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Best Community Colleges in California

Mercy Ugonna Njoku - September 01, 2022

With affordable tuition rates and a wide range of academic programs, community colleges are a flexible way to get a college education. If you live in California or are thinking about relocating to this famous beach state for community college, this article is for you. Read to find out about the best community colleges in California and what makes them stand out.

How We Defined California Our Community College Rankings

Our ranking of California community colleges is based on a couple of factors, including average class size, availability of financial aid options, and graduation rates. Determining an initial list of priorities for choosing your college can help you find a fulfilling college career and get the professional training you need.

Important factors to consider are the cost of annual tuition, accreditation providers and partner programs, graduation and transfer rates, availability of financial aid grants, and the types of associate and certificate programs offered by these community colleges.

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The Top 10 Community Colleges in California

  1. College of Marin
  2. Los Angeles City College
  3. East Los Angeles College
  4. San Diego Mesa College
  5. Pasadena City College
  6. Irvine Valley College
  7. De Anza College
  8. Santa Monica College
  9. Mt. San Antonio College
  10. Saddleback College

The Best Community Colleges in California: Explained

Students listening to a lecture
Many affordable community colleges use online resources and resource guides to enhance college life and help students reach academic goals and acquire professional skills.

1. College of Marin

College of Marin offers different degree plans, career advancement training programs, and notable transfer services. This school is located in Kentfield, California and is known for its academic excellence. In 2021 over 9,000 students enrolled in the program, and 430 degrees and certificates were offered through 89 programs.

Best College of Marin Programs

  • Associate in Arts: Drama and Theater Arts
  • Associate in Science: Biology
  • Associate in Science: Registered Nursing Education
  • Associate in Arts Transfer: Psychology
  • Associate in Science: Business

2. Los Angeles City College

Los Angeles City College has an impressive student success record. This college offers up to 71 degrees and 42 certificate options at an average rate of $46 per credit hour charge to in-state students. With supportive career services and high transfer rates, this college boasts a recorded 100 percent transfer success rate to USC and 85 percent for UCLA.

Best Los Angeles City College Programs

  • Associate of Science in Radiology Technology
  • Associate of Science in Dental Prosthetic Technology
  • Associate of Arts in Music
  • Associate of Science in Business
  • Associate of Arts in Cinema/TV

3. East Los Angeles College

East Los Angeles College offers students onsite, online, and hybrid classes at affordable rates. East Los Angeles College was ranked the number one two-year school for enrollment in the country. This school offers comprehensive student services and academic advising to help them succeed in the workforce. It also provides financial aid to make college affordable.

Best East Los Angeles College Programs

  • Associate of Science in Criminal Justice
  • Associate of Arts in Communication Studies
  • Associate of Arts in English for Transfer
  • Associate of Arts in Economics for Transfer
  • Associate of Arts in Accounting

4. San Diego Mesa College

As one of the largest community colleges in California, San Diego Mesa College, offers an extensive list of associate degrees and certificate options. These include certificates of achievement, certificates of performance, associate degrees for transfers in science and arts disciplines, associate degrees for immediate career launch, and bachelor degrees.

Best San Diego Mesa College Programs

  • Bachelor Degree in Health Information Management
  • Associate of Arts in Psychology
  • Associate of Science in Accounting
  • Associate of Science in Mathematics for Transfer
  • Associate of Arts in Economics for Transfer

5. Pasadena City College

Pasadena City College provides quality education to over 29,000 students. It has an impressive student record and is one of the best California colleges for transfers to top schools within the state. 55 percent of students are under 24 years old, 62 percent are part-time students, and 57 percent benefit from community college financial aid grants.

Best Pasadena City College Programs

  • Associate of Science in Math and Computer Science
  • Associate of Performing and Communication Arts: Music
  • Associate of Science: Registered Nursing
  • Associate of Arts: Studio Arts
  • Associate of Science in Biological Technology

6. Irvine Valley College

Irvine Valley College is a leading educational institution in Orange County, California. It has institutional accreditation from the western association of schools and colleges (WASC). It has a good transfer success rate and ensures students are well-equipped to pursue advanced degrees at four-year colleges.

Best Irvine Valley College Programs

  • Associate of Arts: Emphasis in Liberal Arts
  • Associate of Arts in Business Management
  • Associate of Science in Biological Science
  • Associate of Science in Psychology
  • Associate of Science in Mathematics

7. De Anza College

De Anza College is a Silicon Valley college with an impressive transfer record to CSUs and UCs. It currently offers 77 associate degrees, 103 certificates, and about 1,800 courses. Students benefit from career training services, financial aid programs, and affordable tuition so they can achieve their academic goals.

Best De Anza College Programs

  • Associate of Arts in Film/Television
  • Associate of Arts in Business Administration and Management
  • Associate of Science in Computer Information Systems
  • Associate of Science in Design and Manufacturing Technologies
  • Associate of Science in Biological Science

8. Santa Monica College

Santa Monica College offers up to 180 educational programs to its onsite and online students. This school has an impressive transfer program into top Universities like USC, UCLA, University of California, and LMU. There are over 50 offices for student support at SMU that offer free career training for up to 3,000 adults, helping them take advantage of diverse career paths.

Best Santa Monica College Programs

  • Associate in Art in Liberal Arts
  • Associate of Science in Physical Sciences
  • Associate of Science in Accounting
  • Associate of Science in Film Production
  • Associate of Science in Health Sciences: Nursing

9. Mt. San Antonio College

Mt. San Antonio is a multicultural college with a diverse student body. They offer 261 different courses and over 2,000 students successfully transferred to a four-year school. The institution is a notable workforce training and career center in California that offers $68.6 million of financial aid annually.

Best Mt. San Antonio College Programs

  • Associate of Science in Veterinary Technology
  • Associate of Science in Business Management
  • Associate of Science in Nursing
  • Fire Technology Certification
  • Associate in Science in Emergency Medical Services

10. Saddleback College

Saddleback College is located in Mission Viejo, California and offers students an affordable pathway to notable four-year colleges. Since it opened in 1968, it has built an alumni network of over 500,000 graduates who have gone on to achieve professional and educational success in arts fields. The college offers students counseling, job placement, and career guidance.

Best Saddleback College Programs

  • Associate of Arts in Cinema, Television and Radio
  • Associate of Arts in Music
  • Associate of Arts in Photography
  • Associate of Arts in Theater Arts
  • Associate of Arts in Art

Other California Community College Rankings

A student holding a stack of books. 
Studying at a community college in California is a way to secure admission to a prestigious University so you can enjoy wider career options and fulfill your career goals.

A popular alternative to in-person education is online courses and hybrid courses. Online education allows students to reach academic goals with the flexibility of online resources. The community college options listed below provide specific information for prospective students who are interested in online courses and online degrees.

Best Online Community Colleges in California

  1. Coastline Community College. Coastline Community College is an industry leader in distance education. This community college offers over 70 online degree and certificate programs. If you’re looking to pursue a transfer program or professional certification in California, this should be your go-to.
  2. Allan Hancock College. Allan Hancock College offers its students multiple online course options and online resources so they can take ownership of their education. These courses are taught by expert instructors and are interactive and affordable.
  3. Foothill Community College. The Online Student Support at Foothill College ensures you’re well-equipped to face your further academic goals or professional endeavors by taking online classes.
  4. San Bernardino Valley College. If you’re looking for a credible online community college in California, San Bernardino Valley College should make the list. This school offers multiple online certificates and a wide range of flexible degrees.
  5. Barstow Community College. The online resources at Barstow Community College provide over 40 hybrid and online programs for students who prefer to learn from home.

Best Community Colleges for Computer Science in California

  1. Glendale Community College. Glendale Community College offers certificates and degrees to students who wish to pursue the computer science pathway for transfer purposes or career launch.
  2. De Anza College. De Anza College promotes its computer information systems department and equips students with the knowledge and skills needed to transfer to a four-year university or start entry-level careers in the tech industry.
  3. Santa Monica College. This computer science program offers student support in areas such as programming, data structures, computer hardware, and networks so they can launch successful careers in related fields.
  4. Los Angeles City College. If you’re interested in fields such as information systems, cloud computing, software development, or programming, you should consider applying to the Los Angeles City College Computer Science department.
  5. Orange Coast College. Orange Coast school graduates have successfully transferred to computer science programs in notable schools like UC Irvine, UC Berkeley, UC Davis, and UC San Diego.

Should You Attend Community College in California?

Yes, you should. With affordable tuition rates and financial aid programs, attending community colleges in California is a viable option for all prospective students. You have a broad range of outstanding schools to choose from to suit your educational goals and career needs. Colleges will offer students academic advising and education planning and provide transfer opportunities.

Best California Community Colleges FAQ

Can I go to UCLA after community college?

Yes, you can. Graduating from a notable community college in California with a good GPA score can enable you to pursue further education at the University of California. UCLA gives priority to students from community colleges within California who display strong academic performance. Typically you would have to score a 3.5 GPA, but those with 3.2 can be considered.

Is community college easy?

With a higher acceptance rate, getting into community college can be significantly easier than getting into a four-year university, especially into prestigious institutions. However, this doesn’t mean that their curricula are easier or less competitive. Community college students are still required to meet the national and regional institutional accreditation demands of each degree.

Why is a community college better?

Community colleges are a good academic starting point for students who can’t afford the complexities and costs of a four-year degree. There are several affordable community colleges and if you plan to work and study, community colleges are especially ideal.  Also, upon degree completion, there are several work opportunities for community college graduates.

Is transferring to UCLA hard?

Transferring to UCLA is not hard if you can provide an above-average academic transcript. In the fall of 2021, the number of students who applied for transfer into UCLA was 28,457. Out of that number, only 5,435 were admitted into the school. The median GPA for admitted transfer students was 3.92 GPA.

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Mercy Ugonna Njoku

About the author: Mercy, a certified Executive Coach by the International Association of Professions Career College, has a background in accounting and is a veteran content writer who holds a BSc in Business Management from Abia State University. In her writing, Mercy helps people navigate unfamiliar and complex situations in their professional lives so they can thrive. Her hobbies include drawing, working on startup projects, and engaging in discussions.

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