The 10 Best Hidden Gem Universities in California

3) Azusa Pacific University (Azusa, CA)

One of America’s great hidden gem universities, southern California’s Azusa Pacific University is home to many of California’s best programs and most accomplished students.

Primarily known as a Christian university, APU has a number of leading programs in theology, including a unique Bachelor’s degree offering in Youth and Family Ministries.  APU is ranked in the top 20% of all Christian colleges throughout the nation according to Niche.

APU’s alumni have had an unusually large success rate in athletics; 14 have competed in the Olympics, including 2003 gold medal winner Brian Clay. Another several dozen have played for professional sports teams, including the Kansas City Chiefs and San Francisco Giants.

Recently, Azusa Pacific was designated as a “Doctoral University with High Research Activity” according to the Carnegie Classification. Only 5% of all higher education institutions in the US receive this prestigious ranking.

A recent, independently created report shows Azusa Pacific University contributes an amazing $1.25 billion to the economy of California every year, demonstrating its unusually large influence throughout the entirety of the west coast.


2) Fresno State University (Fresno, CA)

photo by Nightryder84 via Wikimedia Commons

Perhaps the most prestigious school in the California State University system, CSU Fresno, more commonly known as Fresno State, was recently designated an R3 university by the prestigious Carnegie Classification in 2016. 

To put this accolade in perspective, less than 10% of all higher education institutions in the entire country hold a Carnegie designation.

Fresno State was recently ranked the 24th best university in the country by Washington Monthly! Amazingly, Fresno State ranked higher than Ivy League schools Brown, Dartmouth, and Cornell University.

So why does this school get so much praise? Perhaps it is because of their unique facilities; Fresno State is home to an on-campus planetarium, wine grape vineyard, and even a 50,000 square foot recreation center.

Or perhaps it is their unusually excellent commitment to service; nearly 19,000 CSU Fresno students and staff contributed an incredible 1,400,000+ total community service hours in the 2018-2019 school year. That makes Fresno State among the top 10 ranking schools nationwide for their commitment to service according to Washington Monthly.

However, what makes this school special is not just the facilities and service, but rather the accomplishments of their students and faculty. In recent years, members of the CSU Fresno community have won multiple Fulbright awards, one of academia’s highest honors. Alumni include numerous professional athletes, an astronaut, and members of the House of Representatives.


1) San Jose State University (San Jose, CA)

photo by San Jose Bike Tour via Wikimedia Commons

If I asked you which school supplies the most graduates into full-time Silicon Valley jobs, known nationwide for their hefty starting salaries, you would probably guess Stanford, CalTech, UCLA, or perhaps some other major California university.

According to a recent study, however, the school with the best employment outcome for finding work in Silicon Valley is actually San Jose State University, one of the most diverse educational institutions in the country.

Although well-known throughout the San Francisco Bay Area, nationally San Jose State remains one of the nation’s best kept secrets, considering its excellence as a school as well as the employment outlook of their students. 

In recent years, SJSU has become a top-ranked school for a number of majors, including undergraduate engineering, which is ranked in the top 20 by US News for their 2020 rankings. Additionally, Washington Monthly listed SJSU among the top 10% of all Master’s universities in the nation.

Over 200,000 people call themselves alumni of SJSU, including a former Intel CEO, Super Bowl winning Coach, and entrepreneurs who started innovative companies including WhatsApp and Dolby Laboratories.


Featured Image by San Jose Bike Tour via Wikimedia Commons

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