If you ever need to know where small colleges in California are situated and their distinctions, here is a guide that guides your search and marks an end to the long search.

Small, populated colleges are highly sought-after due to their unique propositions. Thankfully, California, out of the many states in the US, has quite a few small schools where the pursuit of higher education meets the charm of smaller campuses and personalized learning environments.

In this guide, we delve into these institutions’ unique educational experiences. From the scenic coastal campuses to the vibrant city-based colleges, California’s small colleges stand out for their commitment to fostering close-knit communities, encouraging interactive learning, and providing students with the individualized attention needed for success.

Join us on a journey where academic excellence, diverse programs, and a supportive atmosphere converge, helping students not only achieve their educational goals but also embark on a transformative and enriching college experience in the heart of the West Coast.

If you did not find the perfect school, check out other schools by exploring our archive of the best small colleges in other states of the US.

Are California’s small colleges a good option?

California’s small colleges provide an intimate learning environment with smaller class sizes, fostering active student participation and individualized attention from professors. Here are other reasons why small schools are a good option:

  • Personalized learning which fosters understanding and creates a supportive community
  • These institutions prioritize community and collaboration, fostering strong camaraderie among students.
  • The smaller campuses encourage cooperation, allowing students to engage in meaningful projects, share diverse perspectives, etc.
  • Flexibility in academic programs is a key advantage, with many small colleges in California emphasizing interdisciplinary learning.
  • Students can tailor their education to their interests and career goals, ensuring a well-rounded education that prepares them for both their chosen professions and the evolving job market.
  • California’s small colleges offer diverse settings that align with students’ preferences.

This variety ensures that each student can find the ideal setting to thrive academically and personally, whether they prefer a tight-knit community, specialized programs, or a specific cultural environment.

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What are the best small colleges in California?

Without further ado, we lead you to the top colleges with small class sizes and student populations in California. Our job here at Ziiky is to make school searching easy and seamless for you.

Now here are the top 10 small colleges in California:

1. California Institute of Technology, Pasadena

  • Phone: +1 626-395-6811
  • Undergraduate enrollment: 987 (2020–21)
  • Address: 1200 E California Blvd., Pasadena, CA 91125

Nestled in the heart of Pasadena is Caltech, a private research university that shines as a beacon of scientific innovation and academic excellence.

With its rigorous focus on STEM disciplines, the institute fosters a collaborative and intellectually stimulating environment where students engage in cutting-edge research that pushes the boundaries of human knowledge.

Caltech’s commitment to curiosity-driven exploration makes it a premier destination for those eager to contribute to the forefront of scientific discovery.

It may interest you to know that Caltech is responsible for many modern scientific advancements and is among a small group of institutes of technology in the United States that are strongly devoted to the instruction of pure and applied sciences.


2. Claremont McKenna College, Claremont

  • Phone: +1 909-621-8000
  • Undergraduate enrollment: 1,300 (2020–21)
  • Address: 888 Columbia Avenue, Claremont, CA 91711

Claremont McKenna College, located in the picturesque Claremont, stands out for its unique blend of liberal arts education and a strong emphasis on economics and government. Claremont McKenna College is one of the nation’s top liberal arts colleges and prepares students to make a difference.

The college’s distinctive approach to fostering leadership and civic engagement prepares students to contribute meaningfully to society.

With a tight-knit community and personalized attention from faculty, Claremont McKenna College provides an environment where students can thrive academically and personally.


3. Harvey Mudd College, Claremont

  • Phone: +1 909-621-8011
  • Undergraduate enrollment: 902 (2020–21)
  • Address: 301 Platt Blvd., Claremont, CA 91711

Harvey Mudd College, part of the Claremont Colleges consortium, is a powerhouse for STEM education with a holistic approach to learning.

Known for its strong focus on science, engineering, and mathematics, HMC ensures students receive a comprehensive education in the liberal arts as well.

The collaborative atmosphere and a commitment to problem-solving set Harvey Mudd apart, creating a dynamic learning environment where students are equipped to tackle complex real-world challenges.

Harvey Mudd College is part of the Claremont Colleges, which share adjoining campus grounds and resources.


4. Pomona College, Claremont

  • Phone: +1 909-621-8000
  • Undergraduate enrollment: 1,747 (2020–21)
  • Address: 333 N College Way, Claremont, CA 91711

Pomona College, nestled in Claremont, is a liberal arts institution celebrated for its commitment to interdisciplinary education and a diverse, inclusive community.

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With a rigorous curriculum and a focus on critical thinking, Pomona prepares students to navigate an ever-changing world.

The college’s scenic campus and emphasis on global perspectives create an environment where students not only excel academically but also develop a deep understanding of their role in a global society.


5. Scripps College, Claremont

  • Phone: +1 909-621-8000
  • Undergraduate enrollment: 1,091 (2020–21)
  • Address: 1030 N Columbia Ave, Claremont, CA 91711

If you are looking for the best small colleges in California for women then Scripps is your best bet. Scripps College, a gem within the Claremont Colleges, is renowned for its dedication to women’s education and empowerment.

The school is focused on liberal arts and commits to fostering leadership, Scripps provides a supportive and intellectually stimulating environment.

The college’s Claremont location and emphasis on interdisciplinary learning contribute to a vibrant community where students are inspired to think creatively and make a positive impact on the world.


6. Occidental College, Los Angeles

  • Phone: +1 323-259-2500
  • Undergraduate enrollment: 1,952(2020–21)
  • Address: 1600 Campus Rd, Los Angeles, CA 90041

Occidental College, located in the vibrant city of Los Angeles, stands out for its commitment to a well-rounded liberal arts education and a diverse, inclusive community.

The college is a private school that offers a transformational liberal arts education that is anchored by exceptional faculty and the resources of Los Angeles.

Occidental is a good option for students looking to focus on social justice, sustainability, and global awareness. Oxy as it is popularly called also prepares students to be informed and engaged citizens.

The college’s close-knit community and strong emphasis on experiential learning create an environment where students are challenged to think critically and make a difference in the world.


7. Pitzer College, Claremont

  • Phone: +1 909-621-8000
  • Undergraduate enrollment: 1,168(2020–21)
  • Address: 1050 N Mills Ave, Claremont, CA 91711

Pitzer College, nestled in Claremont, distinguishes itself with a commitment to social justice, environmental sustainability, and intercultural understanding.

With a unique emphasis on student autonomy and customizable academic programs, Pitzer fosters an environment where students can explore their passions and engage in meaningful community-driven projects.

The college’s dedication to creating socially responsible global citizens sets it apart within the Claremont Colleges consortium.

Keep in mind that Pitzer is one of the Claremont Colleges whose curricular emphasis is on social sciences, behavioral sciences, international programs, and media studies.


8. Point Loma Nazarene University, San Diego

  • Phone: (619) 849-2200
  • Undergraduate enrollment: 3,154 (2020–21)
  • Address: 3900 Lomaland Drive, San Diego, CA 92106

Point Loma Nazarene University, perched atop the cliffs of San Diego, combines a strong liberal arts education with a Christian worldview.

PLNU focuses on community engagement, ethical leadership, and global awareness, PLNU prepares students to make a positive impact in their chosen fields.

The university’s stunning coastal location and commitment to fostering a sense of purpose create a unique and inspiring educational experience.


9. Vanguard University, Costa Mesa

  • Phone: +1 714-556-3610
  • Undergraduate enrollment: 1,972 (2020–21)
  • Address: 55 Fair Dr, Costa Mesa, CA 92626

Vanguard University in Costa Mesa distinguishes itself as a private Protestant Christian university with a commitment to academic excellence, spiritual formation, and community engagement.

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With a focus on integrating faith and learning, Vanguard provides a supportive environment where students can explore their passions and develop a strong foundation for their future careers.

The university’s dedication to character development and service sets it apart within the educational landscape of Southern California.

Keep in mind that Vanguard’s required core curriculum includes courses on American politics and history, theology, fine arts, and public speaking.


10. West Valley College, Saratoga

  • Phone: +1 408-867-2200
  • Undergraduate enrollment: 5,777 (2020–21)
  • Address: 14000 Fruitvale Ave, Saratoga, CA 95070

West Valley College is a public community college in Saratoga that offers a unique community college experience focusing on academic excellence and career readiness.

With a variety of programs and a commitment to student success, WVC provides a stepping stone for students to pursue their educational and professional goals.

The college’s emphasis on affordability and accessibility makes it a valuable asset in Silicon Valley, where students can launch their academic journeys and prepare for successful careers.


FAQS on best small colleges in California

What sets small colleges in California apart from larger universities?

Small colleges in California distinguish themselves by offering

  • Smaller class sizes
  • Intimate learning environment
  • Fostering close student-faculty relationships
  • Creating a sense of community that may be harder to achieve in larger institutions.

Do small schools in California support student engagement outside the classroom?

California’s small colleges prioritize community and collaboration by providing ample opportunities for students to engage in meaningful projects, participate in extracurricular activities, and build strong connections with peers, enhancing their overall college experience.

What advantages do California small colleges offer in terms of academic programs?

Small colleges in California emphasize flexibility in academic programs, often promoting interdisciplinary learning.

This allows students to tailor their education to their individual interests and career goals, ensuring a well-rounded and personalized educational experience.

How do small colleges in California prepare students for the evolving job market?

Small colleges in California focus on providing a versatile education that prepares students not only for their chosen professions but also for the complexities of the evolving job market. The emphasis on interdisciplinary learning and adaptability equips graduates with a diverse skill set.

What factors make the settings of small colleges in California appealing to students?

The diverse settings of small colleges in California, ranging from picturesque coastal campuses to vibrant urban environments, appeal to students by offering a variety of atmospheres. This allows each student to find an ideal setting that aligns with their preferences, ensuring a fulfilling academic and personal experience.



Grace Iroh
Grace Iroh
Articles: 162

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