CSU or UC: What’s Right for You?

Find out which of these California public university systems is your best match.

There are a lot of factors which students need to consider when choosing between California State University (CSU) and the University of California (UC). Though both are public university systems, they differ in many ways. Depending on your academic goals, location preferences, budget and other factors, one of these university systems is likely to be a better match for you. Find out more about what CSU and UC each have to offer prospective students.

Neither the UC nor the CSU system is better than the other – rather, students may be more suited to a particular system due to their academic and/or career goals.

Campus Selection

Both UC and CSU present multiple campus options to their students. At UC, there are 10 campuses with a total of over 233,000 students:

Meanwhile, CSU offers more than twice as many options with 23 campuses and a total of around 447,000 students:

Academic Offerings

One of the key differences between UC and CSU is their academic offerings. CSU is known for basing their courses and degree programs on practical applications and non-research-oriented careers. The CSU system awards mostly bachelor’s degrees, and does not offer as many advanced-level degrees as UC.

Meanwhile, the UC system has an excellent reputation for research and theory-based teaching. Many of the professors engage in research, providing students with the opportunity to learn in a research setting. In addition to bachelor’s and master’s degrees, UC also awards numerous professional and doctorate degrees.

It’s important to keep this in mind when choosing between the CSU and UC systems. Neither is better than the other – rather, students may be more suited to a particular system due to their academic and/or career goals. Make sure you check out the academic programs offered at CSU and UC to find out if your chosen major is available and at which campuses it can be found.

Admissions Requirements

When it comes to the minimum subject requirements, both CSU and UC require students to complete the “a-g” courses with a grade of a C or better. These courses are as follows:

  • History/Social Science: Two years, including one year of world history and one year of U.S. history or one half-year of U.S. history and one half-year of American government
  • English: Four years of college prep classes
  • Mathematics: Three years required (algebra I, geometry, and algebra II)
  • Laboratory Science: Two years (lab biology, chemistry or physics)
  • Foreign Language: Two years in the same language (other than English)
  • Visual and Performing Arts: One year required (dance, drama/theater, music or visual art)
  • College Preparatory Electives: One year of college preparatory elective

On top of these requirements, each campus has their own admissions standards which they follow. UC schools are generally more selective than CSU schools. However, remember selectivity can also vary by campus within each university system.


If budget is a concern for you, then CSU may be a better choice. CSU’s tuition rates are significantly lower than UC’s tuition rates:

CSU: $5,472 per academic year
UC: $13,200 per academic year

When combined with additional fees, books, supplies, food, housing, transportation and other miscellaneous expenses, the approximate cost of attending each university system is similarly disparate:

CSU: $23,000 (on-campus), $22,000 (off-campus)
UC: $32,400 (on-campus), $29,200 (off-campus)

Keep in mind that if you’re not a California resident, attending either of these university systems will be significantly more expensive. CSU charges non-residents an extra $372 per semester unit, while non-residents at UC pay an additional $22,878 in supplemental tuition.

CSU and UC both offer excellent academic options for students. Make sure to carefully weigh your future academic and career goals when choosing one of these university systems, as their differences mainly lie in their approach to teaching and learning.

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