California College of the Arts - Colleges of Distinction - Colleges of Distinction
California College of the Arts
California College of the Arts is a place for people who believe creativity can...

California College of the Arts

Oakland, California

Students at California College of the Arts (CCA) discover interdisciplinary opportunities, innovative courses with real-world applications, outstanding faculty, and an inspiring studio culture. Wherever art takes them—designing sustainable products, creating large-scale installations, producing animated films, or building the cities of the future—CCA is the launchpad for versatile thinkers and makers.. Alumni are leaders in their field with one hand in cutting-edge technologies and the other in traditional craftsmanship.


Known as a global hub for design, technology, entrepreneurship, sustainability, and social activism, the San Francisco Bay Area exposes students to one-of-a-kind communities. The Bay is also home to a vibrant contemporary art scene with more than 250 venues, including galleries, alternative art spaces, and renowned museums.


Founded in 1907, CCA has been a place of ingenuity and originality for more than 100 years. With campuses in both San Francisco and Oakland, the college  currently enrolls nearly 2,000 students. It offers 22 undergraduate and 12 graduate programs in the areas of art, architecture, design, and writing. It confers BFA, BA, BArch, MFA, MA, MBA, MArch, and MAAD degrees. CCA is accredited by WASC, NASAD, NAAB, and CIDA.

Student Profile

Fall 2015 Enrollment
1,504 undergraduate students
95% of undergrad students are full time
38% male 62% female
39% of students are from out of state

Faculty Profile

2015-2016 Academic Year
99 full-time faculty
400 part-time faculty
7 to 1 student/faculty ratio

Residence Life

Fall 2015
84% of first year students live on campus
29% of all students live on campus

School Location

San Francisco and Oakland, California

High-Impact Practices

Read more about the importance of High-Impact Practices

First-Year Seminars and Experiences x
Common Intellectual Experiences x
Learning Communities  
Writing-Intensive Courses x
Collaborative Assignments and Projects x
Undergraduate Research x
Diversity/Global Learning x
Service Learning, Community-Based Learning x
Internships/Coops/Practicums x
Capstone Courses and Projects/Senior Experience x

Retention Fall 2015

82% of students began in Fall 2014 and returned in Fall 2015 (full time, first time freshmen)


Nonresident aliens 38%
Hispanic/Latino 13%
Black or African American 6%
White 20%
American Indian or Alaska Native 0%
Asian 18%
Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander 0%
Two or more races 0%
Race and/or ethnicity unknown 5%


Inspired by Greek Mythology, The college’s mascot is a Chimera, a creature that is part lion, goat, and snake.

Other Information

California College of the Arts offers a robust internship program and professional practice coursework. The Career Development Office brings over 200 employers to campus every year.

More Distinctions

  • U.S. News & World Report named CCA’s Graduate Program in Fine Arts as one of the top graduate MFA programs

  • PayScale ranked CCA the #1 U.S. art school for return on investment

  • DesignIntelligence magazine named CCA’s Industrial Design Program as among the top programs in the U.S., and third best on the west coast

  • Red Dot Institute named CCA as a top-ranked educational institution in the world for design innovation

  • Business Insider named CCA among the world’s best design schools.

Education for a Positive Community

CCA’s distinctive approach to education—holistic learning through immersive, interdisciplinary exposure that champions purposeful work—means that important issues such as sustainability, social justice, and entrepreneurship are integrated throughout the curriculum. The college’s founders believed that connecting the arts to economic, political, and social life would deepen the power of creative work while making a positive contribution to the community.

Students have numerous opportunities to engage with local and global communities. The college is committed to project-based learning, which is built on the idea that people learn best in the context of real-world problems and situations.

Community Engagement

ENGAGE at CCA, one of the college’s signature initiatives, is a family of courses open to students in any major. The students in each ENGAGE class work with a faculty leader, outside experts, and established firms and community organizations to seek solutions to particular, identified issues.

Another initiative is the IMPACT Social Entrepreneurship Awards. Multiple $10,000 awards are given each year to interdisciplinary teams of students, enabling them to undertake a major project over the summer, anywhere in the world.

The college also offers Kinetic Micro Grants of up to $500 to students who wish to launch small-scale creative projects with members of a local community.

Study Abroad Opportunities

Study abroad and exchange opportunities expand students’ worldviews and cultural understanding. Participants in the International Exchange Program spend a semester at one of 15 colleges of art and design around the globe. The Association of Independent Colleges of Art and Design (AICAD) Exchange Program gives students the opportunity to spend a semester at one of 32 other art schools in the United States. And during the summers, there are numerous study abroad courses for undergraduate and graduate students.

Activities Offered

Campus Ministries  
Choral groups  
Concert band  
International Student Organization X
Jazz band  
Literary magazine X
Marching band  
Model UN  
Music ensembles  
Musical theater  
Pep band  
Radio station X
Student government X
Student newspaper  
Student-run film society X
Symphony orchestra  
Television station  

Faculty Members Are Practicing Professionals

CCA’s faculty includes nearly 500 nationally and internationally recognized artists, architects, designers, and writers. All of them are actively working in the region’s flourishing professional communities in architecture, the arts, design, business, consulting, animation, film, writing, and beyond.

Many of the faculty work for leading Bay Area companies such as Apple, Facebook, Gensler, Google, LucasArts, and Pixar, or are principals of their own firms. Many of them have won major awards and accolades: Academy Awards, Fulbright fellowships, the Rome Prize, the MacArthur Fellowship awards (also known as “Genius Grants”), Emmys, Guggenheim fellowships, AIGA medals, and more.

Students Know Their Teachers

With an average class size of approximately 13 students (and a 8-to-1 student-to-faculty ratio), students get to know their teachers well. Together, they create a supportive community of friends, colleagues, and mentors. Faculty members help students discover their creative passions and individual points of view. They encourage students to take risks, clarify and deepen their processes of inquiry and, above all else, experiment across disciplines. Students are able to take advantage of their teachers’ networks of professional connections, which can lead directly to opportunities after graduation.

Distinguished Visitors Come to Campus

An incredible array of distinguished artists, designers, architects, and critics have visited the college, such as film directors Laura Poitras and John Waters, architect Renzo Piano, artist Joan Jonas, philosopher Judith Butler, and writers Akhil Sharma and Tracy K. Smith. Their visits may involve public lectures, master classes, critiques of student work, and artist residencies lasting up to several months. These visitors offer access to the international art world, and students benefit greatly from this one-on-one exposure to prominent and successful practitioners in their chosen fields.

CCA Hosts Symposia

CCA also hosts symposia that are open to all students and the public. Recent symposia have included the Association of Independent Colleges of Art and Design (AICAD) Exploring Science in the Art + Design Studio, which examined the place, purpose, potential, and role of science in contemporary art and design education; the Data Clay Symposium, focused on the use of digital tools and ceramic materials; and the Queers & Comics conference, which brings U.S. and international LGBTQ cartoonists, comics writers, and artists together with scholars and fans in order to document the history and significance of queer comics.

Common Core

Arts/fine arts X
Computer literacy X
English (including composition) X
Foreign languages  
History X
Humanities X
Mathematics X
Philosophy X
Sciences (biological or physical) X
Social science X

Class Size Breakdown

Size 2-9 10-19 20-29 30-39 40-49 50-99 100+ Total
Number of Classes 147 375 24 6 0 0 0 552

Cross-Disciplinary Explorations

First-year students at CCA are immediately immersed in a vibrant artistic community. They take a cross-disciplinary sequence of studio and academic courses in which they are exposed to a variety of media. They explore established areas of interest, discover new ones, and develop into self-motivated creators.

All incoming first-year students have their home base on CCA’s Oakland campus, a traditional college setting that occupies four acres in a residential neighborhood. The Oakland campus is home to the First Year Program and the first-year residence halls. About 80 percent of first-year students live in the residence halls, which host numerous social and educational programs throughout the year, from movie nights and barbecues to museum trips and professional lectures.

Proximity to Design and Tech Companies

Depending on their major, second-year students may stay in Oakland or move their base to the San Francisco campus, which is located in the city’s Design District, home to design firms, art galleries, tech startups, and companies such as Adobe, Twitter, fuseproject, and Zynga. It is also very close to the new biotech and medical research area anchored by UCSF’s Mission Bay campus.

Lectures and Exhibitions

CCA is a locus for important conversations about creative economies and the role of artists, architects, designers, and writers in today’s culture. Almost every evening during the semester there is a lecture or special event.

Exhibitions of international contemporary art and design are regularly presented by the CCA Wattis Institute. These are complemented by a full schedule of student and faculty exhibitions. Public exhibitions of student work rotate weekly in several galleries on both campuses. These shows allow students to connect with their peers and get feedback (beyond classroom critiques) while honing their presentation skills. During their senior year, all fine arts majors have the opportunity to showcase a cohesive body of work in a solo exhibition.

Pre-Professional Groups and Student Clubs

CCA students are active in numerous pre-professional groups such as the American Institute of Architecture Students (AIAS), American Institute of Graphic Arts (AIGA), Industrial Designers Society of America (IDSA), Ceramics Guild, Glass League, and International Interior Design Association (IIDA).

Students are encouraged to join existing clubs and organizations or to form new ones; clubs and activities range in focus from community building to politics to physical fitness. Students may also choose to get involved in student government. The Student Council sponsors a range of activities throughout the year, including all-college dinners, films, exhibition receptions, and shuttles to San Francisco galleries.


Coed dorms x
Men’s dorms  
Women’s dorms  
Apartments for married students  
Apartments for single students x
Special housing for disabled students x
Special housing for international students  
Fraternity/sorority housing  
Cooperative housing  
Theme housing  
Wellness housing  
Other housing options  

Externships and Internships

CCA CONNECTS is a structured “externship” experience in which 40 students every year work at outside organizations such as design firms, schools, or architectural offices, making real, substantive contributions to ongoing projects.

CCA also offers all kinds of other internship programs that enable students to gain practical experience and make professional connections while earning academic credit. Internships are required by some majors, and they are encouraged by all of CCA’s programs.

CCA students graduate with the specific tools and knowledge to be successful in their chosen field as well as critical thinking skills that will be invaluable in any future pursuit. CCA’s particular emphasis on interdisciplinarity practice sets it apart from other art schools.

CCA is also distinguished by its many connections with creative industries, thanks in part to its fortuitous location in the San Francisco Bay Area. Major corporations, arts organizations, and nonprofits sponsor academic courses, offer internships to students, and employ alumni.

Ready to Succeed

Students acquire knowledge of how to succeed in the field of their choice through personal contact with faculty members and coursework specifically designed to help in the transition to professional practice. They make further career connections through internships, sponsored studios, and the Alumni/Student Mentorship Program.

Career Development

CCA’s Career Development Office hosts a Career Expo every year, bringing more than 80 outside firms and organizations to the college to talk to students and discuss their work and interests. Career Development also facilitates industry presentations, career treks, professional development workshops, and more.

CCA’s most recent survey of its alumni revealed that over 67 percent are actively working in fields related to art, architecture, design, or writing, 78 percent report job satisfaction, and 58 percent remain in the Bay Area to live and work. PayScale, a market leader in global compensation data, recently ranked CCA the top art and design school in the U.S. for return on investment.

CCA Alumni

CCA alumni have designed shoes for Nike, created characters for animated Pixar films, illustrated editorials for influential national magazines, and created Emmy award-winning motion graphics. They have exhibited their work at the Cannes and Sundance film festivals and at major museums around the world.

According to a 2011 study by the National Endowment for the Arts, jobs in the creative sector will increase by 11 percent by 2018, with some careers (e.g., curators, landscape architects, interior designers, architects, writers) projected to grow at an even higher rate. CCA alumni are already intensely active in all of these fields, and their influence and networks continue to expand.


Admissions Fall 2015

1,713 Total Applicants
1,364 Total Admissions
241 Total Freshmen Enrollment

79.63% of applicants admitted

Admissions Deadlines for 2016-17 Admission

Rolling Admission? Yes

Admissions Factors

Very Important
Academic GPA
Application Essay


Rigor of secondary school record
Standardized test scores
Extracurricular activities
Character/personal qualities
First generation
Alumni/ae relation
Racial/ethnic status
Volunteer work
Work experience
Level of applicant’s interest

Freshmen Profile Fall 2015

  25th Percentile 75th Percentile
SAT Critical Reading 470 598
SAT Math 460 640
SAT Writing 453 600
SAT Essay    
ACT Composite 21 28
ACT Math 19 28
ACT English 21 26
ACT Writing    

Admissions Process

All students who demonstrate creative promise and intellectual curiosity are encouraged to apply to CCA.

CCA is committed to reflecting and serving diverse populations, and welcomes all undergraduate applicants who will enhance the college’s unique community. Making a CCA education accessible to the most talented and deserving students is a fundamental goal.

Applications are reviewed on an individualized basis, taking into account academic achievements, creative abilities, individual achievements and activities, a personal essay, recommendations, and a portfolio. Undergraduate applicants must have a high school diploma or the equivalent. First-year applicants should follow a college preparatory program in high school, including courses in studio art and art history whenever possible.




Tuition $44,976
Fees $490
Total $45,466
Room Only $9,320
Estimated Total On Campus $54,786


Average Financial Aid Packages 2016-17 estimated

$29,868 First year students
$29,781 All undergrads

Financial Aid Breakdown 2016-17 estimated

60% on average, the percentage of need that was met
4% of financial need students that had need fully met

$24,678 Average need-based scholarship or grant award
$4,968 Average need-based loan

Additional Financial Aid Information

CCA devotes more than $23.5 million each year—30 percent of its annual operating budget—in scholarship funding and grants to qualified students. 73 percent of CCA undergraduate students receive some form of financial aid, such as scholarships, grants, and work-study opportunities. The college offers merit and diversity scholarships, need-based scholarships, and federal and state financial aid

Undergraduates interested in applying for merit scholarships should submit their application for admission by February 1. The priority deadline for all other undergraduate applicants is March 1. The priority deadline for spring undergraduate applicants is October 1. Students who meet the admissions priority deadlines receive first consideration for housing, financial aid, and course selection. Admissions decisions are made on a rolling basis; this means that applications are reviewed in the order they are received. There is a nonrefundable application fee of $60. It is possible to register for courses as a nondegree student (on a space-available basis).

Students applying for financial assistance should submit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) by March 1. CCA will continue to award aid to applicants after March 1 as funding permits. Students can apply for Federal Pell Grants and Federal Direct Loans throughout the year. CCA is approved for veterans who wish to attend under the Veterans Administration Educational Benefits Program. In addition to financial awards, CCA offers an interest-free payment plan.

Students can schedule a campus visit, request information, receive an estimate of their financial aid eligibility, and apply online at