As the most populous state in the nation, California educates hundreds of thousands of college students each year.

Accordingly, the Golden State is home to the largest higher-education system in the U.S., according to the Public Policy Institute of California.

The 10 campuses that comprise the University of California system are the state’s main academic research institution, while the California State University system is the largest public four-year, higher-education system in the United States. 

Numerous community colleges and private universities also dot the state’s map.

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Having so many options for higher education keeps the student bodies of each campus smaller than those of some other states.

Nonetheless, the biggest schools in California still rank in the top 25 most highly attended schools in the country. Within California, these colleges are the largest by population size.

University of California, Los Angeles

46,430 Bruins

UCLA is both the most highly attended California university and the No. 1-ranking public university in America (tied with UC Berkeley), according to the U.S. News & World Report 2024 rankings.

The University of California, Los Angeles, also came in as the seventh-best college for veterans among national universities. 

It placed ninth out of 100 universities in the Times Higher Education World Reputation Rankings, which represents the thoughts of leading, published academics from around the world.

University of California, Berkeley

45,699 California Golden Bears

UC Berkeley follows at a very close second with 45,699 students enrolled in the fall of 2023. The university tied UCLA for the title of top public school in the U.S. News and World Report’s 2024 American college rankings.

Nine current faculty members hold Nobel Prizes at the University of California, Berkeley, with a total of 35 held by alumni. In addition, 121 Olympic gold medals have been won by UC Berkeley students and alumni.

University of California, San Diego

43,381 Tritons

UC San Diego comes in third with a total student population of 43,381 as of fall 2023.

This university has won accolades, including five out of five stars on Money’s Best Colleges in America 2023 list for its quality and affordability, third place among public schools on the Forbes 2023 list of America’s Top Colleges, and sixth-best public university in the U.S. News & World Report 2024 Best Colleges list.

The school places fourth among American public universities in the 2023 Academic Ranking of World Universities.

A memorial on the campus of the California State University, Fullerton

California State University, Fullerton

41,962 Titans

In the fall of 2023, Cal State Fullerton had a student body of 41,962.

Fullerton boasts the No. 1 spot on the Wall Street Journal’s “National Champions of Affordability” bracket for 2021-2022, third place on U.S. News & World Report’s 2021-2022 “most innovative regional university in the West” list, and the Seal of Excelencia.

The Seal of Excelencia is awarded by a nonprofit called Excelencia in Education whose mission is to accelerate the success of Latinx students in higher education. To earn the seal, the university had to prove it intentionally serves Latinx students, who make up nearly half the school’s student population.

University of California, Davis

40,848 Aggies

UC Davis remains popular, with 40,848 students enrolled in fall 2023.

The school is No. 1 in agriculture and forestry, according to the 2021 QS World University Rankings by Subject, as well as No. 1 in veterinary science. It came in sixth place in the U.S. News & World Report 2024 rankings of the best public colleges.

The University of California, Davis, also raised a record-setting $1.07 billion in research funding for 2021-2022.

Graduates take part in the commencement ceremony for the College of Natural Sciences & Mathematics, California State University of Long Beach

California State University, Long Beach

39,530 ’49ers

In the fall of 2023, there were 39,530 students enrolled at Long Beach, which was then the most-applied-to school within the California State University system. 

It also earned four and a half out of five stars on Money’s rankings of “The Best Colleges in America 2023.”

The Beach, as its students call it, was No. 1 among national universities in promoting social mobility, according to the U.S. News & World Report in 2023.

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