The 10 Best Engineering Schools in California

The 21st century brings a wide range of challenges, from a growing demand on resources to a need for developments in energy, healthcare, and sustainability. To tackle these problems head-on, engineers apply practical scientific knowledge to the real world to bring about change. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts an additional 140,000 engineering jobs over the next decade

California is the best state for engineers, with a high median salary, good career prospects, and growth opportunities. The state is at the forefront of environmental regulation, allowing researchers to use recent research to shape the area’s environmental laws. This provides many opportunities for solar-powered technologies and environmental engineering. 

California is also a hotspot for engineering jobs due to the congregation of defense contractors, tech companies, and the aerospace industry. Silicon Valley, known as the global center for high technology and innovation, is home to over 2,000 tech companies.

These companies drive innovation in computer, robotic, environmental, and medical technologies, all of which need engineers to succeed. Civil and aerospace engineers earn more in Californian metropolitan areas than anywhere else in the US.

Students who study engineering require a world-class education to develop an analytical mindset and gain expertise in problem-solving and hands-on research. This breadth of talents allows future engineers to pursue a wide range of future careers and projects. 

The best engineering schools help students meet the demands of engineering through experienced professors, pioneering research, and opportunities to translate research from labs to the real world. Students are encouraged to use their problem-solving abilities to make positive contributions to society.

Here are the ten best engineering schools in California, based on their appearance in the US News National Engineering Schools Ranking.

10. UC Riverside Bourns College of Engineering (Riverside, CA)

UC Riverside Bourns College of Engineering
Jwang026, Bournbuild, CC BY-SA 3.0

UC Riverside is constantly pushing the boundaries with its research and entrepreneurship. The university has over 300,000 square feet of space devoted to research, including the world’s largest atmospheric chamber and a mechanical engineering machine shop. Thanks to prestigious grants from the National Science Foundation and Defense Threat Reduction Agency, students have many opportunities to perform research. 

In 2020, UC Riverside was honored with a $7.5 million grant from the Department of Defense to create a secure command, control, and communications infrastructure. This research center expands possibilities for students to get involved with revolutionary engineering solutions.

Students also lead projects in the entrepreneurial space. A startup funded by UC Riverside engineering students was recently chosen as one of seven finalists for Blackstone LaunchPad’s nationwide pitch competition. This company reimagines recycling for the modern world and aims to make recycling easier for firms and customers alike through new technologies.

9. UC Irvine Samueli School of Engineering (Irvine, CA)

UC Irvine Samueli School of Engineering
Mikejuinwind123, UC Irvine, School of Engineering, CC BY-SA 3.0

The faculty at UC Irvine are widely recognized for their pioneering research and dedicated instruction. More than a third are fellows in professional societies, with 14 members of the National Academy of Engineering.

Outside of the classroom, students are encouraged to work cross-functionally to invent new technologies for the ultimate benefit of society. This is shown in the research sphere, where electrical, computer, and biomedical engineers worked together to create a biochip for studying cancer cells. This early detection technology will be useful in developing nations that do not have the money or access for additional medical devices.

The UC Irvine Samueli School of Engineering is committed to increasing representation in their engineering programs. Due to their efforts, there has been an increase in underrepresented students over the past five years.

8. UC Davis College of Engineering (Davis, CA)

UC Davis College of Engineering
photo by UC Davis College of Engineering via Flickr Creative Commons, CC BY 2.0

UC Davis claims the honorable distinction as the number one most sustainable university in the United States and third globally out of 780 schools, as decided by UI GreenMetric World University Rankings. UC Davis uses the most renewable energy out of all the colleges nationwide, providing plenty of research opportunities for environmental engineering students.

Additionally, the College of Engineering supports a culture of innovation and entrepreneurship. The Student Startup Center provides resources to advance and commercialize new technologies developed by engineering students and faculty. This office has helped to form 115 startups over the past 10 years that seek to benefit society through groundbreaking innovations. 

These companies focus on medical technologies, therapeutics, and food technology platforms. For example, Storx Technologies is developing a noninvasive fetal pulse oximeter to help make the birthing process safer.

7. UC Santa Barbara College of Engineering (Santa Barbara, CA)

According to the Leiden University rankings, UC Santa Barbara is the top school in the world for engineering research impact among public universities. It enjoys one of the most successful public-private research partnerships with a 1:1 patent to publication ratio. Students at this university have the chance to affect the surrounding communities with high-impact research and development.

UC Santa Barbara is the home of the first NSF-funded quantum foundry, a center for the development of materials for quantum information-based technologies. This facility provides exciting opportunities for students to perform research at a pioneering laboratory.

Engineering students also have the ability to learn from an impressive staff. Three professors in the engineering department are Nobel Prize winners in chemistry or physics, while another holds a National Medal of Technology and Innovation.

6. UCLA Samueli School of Engineering (Los Angeles, CA)

UCLA Samueli School of Engineering
legge_e_mare, Boelter Hall, UCLA, CC BY 2.0

The UCLA Samueli School of Engineering is recognized as the birthplace of the Internet. It was here that the first message was sent to a computer by Leonard Kleinrock and his UCLA research team, jumpstarting a technological revolution.

Today, UCLA engineering students, staff, and alumni continue to break boundaries. The NASA astronaut that will pilot the SpaceX ship to space is a UCLA aerospace engineering alumna. Megan McArthur, the only woman on the crew, is an inspiration to future aerospace engineers everywhere.

Back on Earth, the Engineers Without Borders club at UCLA is using engineering skills to improve quality of life in the US and across the globe. The students are working on projects to install a schoolhouse for a Nicaraguan town and a solar-powered water tank for a community in Navajo Nation. Despite the pandemic, they are innovating ways to utilize their engineering skills and community-based humanitarian mindset.

5. USC Viterbi School of Engineering (Los Angeles, CA)

The School of Engineering at USC is named after Andrew Viterbi, founder of Qualcomm Inc. and inventor of the widely-used Viterbi algorithm. As the Presidential Chair Professor of Electrical Engineering, Viterbi inspires engineering students at USC to dream big.

The Viterbi School recently celebrated 115 years of innovation and discovery from students and faculty alike. 

In 2019, the USC Rocket Propulsion Lab became the first student group to launch and recover a rocket from space. Traveler IV was completely designed and fabricated by students and set a record-breaking altitude of 340,000 feet.

In the lab, computer engineering researchers at USC are developing a model to forecast COVID-19 cases alongside the CDC. Their simulation can determine where the virus is spreading the fastest, potential outbreak locations, and who is most vulnerable. Their work garnered national attention and received a Rapid Response Research award of $150,000 from the NSF

4. UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering (San Diego, CA)

With over 280 faculty members and 9,200 students, the UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering has the largest enrollment in the West Coast and the 9th largest in the country. The school is also home to many research centers and institutes for students to get involved.

The Jacobs School believes that no one lab or discipline can solve today’s most challenging problems alone. The university supports interdisciplinary collaborations that are critical for preparing future generations of engineers. These revolutionary research centers that drive research forward include the Center for Engineered Natural Intelligence, San Diego Supercomputer Center, and the Center for Nano-ImmunoEngineering.

One such partnership is the newly created wearable microgrid that stores energy from the human body to power small electronics. Nano, bio, and electrical engineers worked together to create this impressive technology.

3. California Institute of Technology (Pasadena, CA)

California Institute of Technology, Robert A. Millikan Memorial Library at Caltech, CC BY-SA 3.0

The California Institute of Technology is a technology-focused institute that’s devoted to teaching pure and applied sciences. As one of the best engineering schools in California, it has received top ten rankings in many other respected publications and ranking bodies such as Forbes, Shanghai Ranking, New York Times, and Wall Street Journal

Their world-class reputation has brought in millions of dollars in sponsorships, with plenty of ways for students to get involved. Over 90% of students participate in research while at Caltech. Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowships (SURF) present an opportunity to conduct research with engineering faculty working at the top of their fields. Through the SURF program, students gain exposure to the research process from problem definition to presenting results.

Caltech is also tied to many industry giants. The university manages the Jet Propulsion Laboratory for NASA, leading to over 100 research and mission collaborations with Caltech faculty.

2. UC Berkeley College of Engineering (Berkeley, CA)

UC Berkeley
Falcorian, Wheeler Hall-UC Berkeley-Panoramic, CC BY-SA 4.0

The UC Berkeley College of Engineering is renowned for producing successful entrepreneurs. Their impressive list of alumni includes CEOs and co-founders of top tech companies including Apple, Boeing, Google, Intel, and Tesla. 

This success is due to resources such as the Jacobs Institute for Design Innovation, an interdisciplinary hub for learning and making. Here, students of different disciplines can collaborate through courses to combine innovation and design. There is also the opportunity for independent prototyping and fabrication.

Engineers at UC Berkeley use their practical knowledge to drive innovation and change lives. The Berkeley Robotics and Human Engineering Laboratory enabled a paraplegic student to walk during his commencement ceremony. The Austin Whitney project, named after the first test subject, uses a bionic exoskeleton to achieve the unimaginable.

1. Stanford University School of Engineering (Stanford, CA)

Stanford University
King of Hearts, Stanford University Main Quad, CC BY-SA 3.0

Stanford’s School of Engineering houses over 60 institutes and labs ranging in focus from earthquake engineering to biomechanics to sustainable energy. Stanford research institutes support over 7,700 externally sponsored projects with a total budget of $1.93 billion. These projects were created with the mission of solving critical global problems through engineering principles and techniques.

Civil engineers from the university are working collaboratively and imaginatively to protect the environment and local communities. In 2020, the Monterey One Water project created a water treatment plant that supplies one-third of drinking water on the Monterey Peninsula and irrigation water for 12,000 acres of high-value crops.

Stanford is committed to bringing high-quality engineering education everywhere, including students and teachers across the world. The Stanford Engineering Everywhere initiative provides access to the university’s most popular engineering courses to anybody with a computer and Internet connection. 

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