California schools for merit chaser

My daughter seems to love the idea of spending her college years in California. She’s a senior so I’m taking a last-minute look to make sure we aren’t missing a school to add to her list.

Stats: 4.0 UW, 33 ACT, solid and interesting ECs with leadership, most rigorous course load available, strong LORs. Homeschooled for grades 11/12 but no “mommy grades” in academic courses. Only APs and DE in 11th and 12th grades. Took AP Calc BC as a junior but does not prefer STEM. She prefers a small/medium school with small, discussion-based classes. She has applied to our flagship but has a few acceptances already that she’s much more comfortable with. She cannot imagine large lecture halls and is very uncomfortable with the swarms of people at the flagship/larger public schools. Her acceptances are falling in the $25,000 range with invites to the full-tuition competitive scholarship competitions.

We are full pay with a college fund but want to leave the door open for grad school. I would prefer to pay $40 - $50,000.

She’s already applied/applying to: University of San Diego, Scripps, Claremont McKenna, Santa Clara University and Stanford. I hope to get some merit at USD and SCU, not sure about the Claremont Colleges. Stanford is an outlier and obviously won’t include merit.

We toured USD and she really liked it. We did a driving tour of Pepperdine and didn’t love it, saying “I’m not going to school for a view.” We walked around Chapman and I liked it more than she did. I think she probably would have liked both a lot more if we had been able to get a real tour. Pepperdine’s driving tour was just not good at all, and you can’t even see the interior of campus from that loop road.

She’s not against a religious school (obviously by her choices so far) but doesn’t want one with strict rules and required chapel, for example. She’s intrigued by the close knit social aspect of women’s colleges, especially Scripps as part of the consortium. She prefers a more suburban setting, or at least not big city urban (USD ok, USF probably not) or rural as in totally isolated. Prefers to not have an overly activist student body.

So…are we missing any California schools that may offer strong academics and some decent merit? Occidental? Point Loma, Biola, Westmont – to religious? Not sure what their academic reputations are. I think it’s likely that she’d head back to the east coast after graduation, so I’m a bit reluctant to pay for a school that’s reputation is regional, if that makes sense. Maybe the schools she has on the list are enough to have a couple options within our price range?

Sorry so long, and thanks in advance for any suggestions.

Location being in a smaller, quirky town within an hour of mountains and/or beach, medium sized, would likely give big merit- University of Redlands. But not the academic name you are looking for.

1 Like

Not sure about the merit but check if Loyola Marymount fits the bill.


I’d take a closer look at Occidental. Very good school, small classes, friendly place, merit aid, nice campus, feels suburban but very close to fun, vibrant neighborhoods. Graduate schools will be familiar with its reputation.

As mentioned, Loyola Marymount is also a very good school and awards merit aid, and doesn’t feel like it is in the middle of a city.


another nod to LMU, it certainly worth an ap.

1 Like

Reviving your thread to ask how is the decision going?

We are considering some of the same schools if my daughter doesn’t end up out of state (we live in Southern CA)

Have you looked at Vanguard University? It’s in Orange County, only a few miles from the beach. It does have weekly chapel requirements though. They give a ton of merit aid (we are in the same situation where we won’t qualify for need based.)