California schools are famous for their competitive admissions, but luckily, not all of them follow that trend. The state is home to many excellent colleges and universities, both public and private, that have high acceptance rates and reasonable academic standards.
If you’re searching for the easiest colleges to get into in California, this guide covers five schools that have high acceptance rates while still providing top-notch education and maintaining solid reputations with employers and grad schools.
We took factors like acceptance rate, median SAT and ACT scores, class rank, and GPA into consideration when creating this list of colleges that offer a fantastic education without making the admissions process excessively challenging.
The 5 Easiest Colleges to Get Into in California
This guide lists what we consider the five easiest academically selective colleges to get into in California. By academically selective, we mean schools that don’t have open-admissions policies, typically community colleges and such.
These schools on this list have academic standards, and getting a degree from any of them holds value in the job market. However, they’re not so fiercely competitive that an average high school student from California has zero chance.
Basically, if you have decent grades and no major red flags on your record, and you apply to all five of these schools, you’re highly likely to get into at least one or two.
University of California, Merced
Location: Merced, CA
Acceptance rate: 87%
Middle 50% SAT range: N/A (test blind)
Middle 50% ACT range: N/A (test blind)
Test optional?: Yes (test blind)
Average high school GPA: 3.5
Top 10% of high school class: 13%
Top 25% of high school class: Not reported
U.S. News ranking: #97 in National Universities
The University of California, Merced is the newest campus in the UC system. It’s located near Yosemite National Park in Merced. It started in 2005 and currently has around 8,000 undergraduates and 1,000 graduate students. They offer bachelor’s and master’s degrees in various fields.
UC-Merced is all about sustainability and is one of the most energy-efficient campuses in the country. It has solar power, water-saving fixtures, and energy-efficient lighting. New buildings meet strict LEED standards.
UC-Merced has the Sierra Nevada Research Institute (SNRI), focused on Sierra Nevada research including climate change, water resources, forests, and wildlife.
Among the 10 UC campuses, Merced has the easiest admissions standards. It’s test-blind and accepts nearly 90% of applicants, regardless of SAT/ACT scores. High class rankings aren’t required for admission either.
Location: Whittier, CA
Acceptance rate: 82%
Middle 50% SAT range: 1,120-1,340
Middle 50% ACT range: 23-28
Test optional?: Yes
Average high school GPA: 3.45
Top 10% of high school class: 19%
Top 25% of high school class: 52%
U.S. News ranking: #107 in National Liberal Arts Colleges
Whittier College is a small, private liberal arts college located in the lovely city of Whittier, California. It was founded back in 1887 by some Quakers, and right now, it has around 1,700 undergraduates. The student body is pretty diverse, with students from all over the United States and even from different countries. But hey, most of them, about 80 percent, are from California.
Guess what? One of its most famous graduates is Richard Milhous Nixon, who eventually became a U.S. president after studying law at Duke University.
Whittier is known for its strong academic programs, but you know what’s great about it? The admissions standards are actually manageable. Business, psychology, and biology are some of the most popular majors in this college. And oh, don’t forget about their awesome liberal arts curriculum that covers English, history, social sciences, fine arts, and other cool humanities disciplines.
Can I just say, small class sizes are a total plus at Whittier. Seriously, most classes only have less than 20 students, and the average is like 15. This means you get to have more personal interaction with your professors. Some professors even invite students over to their homes for informal discussions while having dinner or coffee.
Oh, and guess what? Whittier has an acceptance rate of over 80%. Talk about being inclusive! And get this, only half of the incoming freshmen were ranked in the top quarter of their high school class. Less than a fifth were ranked in the top 10%. Now, let me tell you a secret. You don’t need to worry much about your SAT or ACT scores because Whittier is test-optional. Yep, you heard that right. You don’t have to submit your scores with your application if you don’t want to.
University of the Pacific
Location: Stockton, CA
Acceptance rate: 79%
Middle 50% SAT range: 1,120-1,380
Middle 50% ACT range: 24-32
Test optional?: Yes
Average high school GPA: 3.58
Top 10% of high school class: 36%
Top 25% of high school class: 67%
U.S. News ranking: #151 in National Universities
The University of the Pacific is a private university located in Stockton. It was established in 1851 and is the oldest chartered university in California. Pacific has around 3,300 undergraduate students and 1,100 graduate students. It has more of a small, close-knit community feel, similar to a liberal arts college, due to its small student body, small class sizes, and the relationships formed on campus. The student-to-faculty ratio is 11:1, and the average class size is 20 students.
At Pacific, there are various undergraduate and graduate programs offered. Some of the popular majors include business, biology, psychology, nursing, and education. Additionally, the school offers programs that allow students to pursue a bachelor’s degree and an advanced degree simultaneously, reducing the time needed to complete both. For example, qualified students can earn a PharmD degree at Pacific in just five years.
Pacific’s campus is spread over 100 acres in the Lincoln Center neighborhood of Stockton and features charming Victorian architecture and ample green space.
With an acceptance rate of nearly 80%, Pacific is known for being one of the easier reputable universities to gain admission to in California. It’s important to note that Pacific is test-optional, so while the SAT and ACT midranges may appear high, most applicants choose not to submit scores. Less than 30% of students submitted SAT scores, and less than 10% submitted ACT scores.
California State University—Fresno
Location: Fresno, CA
Acceptance rate: 97%
Middle 50% SAT range: 880-1,100
Middle 50% ACT range: 17-22
Test optional?: Yes
Average high school GPA: 3.32
Top 10% of high school class: 15%
Top 25% of high school class: 80%
U.S. News ranking: #250 in National Universities
California State University—Fresno, or Fresno State, is a public university located in sunny Fresno, California. As part of the CSU system, Fresno State offers bachelor’s and master’s degrees in various fields including business, education, engineering, nursing, and agriculture. The university enrolls around 23,000 undergraduates and approximately 3,000 graduate students.
Although Fresno State is primarily a commuter school, it has been increasing its on-campus population in recent years. The pleasant year-round climate makes studying outdoors on the lawn a delightful experience.
An interesting fact about Fresno State is that it houses the only medical school in California’s Central Valley region. With its high acceptance rate of 97%, Fresno State is the easiest four-year public university to get into in California. It’s also test optional, and most students who chose to submit their test results scored around average. So, if you’re an average student from California, getting into Fresno State should be a breeze.
California Polytechnic State University—Humboldt
Location: Arcata, CA
Acceptance rate: 91%
Middle 50% SAT range: 1,022-1,257
Middle 50% ACT range: 22-28.5
Test optional?: Yes
Average high school GPA: 3.33
Top 10% of high school class: 5%
Top 25% of high school class: 31%
U.S. News ranking: #32 in Regional Universities West
Humboldt State, also known as California Polytechnic State University—Humboldt, is located in the small city of Arcata, around two hours north of San Francisco. The campus is nestled among beautiful redwood trees.
Compared to larger universities like UCLA and UC-Berkeley, Humboldt has a smaller student body. There are approximately 6,000 undergraduate students and 500 graduate students, creating a close-knit community atmosphere.
Humboldt State is renowned for its strong academic programs in the sciences and environmental studies. The university is also known for its progressive and liberal values, with students actively involved in social and environmental justice causes. They frequently volunteer for local organizations and support various causes.
With an acceptance rate of over 90% and a test-optional admissions policy, Humboldt State is one of the easiest schools to gain admission to in California. It is not necessary to have excelled academically in high school, as only 5% of the recent freshman class ranked in the top decile, and less than one-third ranked in the top quarter.
So, there are some pretty great colleges in California that have high acceptance rates and reasonable academic standards. You’ve got the University of California, Merced, Whittier College, University of the Pacific, California State University—Fresno, and Humboldt State University. These schools are pretty selective, but not super hard to get into.
They’re all about inclusivity, and they’ve got a bunch of different programs for undergrad and grad students. Whether you’re into sustainability or just want a solid academic experience, each school has its own strengths.
If you’re a regular high school student with some good grades, chances are you’ll get accepted into at least one of these colleges. So, don’t stress out too much about the competition – you can definitely achieve your higher education goals in California.