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Top West Coast Colleges and Universities

Top West Coast Colleges and Universities

The West Coast is home to some impressive universities and colleges, and my top picks range in size from a few hundred to over 40,000 students. Stanford frequently ranks among the nations top universities, and UC Berkeley often tops rankings of public universities. Pomona College is one of the best liberal arts colleges in the country. The colleges and universities below were chosen based on a range of factors including retention rates, graduation rates, student engagement, selectivity, and financial aid. I have listed the schools alphabetically to avoid the often arbitrary distinctions that separate #1 from #2, and because of the futility of comparing a large research university to a small liberal arts college.

The colleges and universities in the list below were selected from West Coast states: Alaska, California, Hawaii, Oregon, and Washington.

California Institute of Technology (CalTech)

Beckman Institute at Caltech. smerikal / Flickr
  • Location: Pasadena, California
  • Enrollment: 2,231 (979 undergraduates)
  • Type of Institution: engineering school
  • Distinctions: 3 to 1 student/faculty ratio; one of the country's best engineering schools; one of the country's most selective colleges; member of the Association of American Universities for strong research programs
  • For more information and admissions data, visit the CalTech profile
  • GPA, SAT and ACT graph for CalTech

Chapman University

Smith Hall at Chapman University. Tracie Hall / Flickr
  • Location: Orange, California
  • Enrollment: 8,542 (6,410 undergraduates)
  • Type of Institution: private university
  • Distinctions: 14 to 1 student/faculty ratio; average class size of 23; strong professional fields such as business and communications, but with a liberal arts flavor; rich history of inclusive admissions
  • For more information and admissions data, visit the Chapman University profile
  • GPA, SAT and ACT graph for Chapman

Claremont McKenna College

The Kravis Center at Claremont McKenna College. Victoire Chalupy / Wikimedia Commons
  • Location: Claremont, California
  • Enrollment: 1,347 (all undergraduates)
  • Type of Institution: private liberal arts college
  • Distinctions: One of the most selective colleges in the country; part of the Claremont Colleges; chapter of Phi Beta Kappa for strengths in the liberal arts and sciences; 9 to 1 student/faculty ratio; good grant aid for qualifying students
  • For more information and admissions data, visit the Claremont McKenna College profile
  • GPA, SAT and ACT graph for Claremont McKenna

Gonzaga University

Gonzaga University-Foley Center Library. SCUMATT / Wikiemedia Commons
  • Location: Spokane, Washington
  • Enrollment: 7,567 (5,183 undergraduates)
  • Type of Institution: private Catholic university
  • Distinctions: Educational philosophy focuses on the whole person -- mind, body and spirit; one of the country's top Catholic colleges; member of the NCAA Division I West Coast Conference; most students receive grant aid
  • For more information and admissions data, visit the Gonzaga University profile
  • GPA, SAT and ACT graph for Gonzaga

Harvey Mudd College

Entrance to Harvey Mudd College. Imagine / Wikimedia Commons
  • Location: Claremont, California
  • Enrollment: 842 (all undergraduate)
  • Type of Institution: undergraduate engineering college
  • Distinctions: One of the top undergraduate engineering colleges; member of the Claremont Colleges; engineering curriculum is grounded in the humanities and social sciences; many hands-on learning opportunities for students; 9 to 1 student/faculty ratio; high marks for the salaries of graduates
  • For more information and admissions data, visit the Harvey Mudd College profile
  • GPA, SAT and ACT graph for Harvey Mudd

Loyola Marymount University

Hannon Library at Loyola Marymount. Photo Credit: Marisa Benjamin
  • Location: Los Angeles, California
  • Enrollment: 9,330 (6,261 undergraduates)
  • Type of Institution: private Catholic University
  • Explore the Campus: LMU Photo Tour
  • Distinctions: attractive 150-acre campus; 13 to 1 student/faculty ratio; average class size of 18; 144 clubs and organizations; member of the NCAA Division I West Coast Conference; largest Catholic university on the West Coast
  • For more information and admissions data, visit the Loyola Marymount University profile
  • GPA, SAT and ACT graph for Loyola Marymount

Occidental College

Administration building at Occidental College. Jeffrey Beall / Flickr
  • Location: Los Angeles, California
  • Enrollment: 1,969 (all undergraduates)
  • Type of Institution: private liberal arts college
  • Distinctions: Chapter of Phi Beta Kappa for strengths in the liberal arts and sciences; located eight miles from downtown L.A.; 10 to 1 student/faculty ratio; average class size of 16; 21 Division III varsity sports teams
  • For more information and admissions data, visit the Occidental College profile
  • GPA, SAT and ACT graph for Occidental

Pepperdine University

Center for Communication and Business at Pepperdine University. Matt McGee / Flickr
  • Location: Malibu, California
  • Enrollment: 7,826 (3,542 undergraduates)
  • Type of Institution: private Christian university
  • Distinctions: Attractive 830-acre campus overlooking the Pacific Ocean; international campuses in six countries; strong undergraduate business major; 13 to 1 ​student/faculty ratio; member of the NCAA Division I West Coast Conference
  • For more information and admissions data, visit the Pepperdine University profile
  • GPA, SAT and ACT graph for Pepperdine

Pitzer College

East and West Residence Halls at Pitzer College. Lauriealosh / Wikimedia Commons
  • Location: Claremont, California
  • Enrollment: 1,062 (all undergraduate)
  • Type of Institution: liberal arts college
  • Distinctions: Member of the Claremont Colleges; test-optional admissions; 11 to 1 student/faculty ratio; creative curriculum emphasizes educational objectives rather than core requirements; highly interdisciplinary curriculum
  • For more information and admissions data, visit the Pitzer College profile
  • GPA, SAT and ACT graph for Pitzer

Pomona College

Pomona College. The Consortium / Flickr
  • Location: Claremont, California
  • Enrollment: 1,563 (all undergraduate)
  • Type of Institution: private liberal arts college
  • Distinctions: One of the ​10 top liberal arts colleges in the country; chapter of Phi Beta Kappa for strengths in the liberal arts and sciences; member of the Claremont Colleges; 8 to 1 student/faculty ratio; average class size of 14
  • For more information and admissions data, visit the Pomona College profile
  • GPA, SAT and ACT graph for Pomona

Reed College

Reed College. mejs / Flickr
  • Location: Portland, Oregon
  • Enrollment: 1,427 (1,410 undergraduates)
  • Type of Institution: private liberal arts college
  • Distinctions: Chapter of Phi Beta Kappa for strengths in the liberal arts and sciences; high number of students go on to earn PhDs; 10 to 1 student/faculty ratio; located 15 minutes from downtown Portland; highly ranked liberal arts college
  • For more information and admissions data, visit the Reed College profile
  • GPA, SAT and ACT graph for Reed

Santa Clara University

Santa Clara University. Jessica Harris / Flickr
  • Location: Santa Clara, California
  • Enrollment: 8,422 (5,438 undergraduates)
  • Type of Institution: private Catholic university
  • Distinctions: One of the country's top Catholic universities; attractive 106-acre campus; strong community service programs; high alumni salaries; strong undergraduate business school; chapter of Phi Beta Kappa for strengths in the liberal arts and sciences; member of the NCAA Division I West Coast Conference
  • For more information and admissions data, visit the Santa Clara University profile
  • GPA, SAT and ACT graph for Santa Clara

Scripps College

Scripps College. Lure Photography / Wikimedia Commons
  • Location: Claremont, California
  • Enrollment: 1,057 (1,039 undergraduates)
  • Type of Institution: private women's liberal arts college
  • Distinctions: One of the top women's colleges in the country; highly ranked liberal arts college; attractive Spanish architecture; 9 to 1 student/faculty ratio; core curriculum in interdisciplinary humanities; chapter of Phi Beta Kappa for strong liberal arts and sciences
  • For more information and admissions data, visit the Scripps College profile
  • GPA, SAT and ACT graph for Scripps

Soka University of America

Founders Hall at Soka University of America. Beyond My Ken / Wikimedia Commons
  • Location: Aliso Viejo, California
  • Enrollment: 430 (417 undergraduates)
  • Type of Institution: private college grounded in Buddhist principles
  • Distinctions: 9 to 1 student/faculty ratio; average class size of 13; attractive mountainside campus above Laguna Beach; neighboring 4,000-acre wilderness park; curriculum grounded in Buddhist principles of peace and human rights; international student body and curricular focus
  • For more information and admissions data, visit the Soka University of America profile
  • GPA, SAT and ACT graph for Soka

Stanford University

Stanford University. Daniel Hartwig / Flickr
  • Location: Stanford, California
  • Enrollment: 17,184 (7,034 undergraduates)
  • Type of Institution: private university
  • Distinctions: One of the country's top universities; chapter of Phi Beta Kappa for strong liberal arts and sciences; membership in the Association of American Universities for excellent research programs; one of the country's most selective colleges; member of the NCAA Division I Pacific 10 Conference
  • For more information and admissions data, visit the Stanford University profile
  • GPA, SAT and ACT graph for Stanford

Thomas Aquinas College

Thomas Aquinas College in Santa Paula, California. Alex Begin / Flickr
  • Location: Santa Paula, California
  • Enrollment: 386 (all undergraduate)
  • Type of Institution: private Catholic liberal arts college
  • Distinctions: Great books curriculum (no textbooks); excellent value; ranks highly among top conservative colleges; attractive 131-acre campus; no classes have a lecture format -- the curriculum features sustained tutorials, seminars and laboratories
  • For more information and admissions data, visit the Thomas Aquinas College profile
  • GPA, SAT and ACT graph for Thomas Aquinas

University of California at Berkeley

The University of California Berkeley. Charlie Nguyen / Flickr
  • Location: Berkeley, California
  • Enrollment: 40,154 (29,310 undergraduates)
  • Type of Institution: public university
  • Distinctions: One of the top public universities; part of the University of California system; chapter of Phi Beta Kappa for strong liberal arts and sciences; membership in the Association of American Universities for strong research programs; 15 to 1 student/faculty ratio; member of the NCAA Division I Pacific 10 Conference
  • For more information and admissions data, visit the UC Berkeley profile
  • GPA, SAT and ACT graph for UC Berkeley

University of California at Davis

The Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts at UC Davis. Steven Tyler PJs / Flickr
  • Location: Davis, California
  • Enrollment: 36,460 (29,379 undergraduates)
  • Type of Institution: public university
  • Distinctions: Part of the University of California system; 5,300-acre campus; over 100 undergraduate majors; chapter of Phi Beta Kappa for strong liberal arts and sciences; membership in the Association of American Universities for strong research programs; member of the NCAA Division I Big West Conference
  • For more information and admissions data, visit the UC Davis profile
  • GPA, SAT and ACT graph for UC Davis

University of California at Irvine

Frederick Reines Hall at UC Irvine. Photo Credit: Marisa Benjamin
  • Location: Irvine, California
  • Enrollment: 32,754 (27,331 undergraduates)
  • Type of Institution: public university
  • Distinctions: Part of the University of California system; highly ranked programs include biolgy/health sciences, criminology, English and psychology; chapter of Phi Beta Kappa for strong liberal arts and sciences; membership in the Association of American Universities for strong research programs; 1,500-acre circular campus with a park at the center; member of the NCAA Division I Big West Conference
  • Explore the Campus: UC Irvine photo tour
  • For more information and admissions data, visit the UC Irvine profile
  • GPA, SAT and ACT graph for UC Irvine

University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA)

Royce Hall at UCLA. Photo Credit: Marisa Benjamin
  • Location: Los Angeles, California
  • Enrollment: 43,548 (30,873 undergraduates)
  • Type of Institution: public university
  • Distinctions: One of the country's top public universities; part of the University of California system; chapter of Phi Beta Kappa for strong liberal arts and sciences; membership in the Association of American Universities for strong research programs; 17 to 1 student/faculty ratio; member of the NCAA Division I Pacific 10 Conference
  • Explore the Campus: UCLA photo tour
  • For more information and admissions data, visit the UCLA profile
  • GPA, SAT and ACT graph for UCLA

University of California at San Diego

Rady School of Management at UCSD. Photo Credit: Marisa Benjamin
  • Location: San Diego, California
  • Enrollment: 34,979 (28,127 undergraduates)
  • Type of Institution: public university
  • Explore Campus: USD Photo Tour
  • Distinctions: One of the country's top public universities; part of the University of California system; chapter of Phi Beta Kappa for strong liberal arts and sciences; membership in the Association of American Universities for strong research programs; particular strengths in the sciences, social sciences and engineering; residential college system modeled after Oxford
  • For more information and admissions data, visit the UCSD profile
  • GPA, SAT and ACT graph for UCSD

University of California at Santa Barbara

UCSB, University of California Santa Barbara. Carl Jantzen / Flickr
  • Location: Santa Barbara, California
  • Enrollment: 24,346 (21,574 undergraduates)
  • Type of Institution: public university
  • Distinctions: 1,000-acre beach-front campus; part of the University of California system; chapter of Phi Beta Kappa for strong liberal arts and sciences; membership in the Association of American Universities for strong research programs; member of the NCAA Division I Big West Conference
  • Explore the Campus: UCSB photo tour
  • For more information and admissions data, visit the UCSB profile
  • GPA, SAT and ACT graph for UCSB

University of Portland

Romanaggi Hall at the University of Portland. Visitor7 / Wikimedia Commons
  • Location: Portland, Oregon
  • Enrollment: 4,383 (3,798 undergraduates)
  • Type of Institution: private Catholic university
  • Distinctions: One of the country's top Catholic universities; 13 to 1 student/faculty ratio; institutional commitment to teaching, faith and service; strong engineering programs; member of the NCAA Division I West Coast Conference
  • For more information and admissions data, visit the University of Portland profile
  • GPA, SAT and ACT graph for UP

University of Puget Sound

University of Puget Sound Residence Hall. The Kevin / Flickr
  • Location: Tacoma, Washington
  • Enrollment: 2,791 (2,508 undergraduates)
  • Type of Institution: private university
  • Distinctions: Curriculum grounded in the liberal arts; chapter of Phi Beta Kappa for strong liberal arts and sciences; 11 to 1 student/faculty ratio; easy access to the Cascade and Olympic mountain ranges; most students receive grant aid
  • For more information and admissions data, visit the University of Puget Sound profile
  • GPA, SAT and ACT graph for Puget Sound

University of San Diego

University of San Diego. john farrell macdonald / Flickr
  • Location: San Diego, California
  • Enrollment: 8,508 (5,711 undergraduates)
  • Type of Institution: private Catholic university
  • Distinctions: Chapter of Phi Beta Kappa for its strengths in the liberal arts and sciences; attractive 180-acre campus with Spanish architecture and views of Mission Bay and the Pacific Ocean; member of the NCAA Division I West Coast Conference; 14 to 1 student/faculty ratio
  • For more information and admissions data, visit the University of San Diego profile
  • GPA, SAT and ACT graph for USD

University of Southern California (USC)

USC Doheny Memorial Library. Photo Credit: Marisa Benjamin
  • Location: Los Angeles, California
  • Enrollment: 43,871 (18,794 undergraduates)
  • Type of Institution: private university
  • Distinctions: Over 130 undergraduate majors; 9 to 1 student/faculty ratio; member of the Association of American Universities for strong research programs; chapter of Phi Beta Kappa for its strengths in the liberal arts and sciences; member of the NCAA Division I Pac 12 Conference
  • Explore the Campus: USC Photo Tour
  • For more information and admissions data, visit the USC profile
  • GPA, SAT and ACT graph for USC

University of Washington at Seattle

University of Washington. clpo13 / Flickr
  • Location: Seattle, Washington
  • Enrollment: 45,591 (30,933 undergraduates)
  • Type of Institution: public university
  • Distinctions: Largest university on the west coast; attractive campus on the shores of Portage and Union Bays; flagship campus of Washington's state university system; chapter of Phi Beta Kappa for strong liberal arts and sciences; membership in the Association of American Universities for strong research programs; 11 to 1 student/faculty ratio; member of the NCAA Division I Pac 12 Conference
  • For more information and admissions data, visit the University of Washington at Seattle profile
  • GPA, SAT and ACT graph for UW

Westmont College

Voskuyl Prayer Chapel at Westmont College. Photo Credit: Brad Elliott
  • Location: Santa Barbara, California
  • Enrollment: 1,277 (all undergraduates)
  • Type of Institution: private Christian liberal arts college
  • Distinctions: 12 to 1 student/faculty ratio; average class size of 18; most students receive grant aid; strong study abroad and off-campus programs; member of the Christian College Consortium; attractive 115-acre campus
  • For more information and admissions data, visit the Westmont College profile
  • GPA, SAT and ACT graph for Westmont

Whitman College

Whitman College. Joe Shlabotnik / Flickr
  • Location: Walla Walla, Washington
  • Enrollment: 1,493 (all undergraduate)
  • Type of Institution: private liberal arts college
  • Distinctions: 9 to 1 student/faculty ratio; chapter of Phi Beta Kappa for strengths in the liberal arts and sciences; strong study abroad initiatives; academic collaborations with top schools such as Caltech, Columbia, Duke and Washington University;
  • For more information and admissions data, visit the Whitman College profile
  • GPA, SAT and ACT graph for Whitman

Willamette University

Walton Hall at Willamette University. Lorenzo Tlacaelel / Flickr
  • Location: Salem, Oregon
  • Enrollment: 2,556 (1,997 undergraduates)
  • Type of Institution: private university
  • Distinctions: Highly ranked undergraduate liberal arts college; 10 to 1 student/faculty ratio; chapter of Phi Beta Kappa for strengths in the liberal arts and sciences; most students receive grant aid; attractive 60-acre campus plus the 305-acre Willamette University Forest at Zena; easy access to nearby forests, mountains rivers, and coastline
  • For more information and admissions data, visit the Willamette University profile
  • GPA, SAT and ACT graph for Willamette