College 101

Different College Pathways in California
Definitions of Degrees
Which College Should You Choose?
How to Choose a College
How to Get into College
How to Pay for College
The University of California

Different College Pathways in California
California residents have access to a distinguished public system of higher education that offers the opportunity for nearly every resident to attend college. This system comprises the:

In addition, there are a number of private/independent colleges in California as well as numberous private, two-year colleges that offer AA degrees in specialized fields.

To learn more about the different college options in California, visit California's free official source for college and career planning, CaliforniaColleges.edu

Definitions of Degrees

  • associate's degree: a degree awarded for completion of the lower-division, undergraduate curriculum at community colleges and other specialized colleges
  • bachelor's degree: the degree awarded for completion of undergraduate study at a four-year institution. Also called the baccalaureate degree
  • master's degree: a graduate degree awarded for a course of study beyond the undergraduate or baccalaureate curriculum
  • professional degree: a degree awarded, generally after receipt of the bachelor's degree, for completing a course of study for specialization in a profession such as medicine, architecture, law veterinary medicine, dentistry, and many other fields
  • doctorate: the highest graduate academic degree, usually the doctor of philosophy (PhD) or the doctor of education (EdD) degrees

Which College Should You Choose?
California's public colleges and universities offer an extraordinarily rich spectrum of programs to meet each student's career and educational goals. The college you choose depends on your interests and goals.

The California Community Colleges offer two-year programs leading to the associate art and sciences degree. Students may transfer from a community college to a four-year university to complete the last two years of their undergraduate education, for which they receive a bachelor's degree.

The California State University (CSU), the University of California (UC), and most private/independent colleges are four-year universities. Students may enter them directly from high school or transfer to them from a community college or private college. The CSUs and UCs offer bachelor's and master's degrees. The UCs also offer many graduate programs leading to a professional degree or a doctorate.

Remember, though, the most important consideration is finding the right academic program for you.

How to Choose a College

  • Check out the college websites
  • Attend college fairs and talk to recruiters
  • Make every effort to visit a campus
  • Know what geographic location you prefer
  • Make sure your field of study is offered
  • Find out if the college offers the extracurricular activities you enjoy
  • Apply to a few "safety net" schools as well as competitive ones

How to Get into College
Different colleges have different requirements that also vary depending on whether you enter as a freshman or as a transfer student. In general, college admissions requires completion of certain high school subjects, standardized tests, and/or letters of recommendation.

The California Community Colleges accept any California high school graduate or adult who wishes to enroll. Learn more about entering the California Community Colleges.

The CSU system generally accepts students with a strong C grade point average and completion of required courses and tests. Learn more about entering the California State University.

The UC system generally accepts students with a strong B grade point average and completion of required courses and tests. Learn more about entering the University of California.

How to Pay for College

College is affordable. Nearly two-thirds of UC undergraduates receive some form of financial aid, such as grants, loans, scholarships, and the work study program. In order to receive federal and state financial aid, students must complete (1) the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) form and (2) if you're a California resident, the GPA verification form on time -by March 2. The California Student Aid Commission uses the FAFSA form to determine a student's eligibility to receive federal grants and loans, federal and state work study programs, and Cal grants A, B, and C. Universities also use the FAFSA to determine a student's eligibility to receive institutional grants and scholarships. Note that the deadline for completing the FAFSA form is between January 1 and March 2 of each year. Don't miss it!

The University of California

The University of California is the premier system of public higher education in California, with nine undergraduate campuses and, in San Francisco, one graduate campus in the health sciences. Admission to UC is competitive and many students who attend UC are preparing for graduate or professional study beyond the bachelor's degree.

Each of the nine UC undergraduate campuses offers a superb education in the humanities, social sciences, and sciences. The campuses are located in Berkeley, Davis, Irvine, Los Angeles, Merced, Riverside, San Diego, Santa Barbara, and Santa Cruz. Some campuses are in major urban centers, such as Los Angeles and San Diego. Others are located in more rural areas, such as Merced. Some campuses are large, some are small, some are by the coast, some in the desert.

The UCs offer many majors, such as dance, math, environmental science, ethnic studies, physics, medieval studies, economics, religious studies . . . Student life at a UC campus is rewarding too. Students may join clubs, intramural sports, or study groups; participate in campus social events; and live on- or off-campus. Many services are provided for students, including career planning, academic advising, health clinics, tutoring, and services for students with disabilities.

Last updated December 2009

  • Grants and scholarships are essentially "free" money that students do not have to pay back. To receive federal and state grants, students must fill out the FAFSA by the deadline. Most scholarships have some criteria attached to them, such as academic achievement. Students are encouraged to search for and apply to scholarships provided by outside agencies and public/private sources. A list of useful scholarship websites can be found on our Student Resources page.
  • Loans can be taken out either through the college they attend or through a bank. While educational loans do have to be repaid, they usually have a lower interest rate than other types of loans you or your parents may have taken out. Usually you don't have to begin paying back a loan until six months after college graduation.
  • Work study programs let you work part-time while attending school so you can earn money to help pay for college. Learn more about financial aid for the UCs and financial aid for the CSUs.