The 10 Best Hidden Gem Universities in California

8) University of Redlands (Redlands, CA)

photo by Don Graham via Flickr Creative Commons

Many know the University of Redlands as one of California’s most beautiful campuses; situated over 160 acres, the school’s exterior is brimming with orange groves, unique architecture, and over 3,000 trees.

However, what makes the University of Redlands special is not just how it looks, but rather two other things: the student body’s commitment to bettering local communities as well as unparalleled academic offerings.

Through the University’s Community Service Learning Program, over 120,000 hours of community service are performed by Redlands students every year. The result of this effort is significantly increased quality of life for local communities throughout California and beyond. Amazingly, 100% of all students participate in service learning.

Since current Redlands president Ralph Kuncl took his position in 2012, the school’s status has risen dramatically, having established a number of international partnerships as well as creating a “University Distinguished Fellows” residency program. Through this program, accomplished leaders in business & politics hold a campus residency to work with students.

Over 50,000 call themselves alumni of the University of Redlands, including a former Presidential Chief of Staff, previous principal tubist of the Chicago Symphony, and at least two California senators.

7) California State University East Bay (Hayward, CA)

photo by Jennifer Williams via Wikimedia Commons

If CSU East Bay could be summarized in one word, it would be “growth.”

Over the last 15 years, the school’s total enrollment has doubled. Throughout this time, the school has added a number of facilities strengthening their curricular offerings, including a dedicated business and technology center over 60,000 square feet in space. 

Employment outcomes for students at CSU East Bay are excellent, thanks not only to the school’s education, but also its 20-minute proximity to the heart of Silicon Valley, America’s capital for high-growth startup businesses. 

CSU East Bay alumni have found employment at Netflix, IBM, Pandora, Oracle, and hundreds more tech companies both in the Bay Area as well as worldwide.

6) Sonoma State University (Rohnert Park, CA)

photo by Stepheng3 via Wikimedia Commons

Predominantly an undergraduate institution with a small postgraduate population, Sonoma State University is located in Rohnert Park, a town near the Napa Valley region of California approximately 50 miles north of San Francisco.

Uniquely, Sonoma State is one of the nation’s few schools offering a substantial curriculum in viticulture, which is the harvest and cultivation of grapes for winemaking. Due to its proximity to Napa Valley, Sonoma State is home to a robust Wine Business program offering classes in marketing, production, management, and more.

At the heart of the Sonoma State University experience is enthusiastic participation in student life and the arts. For over 35 years, Sonoma State has hosted Art From the Heart, one of Northern California’s premiere arts events in which professional artists are invited to sell their works to help raise funds for the school. 

In 2008, Sonoma State further expanded its investment into the arts with the construction of the Green Music Center, a facility encapsulating a 1,400 seat theatre as well as multiple classrooms and even a restaurant featuring locally grown food.


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