The 10 Best CSU Schools – Ranking, Acceptance Rates, and More

When you think about the state of California, what comes to mind? Sun, sand, and surfing? The glitz and glamour of Hollywood nightlife? What about a well-rounded and affordable education? 

That last one might sound surprising, but it’s true. California features an excellent state university system, which provides top-level instruction at a surprisingly low cost. 

The California State University system consists of 23 campuses, each with its own focuses and advantages. Every one of them adheres to the highest educational standards, and they each strive to make college accessible to the population. 

But just because the CSU schools want to make college accessible doesn’t mean that they let everyone in. These schools have an excellent reputation in part because of their high standards. 

If you want to enjoy everything these schools have to offer, you need to know not only their qualities and advantages but also their acceptance rates. 

Fortunately, College Gazette has you covered. 

We’re covering the top ten schools in the CSU system, following the rankings published on the National Universities list and the Regional Universities (West) lists from U.S. News & World Report. 

The number one and two schools come from the National Universities list, while the remaining eight come from the Regional Universities (West) list. If there’s a tie, then College Gazette determines the tiebreaker. 

With this information, your plans of an excellent education at a CSU school won’t just be California dreaming. 

10. California State University, Chico

CSU Chico
Public domain photo by Daderot via Wikimedia Commons

Although it’s properly called the California State University, Chico, most students call their school Chico State. And with a regular body of more than 16,000 students, that’s a lot of people who love Chico State. 

Part of that success can be attributed to Chico State’s accessibility, which has been recognized by outlets like U.S. News & World Report

The magazine put Chico State in 24th place on its list of Top Performers on Social Mobility, 18th place on its Top Public Schools list, and 17th place for Best Colleges for Veterans. More than just bragging rights, these ranks prove that the school cares deeply about supporting its students. 

That support is also demonstrated by the school’s lovely campus, which stretches 119 acres. The school also features striking green spaces and wildlife reserves, including the 800-acre Paul L. Byrne Memorial Farm

With these spaces, students have plenty of space to unwind and meditate, making them stronger academics. 


9. California State University, Monterey Bay

Nestled between the coastal cities of Seaside and Marina, California State University, Monterey Bay is the second-youngest school in the CSU system. 

Founded in 1994, CSU – Monterey Bay primarily serves a Hispanic population, offering classes and administrative services in English and Spanish

CSU Monterey Bay features a gorgeous campus designed for sustainability. 

Buildings operate on solar panels throughout the campus and with LEED Silver efficiency. These improvements demonstrate the school’s commitment to service to the community. 

But the most alluring part of CSU Monterey Bay may be its ability to improve students’ lives. 

According to U.S. News & World Report, the school ranks 4th in top performers in social mobility among regional colleges in the West. That ranking speaks to the school’s ability to help students get better jobs and homes for themselves and their families. 


8. San Jose State University (San Jose, CA)

San Jose State University
Public domain photo via Wikimedia Commons

Founded in 1857, San Jose State University is the oldest public institution on the west coast and the first school in the California State University system. 

Throughout its more than 150-year history, SJSU has put together an impressive alumni roster. Graduates from the school include legendary NFL coaches Dick Vermeil and Bill Walsh, Dolby sound systems founder Ray Dolby, Intel Corp founder Gordon Moore, and so many more. 

As outstanding as these names certainly are, SJSU is perhaps best known for its Air Force ROTC program, one of the oldest in the United States. The program allows students to earn an active-duty commission as military officers while also gaining a college education. 

SJSU also boasts one of the country’s most ethnically diverse student bodies, with representatives of hundreds of nations coming together to learn. 

With such a rich and varied experience, it’s no wonder that SJSU has produced so many successful world citizens. 


7. California State University, Fullerton (Fullerton, CA)

CSU Fullerton
Spatms, Cal State Fullerton Student Recreation Center (Fullerton, California), CC BY-SA 4.0

With a student body of over 41,000 members, California State University, Fullerton is the largest school in the California State University System, and one of the largest in the state. 

Part of that size comes from the school’s efforts to enroll students from different populations. CSU Fullerton is designated as a Hispanic-serving institution and is working towards designation as an Asian American Native American Pacific Islander serving institution. 

To serve these students, CSU Fullerton is always looking to improve and grow. 

In 2006, the school built a new state-of-the-art Performing Arts Center, complete with an 800 seat concert hall, a 250 seat thrust stage theater, and a 150 seat black box theater. The Center is the home of the school’s award-winning dance program. 

Additionally, the campus features several striking and futuristic buildings. In the school’s Pollak Library, students will find the Philip K. Dick science fiction collection, including letters, drafts, and other vital papers from the great author. 


6. California State University, Long Beach (Long Beach, CA)

With a striking 322-acre campus, California State University, Long Beach is the second-largest school in the system. 

On that campus, you’ll find aesthetically pleasing buildings designed in the International style by architect Edward Killingsworth. These minimalist structures draw the eye’s attention to the beautiful grounds, creating a peaceful and functional place for study. 

More importantly for most, CSU Long Beach has one of the lowest tuition rates in the country. Full-time in-state students pay only $3,425 per semester, offering an exceptional education for an affordable price. 

Despite its low cost to students, CSU Long Beach features all of the top-level facilities one wants in a college. 

One such offering is the Desert Studies Center, located in the Mojave Desert. 

The Center gives students a place to perform observations and research, and to take classes in a vibrant field location. 


5. California State Polytechnic University, Pomona (Pomona, CA)

Cal Poly Pomona
Chlorineer, Cal Poly Pomona South Campus, CC BY-SA 4.0

One of only two polytechnic institutions in the California State University System, California State Polytechnic University, Pomona boasts an impressive alumni list. 

Since its founding in 1938, the school has trained two Fellows of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, a Pritzker Prize laureate, a member of the National Academies, and even a Heisman Trophy winner. 

What’s the secret to the school’s success? In part, it is the facilities. 

Working with an endowment of $105.4 million, CSPU, Pomona has funding to operate facilities and centers that are crucial to academic research. 

One such center is the W. K. Kellogg Arabian Horse Center, an award-winning research facility that allows for breeding thoroughbreds and academic study.

Another is the Suzuki Innovation Village, an ongoing research and business facility constructed in partnership with NASA.


4. California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo (San Luis Obispo, CA)

Cal Poly San Luis Obispo
Barrydfloyd, Performing Arts Center Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, CC BY-SA 4.0

Since its establishment in 1901, California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo has worked to bridge the gap between STEM fields and the humanities. 

To that end, the school features some innovative programs, encouraging students to approach the hard sciences and the arts in relation to one another. 

That approach has earned the school high ranks from observing outlets. According to Money Magazine, Cal Poly ranks 51st out of 100 on the list of “Best Colleges for Your Money” and in the 33rd spot on its list of “Best Public Schools in the U.S.” 

Washington Monthly, which ranks institutions according to research, social mobility, and service to the community, ranked the school 26th in the nation. 

As these accolades demonstrate, Cal Poly is one of the state’s best schools for those who want a unique and well-rounded educational experience. 


3. California State University Maritime Academy (Vallejo, CA)

The only maritime academy on the country’s west coast, the California State University Maritime Academy trains students in the skills and competencies they need for oceanic trades. Students leave prepared for careers in shipping, the merchant marines, the U.S. military, and other fields. 

As a maritime academy, CSUMA requires all of its undergraduate students to participate in the Corps of Cadets. Cadets wear Navy-style uniforms and are organized into divisions such as squads and sections. Every morning, perform formations and each student must stand watch on campus and training ships. 

In addition to its undergraduate programs, the school offers a Master’s Degree in Transportation and Engineering Management. The 10-course program is offered entirely online and prepares graduates for advanced maritime business and public service roles. 


2. California State University, Fresno (Fresno, CA)

At California State University, Fresno, students will find everything they need for a successful college experience. The school boasts a massive student center, the third-largest library in the California State University System, and numerous research centers.

But the biggest draw to CSU Fresno might be its raisin and grape vineyards and its commercial winery. 

More than a gimmick, the Viticulture and Enology Research Center is part of an academic program, in which students learn about agriculture and fermentation. 

Wines made by students have won more than 300 awards, a testament to the quality of their education. 

For those not old enough to enjoy the award-winning wines, CSU Fresno hosts the Smittcamp Family Honors College. This fully-funded program is provided to top-performing college students in California, giving them a chance to gain college credit and experience before graduation. 


1. San Diego State University (San Diego, CA)

San Diego State University
Nehrams2020, Courtyard SDSU, CC BY-SA 3.0

Founded in 1897 as the San Diego Normal School, San Diego State University is an R2 doctoral university, classified as such for its high research activity. 

The school achieves such high activity thanks to the funding it receives, operating with a $353.3 million endowment

Thanks to its commitment to academics and cutting-edge research, SDSU has the second-highest amount of Fullbright Scholars in the state, coming in just behind the University of California at Berkley. 

But it’s not all about books and studies at SDSU. The school has its unique traditions, such as “S Mountain,” a 400-foot white S on Cowles Mountain, which overlooks the school’s football field. The school has a vibrant social program, with multiple student-run publications and broadcast stations operating on the campus. 

As these activities demonstrate, SDSU is the perfect combination of scholarly rigor and social engagement. 


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