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California Colleges and Universities: A Treasure Trove of Opportunities

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Serena Frisina College Coach

Written by Serena Frisinaon March 26th, 2024

I worked as an admissions counselor at Lewis & Clark College, my alma mater, for many years before joining College Coach. While at Lewis & Clark, I read applications, interviewed prospective students, made admit decisions, and presented on topics focused on the application process and financial aid. In addition, I planned admitted student days, managed the visit program and supervised the student ambassador team. I also served as an athletic liaison to the football team and supported coaches and student-athletes through the application and financial aid process. I have worked with many community-based organizations to support first generation and underrepresented students through the college search and application process. I have also supported college counselors in creating college search and application curriculum for their schools.
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by Serena Frisina, former admissions officer at Lewis & Clark College Attending high school in California, most of my friends and I wore one of four college sweatshirts: University of Southern California, Stanford, UC Berkeley, and UCLA. Before I even started the college search process, I loyally wore my Cal sweatshirt and supported the Bears during rivalry sporting events. As an AP student with plenty of extracurriculars, I just assumed these schools would be an option for me. You can imagine my surprise when I learned the low acceptance rates for these schools and many other universities that were household names. I won’t give away my age but let’s just say that in the last “few years,” these schools have only become more selective. Maybe you’re in the same boat: you’re digging into the search process and realizing the schools you have fantasized about for years are highly selective “reaches.” You still have plenty of options, even if you’re hoping to stay in or move to California! Here are some other universities and colleges to consider adding to your list. Private universities and colleges in California University of San Francisco If you want a medium-sized school with a diverse student body in an urban setting, USF could be an excellent and accessible option thanks to its 70% admission rate. The university’s Jesuit education includes a focus on social justice and environmentalism, with popular programs in nursing, psychology, business, finance, and marketing. If you’re hoping to attend sporting events, what better place to do it than an NCAA Division I school like USF? Santa Clara University SCU is more selective than USF, but still accessible with a 52% acceptance rate. In the heart of Silicon Valley, SCU is also a Jesuit school with NCAA Division I sports. SCU has an abundance of hands-on research opportunities, supported by its location in a tech hub, a close-knit community with a student to faculty ratio of 10:1, and a student body of just over 6,000. Finance, communications, psychology, economics, political science and government, and accounting are some of SCU’s more popular majors. Chapman University Further south, in the suburban city of Orange, you’ll find Chapman, which has a 60% acceptance rate. Chapman is home to nearly 8,000 students it empowers to become independent thinkers through experiential learning, a core component of the educational experience that entails internships, research, and study abroad opportunities. Popular majors include business, communications, psychology, healthcare management, and cinematography/video production. Occidental College Just a short trip from downtown Los Angeles, Oxy boasts a 40% admission rate and offers a liberal arts education and global focus. Finding a liberal arts college with city access can be a challenge, so Oxy might be an excellent fit if you’re hoping for a smaller college in a big city! Most students major in economics, psychology, biology, political science, environmental science, and international relations. Oxy is smaller than the other schools on this list of private institutions, with just under 2,000 students. Public universities in California University of California, Merced Merced is the newest UC campus, and one of the most accessible, with a nearly 90% acceptance rate. Merced is a Hispanic-Serving Institution and offers an intimate community with just over 8,000 students and plenty of research opportunities. Popular majors include biology, psychology, and business. University of California, Santa Cruz From its beautiful, forested location, Santa Cruz offers a unique 10-college system within the university. Your college is not associated with your major but does determine your living experience and first-year core education. With nearly 20,000 students at UCSC, the college system is a wonderful way to create a smaller community within the larger research institution setting. Popular majors include computer science, psychology, cellular biology, managerial economics, sociology, and environmental science. UCSC’s admission rate is around 50%. California State University, Chico Chico students are especially engaged in campus life, from socializing with friends to community events, so Chico is an excellent fit for students looking for vibrant campus energy. Chico has a 92% acceptance rate, and its most popular majors include business, psychology, liberal arts and humanities, and criminal justice and safety studies. If you’re looking for a particularly affordable option, Chico has the lowest average student debt in the country and offers one of the highest four-year graduation rates of the Cal State system! The student population is just under 13,000 for this residential campus set in a college town—one of the few college towns in California. California State University, Los Angeles If you’re hoping for a city option, this campus in the heart of Los Angeles could be the place for you. Cal State LA has a 90% acceptance rate, a student population of nearly 20,000, NCAA Division II sports, and has been a proud Hispanic-Serving Institution for more than 30 years. Many students major in business, sociology, early childhood education, psychology, and criminal justice and safety studies. Community and service are the foundations of the Cal State LA education. Last, but certainly not least, you might consider a transfer pathway to a four-year university. California community colleges offer excellent transfer options, including those especially tailored to Cal State and UC campuses, and can make a college education far more affordable. As you can see, California institutions offer a huge range in selectivity, size, location, and programs. There truly is a California college or university for everyone! Don’t worry; all these years later I still wear my Cal sweatshirt, but I am so glad I took the time to explore a variety of other options and I hope you will, too.

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