Top 30 Small Colleges in California 2021

For students looking for an education from one of the best small colleges in California, we’ve put together some of our top picks for nonprofit colleges and universities. These small colleges in California have been selected based on their tuition price, student population size, and program variety.

Ranking the Top Small Colleges in California

#1. California State University Maritime Academy

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California State University Maritime Academy is located in Vallejo, California. Established in 1929, California State University Maritime Academy was originally known as the California Nautical School. Over the decades, the school would transform to become the focused institution it is today. Currently, about 900 students are enrolled at California State University Maritime Academy.

Students at California State University Maritime Academy can participate in the school’s narrowly focused curriculum. California State University Maritime Academy has received accreditation from the Western Association of Schools and Colleges. At this time, California State University Maritime Academy offers a total of six bachelor’s programs and one master’s degree. These programs focus on business as well as marine-related topics such as oceanography and marine engineering.

Accreditation: California State University Maritime Academy is accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges.

#2. Humphreys University

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Founded in 1896, Humphreys University is a private university with two campuses in California. Operating out of Modesto and Stockton, Humphreys University was originally known as Humphreys College. At the time of its founding, Humphreys College was the first institution of higher learning in the area. Over a century later, Humphreys University still plays an integral role in educating the people in the San Joaquin Valley. Currently, about 900 students are enrolled at Humphreys University.

Humphreys University offers a very focused selection of academic programs for students to select from. Students at Humphreys University can choose from undergraduate degrees in accounting, business administration, criminal justice, legal studies, and more. The Western Association of Schools and Colleges has provided Humphreys University with accreditation. Humphreys University is also home to the Drivon School of Law and offers graduate programs in legal studies and education.

Accreditation: Humphreys University is regionally accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges.

#3. Life Pacific University

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Located in San Dimas, California, Life Pacific University is a private university and Christian Bible college. Founded in 1923, Life Pacific University is endorsed by the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel. Life Pacific University was at one point being operated as an extension campus of a Virginia school, but has since been spun off into its own independent institution.

Students at Life Pacific University can enroll in several programs offered by the school. Life Pacific University has received accreditation from the Western Association of Schools and Colleges. There are fifteen different degree programs to choose from at Life Pacific University. Students can choose from eight undergraduate programs, four online undergraduate programs, and three online graduate programs. Life Pacific University offers degrees in business administration, communication, organizational management, strategic leadership, and more. The undergraduate online degrees can be completed entirely online, and the online master’s degrees require a one-week residency to complete.

Accreditation: Life Pacific University is accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges.

#4. Pacific Union College

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Established in 1882, Pacific Union College is located in Napa Valley, California. One of the only higher education institutions in Napa County, Pacific Union College is a private liberal arts university. Originally founded as Healdsburg Academy, Pacific Union College has remained an integral part of the area’s education infrastructure.

Pacific Union College students can enroll in several different degrees at this small California college. Currently, Pacific Union College is home to a student body of just over 1,600 students. Students at Pacific Union College can choose from just over seventy different undergraduate degrees and one master’s program. The Western Association of Schools and Colleges has provided Pacific Union College with accreditation. Pacific Union College offers students a very competitive tuition rate, helping the school to earn its spot among the top small liberal arts colleges in California.

Accreditation: Pacific Union College is accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior College and University Commission.

#5. La Sierra University

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Located in Riverside, California, La Sierra University is a private university founded in affiliation with the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Established in 1929, La Sierra University was originally known as La Sierra Academy. In the 1960s, La Sierra Academy was merged into the neighboring Loma Linda University, only to be separated back out into its own independent institution in 1990.

Today, La Sierra University enrolls a student body of just over 2,400 students. Students at La Sierra University can choose from a large catalog of academic programs offered by the school. The Western Association of Schools and Colleges has provided La Sierra University with accreditation for its degree programs. La Sierra University’s catalog of academic programs includes over sixty undergraduate degree programs and over twenty graduate degrees. Some of these programs can be completed online. La Sierra University’s tuition is priced competitively compared to universities and colleges in the region.

Accreditation: La Sierra University is regionally accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges.

#6. Point Loma Nazarene University

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Founded in 1902, Point Loma Nazarene University is a private liberal arts college. Located in San Diego, California, Point Loma Nazarene University is a modern Christian university. Originally known as the Pacific Bible College, the school first operated as a Bible College in association with the Nazarene Church. Over a century later, Point Loma Nazarene University remains one of the top small colleges in California.

Point Loma Nazarene University offers a wide array of academic experiences. Institutionally accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges, Point Loma Nazarene University focuses on ensuring students get a more personal academic experience. Currently, the school enrolls a student body of just over 3,800 students with a student-to-faculty ratio of 14:1. Students at Point Loma Nazarene University can choose from over 60 undergraduate degree programs.

Accreditation: Point Loma Nazarene University is regionally accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges.

#7. Golden Gate University

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Golden Gate University is a private university founded in 1923. Located in San Francisco, California, Golden Gate University had its humble beginnings as the YMCA Evening College. Over the course of decades, the school transformed to sprawl across downtown San Francisco and became a cornerstone of higher education. Currently, Golden Gate University enrolls a student body of just over 5,000 students.

Students at Golden Gate University can choose from a vast catalog of academic programs offered by the school. The Western Association of Schools and Colleges has provided Golden Gate University with accreditation. Golden Gate University students can choose from over sixty different degree programs. These programs include undergraduate and graduate-level degrees. Golden Gate University also offers a number of their degrees to students entirely online.

Accreditation: Golden Gate University is regionally accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges.

#8. Master’s University

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Originally founded in Los Angeles, The Master’s University is now located in Santa Clarita, California. Established in 1927, Master’s University was originally known as the Los Angeles Baptist College and Seminary. At the time of its founding, the school was designed for evangelical students. Since then, the school has expanded to encompass a wider array of students.

The Master’s University offers students a focused curriculum set. Students at The Master’s University can choose from undergraduate and graduate degree programs. Many of these programs are offered to students entirely online. The Master’s University also offers an extensive selection of divinity and theology courses and degrees. The Western Association of Schools and Colleges has provided The Master’s University with accreditation.

Accreditation: The Master’s University is accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges.

#9. Westmont College

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Westmont College is a small college located in Montecito, California. A private Christian college, Westmont College was first founded as the Bible Missionary Institute in 1937. Over the coming decades, the school would grow and expand its scope to cover various academic experiences. Today, Westmont college enrolls just over 1,300 students.

Students at Westmont College can choose from a modest, focused selection of academic programs. Some of these programs are offered to students online. These programs include many undergraduate degree programs as well as a dozen pre-professional programs. The Western Association of Schools and Colleges has provided Westmont College with accreditation. Westmont College has ranked among the top small colleges in California because of its commitment to fair tuition prices and the quality of its small programs.

Accreditation: Westmont College is regionally accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges.

#10. Laguna College of Art and Design

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Founded in 1961, Laguna College of Art and Design is a small liberal arts college located in Laguna Beach, California. Over the decades, Laguna College of Art and Design made a name for itself as one of the top small colleges in California for students interested in pursuing the arts. Laguna College of Art and Design enrolls a student body of over 700 students.

The curriculum at Laguna College of Art and Design focuses primarily on the arts. Students at Laguna College of Art and Design can choose from eleven undergraduate and three Master of Fine Arts programs. These degrees include animation, drawing, game art, graphic design, illustration, and more. The Western Association of Schools and Colleges has provided Laguna College of Art and Design with accreditation. The school has ranked among our top small colleges in California because of its commitment to small class sizes and academic excellence.

Accreditation: Laguna College of Art and Design is accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges.

#11. Whittier College

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A small private college in California, Whittier College is currently home to just under 2,000 students. Established in 1887, Whittier College was established by John Greenleaf Whittier. As a Quaker college, the school has transformed over the years to the modern liberal arts college it is today.

Whittier College offers students many different academic experiences to choose from. Whittier College primarily offers undergraduate degrees. There are over thirty different undergraduate majors to choose from. The school also operates the Whittier Law School to allow students to learn the law and prepare for a career working as a lawyer.

Accreditation: Whittier College is accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges.

#12. San Diego Christian College

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Founded in 1979, San Diego Christian College is located in Santee, California. A private Christian college, San Diego Christian College is associated with the Evangelical church. Originally known as Christian Heritage College, the school has grown over fifty years to become a modern university.

Whittier College is currently home to a student body of just under 700 students. Students at San Diego Christian College offer nineteen different academic experiences for students to choose from. San Diego Christian College provides students a focused selection of undergraduate and graduate-level coursework. The school also boasts a student-to-faculty ratio of 8:1.

Accreditation: San Diego Christian College is regionally accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges.

#13. Mount Saint Mary’s University

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A small college in California, Mount Saint Mary’s University, is located in Los Angeles, California. Originally founded in 1925, Mount Saint Mary’s University is a private Catholic university. Currently, just over 2,000 students are enrolled at Mount Saint Mary’s University.

Mount Saint Mary’s University is a great option for students looking for a small college in California with many different academic offerings. Students enrolled at Mount Saint Mary’s University can select from an array of undergraduate degree programs and a smaller selection of graduate degree programs. The Western Association of Schools and Colleges has provided Mount Saint Mary’s University with accreditation. Students can also enroll in courses at Mount Saint Mary’s University entirely online.

Accreditation: Mount Saint Mary’s University is regionally accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges.

#14. Saint Mary’s College of California

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Originally known as Saint Mary’s College, Saint Mary’s College of California first opened its doors in 1863. Run by the De La Salle Christian Brothers as a Catholic university, Saint Mary’s College of California has provided students in the area with higher education opportunities for over a century and a half.

Currently, Saint Mary’s College of California is home to just over 3,700 students. The Western Association of Schools and Colleges has provided Saint Mary’s College of California with accreditation. Class sizes at Saint Mary’s College of California are kept small with a student-to-faculty ratio of 13:1. The school has earned its place among this ranking because of its smaller class size, commitment to academic excellence, and affordable tuition rates.

Accreditation: Saint Mary’s College of California is regionally accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges.

#15. Simpson University

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Founded in 1921, Simpson University is one of the top small colleges in California. Located in Redding, California, Simpson University was originally founded as the Simpson Bible Institute. Originally located in San Francisco, the school moved to its current location in 1989.

Students at Simpson University can enroll in many programs. The Western Association of Schools and Colleges has provided Simpson University with accreditation for its academic programs. These programs include a focused selection of undergraduate and graduate degrees. Simpson University also offers several programs designed specifically for adult students through their ASPIRE program.

Accreditation: Simpson University is regionally accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges.

#16. California Institute of Arts

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Located in Santa Clarita, California, the California Institute of Arts was first established in 1961. Formed when the Chouinard Art Institute and the Los Angeles Conservatory of Music merged, the California Institute of Arts has enjoyed a rich history as a patron of the arts.

Students at the California Institute of Arts can enroll in a variety of different academic experiences. Currently, the California Institute of Arts is home to a student body of just over 1,500 students. The Western Association of Schools and Colleges has provided the California Institute of Arts with accreditation. Students can choose from many arts-related undergraduate and graduate degrees, including studies in choreography, digital arts, jazz, and much more.

Accreditation: California Institute of Arts is regionally accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges.

#17. Vanguard University of Southern California

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Founded in 1920, Vanguard University of Southern California is one of the top small colleges in the state. Located in Costa Mesa, California, Vanguard University of Southern California was originally opened as the Southern California Bible School.

The Vanguard University of Southern California has been accredited by the Western Associations of Schools and Colleges. One of the top small private colleges in California, Vanguard University of Southern California, enrolls just over 2,500 students. The Vanguard University of Southern California offers 32 different areas of study. Students can choose undergraduate, graduate, and professional degrees, some of which are also offered online.

Accreditation: The Vanguard University of Southern California is accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges.

#18. Hope International University

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Located in Fullerton, California, Hope International University is a small college in California. Founded in 1928, Hope International University was originally known as the Pacific Bible Seminary. Over the past century, Hope International University has gained a reputation of being one of the prominent institutions in the area.

Currently, Hope International University boasts a student-to-faculty ratio of 14:1. The school has also received accreditation from the Western Association of Schools and Colleges. Students at Hope International University can choose from a selection of undergraduate, graduate, and online degree programs. Hope International University students can enroll in degrees in business administration, criminal justice, psychology, literature, and much more.

Accreditation: Hope International University is accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges.

#19. California Institute of Technology

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Founded in 1891, the California Institute of Technology is located in Pasadena, California. One of the top small colleges in California, the California Institute of Technology is home to just over 2,200 students.

The California Institute of Technology specializes primarily in its STEM offerings. Students at the California Institute of Technology can enroll in several undergraduate and graduate courses. The Western Association of Schools and Colleges has accredited the California Institute of Technology. The California Institute of Technology is one of the best small colleges in California, especially for students interested in pursuing a STEM degree.

Accreditation: California Institute of Technology is accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges.

#20. William Jessup University

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William Jessup University was founded in 1939 and has since grown to become one of the top small colleges in California. Located in Rocklin, California, William Jessup University was originally founded as the San Jose Bible College.

Today, William Jessup University enrolls a student body of just over 1,200 students. Students at William Jessup University can select from over two dozen undergraduate degree programs and ten graduate programs. The Western Association of Schools and Colleges has accredited William Jessup University. Students can also enroll in ten degrees offered entirely online by William Jessup University.

Accreditation: William Jessup University is accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges.

#21. Pitzer College

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Located in Claremont, California, Pitzer College was first founded in 1963. Part of the Claremont Colleges, a consortium of private colleges in Claremont, California, Pitzer College is a private university with a specialized curriculum.

Today, Pitzer College enrolls a student body of just over 1,000 students. Students enrolled at Pitzer College can pursue degrees in media studies, behavioral sciences, social sciences, and much more. These programs include both undergraduate and graduate programs, as well as some online courses. Pitzer College boasts a student-faculty ratio of 11:1.

Accreditation: Pitzer College is accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges.

#22. Claremont McKenna College

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Claremont McKenna College is one of the top small colleges in California. Founded in 1946, Claremont McKenna College is a member of the Claremont Colleges consortium. Originally established as a men’s college, Claremont McKenna is now a coeducational college. Currently, just over 1,300 students are enrolled at Claremont McKenna College.

Claremont McKenna College offers students advantages for those looking to enroll in one of the top small colleges in California. The Western Association of Schools and Colleges has given accreditation to Claremont McKenna College. The school boasts a student-to-faculty ratio of 8:1. Students can choose from over thirty different undergraduate programs, as well as a Master of Arts in Finance.

Accreditation: Claremont McKenna College is accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges.

#23. Occidental College

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Located in Los Angeles, California, Occidental College was first founded in 1887. A private liberal arts college, Occidental College is also one of the oldest colleges in California. Occidental College was established in close affiliation to the Presbyterian Church.

Occidental College students benefit from the many advantages of enrolling in one of the top small liberal arts colleges in California. Currently, Occidental College enrolls a student body of just under 2,000 students and has a good student-to-faculty ratio. Students at Occidental College can choose from over forty different undergraduate programs. Occidental College also allows students to work with their teachers to create their own multi-disciplinary degree path.

Accreditation: Occidental College is accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges.

#24. Scripps College

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Founded in 1926, Scripps College is one of the top small colleges in California. Located in Claremont, California, Scripps College is a member of the Claremont Colleges consortium. Founded as a women’s college, Claremont College still maintains its women’s college tradition to this day.

Scripps College is home to a student body of just over 1,100 students. Students at Scripps College can benefit from the school’s low student-to-faculty ratio of 10:1. The Western Association of Schools and Colleges has accredited Scripps College. Students at Scripps College can choose from over 65 undergraduate programs. Scripps College leverages its position in the Claremont Colleges consortium to offer students additional academic experiences.

Accreditation: Scripps College is accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges.

#25. Harvey Mudd College

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Located in Claremont, California, Harvey Mudd College is one of the top small colleges in California. Harvey Mudd College is a member of the Claremont Colleges consortium, borrowing resources from nearby institutions. Established in 1955, Harvey Mudd College has grown to be one of the best colleges in science and engineering.

Students at Harvey Mudd College can choose from a large selection of academic programs offered. The Western Association of Schools and Colleges has provided Harvey Mudd College with accreditation. Currently, Harvey Mudd College is home to a student body of just over 900 students. The school offers students a student-to-faculty ratio of about 9:1. With this low student-to-faculty ratio, students can get access to the professors that they’ll need to succeed. Harvey Mudd College primarily offers undergraduate degree programs.

Accreditation: Harvey Mudd College is accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges.

#26. Mills College

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Founded in 1852, Mills College is a private liberal arts school and one of the top small private colleges in California. Located in Oakland, California, Mills College was originally founded as the Young Ladies Seminary and still operates as a women’s college.

Students at Mills College can benefit from many of the advantages of attending a small college. Mills College enrolls a student body of just over 1,100 students and maintains a student-to-faculty ratio of 8:1. The Western Association of Schools and Colleges has provided accreditation to Mills College. Students at Mills College can choose from many undergraduate and graduate programs and a few accelerated bachelor’s to master’s degree programs.

Accreditation: Mills College is accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges.

#27. Azusa Pacific University College

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Azusa Pacific University was founded in 1899. Located in Whittier, California, Azusa Pacific University is a small to mid-sized college in California. Founded as the Training school for Christian Workers, Azusa Pacific University has since grown to become one of the top small colleges in the state.

Students at Azusa Pacific University can choose from a wide selection of academic programs. These programs at Azusa Pacific University include undergraduate bachelor’s programs, master’s programs, doctoral degrees, and several degree completion and online degree programs. The Western Association of Schools and Colleges has provided Azusa Pacific University with accreditation. Azusa Pacific University also has a low student-to-faculty ratio.

Accreditation: Azusa Pacific University College is accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges.

#28. Fresno Pacific University

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Founded in 1944, Fresno Pacific University is located in Fresno, California. Home to a student body of just over 4,000 students, Fresno Pacific University is one of the top small colleges in California.

Fresno Pacific University was originally known as the Pacific Bible Institute. Since then, the school has grown and transformed into a multi-faceted university. The Western Association of Schools and Colleges has provided Fresno Pacific University with accreditation. Students at Fresno Pacific University can choose from over 100 different areas of study. Degrees include undergraduate, graduate, and online offerings.

Accreditation: Fresno Pacific University is accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges.

#29. Marymount California University

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Located in Rancho Palos Verdes, California, Marymount California University is a small liberal arts college. Founded in 1932, Marymount California University was originally known as Marymount Palos Verdes College. The school was first established in association with the Sacred Heart of Mary church.

Today, Marymount California University is home to a student body of just over 1,000 students. Students at Marymount California University can enjoy the benefits of a small college, including a student-to-faculty ratio of 17:1. This lower student-to-faculty ratio ensures that students get the one-on-one time they need to succeed. Students can choose from a focused selection of academic programs, including undergraduate and graduate degrees as well as some online experiences.

Accreditation: Marymount California University is accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges.

#30. California Lutheran University

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One of the top small colleges in California, California Lutheran University was first established in 1959. Located in Thousand Oaks, California, California Lutheran University was affiliated with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Originally known as the California Lutheran College, the school’s name was changed to California Lutheran University in 1986.

The California Lutheran University currently enrolls a student body of over 4,300 students. These students can benefit from the school’s small size by enjoying favorable student-to-faculty ratios and access to campus resources. The Western Association of Schools and Colleges has accredited California Lutheran University. Students at California Lutheran University can choose from several academic programs, including thirty-six different undergraduate majors and thirty-four minors. Graduate programs and online degrees are also available to students at California Lutheran University.

Accreditation: California Lutheran University is accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges.

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This concludes our ranking of the best small colleges in California.