List of The Best UC Schools 2021

Sep 26, 2021

It doesn’t matter if you’re a native Californian. You have likely heard about the University of California system. Maybe you’ve cheered for UCLA football or read an expert article of a UC Berkeley professor sharing his expertise on the news. Or perhaps you’ve met different members belonging to the UC alumni network.

However, it is not important how much you know about the UC system. You have one central question when it comes to your child who’s progressing the college admissions process, “What are the best UC schools?” It should be your priority to understand the UC rankings and what they mean for your student.

The University of California system, established in 1869 to educate the most eminent Californian students, has become world-renowned for its superiority in education, research, and service. Globally deemed the best public university system, the UC system draws over 200,000 applications every year.

The question is, why do so many students dream of getting into one of the nine UC schools?
Maybe because of the esteemed UC faculty, several are Nobel laureates,  MacArthur Fellows, Turing Award winners, and Academy Award winners. Or perhaps the students are drawn to the breakthrough research taking place on UC campuses—producing nearly 2,000 inventions every year. Or possibly they want to join the prolific alumni network, which includes the co-founder of Apple and Fortune 500 CEOs.

You might be aware that the UC system has earned its prestige and reputation over the years. But you still need an answer—what are the best UC schools? In this article, we’ll guide you through the UC rankings to help you determine the best UC schools for your child.

List of UC schools

Before we compare rankings and review the best UC schools in more detail, let’s look at an alphabetized list of the UC campuses.

  • UC Berkeley
  • UC Davis
  • UC Irvine
  • UCLA
  • UC Merced
  • UC Riverside
  • UC San Diego
  • UC Santa Barbara
  • UC Santa Cruz

Note: We have intentionally left UC San Francisco off this list because it only offers graduate and professional degrees. Besides that, many of its graduate programs, including UCSF Medical School, are highly ranked. The focus of this guide is entirely on UC campuses that offer undergraduate degrees.

In what way UC schools are ranked

Regrettably, the UC system itself doesn’t offer a definitive UC rankings list of its different schools for this question. However, all UC schools appear on the US News & World Report list of the best national universities, enabling us to discover the best order for UC rankings.

To accurately understand what the list of best UC schools implies, we must acknowledge the US News & World Report ranking methodology—which weighs various factors to assess each university’s ranking. Let’s look at the ranking factors mentioned in order of importance.

  • Student graduation and retention rates
  • Undergraduate academic reputation (which is determined by a peer assessment given to university presidents and deans of admissions)
  • Faculty resources
  • Financial resources per student
  • Graduation rate performance
  • Student selectivity (based on the SAT/ACT scores and high school class standing of incoming students)
  • Graduate indebtedness
  • Social mobility
  • Average alumni giving rate

This ranking method considers various multiple indicators of student outcomes and considers faculty welfare, alumni engagement, and university standing in the academic community. You should know that no university ranking system can be regarded as perfect. The US News & World Report methodology is unquestionably precise and provides an outstanding source for this UC rankings list.

UC Rankings Table For The Year 2021

The below table orders the best UC schools according to their US News & World Report ranking. It’s worth regarding that all nine of the UC schools place among the nation’s top 100 universities.


While the UC rankings give you a practical order to consider, they don’t paint the whole picture. And when helping your child choose which UC school to attend, you want to base your decision on more than the UC rankings.

Each UC campus has its features and provides an exceptional experience to its students. It doesn’t matter if UC has a higher ranking and is viewed as more prestigious than another. It might not necessarily be the right fit for your child. To determine the best UC schools for your child, you must consider the distinctive location, academics, community, academics, and research opportunities.

Location is Essential 

If you have lived or traveled extensively in California, you know how seriously the culture and people can vary from place to place. The nine UC campuses have spread across California, and each offers a unique location and setting that suits sure students.

A college’s location is essential for several factors. Certain areas of California are known for specific career industries. For example, Los Angeles is well-known globally for a movie, music, and art production. Suppose your child wants to make it big in the film industry. In that case, it’d be wiser to attend UCLA than UC Berkeley will provide unique opportunities to secure internships in the corporate world and start building their career network.

Other UC campuses provide locational advantages for specific careers, too. UC Berkeley lies near Silicon Valley, the hub for technology and innovation. UC San Diego and UC Santa Cruz are situated near the ocean, making them perfect choices for students interested in marine or oceanic studies.

Searching for the right UC major

Overall, the UC system offers over 800-degree programs. Various majors are available at all nine campuses, and most UC schools have a few unique majors only they offer. Let’s look at few examples of particular majors or programs provided by the different campuses.

  • UC Berkeley—the Management, Entrepreneurship, and Technology (MET) program which pairs a B.S. in Business Administration with a second B.S. in a specific engineering discipline
  • UC Davis—B.S. in Entomology 
  • UC Irvine—B.A. in Literary Journalism
  • UCLA—B.A. in Arabic 
  • UC Riverside—B.S. in Mathematics for Secondary School Teachers
  • UC San Diego—B.S. in Nanoengineering
  • UC Santa Barbara—B.S. in Zoology
  • UC Santa Cruz—B.S. in Robotics Engineering

Also, remember that UCLA and UC Irvine are the only two UC schools to offer undergraduate nursing degrees. And while other UC campuses have majors related to marine life and ocean science, UC San Diego boasts an advantage in this area as the home to the Scripps Institution of Oceanography—one of the oldest and largest centers for ocean science research in the world.

There are advantages in studying certain disciplines at specific UC campuses. It’s vital to research the different UC campus majors when determining the best UC schools for your child.

Find UC faculty and research of your choice. 

Around 75% of UC students participate in undergraduate research. And this research not only occurs in the STEM fields, and UC faculty and students research all majors and disciplines.

If your child is trying to find the perfect for himself, he should look at what type of research is being conducted on different UC campuses. What areas of study excite them? What faculty members would they hope to research under and learn from? 

A UC Irvine lab is currently developing an accurate, low-cost antibody test for COVID-19. UC Merced faculty and alumni are working with NASA to test out rovers before sending them to Mars. A UC Santa Cruz faculty member achieved the first complete assembly of a human X chromosome. A pair of UC Santa Barbara faculty are examining how wildfires impact weather patterns. 

These research examples are few out of many for all the research conducted across the UC system. With good digging, your child is compelled to find a study, faculty member, or research lab that he wants to be a part of.

Discover the best UC schools for your child

As we’ve talked about earlier, the UC rankings provide you with the knowledge to use in your child’s college search, but there are many extra factors you should consider before deciding on the best UC schools. If your child is assessing their UC options, they can use the following guidelines to find the campuses that perfectly fit them.

Research each UC school broadly.

I would suggest you visit each UC campus, or at least the ones your child wants to gets into. But if visiting is not possible, you can take the next best thing—UC virtual tours. You can also talk to the UC admissions counselor to get more information about the novel features of each campus. Or you can also connect with the UC alumni or current students on LinkedIn or any other social media and clear your doubts.

After thoroughly researching the different UC’s, your child will find something that he likes and something to prevent from each campus—helping them narrow down their list of best UC schools.

Evaluate UC campus

Your child must know what matters to him in a college experience. Would he opt for a small or colossal campus? Where your child wants to live in an urban location or a suburban one? What type of entertainment and extracurriculars is your child looking for? How will he spend his time on the weekends?

I have seen many incidents where students transfer out even from the most prestigious colleges if it is a poor fit for them. Feeling comfortable and at peace, both inside and outside the classroom will help your child continue through graduation and have a significant college experience.

Exploring UC majors and career opportunities

Various significant options are leading to the same career. So when your child is exploring different majors at each UC school, he should understand the specific feature of the major that animates him. Questions like, does a particular class sound thrilling? Are they fascinated by a particular member of the faculty? Does the academic department offer unique opportunities or resources that would be helpful for future growth beneficial? What top industries have strong connections to the campus?

Apply to all UC schools

One great thing about the UC system is your child can apply to all nine UC schools with a single application. So why not use to all of them, you ask? It’s an option, although an expensive one. The application fee would be $70 per UC campus, or $630 if your child were to apply to all nine.

If getting into a UC school is one of your child’s dreams, they should determine which campuses reach, target, and safety matches for their academic profile.

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