What is the difference between a CSU and a UC?

Response from Jay Jackson:

California has two public university systems.

The UC (University of California) system emphasizes a theory-based approach to learning, and offers bachelor's degree programs and doctorate programs in most disciplines, along with graduate opportunities in medicine, dentistry, business, law, pharmacy, and veterinary medicine.

The CSU (California State University) system offers bechelor's degrees in traditional and career specific majors, with graduate opportunities at the Master’s level and a few at the doctorate level. The CSU system is less expensive than UC, and its admissions policies are less rigorous.

Response from Rachel DeNoble:

From personal experience between me (Cal Poly Student) and my best friend (UC Student):


UC: Extremely large classes (up to 800 at UCSB) that are taught by professors who only care about their research, not their students. Many classes are graded on a midterm, midterm, final system, which means your entire grade for the class is based on 3 tests. 

CSU (Cal Poly, at least): Fairly small to pretty big classes (25-200) taught by professors who truly care about teaching over research. Because the classes are a more manageable size, the professors can include things like smaller participation and assignment grades to cushion the exam grades for the class. It makes a big difference...

Response from Catherine Machado:

The California State University (CSU) has 23 campuses.  It awards academic as well as more applied/ technical/vocational degrees not offered at UC. “Learn by doing" approach. Some popular majors offered by the CSU include:

  • Agriculture
  • Business
  • Child Development
  • Construction Management
  • Criminal Justice
  • Engineering
  • Interior Design
  • Kinesiology
  • Nursing
  • Nutrition
  • Teaching

The CSU tends to have flexible scheduling and programs; provides opportunities for older, employed, or part-time students.  Minimum 60 CSU transferable credits. Minimum GPA: 2.0.

The University of California (UC) has 9 undergraduate campuses.  UC instruction and programs are theory and research based. Courses taught by PhD faculty who are top leaders or researchers in their field. Higher admission standards than CSU. Considered the premier public system of higher education in California. Some popular majors offered by the UC include:

  • Anthropology
  • Economics
  • Engineering
  • Global Studies
  • Pre-Law
  • Pre-Medicine
  • Pre-Veterinary

The UC is primarily intended for students wanting full-time instruction; fewer opportunities for part-time, evening classes. Most programs are offered during the daytime.  Minimum 60 UC transferable credits. Minimum GPA: 2.4.

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