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About Easiest Colleges to Get into
California Colleges that are Hardest to Get Into
COLLEGES WITH THE LOWEST ACCEPTANCE RATE IN CALIFORNIA FOR 2021
These are the most selective public and private four-year colleges in California. The list is ranked by acceptance rate, lowest to highest and limited to schools which reject at least half of all applicants. Leading the list is Stanford University which sent acceptance letters to only 4% of the 47,498 students who applied and rejected 96%.
Not all schools on the most selective list are overly academically challenging. Some schools with less rigorous test and high school GPA requirements may receive a large numbers of qualified applicants and the school does not have space to admit them all.
If you’re looking for challenging colleges, you can also explore rankings of California colleges with the highest SAT scores, highest ACT scores and highest GPA’s.
Top CSUs and Their Best Majors
by Anne Johnson, Head Counselor, HS2 Irvine
The California State University (CSU) system is comprised of 23 campuses across California. The CSUs offer students affordable access to undergraduate and graduate education. Based on reputation and selectivity, these are, in my opinion, the top 6 Cal State Universities:
- San Jose State University – the school is located in Northern California’s Silicon Valley, making it the ideal college for students pursuing careers in computer science, information technology, business management, marketing, and finance. SJSU is also known for its excellent engineering program, which is ranked #18 for non-doctorate programs by US News and World Report.
- Cal State University, Fullerton – CSUF’s Mihaylo College of Business and Economics is the largest accredited business school on the West Coast, and includes one of the largest undergraduate accounting programs in the US. The nursing program is extremely competitive and offers unique specializations in midwifery and anesthesia. Additionally, Fullerton boasts strong programs in engineering (#45 in non-doctorate engineering programs, US News), kinesiology, communications, and teaching.
- California State Polytechnic University, Pomona – As a polytechnic institute, Cal Poly Pomona specializes in science and engineering fields. Its engineering department is one of the best in the country, reaching #11 for non-doctorate engineering programs, and #5 in the nation in civil engineering, computer engineering and electrical/electronic/communications engineering by US News. In addition, the Collins College of Hospitality Management is one of the best in the world and was ranked #19 for Best Hospitality and Hotel Management Schools in the World by CEO World Magazine. Other strong programs include business administration, graphic design, and architecture.
- Cal State University, Long Beach – CSU Long Beach is ranked #26 by US News for Best Regional Universities West. With its ever-growing reputation for strong programs in business administration, nursing, criminal justice, and teaching, Long Beach State continues to be more and more selective each year, admitting less than 32% of applicants in 2018.
- San Diego State University – SDSU’s Fowler College of Business is ranked in the top 10 best business schools in California by US News. With the Lavin Entrepreneurship Center and the Zahn Innovation Platform Launchpad, SDSU is recognized as one of the top universities for entrepreneurship. Additional popular majors include psychology, criminal justice, and kinesiology.
- California State Polytechnic University, San Luis Obispo (SLO) – Cal Poly San Luis Obispo is ranked #12 by US News for Best Regional Universities West. With a record low acceptance rate of 25% in 2019, Cal Poly SLO is by far the most competitive and most exclusive Cal State University. As a polytechnic institute, SLO specializes in science and engineering fields. Its engineering program is one of the best in the nation, ranking #8 overall by US News for Best Non-Doctorate Undergraduate Engineering Programs. In fact, SLO ranks in the top 3 for non-doctorate schools for the following engineering specializations: aerospace/aeronautical/astronautical, civil, computer, industrial/manufacturing, electrical/electronic, and mechanical.
About Hardest Colleges to Get into
SAT / ACT Prep Online Guides and Tips
The Ultimate Guide to Cal State Schools: How to Pick
Posted by Justin Berkman | Sep 14, 2020 7:00:00 PM
The California State University (CSU) system consists of 23 college campuses throughout California. Cal State colleges provide higher education to hundreds of thousands of students from California and the rest of the country and world.
In this article, I will describe the CSU system, profile each of the CSU colleges, and explain how to choose which CSU school to attend.
Cal State Coronavirus Update (Fall 2020)
Due to the 2020 COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic, the Cal Sate university system is instituting changes that affect both current and incoming students. Here’s what you need to know.
Cal State Classes Go Online for Fall 2020
In May 2020, Cal State announced that it would be canceling in-person classes for the Fall 2020 semester and moving courses online. So far, Cal State hasn’t made any decisions regarding the Spring 2021 semester, so be sure to check your school’s website regularly for updates.
Cal State students should prepare to move to a completely online format for their fall classes. If you need help managing that transition, or if you’re looking for tips about how to get the most out of your online classes, this article has tons of good information for you.
Cal State Fall 2020 Admissions Is Now Test Optional
Because many of the spring 2020 ACT test dates and SAT test dates were cancelled, Cal State has decided to go test optional for students looking to start school in Fall 2021, Winter 2022, and Spring 2022. That means Cal State won’t require students to submit ACT or SAT test scores in order to apply for admission during these cycles.
Right now, it’s unclear whether Cal Sate plans to become test optional permanently, or whether they will extend the test optional status to Fall 2022. For more information about how California public universities are going test optional, check out this article. Also be sure to check with individual schools for the most up-to-date admissions information.
About the CSU System
There are 23 California State University campuses that offer undergraduate education. Below is the list of Cal State schools:
CSU Channel Islands
CSU Dominguez Hills
CSU East Bay
Humboldt State University
CSU Long Beach
CSU Los Angeles
Cal Maritime Academy
CSU Monterey Bay
Cal Poly Pomona
CSU San Bernardino
San Diego State University
San Francisco State University
San Jose State University
Cal Poly San Luis Obispo
CSU San Marcos
Sonoma State University
There are about 482,000 students and 53,000 faculty and staff at CSU schools. The Cal State Universities are run by the same chancellor and a 25-member Board of Trustees. All of the CSUs are California public colleges, and they have earned a reputation for offering their students access to higher education at an affordable price. The tuition fee for all 23 campuses for the 2020-2021 academic year is $6,782 for in-state undergraduate students.
Unsurprisingly, the tuition and fees for out-of-state students are considerably higher. Out-of-state students will play an average of $16,286 in tuition and fees for the 2020-2021 academic year. However, many of the CSU schools are composed almost entirely of California residents.
Comparatively, tuition for the 2020-2021 academic year at University of California schools was $14,100 for California residents and $43,900 for nonresidents. Tuition at Santa Clara University, a private college in California, is $54,987 for the 2020-2021 school year.
As a whole, the CSU schools are less selective and competitive than the UC schools.
The Cal State schools are spread across the state of California, from San Diego in the south to Humboldt in the north. They vary quite a bit in size. Cal Maritime has the smallest enrollment with 1,120 students, and CSU Fullerton has the largest with 40,445.
Three of the CSU schools have a particular focus. Cal Maritime is a maritime academy, which is a school focused on teaching skills that can be put to use on the ocean or in industries related to the ocean. It’s the only degree-granting maritime academy on the west coast.
The Cal Poly schools (San Luis Obispo and Pomona) are polytechnic colleges that specialize in science and engineering. However, they do offer majors in the humanities and social sciences. The rest of the CSUs don’t have a particular focus, but business is one of the most popular majors at the majority of the campuses.
Also, many of the CSU campuses have a high percentage of commuter and non-traditional students. Commuter students live off campus, often with their families, and non-traditional students have taken more than a year off in between high school and college, or they go to school part time. Common complaints from students at schools with a large percentage of commuters are that there’s not much school spirit, and it can be hard to make friends for students who live off-campus.
The CSU schools try to make higher education accessible and accommodate the needs of their students. Students often talk about how helpful the professors are, and many CSUs offer honors programs for capable students who want a more academically challenging education. Furthermore, some CSUs offer online education or classes at smaller branch campuses to accommodate the needs of their students.
You can easily determine if you meet the minimum requirements to gain admission to a CSU. Keep in mind that some CSU schools and majors within CSU schools are impacted while others are not (which means they have more applications each year than they have space). If a college isn’t impacted, that means that all those that meet the minimum admission requirements are admitted. If a school or major is impacted, you have to exceed the minimum eligibility index to gain admission. Here’s more information on impaction.
Comparing the Cal State Schools by the Numbers
I created a table comparing the total enrollments (undergraduate and graduate students), average standardized test scores, and acceptance rates for each of the Cal State campuses. Take a look at the table to get an idea of the size and selectivity of each CSU institution.
School Total Enrollment Average SAT Score Average ACT Score Acceptance Rate
CSU Bakersfield 10,493 980 18 100%
CSU Channel Islands 7,903 1070 21 74%
CSU Chico 17,014 1090 21 72%
CSU Dominguez Hills 15,741 950 17 83%
CSU East Bay 15,528 910 19 74%
CSU Fresno 21,077 1040 19 58%
CSU Fullerton 40,445 1120 22 41%
Humboldt State University 8,347 1070 20 79%
CSU Long Beach 38,075 1140 23 39%
CSU Los Angeles 27,675 990 18 42%
Cal Maritime 1,120 1190 24 67%
CSU Monterey Bay 7,616 1060 20 75%
CSU Northridge 38,391 1020 19 56%
Cal Poly Pomona 26,443 1140 23 55%
CSU Sacramento 31,156 1040 19 82%
CSU San Bernardino 20,311 1000 17 69%
San Diego State 35,081 1220 26 34%
San Francisco State 29,586 1060 20 72%
San Jose State 32,926 1150 22 64%
Cal Poly San Luis Obispo 21,242 1340 29 28%
CSU San Marcos 13,964 1100 20 58%
Sonoma State University 9,459 1060 20 91%
CSU Stanislaus 10,974 990 18 8
Ranking of Cal State Schools
In terms of selectivity and reputation, there isn’t much distinction between many of the Cal State schools. San Diego State and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo probably have the best academic reputations of all of the CSUs. They also have considerably lower acceptance rates than the rest of the CSUs.
I listed the Cal States by their US News rankings. US News incorporates many factors into its rankings including academic reputation, selectivity, graduation rate, freshman retention rate, and the financial resources of the institution.
Also, US News separates schools into four categories in its rankings: National Universities, National Liberal Arts Colleges, Regional Universities, and Regional Colleges. All of the Cal States are in the Regional Universities (West) category except San Diego State and CSU Fresno, which are considered National Universities, and Cal Maritime, which is a Regional College. I attempted to rank San Diego State, CSU Fresno, and Cal Maritime against the other Cal State schools based on selectivity and academic reputation.
Remember that college rankings are not a perfect science, and while you can use rankings to inform your decisions and get a general idea of how schools are viewed, you should try to find the college that’s best for you.
School US News Ranking
- Cal Poly San Luis Obispo 3
- San Diego State 143 (National Universities)
- Cal Poly Pomona 10
- Cal State Long Beach 14
- CSU Fullerton 16
- Cal Maritime Academy 2 (Regional Colleges)
- San Jose State University 22
- CSU Monterey Bay 25
- CSU Fresno 196 (National Universities)
- CSU Chico 26
- CSU Los Angeles 26
- CSU Stanislaus 29
- San Francisco State 29
- Sonoma State 33
- Humboldt State 37
- CSU Northridge 40
- CSU San Bernardino 40
- CSU Channel Islands 43
- CSU Sacramento 43
- CSU Bakersfield 52
- CSU Dominguez Hills 58
- CSU San Marcos 60
- CSU East Bay 80
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Profiles of Each Cal State School
Many of the Cal State colleges are very similar because they’re California public universities that share the same governing board. The biggest differences between most of the schools are related to their locations, sizes, and percentage of commuter students; the fewer who live on campus, the more likely it is that it’s primarily a commuter school.
Here are brief profiles of each school so you can gain a better understanding of its location and what makes it unique compared to the other Cal State schools. I included the most popular majors, freshman retention rate, and the percentage of students who live on campus.
Additionally, I’ve provided student reviews for each college from Niche, a website that provides reviews, rankings, and statistics about neighborhoods and schools. I tried to include positive and negative reviews that were representative of many of the comments I read.
About Colleges with Low Acceptance Rate
Cal Poly San Luis Obispo
San Luis Obispo is located between Los Angeles and San Francisco on the Central Coast. It has a population of about 47,000. It’s a very nice, quiet area. Cal Poly San Luis Obispo has far fewer commuter students than other Cal State schools. That gives the school more of a community feel on campus and students have a more traditional college experience. Also, Cal Poly SLO also has one of the best undergraduate architecture programs in the country.
Most popular areas of study: Engineering, business/marketing, biological sciences, social sciences
Freshman retention rate: 94%
Percent of students who live in campus housing: 35%
Cal Poly San Luis Obispo is a wonderful campus! The smaller class sizes are wonderful because I can easily connect with the subject and get to know my professors and fellow classmates better. The “Learn by Doing” motto is true! Being able to start having hands-on experiences since Day One makes your knowledge in your field grow and even helps you prepare for a career in your interested field. I love exploring the campus, the land around it, and going into Downtown San Luis Obispo. There’s so many adventures you can make and every one is worth it.
Cal Poly is an amazing school that feels homey while still having a good size student body. The campus is easy to traverse in a couple minutes yet doesn’t feel small. They have amazing programs for agriculture, engineering, business, and architecture majors.
I love Cal Poly! The people I’ve met so far are fun and open minded. There is so much to do in San Luis Obispo, with different beaches so close and the hills for hiking. In addition, all the teachers are supportive and very knowledgeable.
Cal Poly Arboretum (Patrick Berry/Flickr)
San Diego State University
San Diego is California’s second largest city. It has a population of about 1.4 million. The city is known for its beaches and idyllic climate. It’s a couple of hours south of LA, and it’s near the Mexican border. San Diego State offers students the opportunity to take advantage of the benefits of going to school in an urban environment. The San Diego Zoo is pretty cool, too.
Total enrollment: 35,081
Most popular areas of study: Business/marketing, social sciences, health professions, psychology, engineering
Freshman retention rate: 89%
Percent of students who live in campus housing: 23%
I’ve had the opportunity to participate in activities that have made me grow as a person, such as research labs, tutoring, and college athletics. This school offers so many different possibilities in terms of experience and career, and it’s a very accepting school of people from all different backgrounds.
SDSU offers incredible opportunities to students! The opportunity to study at one of the best public schools in the nation, the opportunity to get involved on campus, the opportunity to develop leadership skills, the opportunity to network with incredibly successful alumni, and of course the opportunity to enjoy one of America’s most beautiful cities! My biggest advice is to take advantage of these opportunities! I’ve gotten involved with Greek Life, Associated Students, Rotaract (Community Service Organization), and clubs within my major. I can say with complete confidence that by taking advantage of those opportunities, I have set myself up for a successful and rewarding future!
The campus is beautiful and if you like the sound of year-round sunshine and beaches SDSU is the place for you. If you are not a freshman living on campus and do not join Greek Life you will need to put in effort to get involved in the community so you don’t feel like you are at a commuter school. The school had reasonable tuition and rent in the area, along with wonderful sporting teams and entertainment. I recommend this school if you are a Freshman or if you are an outgoing transfer student.
Cal Poly Pomona
Pomona is located about 45 minutes east of Los Angeles. Its population is about 150,000. The city is home to the Pomona Fairplex. Pomona offers students a diverse, urban environment outside of a big city.
Total enrollment: 27,914
Most popular areas of study: Business/management, hospitality management, biology, civil engineering, mechanical engineering
Freshman retention rate: 86%
Percent of students who live in campus housing: 10%
Cal Poly Pomona is quite welcoming and diverse. It definitely made a statement to ensure that diversity was something to be embraced.
Wish there was more school spirit and football team.
I love my school. Cal Poly Pomona specializes in engineering, and I am majoring in Industrial Engineering. I came from a small high school, and being that Cal Poly Pomona is smaller in size compared to some other California universities, this school was the perfect transition for me. The campus is beautiful, the people are kind, and I have been able to take several awesome engineering courses so far. One of my favorite experiences was when I took an engineering course by the name of “Engineering, Society, and You”, or EGR 100. Within the laboratory portion of this course, I was able to build a mini rose float with my class. Every year, Cal Poly Pomona creates a float made of natural materials for the Rose Parade. Within my lab, I was able to help build a miniature version of last year’s float. It was a very exciting project, although it required much time and effort. This assignment strengthened my patience, and group-working skills. I will always remember my class’ mini float. If I could choose a college to attend all over again, I would not change a thing. My school is perfect for my major and intended future career. The educational aspect is right for me, and the overall environment is wonderful as well.
Fullerton is located in northern Orange County, about 45 minutes south of Los Angeles. The population is roughly 140,000. Fullerton is pretty close to Disneyland. It has more of a suburban feel. Students tend to feel like they have to join clubs and get involved on campus to make friends and have a more enjoyable college experience.
Total enrollment: 40,445
Most popular areas of study: Business/marketing, health professions, psychology, social sciences
Freshman retention rate: 88%
Percent of students who live in campus housing: 2%
The campus is small and very close to downtown Fullerton and Disneyland. I recommend doing more than just going to school: interact with clubs, go to teacher office hours, and sign-up on events on campus to get the full experience of being at CSUF. The campus is old, but slowly are adding modern improvements to the campus. The campus is good and is close to a lot of places a student might go such as parks, restaurants, mall, or movies. The degree you get here is the same everywhere else and probably cheaper too.
First off, I am really happy that I chose the college I am attending now. It is a huge commuter school and I am one of those commuters. I have met some really great people and hope to make more new friends through the next few years. I think my experience thus far would be different if I actually lived on campus or in the off campus apartments. I feel as though I would be more involved and really help me explore what else it out there. The campus is very pretty and has many art statues and productions around campus. Each college on campus has their own unique area, but come together to provide students with multiple resources. One thing I would change about my school is the parking. It being a commuter school, they need more parking options, and to lower the parking pass price.
So far, I am very excited about all the opportunities that Fullerton has to offer. I am already involved with activities and clubs. I have chosen classes with academic advisors and am developing many new relationships with people from different parts of California.
CSU Long Beach
Long Beach is located on the Pacific Coast in Los Angeles County. It’s about 20 miles south of downtown Los Angeles. Long Beach is in between Los Angeles and Orange County. There are about 470,000 residents in Long Beach. Also, it’s a very diverse city, and that’s reflected in the demographics at CSU Long Beach.
Total enrollment: 38,075
Most popular areas of study: Business/marketing, health professions, social sciences, consumer/human sciences
Freshman retention rate: 86%
Percent of students who live in campus housing: 8%
My school is extremely diverse, which I think makes it unique, and full of friendly, approachable students. Although if I could do it all over again, I wish I could have chosen a college that would feel more like a college experience, as many students at my school commutes and there virtually no fun campus life.
I attended community college prior to coming to Cal State Long Beach and this was my dream school while I was in high school. I was so excited to come to this school. While I would of loved to go to a school that had a major football team, this is what was going to fit my family’s budget, location and degree. I got everything I wanted out of school and more. My department had amazing teachers that were incredibly experienced and knowledgeable, which made advising super simple. I have zero complaints about my experience.
The location of the college is really amazing, right next to the beach. The college has a very welcoming environment, in which you feel the freedom to learn and grow as a person. The teachers are there to help you and help you succeed.
About Colleges with Low Entry Requirements
Cal Maritime Academy
Cal Maritime is located in Vallejo. Vallejo is in between San Francisco and Sacramento on the northeastern shore of San Pablo Bay. Its population is about 120,000. Vallejo is a very diverse area. Cal Maritime doesn’t have many academic offerings, but it’s a great option if you’re interested in one of its programs.
Total enrollment: 1,120
Most popular areas of study: Only six majors: business administration/international business and logistics, facilities engineering technology, global studies and maritime affairs, marine engineering, marine transportation, and mechanical engineering.
Freshman retention rate: 81%
Vallejo has a reputation of being dangerous but it is a close drive to go to Berkeley, San Francisco, or Davis to hang out.
This school focuses solely on the Engineering, Marine Transportation, and Business Departments. Each one of these programs has been skillfully developed and is taught by experienced professors to deliver a stunningly successful learning environment.
The diversity for majors is pretty small. Generally people come here already knowing what they intend to major in. This is fantastic if you know what you want to do with your education at age 18. Crippling if you don’t.
San Jose State
San Jose is the third largest city in California by population. Only Los Angeles and San Diego are larger. It has about 1 million residents. San Jose is located in the San Francisco Bay Area and is known as the capital of Silicon Valley. Many high-tech industries and start-ups are in or near San Jose.
Most popular areas of study: Business/marketing, engineering, health professions, visual/performing arts, social sciences
Freshman retention rate: 87%
Percent of students who live in campus housing: 14%
SJSU is a super diverse campus and there’s always something to get into. However, it is very impacted making trying to get into classes almost impossible.
San Jose State University is located in a great location. It is walking distance to many popular places in Downtown, and it is located in the Silicon Valley where there are always job opportunities. There are also plenty of extra curricular activities available, on and off campus. I have met a great number of people who have made the best out of their experience at SJSU and have come out of it with a great career and enjoyable memories.
Obtaining an internship and career at SJSU is amazing, because we are in the heart of silicon valley and only 45 minutes from SF, there is a lot of opportunity here because employers want to hire us.
CSU Monterey Bay
CSU Monterey Bay is located in the city of Seaside in Monterey County. The college is actually on an old military base. Seaside is about 2 hours south of San Francisco and an hour south of Santa Cruz. The population is about 34,000. It’s only a couple of miles east of Monterey, which is an upscale coastal city that features the famous Monterey Bay Aquarium.
Total enrollment: 7,123
Most popular areas of study: Liberal arts, business/marketing, psychology, parks & recreation, public administration
Freshman retention rate: 80%
California State University Monterey Bay is an amazing school focused on sustainability, marine life and biology. Although I am not a biology major, I am very proud of the ways my college has focused on being Eco-friendly and doing its part in helping the environment.
It’s a small, but growing college so a lot of attention is given to students. There are so many opportunities as well for all students such as scholarships, research projects, jobs, etc. There is also an outstanding amount of care from advisors if you begin to slip and they walk you through everything and do their best at assisting you in any way.
This school is definitely not for everyone. My experience has had good parts and bad parts. My biggest tip would be to get involved on campus or in a club. And, bring a car if you can. The parking pass is kinda high in price but life will be so much better with a car.
Tanimura & Antle Family Memorial Library (CSU Monterey Bay/Flickr)
Fresno is the largest city in the Central Valley of California. It’s in between Los Angeles and San Francisco. There are about 500,000 people in Fresno, but the area is still associated with agriculture and many of the surrounding cities are heavily involved in agricultural production. Even though Fresno State is a commuter school, it does offer big-time college sports, and there’s more school spirit there than at some of the other Cal State schools.
Total enrollment: 21,077
Most popular areas of study: Business/marketing, health professions, liberal arts, law enforcement and protective services, psychology
Freshman retention rate: 83%
Percent of students who live in campus housing: 5%
I honestly love California State University, Fresno. Not only are the educational and sports aspects of the college amazing, but the unity and school spirit are more than I could have asked for. The people I have met and friendships I have formed will last a lifetime. I would choose this school again in a heartbeat. Bulldog born, bulldog bred!
It is a good school with a lot of resources available to students. However, there are many things that can be improved to make student life easier and better such as more food options on campus, better transportation systems including bikes. Also, I do not feel safe. At all. As a Criminology major, classes get filled up so fast and many are only offered at night which leaves me to worry about walking in the dark, something I shouldn’t be fearful of in my own campus. More than anything, I should not have to push back my graduation year or semester due to not being able to enroll in the classes I need even if I am a senior already. This is absurd.
I have had the most amazing time at Fresno State! The schools is great, my professors have all been very nice and helpful, the campus isn’t too big but it isn’t too small either. That’s great because just by walking around campus you meet so many different people. There are many events that happen during specific times and they are all so much fun to go to. Other than the actual campus the faculty and advisors are great. They push you to do your best and get where you are trying to go!
Chico is about an hour and a half north of Sacramento and 3 and a half hours from San Francisco. It’s one of the few Cal State campus locations that can be considered a college town. There’s not much going in on Chico unrelated to the college. The population in Chico is about 90,000. It’s close to the Sierra Nevada mountains.
Total enrollment: 17,014
Most popular areas of study: Business/marketing, social science, health professions, parks & recreation, psychology
Freshman retention rate: 84%
Percent of students who live in campus housing: 2%