The 25 Best Colleges in the West – 2016 University Rankings

A gold star badge that says "College Raptor Top 25 West 2016."The west coast of the U.S. is known for many things. Aside from In-N-Out, another one of those things is certainly a plethora of outstanding colleges and universities–both public and private. From the extensive, and highly-regarded University of California system to Stanford, Reed, Pomona, and Pitzer, there is no lack of educational opportunity in this section of the country.

Not only does the western United States have numerous high-caliber schools, but it also has a strong reputation for business acumen, technological innovation, and entrepreneurship.

Nearly every major technology company in the last decade has been birthed in California, Oregon, or Washington. And the alumni list of many schools in this area looks to be a who’s who of the digital age.

Whether you’re an aspiring social media titan or you’re looking to study Marine Biology, there are not a shortage of options for in the West. This list of schools may have just what you’re looking for.

25 Best Colleges in the Western US University Ranking


25. Willamette University

Mark Hatfield Library and stream on the campus of Willamette University.

WillametteUniversityStream” by User:CacophonyOwn work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.5 via Commons.

Salem, OR

Undergraduate enrollment: 2,119

Willamette University is a private liberal arts college that enrolls more than 2,100 undergrads each year. The school offers 35 undergraduate majors, all through the College of Liberal Arts. Despite its medium size, the campus is quite tightly packed–only spanning 69 acres in total.

Learn more about Willamette University


24. University of San Diego

Founders Hall on the campus of the University of San Diego.

FoundersImmacUSD” by WalleighOwn work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons.

San Diego, CA

Undergraduate enrollment: 5,665

USD is a medium-sized private university in San Diego. Not to be confused with UCSD, the University of San Diego has 42 degree offerings available to its 5,600 undergrads. The college consists of six schools, including the most recent, the Joan B. Kroc School of Peace Studies, which opened in 2007 and offers Master’s level courses.

Learn more about University of San Diego


23. Loyola Marymount University

Los Angeles, CA

Undergraduate enrollment: 6,205

The most popular majors among Loyola Marymount’s 6,200 undergraduate students: Speech Communication/Rhetoric, Marketing, and Finance. Its campus on the west side of Los Angeles houses colleges of Communications and Fine Arts, Business Administration, Science and Engineering, Film and Radio, and Education. It’s also well-known for its Law school, which is located in downtown LA.

Learn more about Loyola Marymount University


22. Gonzaga University

The main entrance of Gonzaga University.

Gonzaga University Entrance” by SCUMATTOwn work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons.

Spokane, WA

Undergraduate enrollment: 4,896

Offering more than 90 undergraduate programs and majors, Gonzaga University is a private Roman Catholic university that enrolls nearly 4,900 undergrads. Nestled in the city of Spokane, WA, the Gonzaga campus has an urban feel, but is also only a short drive from many natural landmarks.

Learn more about Gonzaga University


21. University of California-Davis

Mondavi Center of University of California-Davis.

UC Davis Mondavi Center” by Bev Sykes from Davis, CA, USA – #3: “New” (Mondavi Center). Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Commons.

Davis, CA

Undergraduate enrollment: 26,533

UC-Davis is a sprawling, public research university to the west of Sacramento. Its campus spans 5,300 acres, which makes it the second-largest campus in the University of California system. Its graduate studies in Veterinary Medicine are touted as the best in the country, and its undergraduate programs in Agricultural and Environmental Sciences are also commonly ranked among tops in the nation.

Learn more about University of California-Davis


20. Pitzer College

Entrance of Pitzer College campus.

Source: Flickr user CampusGrotto.

Claremont, CA

Undergraduate enrollment: 1,081

Pitzer enrolls more than 1,000 undergrads each year, with the most popular majors being Psychology, Environmental Science, and Political Science. The curriculum and culture on campus stress the importance of social and environmental responsibility. Pitzer is the newest of the Claremont college system.

Learn more about Pitzer College


19. Pepperdine University

Pepperdine University Waves Cafe with a beautiful ocean view.

View from Pepperdine campus. Photograph via CampusGrotto.

Malibu, CA

Undergraduate enrollment: 3,538

Pepperdine is a private research university that boasts one of the best beach campuses in the whole nation. Sitting on the Malibu cliffs overlooking the Pacific, Pepperdine’s 3,500 undergrads study from 40 different majors offered by 8 academic departments comprising the Frank R. Seaver College of Letters, Arts, and Sciences.

Learn more about Pepperdine University


18. University of Washington-Seattle

Students walking and sitting at the University of Washington-Seattle quad.

University of Washington Quad, Spring 2007” by Punctured BicycleOwn work. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons.

Seattle, WA

Undergraduate enrollment: 29,756

Twenty-nine thousand undergraduate students attend the University of Washington’s main campus in Seattle. Just north of downtown, the college is made up of more than 500 campus buildings, including its well-regarded medical research and teaching facilities.

Learn more about University of Washington-Seattle


17. University of California-Irvine

University of California-Irvine Henry Samueli School of Engineering complex.

Engineering,UCI” by RoyWrightDavis Wiki. Licensed under CC BY 3.0 via Commons.

Irvine, CA

Undergraduate enrollment: 23,530

UC Irvine, located in the suburbs just south of Los Angeles, offers 80 undergraduate degrees to more than 23,000 students enrolled each year.

Learn more about the University of California-Irvine


16. Reed College

Portland, OR

Undergraduate enrollment: 1,395

Reed College enrolls approximately 1,400 undergrads. The most popular majors among students at the campus, which is just outside of downtown Portland, are Psychology, Biology, and English. A higher percentage of instructors at Reed are full time than at any other college in the nation.

Learn more about Reed College


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15. University of California-San Diego

University of California-San Diego Price Center crowded with students.

Price Center, UCSD” by Alex HansenDSC00047. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Commons.

San Diego, CA

Undergraduate enrollment: 23,805

UC San Diego is located near the Pacific coast. This public research university enrolls more than 23,000 students. The college offers a unique structure, in which students choose to enroll in 1 of 6 residential colleges. Each of the schools offers different programs/majors and different teaching and learning environments.

Learn more about University of California-San Diego


14. University of California-Santa Barbara

University of California-Santa Barbara De La Guerra dining common.

De La Guerra dining common, UCSB” by Carl Jantzen from Santa Barbara, California, United States of America – The DLG. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Commons.

Santa Barbara, CA

Undergraduate enrollment: 19,362

Originally founded as a teacher’s college, UC Santa Barbara has grown to enroll nearly 20,000 undergrads on its campus just outside of Los Angeles, overlooking the Pacific. In 2015, UCSB was designated as a Hispanic-serving institution (HSI) and its faculty currently includes 6 Nobel Prize laureates.

Learn more about the University of California-Santa Barbara


13. Occidental College

Herrick Memorial Chapel and fountain at Occidental College.

Herrick Memorial Chapel n fountain” by The original uploader was Geographer at English Wikipedia – Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons by IngerAlHaosului using CommonsHelper.. Licensed under CC BY 1.0 via Commons.

Los Angeles, CA

Undergraduate enrollment: 2,128

Occidental, or Oxy, as it’s commonly called, is a private liberal arts college in Los Angeles. Its nearly 2,200 undergraduates choose from 31 available majors/programs and all students except seniors are required to live on campus. President Barack Obama attended Occidental College.

Learn more about Occidental College


12. Santa Clara University

Santa Clara, CA

Undergraduate enrollment: 5,435

Santa Clara boasts a 95% freshman retention rate and an 86% 6-year graduation rate. Its 5,400 undergraduate students can choose from one of 45 degree programs offered by the College of Arts and Sciences, School of Engineering, or School of Business.

Learn more about Santa Clara University


11. Whitman College

Campus lawn of Whitman College during summertime.

Adamsofen via Wikimedia Commons

Walla Walla, WA

Undergraduate enrollment: 1,541

Whitman is a liberal arts college located in a small city in southeastern Washington. Its most popular majors are Biology, Psychology, and English, and its total enrollment is around 1,500 undergraduates. Interestingly, the popular card game Magic: The Gathering was invented by students at Whitman.

Learn more about Whitman College


10. Scripps College

Tree-filled Balch Hall courtyard at Scripps College.

Source: Wikipedia, public domain

Claremont, California

Undergraduate enrollment: 990

Located in southern California, Scripps is a liberal arts college and member of the Claremont Colleges. At the undergraduate level, it enrolls about 1,000 students who are (nearly) all women. Popular majors include Biology, Political Science, and Psychology.

Learn more about Scripps College


9. University of Southern California

Doheny Library and gardens with fountain at the University of Southern California.

Doheny” by Padsquad19 at the English language Wikipedia. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons.

Los Angeles, CA

Undergraduate enrollment: 18,445

USC is a large, private research university located in Los Angeles. It’s home to more than 18,000 undergraduate students and has the country’s oldest and largest cinematic arts school. USC is recognized as having graduated the fourth most billionaires of any undergraduate college in the world.

Learn more about University of Southern California


8. University of California-Los Angeles

Royce Hall landmark building in University of California-Los Angles.

Royce Hall post rain” by AltonOwn work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons.

Los Angeles, CA

Undergraduate enrollment: 28,674

The University of California-Los Angeles, or UCLA, is the second-oldest college in the UC system, having been added after Berkeley. UCLA is not only known for top-tier academics as a public research university, but its student-athletes are also world-renowned, having amassed 250 total Olympic medals, including at least one gold medal in every Olympics the U.S. has participated in since the year 1932.

Learn more about University of California-Los Angeles


7. Harvey Mudd College

Harvey Mudd College entrance and building.

CampusGrotto via Flickr

Claremont, CA

Undergraduate enrollment: 807

Harvey Mudd enrolls about 800 students each year, all of whom are undergraduates. It’s a member of the Claremont Colleges Consortium and has programs focused on science and engineering. The most popular majors at Harvey Mudd: General Engineering, Computer Science, and Math.

Learn more about Harvey Mudd College


6. Soka University of America

Student Center Building at Soka University of America.

Bobak Ha’Eri via Wikimedia Commons

Aliso Viejo, CA

Undergraduate enrollment: 412

Soka is located between Los Angeles and San Diego in southern California. The picturesque campus is home to just over 400 undergraduates, all of whom major in Liberal Studies. The college has the highest endowment per student of any US college or university.

Learn more about Soka University of America


5. University of California-Berkeley

Doe Memorial Library and Sather Tower at University of California Berkeley.

UCBerkeleyCampus” by brainchildvn on Flickr – Flickr. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Commons.

Berkeley, CA

Undergraduate enrollment: 25,951

UC Berkeley is a public research university in the San Francisco Bay area. The California flagship educates the most diverse undergraduate student body of any public university in the U.S., made up of about 26,000 students. Common major choices include Economics, Cell and Molecular Biology, and General Biology.

Learn more about the University of California-Berkeley


4. Claremont McKenna College

Kravis Center at Claremont McKenna College panoramic view.

“View of CMC’s campus from the Kravis Center” by Source (WP:NFCC#4). Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia

Claremont, California

Undergraduate enrollment: 1,316

Claremont McKenna is part of the seven-member Claremont Colleges Consortium located on a shared campus in southern California. While its 1,300 undergraduate students have a wide range of arts and sciences majors to choose from, it is known for its business and social sciences focus.

Learn more about Claremont McKenna College


3. California Institute of Technology

The Walter and Leonore Annenberg Center at California Institute of Technology.

Source: Flickr user joebehr.

Pasadena, CA

Undergraduate enrollment: 877

CalTech is primarily a science and engineering university located in southern California. The school serves both undergraduates and graduate students and has a total undergraduate enrollment of around 1,000. Popular majors at CalTech include Mechanical Engineering, Computer Science, and Chemical Engineering.

Learn more about California Institute of Technology


2. Pomona College

Pomona College Campus Center at dusk.

Source: Flickr user wlcarchitectsphotography.

Claremont, CA

Undergraduate enrollment: 1,610

Pomona College, one of the Claremont Colleges, is an exclusively-undergraduate, private, liberal arts school that enrolls about 1,600 students per year. Students are required to take at least one class from each of 5 areas: Creative Expression; Social Institutions and Human Behavior; History, Values, Ethics and Cultural Studies; Physical and Biological Sciences; and Mathematical Reasoning.

Learn more about Pomona College


1. Stanford University

Gate to the Main Quad at Stanford University.

Source: Flickr user naotakem.

Stanford, CA

Undergraduate enrollment: 7,274

One of the world’s foremost private research universities, Stanford has a long history of alumni entrepreneurs and technology tycoons. Among their ranks, 30 living billionaires call Stanford their alma mater and businesses founded by Cardinal alum generate $2.7 trillion in annual revenue.

Learn more about Stanford University

About our methodology

Colleges are ranked based on a combination of factors, including graduation rates, campus diversity, endowment per student, and other data as reported via the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) for the most recently-available enrollment year. Some colleges may have been excluded from rankings based on certain criteria, including specialization and classification. Learn about our full methodology

View all of the 2016 Best Colleges rankings from College Raptor

2 thoughts on “The 25 Best Colleges in the West – 2016 University Rankings”

  1. William A Hare says:

    This is an interesting list of “best schools”. But you don’t state whether it is a simple list/group or a ranking. Since the list is numbered, most readers will assume that it is a ranking. Also, nowhere is it stated what criteria were used to create the list/group (ranking?). That is, what distinguishes these schools from the many that were not chosen? Since any determination of “best” must necessarily be arbitrary, failure to disclose those criteria deprives the reader of any opportunity to understand what the list actually represents.

    1. Allison Wignall says:

      Hello William! We appreciate your dedication to thoroughness and information. This list is indeed a ranked one, as indicated by our title. As for our criteria, if you scroll to the bottom of the post you’ll see a section entitled “About our methodology” that displays some of the factors that we considered when ranking these schools—as well as a link to a more in-depth and detailed reasoning behind our methodology. We hope this helps!

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