There are four main college systems (or types of Colleges) in California: Community College (CCC), California State University (CSU), the University of California (UC), and Independent Private Colleges and Universities. Students begin their pathway into any one of these college systems after receiving their High School Diploma or GED.

Types of Degrees

Within each college system, students may earn degrees and/or certifications by following a set load of coursework as outlined by the college. There are five types of degrees associated with higher education.

Type of Degree


Higher Education Institution

Length of Time to Earn*

Associate's of Arts/Sciences


Community College

About 2 years

Bachelor's of Arts/Science



About 4 years

Master's of Arts/Sciences



Between 2-4 years

Doctorate of Philosophy



3 years or more

Professional Degree



1 year or more

* Time to earn a degree varies based on the student rate of course completion and availability of classes.

Types of Colleges

California Community College (CCC)

  • There are 109 Community Colleges in California.

  • All of them prepare students to transfer to a 4-year institution.

  • They offer Associate Degrees and Certificate Programs.

  • They offer technical training in specific occupations (bookkeeping, culinary arts, cosmetology, etc.).

  • Most are non-residential, meaning that students live off-campus.

  • Students may attend part-time or full-time.

  • In order to enroll, students must be 18+ OR have a High School Diploma/GED.

  • Average annual cost: $15,473
    Explore Community Colleges in California here.

California State University (CSU)

  • There are 23 California State Universities.

  • Each campus offers Bachelor of Arts/Sciences and Master’s of Arts/Sciences degrees.

  • They accept high school seniors and community college transfers.

  • They provide a broad liberal education and prepare students for professional goals.

  • Average annual cost is: $24,718
    Learn more about the CSU system here.

University of California (UC)

  • There are 10 University of California campuses—Berkeley, Davis, Hastings (Law School only), Irvine, Los Angeles, Merced, Riverside, San Diego, San Francisco (Medical and Graduate School only), Santa Barbara, and Santa Cruz.

  • Each campus offers Bachelor of Arts/Sciences degrees, Master’s of Arts/Sciences degrees, J.D., M.D., and Ph.D. degrees.

  • Undergraduate schools accept high school seniors and community college transfers.

  • The mission of UC is research and teaching.

  • UCs also have Professional Schools for Law, Medicine, Education, Engineering, Journalism, and Social Welfare, among others.

  • Average annual cost is: $34,013
    Click here for additional information about the University of California.

Independent and Private Colleges/Universities

  • There are 77 Private Colleges/Universities in CA

  • Each college/university varies in size, prestige, and cost.

  • They offer Bachelor’s, Master’s, Doctorate, and Professional degrees.

  • They accept high school graduates and Community College transfers.

  • Campuses have Professional schools in law, medicine, education, engineering, journalism, and social welfare, among others.

  • Average annual cost is: $61,300
    Find out more about California's Private Colleges and Universities here.

    Content adapted from UC Berkeley's Center for Educational Partnerships.