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Difference Between UC and CSU


The difference between UC and CSU goes beyond price. When choosing a university, it is a comparative factor. UC is significantly more expensive than CSU, because CSU is a state school. State schools are able to keep their costs lower, largely due to state funding. Each school system is based on different strengths and weaknesses, especially when you consider the major you’re planning to study.

Differences Between Undergraduate and Postgraduate-1

UC systems are known for their approach in developing students that have strengths in research, theory and studies, while the CSU system is more developed for practical applications and non-research oriented career candidates. This doesn’t mean that one is better than the other, but it does indicate that you should choose according to your post graduate plans.

CSU schools tend to focus on maintaining small, direct class sizes, while UC systems are based on a self-motivated style of learning. The reputations of UC schools are higher than those of the CSU system, but this is a skewed understanding. They are not necessarily schools that will provide the appropriate education for those that wish to enter the work force in their chosen field, unless they are interested in research. This is why the reputation needs to be considered as an opinion, and not a fact.

UC is often more appropriate for those seeking postgraduate educational options, rather than for those who are going straight from AP classes in high school to their college education. While CSU can offer very good postgraduate options, there are also more options for freshmen coming directly from high school.

UC credits do not transfer easily to CSU schools. Likewise, CSU credits are not likely to be easily transferred to UC schools.

When attending CSU classes, you are more likely to have direct educational benefits because the class is taken by a professor. UC classes are likely to have numerous assistants, and even graduate students, doing a percentage of the instruction. This can be problematic for some students, while other students don’t find it a challenge, as the classes are still overseen by the professor of the course.


1. UC schools are more expensive.

2. UC offers research oriented education.

3. CSU offers education appropriate for professional positions that are not research oriented.

4. CSU leans toward developing smaller class sizes.

5. UC schools carry a better reputation.

6. UC schools are a good choice for postgraduate studies. Undergraduate options are research orientated.

7. Credits are not easily transferred between the two systems.

8. CSU classes are more likely to be taught by a single, consistent professor.

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  1. “When attending CSU classes, you are more likely to have direct educational benefits because the class is taken by a professor. UC classes are likely to have numerous assistants, and even graduate students, doing a percentage of the instruction. ”

    I think that is misleading. It’s actually the other way around. I went to both a UC and Cal state. I graduated from a UC and quit Cal State. I didn’t get quality education at the Cal state because ALL my classes with the exception of 1 were taught by graduate students. All my classes at the UC were taught by professors with Phds. The labs were taught by graduate students. My friend had a similar experience.

  2. This is totally not true, both systems could be good according to the student’s needs and goals. UC offers lots of degrees that can be terminal and can provide students opportunities to graduate and get a job. Uc has lots of opportunities for internships. Also some CSU offer BA that can be good for graduate schools.
    UC is more expensive, but it also provides much better financial aid, so if students qualify, they will get a much better deal at a UC.
    CSU and UC credits do transfer to each other system.
    Most UC classes are taught by professors.

  3. I disagree with this description of the two systems. From my experience, courses at the UC school I attended (UCLA) were all taught by highly qualified Professors with Ph.Ds from prestigious universities. The “discussion” sessions were facilitated by a graduate student. I did my teaching credential courses at a CS school and can say the differences in the quality of Professors, students, and administration are hands-down in favor of the UC system.

  4. of course, the UCs are also state schools that receive considerable state funding.

  5. UCs most teachings were done by GA, not CSU is true fact.

    Another way to understand is UC more like = WalMart; whereas, CSU is Target.

    WalMart More Selections (Majors, even sub-majors within a field)
    CSU is plain just the simple Majors, but offer great instructions by professors, better customer services just like as Target.

    • I graduated from UCLA and did my teaching credential work at CSU, and would strongly disagree with your assessment.
      First of all, your analogy using Walmart and Target is not a very good one, but I will make reference to it in saying that “Customer Service” at CSU is NO WHERE close to being better. My time at a CSU was nighmarish, to say the least. I felt like I was in a factory and was just another number. When I finally received my credential, I didn’t feel like I was educated, but rather that I had survived a process.
      When you graduate from a UC school, there is no doubt you have been educated.

  6. This article must me the most blatantly false work I have ever seen in comparing the new.

    1. UC and CSU’s are BOTH state funded schools.

    2. Virtually all credits from the UC transfer to the CSU but not Vice Versa

    3. CSU and UC both offer professional degrees, UCSF ONLY offers professional degrees,

    you my sir are a failure

    • lol. Just want to let you know that there is no such thing as UCSF…SF only has SFSU and USF…A cal state and a private school. talk about being a failure lol

      • there is a ucsf u failure

        • you are all failures.

          • OH FOR GOD’S SAKE!!! Please, everyone — STFU! Children!
            I just retired after practicing medicine for 42 years. You need to listen to what I’m about to say because, unlike you lot, I know what I’m talking about. I didn’t always. When I started out in school I was just like you all — a highly opinionated know-nothing, mistaken at the top of my voice. You are just starting out to do what I’ve just finished. I can save you some grief. Along the way I unintentionally acquired a lot of insight and wisdom, and most of you will, too. But that’s 2 or 3 decades off. In the meantime you’ll want to avoid looking like a jackass. You’re all failing, so far.
            Of all the lessons that have chiseled themselves into my awareness, perhaps the greatest is this: In life, you can have one of two things, but not both. You can either WIN, or you can be successful. One or the other. You can’t have both. So far in this discussion, most everyone is trying to WIN, by making others look like losers. What awaits you is this: conventional mediocrity. If you’re looking for something more along the lines of Wisdom or Greatness, then you must (1) shut your mouth, (2) open your ears (3) forget winning; winning is the booby prize (4) cultivate humility. If you do that and do it consistently, wisdom ambushes you somewhere down the road, when you’re least expecting it. Good luck.

          • Wow great reply!!! I struggled through community college. I was then declined from two CSUs, but after my counselor at city college worked with the disabled student services; I was finally admitted into a CSU. My challenge isn’t physical; but I learn differently. I can only say that I’m grateful to continue my education. It was my dream to arrive at this point. As an older working adult, I’m applying myself and I’m learning. I appreciate all my professors. I’ve had one grad student as a teacher; and she was awesome. I don’t see myself arriving at a UC, but that’s ok too. I’m going to apply myself while I have been given the opportunity. This has been a long hard road. For me, the classes and assignments are not easy. But I’m learning. Many late nights; little sleep. Work full time. Enjoy the journey wherever you are attending. Go Long Beach State!!

      • Though it remains a lesser-known, graduate-level institution (as with UC Hastings Law), UCSF is indeed a UC campus. The school consistently ranks in the top #3 Med/physicians training School nationally.

        Re UC vs. CS: While some of the particulars of this piece may not apply globally (instructors, credits, etc.), I think the writer’s heart was in the right place:

        Reputation/Public Perception-wise, UC is a cut above as the majority of top legal, medical and STEM professionals and leaders in America ‘tend’ to be your UC-bound/grown-types while vocationally, most of your teaching, technical (IT), career, public sector and business leaders (if they bothered with degrees at all!) ‘tend’ to be your JC/CalState-types.

        But as with everything there are no HARD rules. Butt-kickers regularly excel/emerge from BOTH systems and regularly go on to make big contributions in every facet of society.

        In the U.S., top level university systems (like UC, UT, UF, etc.) traditionally do the bulk of federally-funded research work, (producing physicians, lawyers, economists, engineers, etc.) while the “Land Grant” or State-level schools (formerly called “colleges”) traditional mission in America is/was the education and credentialing of educators (K-8 initially), administrators and technicial professionals for every field (medical, mechanical, electrical, etc.).

        While a 4-year College degree is as valuable to society as it is to the graduate, not every college student needs or wants a PhD. Fact is, our society needs graduates of both 2- and 4-year systems to build a globally competitive labor force. And We also need graduates of both Research (“U of”) and Land Grant (“X State”) 4-year systems to thrive in the 21st century.

        So there simply is no “best” one or the other. We need them all. Which is why, while super-sized (and over criticized) California’s tri-level, public post-secondary system remains one of the finest on the planet.

        Last, as this purports to be an academic thread, let’s all try to (a) take a step back and remember to keep it professional and (b) check our sources before we post.


        • UC Hastings only shares UC with the rest of UCs. UC Hasting is not part of the UC system.

        • You are incorrect about Land Grant Colleges. Some of the great research universities, matching the great private Universities, are Land Grant Universities, including the Universities of Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, Ohio State, Wisconsin, etc. Land Grant Universities were created in 1863, and while they were originally intended to serve to provide education oriented toward technology, agriculture and disciplines more oriented toward practice than the private university (themselves often founded to teach theology and then law and medicine (the latter two, of course, also overlap with the technical “arts.”) . Cornell is actually both (in part) a Land Grant University and a Private one, which leads to some funny things–to get into the veterinary medicine school or forestry you have to apply to the Land Grant section but then you can find yourself in the same courses (at a much lower tuition) as those in the private University section.)

      • UCSF was a medical school…st least in late 80’s

  7. I am a High School Junior who is currently in AP Courses. I currently have a 4.33 GPA and just finished my second semester finals. How do you recruited by a UC or CSU. I want Vanderbilt or Pepperdine, but I want to see if the UC or CSU system would offer me an education. Thank you for you time.

    • Yes they would, both of them but you have to knuckle down and decide what is your major then,which system will offer you the best opportunity to achieve your goal!

  8. How is everyone bickering about such asinine things?

    Let me clear this up for everyone here be it UC or CSU fan. Your personal experience does not count for factual knowledge in this discussion nor do some of the statements made in this article.

    CSU vs UC has little to no value in real comparison because ultimately what’s important is what you as a student derive from the experiences at the school you attend or wish to attend. It doesn’t matter what school you go to if it isn’t right for you personally. I know plenty of people who initially went to places like UC Berkeley and UCLA only to transfer out because it wasn’t for them, just as I know people who have transferred from CSU to UC for the same reason. The comparison should have nothing to do with the college system and more to do with whether the specific college is going to provide you the education you need for the field of work you wish to enter.

    In other words, it’s pointless to debate which one is “better” because what’s better for your interest and needs may not be for someone else.

    I’m a Cal Poly SLO (CSU) graduate and personally I loved my time there. The education was excellent just as much as the whole college experience. People there were extremely friendly and life there was very relaxing as it is situated in a valley of one of the most beautiful locations in California. Is it for everyone? I can’t say, but I know it was right for me and that was what was most important just as I hope the college you choose will be for you!

  9. I’m a Cal Poly Pomona graduate and Cal Poly SLO was known for racists students

  10. Good article, and pretty spot on.

    I did econ as an undergrad at UC Berkeley back in the 1980s, and indeed one had to be completely self-motivated. I can’t speak for all UC’s but certainly at Berkeley, as a lower division student (Fresh/Soph) you do get the feeling that you are just a number. Realistically in a class of 400 or 500 students, you won’t get 1:1 time with the professor. Graduate TA’s teaching sections may help, but it depends on their interest level and English language ability. It wasn’t really until doing a senior honors thesis that I got to know one professor at Berkeley in any meaningful way.

    Since then in the world of work, I have worked with both strong and weak individuals from both UC and CSU systems. I am jealous of the personal tips that CSU people were able to get as undergraduates from their professors, I’ll say that. A colleague who was a Stanford grad shared that he didn’t really “get” parts of chemistry until he took a refresher chem class at SF State and had time to work through some knowledge gaps with the professor. So the CSU advantage in personal attention for undergrads is definitely there.

    A nice touch with the CSU system for undergrads is being on a semester system, rather than the 10-week quarters in place at most UC’s. It’s worth noting that Berkeley finally went back to semesters, and UC Merced, with the opportunity for a clean slate, learned from others and has been on a semester system since the beginning. Who is going to have a better relationship with their professor: a UC student in a class of hundreds on a 10-week sprint, or a CSU student in a class of 30 or 40 for a 15-week semester?

    In this age of high tuition and student debt, I would tend to recommend going to a California community college if possible, transfer to a CSU, and work to graduate with honors. Learn your undergrad major well, go for deep learning and mastery. Save your money for graduate school – which, depending on the field, might best be done at a UC.

  11. Both UC and CSU are state schools that is contrary to what the article says.

  12. “UC is significantly more expensive than CSU, because CSU is a state school.” Both systems are public universities. The inaccuracies in this article are too numerous to cover.

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