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 College and Universities. Students begin their pathway into any one of these college systems after receiving their High School Diploma or GED.
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
Associate's of Arts/Sciences
Bachelor's of Arts/Science
Master's of Arts/Sciences
Doctorate of Philosophy
Higher Education Institution
Length of Time to Earn*
About 2 years
About 4 years
Between 2-4 years
3 years or more
1 year or more
* Time to earn a degree varies based on the student rate of course completion and availability of classes.
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.
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 prepares students for professional goals.
Average annual cost is: $24,718
Learn more about the CSU system here.
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, Social Welfare, among others.
Average annual cost is: $34,013
Click here for additional information about the University of California.
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.