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Online Degrees in California (CA)

From the Silicon Valley tech ward in the north to the bustling biomedical firms of the south, California has carved a reputation for innovation. It serves it well: The Washington Post once reported that even in the post-recession era, the state's domestic product was so large it could be admitted into the G-8. Unfortunately, the Golden State's ability to draw new businesses within its borders (and new job opportunities for its citizens) is in jeopardy. The problem? The Lumina Foundation reports that though California's 2011 Census-reported college attainment rate of 38.9 percent is on par with the national average, it is flat, growing by just one-tenth of a percentage point each year since 2008. If this rate holds, the state will fall well short (17 percent, to be precise) of projected statewide demand by 2025. This could spell bad news for a state that gets so much economic lift from knowledge-based industries. The bottom line: California needs more college graduates -- and fast. California colleges in general, and online degree programs in particular, are a key part of the solution. Read on to learn more.

  1. Why Should I Get My Degree in California?
  2. What Makes California Ideal for Online Education?
  3. Top 10 Degrees in California
  4. Top Cities and Metros for California College Students
  5. College Roadmap
  6. Scholarships and Financial Aid
  7. Discover Degree Opportunities

Why Should I Get My Degree in California?

It is no secret that California attracts people from all across the nation (and beyond). Sunny beaches, cultural hotspots, vineyards and mountain retreats support a thriving tourist economy, but there are several other reasons to live and learn in California. According to a 2011 report from the American Human Development Project, the standard of living in California is generally high for most of the population. Cost of living is a little on the high end, but wages exceed the national average across the board, and are especially impressive in what the AHDP calls the "Silicon Valley Shangri-La" and "Metro-Coastal Enclave" sectors. There are plenty of good reasons to consider California colleges specifically, too, according to Eddie LeMeire, former admissions counselor for the University of California San Diego and Loyola University, and founder of the LaMeire College Consulting firm.

"[Students come to California for] the sophistication in terms of diversity, technology and entrepreneurship. This is California's appeal in a nutshell," says LaMeire. He notes students looking for "tradition" or "Wall Street" might be less drawn to the West Coast, but for "progressive minded thinkers interested in looking for peers with different perspectives, California is a wonderful place to go to college."

For many of these students, college is as much a stepping stone into the state as it is a source of personal or professional enrichment. Though California at large is experiencing a shortage in college graduates, several areas of the state attract far more than their share of educated workers. The following are just a few of the major cities in California that boasted well-above-average college attainment in 2011, as reported by the Lumina Foundation:

  • San Francisco (61.42%)
  • Marin (61.48%)
  • Santa Clara (55.08%)
  • San Mateo (54.26%)
  • San Diego (44.15%)
  • Contra Costa (47.75%)
  • Ventura (40.48%)

Whatever one's reasons for earning a degree in California, the state delivers. It is home to an impressive diversity of schools, including public, private, non-profit and career schools. The University of California and the California State University systems are among two of the largest college systems not just in the nation, but the world. In 2012, UC reported a total enrollment of 223,359 students; CSU reported about twice that -- 446,530 -- the following year. Students can earn degrees online, on-campus or through a blended approach combining the two.

It bears noting that in the grand scheme of things, California colleges are a bargain -- especially when students attend community college before advancing to four-year institutions or career schools. The College Board reported that the average annual tuition at California public institutions in 2013 was $9,037. This is admittedly higher than it was in 2004, but well under the average for many other popular college states, like Connecticut, Michigan, Virginia, Massachusetts and more. Students who attend online colleges in California while working full-time, or who qualify for financial aid, are in even better shape. More on both these points below.


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What Makes California Ideal for Online Education?

Eddie LaMeire Founder, LaMeire College Consulting
[Students come to California for] the sophistication in terms of diversity, technology and entrepreneurship. This is California's appeal in a nutshell.

A quick review of California colleges and universities reveals a multitude of online degree options, and it is no wonder why: Online education offers a number of benefits over traditional coursework.

"Online and hybrid classes make learning infinitely more convenient," says LaMeire. "This is specifically the case for students interested in computer science and software engineering, since these fields lend themselves better to such programs."

In other words, several of California's tech-centric, high-demand fields are particularly well suited for online learning, but that is only one of many reasons Californians choose to study online, regardless of major. Others include:

  • No traffic. Students living in traffic-heavy cities like Los Angeles, San Diego and San Francisco appreciate not having to battle road rage to get to class each day.
  • Flexibility. Online degrees in California allow students to study around even full-time jobs, which is a major benefit for anyone, but especially those attending pricier programs or living in high-cost regions.
  • Tech savviness. Students living and working in high-tech regions like Silicon Valley often feel right at home studying online, especially when enrolled in computer-related majors.
  • Online innovation. California's history of innovation includes major advancements in online education. According to TechCrunch, schools like San Jose State University, Stanford University and Berkeley were among some of the earliest pioneers in online learning in general, and MOOCs in particular.
  • Career options. As noted above, California sports an exceptionally large and diverse economy. Online schools allow California students to pursue in-demand fields or majors of interest without regard for geography.

Clearly there are a plethora of reasons online education makes sense in California, but the fact that the state itself prioritizes online learning deserves special attention. Online learning has moved from experimental status into the decidedly mainstream: According to a 2014 report from the Babson Survey Research Group in partnership with Pearson and the Sloan Consortium, 7.1 million students nationally -- a full one-third -- took at least one online course in 2013, and schools continue to add online learning options in droves. Legislators in California have recognized this trend as a means of closing its looming education attainment gap: TechCrunch reports that when SJSU announced a major partnership with MOOC-provider edX a few years ago, Gov. Jerry Brown was one of the first to voice his support. California's major college systems -- UC and CSU -- have also jumped on the online learning bandwagon in an effort to meet increasing demand for web-based degrees.

Today, California colleges of all types and prestige offer online degree options, including both MOOCs and credit-based options. Students can research their options by browsing through the state-supported California Virtual Campus Website. At the time of this writing, CVC connects students with more than 1,300 degrees offered by some 165 accredited California colleges.


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Top 10 Degrees in California

For students mulling over traditional or online degrees in California, it pays to do a bit of research before settling on a major, at least for those who prioritize earnings and career outlook. The following are some of the most in-demand careers (and degrees) in California, as reported by a Bright.com analysis of 2.5 million job openings in California and long-term career projections from the state's Employment Development Department.

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How did professionals choose their online degrees and start a successful career?

1. Electrical Engineering

According to Bright.com's analysis, electrical engineering is the most in-demand job in the state. Thankfully, students have a number of respected programs to consider. U.S. News & World Report ranked each of the following California electrical engineering degree programs among the top 10 nationally in 2014:

  • Stanford University. U.S. News & World Report ranked Stanford's electrical engineering program no. 2 nationally in 2014. The school offers both bachelor's and graduate degrees in the field, plus graduate certificates in areas like electronic circuits and micro/nano systems. Stanford also allows students to complete a number of electrical engineering courses online through its Stanford Center for Professional Development.
  • University of California Berkeley. U.S. News ranked UC Berkeley's electrical engineering degree program just behind Stanford's in 2014. Students can earn bachelor's degrees, master's degrees and even a Ph.D. with specializations in areas like energy science or nanoscale science and engineering. UC Berkeley has partnered with massive open online course (MOOC) provider edX to offer a number of free, not-for-credit courses in a plethora of disciplines, including electronics. Such programs are an excellent option for prospective students who want to get a taste for UC Berkeley electrical engineering courses online, without committing to a full program.
  • California Institute of Technology. The California Institute of Technology, or Caltech, was home to the third-ranked electrical engineering degree in California (and no. 9 nationally) in 2014. The school hosts bachelor's degrees, master's degrees and Ph.D.s. in the field. Caltech's electrical engineering program is multidisciplinary, meaning courses are closely allied with complementary disciplines, like bioengineering and applied physics. Students are currently unable to enroll in online electrical engineering degrees through Caltech, but in 2013 the school announced that it would partner with edX to offer MOOCs in a variety of disciplines.

2. Computer Science

Given the Golden State's reputation for tech innovation -- and its booming Silicon Valley -- it is no surprise that Bright.com's analysis found computer science to be the second most in-demand field in the state. The following schools are just some of those offering well-respected computer science degrees in California:

  • University of California Berkeley. According to a salary and career analysis from PayScale.com, UC Berkeley has the best computer science degree program in California. It is also notoriously progressive: In 2014, TechCrunch reported that Berkeley's computer science department made history when, for the first time ever, women students outnumbered men in its nationally renown Intro to Computer Science course.
  • California State Polytechnic University in San Luis Obispo. PayScale considers Cal Poly SLO's computer science degree to be the second most valuable CS program in the nation. Students can earn bachelor's and master's degrees in the field, or enrolled in the school's unique Blended BS + MS Computer Science program. Cal Poly's learn-by-doing motto gives students a great deal of hands-on programming experience right from the start.
  • University of California Santa Barbara. Situated along California's pristine central coast, a bit south of Cal Poly, UCSB is home to PayScale.com's third-ranked computer science program. Students can earn bachelor's degrees and master's degrees in the field, or enroll in a combined B.S./M.S. degree program. UCSB offers a limited number of online computer science courses in areas like network administration and technology management.

3. Medical Technology and Biomedical Engineering

Brighton.com reports that medical technology (including biomedical engineering) is the third most in-demand career field in California. The following California biomedical engineering degree programs were ranked within the top 10 nationally by U.S. News & World Report in 2014:

  • University of California in San Diego. UCSD offers a number of exceptional degree programs, but its biomedical engineering program makes it an undisputed leader in the realm of medical technology. Students can earn bachelor's degrees, master's degrees or Ph.D.s, or enroll in a blended BS/MS program. While students cannot currently enroll in online biomedical engineering classes at UCSD, they can complete other select engineering or general education courses online.
  • Stanford University. Stanford University's Bioengineering program is the second highest ranked program in California, according to U.S. News & World Report. While all of Stanford's biomedical engineering degrees are well respected (including both undergraduate and graduate programs), the school's extensive research program really sets it apart.
  • University of California Berkeley. The fact that UC Berkeley appears so many times on our list is a good indication of the school's stellar reputation, and its biomedical engineering program -- ranked third in the state and tenth in the nation -- is no exception to the rule. Students can earn bachelor's or master's degrees in the field, or enroll in a joint UC Berkeley - University of California San Francisco graduate program in bioengineering or translational medicine.

4. Civil Engineering

Bright.com's analysis pegged civil engineering as the fourth most in-demand career in California based on statewide job postings. Not surprisingly, the state offers a number of nationally recognized civil engineering degree programs:

  • University of California in Berkeley. U.S. News & World Report ranks UC Berkeley's civil engineering degrees no. 1 not just in California, but in the nation. Students can enroll in bachelor's or graduate degrees, and choose to specialize in a particular area of the field, like project management, geosystems or structural engineering.
  • Stanford University. Stanford University is home to U.S. News & World Report's second highest ranked civil engineering degree program in California, and fifth in the nation. Stanford's School of Civil & Environmental Engineering offers minors, bachelor's degrees and graduate degrees in civil engineering, and allows students to specialize in areas like structural engineering and geomechanics. Students can enroll in a limited number of online civil engineering courses at Stanford, including select MOOCs offered in partnership with edX, Coursera and NovoEd.

5. Architecture

California's buzzing economy is putting development into high gear, which might explain why Brighton's analysis named architecture the fifth most in-demand career in the state of California. Architectural Record ranked the following California architecture degree programs within the top 10 in the nation in 2014:

  • California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo. Cal Poly SLO's architectural engineering program has long been considered one of the best in the nation, but according to Architectural Record, it is no. 1, hands-down. Though Cal Poly is primarily an undergraduate school, it offers both bachelor's and master's degrees in architecture. Interesting note: Well known singer-songwriter Weird Al Yankovic earned an architecture degree from Cal Poly, and even recorded some of his earliest demos in the school's radio station's restroom.
  • University of Southern California. Architectural Record considers USC's architecture second-best in California, and seventh in the nation. Students can earn both undergraduate and graduate degrees in the field, including a unique master of advanced architectural studies post-professional degree. Though students can enroll in some online classes through USC's Rossier Online, architecture is not listed among its currently available degree programs.
  • Southern California Institute of Architecture. SCIA is an excellent example of a specialty college in California -- one that happens to be the ninth-best architecture school in the country, per Architectural Record. Students attending this LA-based school can earn bachelor's, master's, and post-professional degrees in an array of architectural specialties, like Emerging Systems & Technologies or City Design, Planning and Policy.

6. Marketing

The State of California's Employment Development Department ranks market research among the state's fastest growing fields, with projected employment gains of nearly 46 percent statewide between 2010 and 2020. The following California marketing programs rank among some of the best in the nation:

  • University of California Berkeley. U.S. News & World ranked UC Berkeley's marketing degree program no. 1 in California, and no. 5 in the nation in 2014. The school offers undergraduate degrees, certificates, MBAs and Ph.D.s in marketing through their prestigious Haas School of Business. Students can also take a number of online marketing classes at UC Berkeley, including a full certificate program.
  • University of Southern California. USC's marketing degree programs are nationally recognized: U.S. News & World Report ranked them no. 2 in California and no. 10 in the nation in 2014. Students can earn bachelor's, master's, and doctoral degrees in marketing through USC's Marshall School of Business. USC also offers several online marketing courses through their Continuing Education program.
  • San Jose State University. San Jose State University's marketing program may not clear U.S. News & World Report's top 10 rankings, but the program is widely respected. The school's proximity to Silicon Valley also makes it a practical option for students hoping to specialize in tech marketing. Though SJSU's extensive online course catalog does not currently include a marketing program, the school allows students to propose online certificate and degree programs for review.

7. Emergency Medical Tech, or EMT

Emergency medical technicians (EMTs) are in-demand: California's EDD projects that employment of EMTs will grow by 42 percent between 2010 and 2020. Unlike many other fields featured on this list, EMTs are not necessarily required to graduate from traditional four-year institutions to practice. The following schools are home to some of the best-known EMT programs in California:

  • College of the Sequoias. The College of the Sequoias is a two-year community college. According to its website, EMT program graduates will be prepared for entry-level positions with ambulance companies and in hospital emergency rooms. The hands-on nature of the field makes online EMT classes difficult.
  • Butte College. Butte College offers a wide range of EMT programs catering to all levels of the field, from EMT-Basic to Paramedic. Students can also enroll in EMT refresher and First Responder courses.
  • East Los Angeles College. East Los Angeles College has made a name for itself in a number of first-responder fields, including fire science and emergency medicine. The school's Emergency First Responder training program is open not just to budding EMTs, but also healthcare majors, law enforcement officers, childcare providers and anyone else who would benefit from this type of training.

8. Medical Science & Research

California needs more medical scientists, also called medical researchers: The EDD projects that demand for these pros will grow by nearly 46 percent between 2010 and 2020. This field demands graduate-level and even post-doctoral education. Thankfully, a number of California colleges offer well-respected medical research programs:

  • Stanford University. Stanford's health and medical degree programs are among some of the most prestigious in the world, and U.S. News & World Report considers its graduate-level medical research program the best in California, and one of the top three programs in the nation. In addition to offering applicable bachelor's, master's and doctoral degrees, Stanford offers a unique MD/PHD Medical Scientist Training Program, but only to a select group of incoming medical scientists with a strong aptitude for science.
  • University of California San Francisco. The University of California San Francisco's Medical Scientist Training Program is ranked no. 2 in California, and no. 4 in the nation. This integrated training pathway combines the graduate and medical curricula necessary to earn both M.D. and Ph.D. degrees. According to UCSF, this unique program is ideal for "highly qualified physician scientists" who want to pursue careers in academic medicine and research.
  • University of California Los Angeles. UCLA's David Geffen School of Medicine offers a diversity of medical-related degrees, including what U.S. News & World Report considers to be the no. 12 medical science program in the nation. Like Stanford and UCSF, UCLA boasts a combined M.D.-Ph.D. Medical Scientist Training Program in addition to other degree options, like the Master of Science in Clinical Research or the Subspecialty Training and Advance Research (STAR) Program.

9. Museum Curation

Museum curation is an often overlooked career field, but according to the EDD, it is one of the fastest growing careers in California with a projected growth of 40 percent between 2010 and 2020. Medical curation degree programs are fairly rare, but students attending California colleges are fortunate enough to have several options. The following programs are among them, as reported by the Association of Academic Museums & Galleries:

  • San Francisco State University. San Francisco is home to some of the best-known museums in the nation, so it is no surprise that it also hosts more than its fair share of museum studies programs. SFSU's Master of Arts degree in Museum Studies provides students with the training they need to become curators, including practical internships in the city.
  • San Francisco Art Institute. The San Francisco Art Institute has carved a reputation for excellence in the field of fine arts, and it's master's-level exhibition and museum studies program (EMS) is no exception. Students learn about the trends and cultural challenges facing museum theorists, curators and institutions.
  • California College of the Arts. CCA is another Bay-Area-based specialty art school, and home to what it calls the West Coast's first Curatorial Practice graduate degree. Students investigate the history of exhibitions and explore how collaborative, artist-led and other curatorial initiatives "challenge and advance existing paradigms of exhibition making." San Francisco's Asian and Latin cultural histories take center state.

10. Marriage and Family Therapy

Marriage and family therapists help individuals, couples and families overcome psychological or behavioral colleges. According to the EDD, they are also in high demand, with a projected employment growth of 39 percent between 2010 and 2020. The right training is not just helpful, it's downright required. The following MFT and counseling programs are ranked among some of the best in the nation according to Wesleyan University's Social Psychology Network:

  • University of California Santa Barbara. According to the SPT, UCSB's counseling department ranks first in California and seventh nationally. Students can look to the Counseling, Clinical & School Psychology program to learn more about their options, which include master's and doctoral degrees.
  • Santa Clara University. This private Bay Area school frequently ranks among one of the best in the nation across a number of categories. It is also home to one of the state's few dedicated MFT licensing programs through its Master of Arts in Counseling Psychology degree program.
  • Pepperdine University. Pepperdine offers a number of psychology and counseling degree programs, including an M.A. in Clinical Psychology with an Emphasis in Marriage and Family Therapy. Students can choose between day, evening, and Spanish-Language formats.

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Top Cities and Metros for California College Students

California colleges and online schools offer a little something for everybody, but according to LaMeire, where one chooses to study may depend very much on his or her chosen field, since schools aim to meet market demand.

"The usual suspects are the most popular [college cities]: LA, San Francisco, and San Diego," says LaMeire. "Of course, they're popular for the sake of the cities themselves, but the major schools in each of those areas do a good job with developing students for the 'local industries.' Media in LA (USC and UCLA), computer science in the Bay Area (Stanford and Berkeley), and biotech/pharmaceuticals in San Diego (UCSD)."

The following are some of the largest and most well-known cities and metropolitan regions in California, both in terms of job and educational opportunities. Included with each is a list of the most popular colleges -- traditional or otherwise -- in the area.

San Jose - Sunnyvale - Santa Clara

The San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara metro is home to the famous Silicon Valley and all of the high-tech start-ups and success cases that accompany it.

"If you have any interest in technology and where it's going, there's no better location to study it," says LaMeire, who called Silicon Valley the "Promised Land" for techies and venture capitalists alike. "There is a reason why Sand Hill Road in Palo Alto is home to not only Stanford University, but also to three dozen venture capital and private equity firms."

Major Schools

  • San Jose State University. SJSU is a large institution located in the heart of San Jose. It is known for a number of programs, but its electrical engineering and business degrees are particularly well respected. SJSU is also one of the California's major online education pioneers, expanding the accessibility of online learning for students considerably.
  • Stanford University. Palo Alto's Stanford University likely needs no introduction: The institution's high rankings and wide reach have made it a household name. It is also home to a number of particularly well-ranked programs. Among them: Engineering (especially environmental engineering, electrical engineering, computer engineering and chemical engineering), business, law, medicine, education, biological sciences, computer science, English political science, psychology, sociology and statistics. Stanford is another major online learning pioneer; it even co-founded MOOC-provider edX (in partnership with Harvard University and MIT).
  • Santa Clara University. Santa Clara is a private Jesuit university situated in its namesake city, Santa Clara. Its pristine campus is widely considered to be one of the most beautiful in the state. SCU offers a wide breadth of degree programs, but its engineering, business and law programs are particularly well known.

San Francisco

San Francisco proper is fairly small geographically speaking, but it's the heart of the San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward metropolitan area, which extends well into the East Bay. As with the San Jose metro, San Francisco is a popular option for students interested in studying technology, but it's also known for its fine arts, engineering and business sectors.

Major Schools

  • San Francisco State University. San Francisco State is classified as a large public, urban university, which is a more technical way of saying it is conveniently located in what one might consider one of the world's most vibrant, beautiful cities. Students can study a number of disciplines, but U.S. News & World Report ranks its physical therapy, rehabilitative counseling and speech-language pathology programs particularly well.
  • University of California Berkeley. The list of California's top 10 degrees above makes UC Berkeley's academic prowess exceedingly clear, but the trend is perhaps even more impressive when one considers that this is a public university -- not a private or Ivy League institution. UC Berkeley is highly ranked in a number of disciplines, but its business, engineering and teaching programs are especially well respected. UC Berkeley was also among one of the first in California to experiment with online learning, and students today can enroll in a number of online classes and degree programs through the school.
  • University of San Francisco. The University of San Francisco is a popular private institution also located in the heart of San Francisco. While it has earned high praise for several of its campus-based programs -- including law, nursing and education -- it is well known in online learning circles, too: U.S. News & World Report ranks its online graduate business and nursing degrees among the best in the nation.

Los Angeles

To exclude Los Angeles on a list of major California cities and colleges would be a travesty. As part of the Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim metro, L.A. remains one of the most popular college destinations for students the world over. Academically, L.A. is a health care, business, law and engineering hub, and is home to some of the most famous fine arts (and student film) programs in the country.

Major Schools

  • University of California Los Angeles. Sports fans will recognize UCLA as a major athletics player, but it is also home to a number of highly ranked programs. Among them, per U.S. News: Business, education, engineering, law, medicine, clinical psychology and computer science. Its fine arts programs have produced some of the nation's most successful artists, particularly in film.
  • University of Southern California. Like UCLA, USC is known as an athletics powerhouse, especially on the football field. It offers a number of well-ranked campus-based programs in areas like occupational therapy, physical therapy, business and engineering. Online degrees at USC also rank among some of the best, especially in the fields of engineering and information technology.
  • California Institute of Technology. Caltech is synonymous with scientific innovation and remains an undisputed leader in a number of tech-focused fields. Among its highest ranked programs, according to U.S. News: Engineering, computer science, math, physics and more.

San Diego

Students may come to the San Diego-Carlsbad metro for its high-caliber colleges, but its notoriously beautiful beaches and entertainment highlights surely help. As LaMeire notes, San Diego has become a bit of a bioengineering Mecca, a trend that shapes its educational offerings.

Major Schools

  • San Diego State University. San Diego State University is perhaps one of the best-known public colleges in the state, but especially in California's southern region. U.S. News & World Report ranks a number of SDSU's programs highly, including audiology, clinical psychology, midwifery, and rehabilitation counseling, among others.
  • University of California San Diego. When one thinks of biomedical engineering programs in California, UCSD likely tops the list. It is home to one of the top-ranked bioengineering programs in the nation, but it also offers a number of additional highly-regarded disciplines, like medical research, computer science, economics, political science, psychology, and the fine arts, to name a few. UCSD's Extension office connects students with online classes and certificates in several disciplines, including art, business, health care, law and information technology.
  • Azusa Pacific University. Azusa Pacific University is perhaps less known than major regional institutions like UCSD and SDSU, which is a shame because it offers a number of well-ranked programs in areas such as physical therapy, counseling, nursing and social work. APU calls itself one of the nation's leading Christian universities when it comes to online learning, and a quick glance through its online degree options suggests its on to something.

Sacramento

Sacramento is the cornerstone of the Sacramento-Roseville-Arden-Arcade metropolitan district, which includes both urban and agricultural cities. It also happens to be California's state capital, a distinction that invariably has fueled its success in the realm of higher education.

Major Schools

  • California State University Sacramento. Sacramento State, or "Sac State" to locals and alums, is one of the region's largest and most popular universities. It is perhaps best known for its business and engineering programs, but according to U.S. News & World Report, the school also boasts some of the nation's best rehabilitation counseling, social work and public affairs programs. Its online graduate business program also ranks among the top in the nation.
  • University of California Davis. UC Davis is a bit of a renaissance school, offering top-ranked programs in a diversity of disciplines. Its agriculture, education, business, medicine and psychology programs have won national acclaim, and its veterinary medicine school is one of the best in the country.
  • Drexel University. Drexel University is an excellent example of a school that offers a California-based campus, but is perhaps best known for its online degree programs. Yes, it's campus-based engineering, library, computer science and public health programs have gained respect in their own right, but its online programs really shine. U.S. News & World Report ranks Drexel's online bachelor's and graduate degree programs among the top 25 in the nation, and its graduate-level engineering and nursing programs in the top 50.

Choosing a program

While geographical location and program highlights are certainly key considerations when evaluating traditional or online degree programs in California, LaMeire advises his clients to dig a little deeper. He recommends researching school size, rankings and cost, but keep in mind, thanks to California schools' stellar reputations, many of the more prestigious institutions may be highly selective.

"Be aware of the level of selectivity of California's better private schools: Stanford, Harvey Mudd, USC, Claremont McKenna, and other schools are difficult to get into," he adds.

Prospective students can learn more about California colleges by researching them online, or by contacting schools directly to speak with an admissions representative. We also recommend visiting campuses whenever possible. Read on for a plan.

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College Roadmap

Most colleges look good on paper, but all the marketing materials and rankings lists cannot relay what it is like to actually walk a school's campus. When it comes to evaluating college culture, there is simply no substitute for a good, old-fashioned campus visit. Why not celebrate this rite of passage with a road trip? The following is just one potential roadmap that hits on some of California's major college -- and tourist -- destinations:

  1. Start in San Diego. Hit up the beaches, fish taco stands and, of course, major universities, like USD, UCSD and SDSU.
  2. Head north and make a pit stop in Encinitas to have some In-n-Out Burger before heading up to UC Irvine and its surrounding beaches, like Huntington, Newport and Laguna.
  3. Proceed to Los Angeles, in all its pop culture and entertainment glory, but try to take a break from shopping and dining to check out UCLA, USC, Chapman and other prestigious schools. Do not miss Harvey Mudd, Scripps, Pitzer and CMC -- all independent, well-known schools that happen to be regional neighbors.
  4. Head north along the coast on the famous Pacific Coast Highway, making pit stops at Pepperdine University, UCSB and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. UCSB is a major tourist destination. San Luis Obispo is equally beautiful and its downtown scene (food and bars included) is not to be missed. Underage students may need to skip the vineyards, but history buffs will be glad to tour area missions and other historical sites.
  5. Continue your coastal drive north through Big Sur -- an excellent place to camp out for the night -- before heading into the Bay Area. Must-see schools in the region include: UC Santa Cruz, San Jose State University, Santa Clara University, Stanford, Berkeley, UC San Francisco, San Francisco State University and more. Take time to see San Francisco's gorgeous architecture, including theaters and museums. Touristy types should not miss the piers or Alcatraz, but be sure to pack a jacket, even in summer.
  6. Head across the Golden Gate Bridge, stopping in Sausalito for brunch before tackling some of "Nor Cal's" largest colleges, like UC Davis and Chico State. An alternate path would take you eastward, across the bay, and then north to Sacramento State.

Whatever schools you visit -- and whichever route you take -- be sure to research and catch any special programs and events for prospective students.

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Scholarships and Financial Aid

Students attending either traditional or online schools in California are eligible for the same types of federal student aid as those living in other states. These include subsidized and unsubsidized Stafford Loans, PLUS Loans, Pell Grants, and more. There are a number of additional financial aid programs unique to California, among them, per the California Student Aid Commission:

  • Cal Grants. Grants are typically free funds that do not need to be repaid, but are generally awarded based on demonstrated financial need. The Cal Grant A is reserved for undergraduates attending public and private colleges, and some career schools. Funds can be applied to tuition and fees. The Cal Grant B can be applied to undergraduate tuition, fees and living costs among low-income students, though funds for first-year students are limited to book and living costs. The Cal Grant C is reserved for students attending occupational, technical and vocational programs outside of the California Community College System. Funds can be used to cover tuition and other training costs.
  • California Dream Act. The California Dream Act allows some undocumented students to apply for and receive state-based financial aid and scholarships.
  • California National Guard Education Assistance Award Program. The CNG EAAP provides financial assistance to active California National Guard members who have served for at least two years. Students must be enrolled in an approved program and maintain at least a 2.0 cumulative GPA.

Now-and-future California college students can learn more about their financial aid options by visiting the California Student Aid Commission, or by swinging by their schools' financial aid offices. Students can generally begin the process by filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, online through the U.S. Department of Education.

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Sources:
"A Stronger Nation through Higher Education," Lumina Foundation, 2014, http://www.luminafoundation.org/stronger_nation/report/#california
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