California boasts one of the best systems of higher education in the United States. "U.S. News & World Report’s" national college rankings place 12 California universities in the nation’s top 100. With 112 community colleges, 23 California State Universities, 10 University of California campuses and more than 100 private or independent institutions, some of which are nationally renowned, California is a very popular destination for college students. The five schools discussed here represent the best in the state and appear prominently near the top of every list compiled by national ranking institutions.

Stanford University

Located less than an hour’s drive from San Francisco, Stanford University is one of the nation’s most elite and selective private academic institutions. Stanford accepted just 6.6 percent of applicants in 2012 and has an enrollment of about 7,000 undergraduates and 9,000 graduate students. Founded in 1885 on an idyllic campus referred to as “the Farm,” Stanford is known for its low student-faculty ratio of 5-to-1, an impressive freshman retention rate of 98 percent and a long list of well-known alumni, including President Herbert Hoover, four U.S. Supreme Court justices, Nobel Prize winners, business leaders and famous athletes.

California Institute of Technology

Founded in 1891, the California Institute of Technology, or Caltech, is a private institution that focuses on science and engineering and is rated the top university in the world, according to the "Times Higher Education" World University Rankings. Located in Pasadena, just 10 miles north of Los Angeles, Caltech boasts a 3-to-1 student-faculty ratio and enrolls fewer than 1,000 undergraduates along with about 1,200 graduate students. Caltech is known for research in geophysical sciences and space exploration through the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which it founded in the 1930s and has managed for NASA since 1958.

University of California, Berkeley

The University of California, Berkeley is the highest ranked public university in the country, according to "U.S. News & World Report," and is the flagship of the 10-campus University of California system. Located on the San Francisco Bay, UC Berkeley was founded in 1868 and currently enrolls nearly 26,000 undergraduates and 10,000 graduate students. The campus has a storied history of political activism and has nearly 500,000 living alumni, including Steve Wozniak, co-founder of Apple, Inc.; Eric Schmidt, CEO of Google; and 29 Nobel Prize winners.

University of California, Los Angeles

Commonly known as UCLA, the University of California, Los Angeles is located in Westwood, just a few miles from the Pacific Ocean. UCLA receives more freshman applications than any university in the nation and enrolls more than 28,000 undergraduates along with 13,000 graduate students. It is one of the most ethnically and racially diverse campuses in the country. In addition to its College of Letters and Sciences, UCLA has 11 professional schools, including the School of Arts and Architecture, the David Geffen School of Medicine and its world-famous School of Theater, Film and Television.

University of Southern California

The University of Southern California, or USC, is a private institution located on a 226-acre campus in Los Angeles. Established in 1880, with a class of 53 students, USC currently enrolls 22,000 graduate and professional students, outnumbering its 18,000 undergraduates. In addition to the Dana and David Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences, USC also has
18 graduate and professional schools, including the Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism, the Rossier School of Education and the School of Social Work. As a leading private research institution, USC enrolls nearly 8,000 international students, more than any other university on the United States.