its academic achievements.
This year, UCSD was rated 1st among the world’s top “Golden Age ” universities. For the fourth year in a row Times Higher Education called it the best college founded between 1945 and 1966. They also named it the 8th best university in the nation and the 34th best in the world.
UCSD has a robust on-campus community, and all incoming freshmen are guaranteed two years of on-campus housing, although they are not required to take it.
4. UC Irvine
The University Of California Irvine comes in fourth in the best UC colleges. Money Magazine named it the #1 college in the country that best combines quality and affordability. UCI combines high graduation rates with more affordable tuition better than any of the other schools in the UC system.
Irvine is largely a commuter school, so it is not well known for its on-campus society and student bonding, like many other UC colleges.
It is recognized for its research in neuroscience and cancer studies in its world-class medical center.
5. UC Santa Barbara
University of California Santa Barbra is ranked #7 in the nation’s best universities and #34 in the world, according to US News and World Report! It is known for its academic excellence along with its highly-rated campus experience.
It has a strong greek life, which includes more than 10 percent of the undergraduate student population.
UCSB is a very environmentally conscious college. It was rated the #1 greenest school in the nation by Princeton Review in 2015. It is also home to one of the most environmentally friendly buildings in the US, the Bren Hall, with a triple LEED platinum certification.
6. UC Davis
UC Davis has the biggest campus of all the UC schools, at 5300 acres!
It began as a farm school for UC Berkeley, but now it is a world-renowned college of its own. It is known for its agriculture and animal science programs.
Its highest-rated majors are Agriculture, Biological and Agricultural Engineering, and Veterinary Medicine.
UC Davis has a prominent greek life and lively campus culture, with about 65 sororities and fraternities and over 700 student organizations and clubs.
7. UC Riverside
UC Riverside has the second-highest acceptance rate of the UC school system and comes in 7th place on our list.
In 2020, US News named UC Riverside the top school in the nation for advancing social mobility, meaning that UCR enrolls and graduates a large number of low-income students.
It has more Pell Grant enrollments than any other college in the country, and more than all of the Ivy League schools combined!
UCR prides itself on improving the success of first-generation college students, low-income students, and minority ethnicities.
8. UC Santa Cruz
The University of California Santa Cruz is located in a laid back beach town. Although the school does not have a football team, it does conduct ground-breaking research.
The school is known for its incredible space and astronomy programs and has a research partnership with NASA.
UCSC is also known for its unique campus life. Almost 100% of first-year students live on campus, and they even have the option to live in a single-occupant camper. There are always student-led activities and a lot of parties!
Freshman can choose from 10 colleges, and each one has a specific community.
9. UC Merced
The University of California Merced is the lowest-ranked of the UC colleges on our list. It is the most recently established school in the UC system, and the smallest, which is why its academic rankings and student body feedback are less than all of the other schools. It does, however, still have notable accomplishments.
UC Merced is the most environmentally conscious UC school. All of its buildings are LEED certified. It is also known for its high student success rates and for exceeding expected graduation rates.
UC Merced is not as established as the other UC schools, but that can be beneficial. It has the highest acceptance rate of all UC schools, and it can provide smaller classes in a more intimate learning community. It has the resources of a large school in a much smaller setting.
Final Thoughts on UC School Rankings
The UC system is a series of advanced academic and research-oriented public schools. However admissions are competitive, and good SAT results and/or ACT results are more important than ever.
Although some are more established and more publicly recognized than others, attending any of the colleges in the University of California system guarantees that you are getting a quality education from some of the best public universities in the country.
Read next: If you’re getting ready to head off to college this fall, be sure to check out our list of the best college dorm room safes to protect your valuables.