California’s 4 Systems of Higher Education


Kelsie Barba, Writer

Deciding what path to choose after graduating high school is a hard choice for everyone. Some might want to go to college, while others might want to enter the work force immediately. If you plan on continuing your education in California after high school, you’ll need to know the 4 types of higher education systems provided by the state. The 4 main options for systems of higher education in-state are California Community Colleges, California State Universities (CSU), Universities of California (UC), and Private Colleges. The requirements and rules all vary to get into these colleges and universities. If you’re not sure what the difference is between these schools, keep reading:


First off, we need to discuss the main differences between colleges and universities. Colleges, more specifically community colleges, are meant to serve as “starting points” for students fresh out of high school. College gives you the time to explore different majors & fields, take unique classes & electives, and most importantly, to finish up your general education. Sure, you can do this at a university, but you’re guaranteed to be saving more money by applying to a community college first. The most common plan that local college students tend to take is where they finish up their general education at Allan Hancock College or another local community college first for 2 years and earn their associate’s degree. Then, they transfer to a 4-year university (UC or CSU) to finish up their bachelor’s degree. What’s great about this plan is the fact that you can save a lot of money and have time to experiment with different majors and fields. Allan Hancock College has a “Hancock Promise”, which means that your first year at AHC is free! This applies only to local high school students who are planning to enroll immediately after high school. Most UC’s and CSU’s do not offer this special opportunity. Universities tend to be selective and competitive, while community colleges are meant for everyone.


Now, onto the 4 different systems of higher education in California:


  • California Community Colleges
  • California Community Colleges (CCC) are community colleges that offer a variety of options for incoming students, such as university transfers, professional training, associate degrees (within 2 years), and even personal growth. CCC has 116 different campuses all over California, from Allan Hancock College to Irvine Valley College. Each year, CCC enrolls about 2.1 million students, and also offers off-campus classes (like in high schools) and distanced learning. To apply for a California Community College, visit:

  • California State University (CSU)
  • California State Universities are the largest 4-year public university systems in California, which offer bachelor’s degrees in a variety of majors and fields, as well as doctoral & master’s programs. To be eligible for a CSU, you must complete the A-G graduation requirements and maintain a GPA of 2.5 or higher. There are a total of 23 campuses (& 8 off-campus centers) spread out across California. Each year, the CSU system enrolls around 485,550 students and offers over 4,100 different graduate and undergraduate degrees. To apply for a California State University, visit:

  • University of California (UC)
  • Universities of California are competitive public university systems in California ranging in size. The UC system has a total of 9 different undergraduate campuses spread out across the state of California. UC’s offer students with the opportunity to earn their bachelor’s, master’s, PhD, and professional degrees. UC’s are more research based schools, and enroll around 285,800 students each year. To be eligible for a UC, you must complete the A-G graduation requirements and maintain a GPA of 3.0 or higher. To apply for a University of California, visit:

  • Private Colleges (AICCU)
  • Private Colleges in California (AICCU) are private education systems that offer students with the opportunity to earn their bachelor’s, master’s, PhD, and professional degrees. There are around 80 different member institutions spread out across California. Each school has different focuses and fields, ranging from exclusively vocational (i.e. liberal arts or large research universities) to mixed majors.The requirements for each individual private college depends, but all follow the same protocol of having your A-G graduation requirements completed (GPA requirements depend on the college). To apply for a private college in California, visit:

Whether you plan on applying to a 4-year university immediately or transfering from a community college, all that matters is finding whichever system of higher education sounds best to you. If you want to know more about a certain college or still don’t understand how these systems work, you can visit Mrs. Mcdonald in the College and Career Center.