San Diego is a city in the state of California, positioned on the west coast of the United States, close to its border with Mexico. The city nicknamed America’s Finest City is not only a popular tourist destination but also a great place to pursue higher education. It ranks 76th globally in the QS Best Students Cities 2019.

The University of California San Diego (UC San Diego) is the most prestigious university in San Diego, but it also charges a fortune in tuition. However, the good news is that there are several other institutions in the same city where you can find quality yet affordable higher education. Here, we have made a list of four cheap universities in San Diego.

Affordable Schools in San Diego for International Students

1. San Diego State University

San Diego State University (SDSU) is one of the 23 members of the California State University (CSU) system. It was established in 1897 as San Diego Normal School and went on to earn its current name in 1974. Hence, it is the third-oldest university in the CSU system. It has a student population of nearly 35,000, with over 1,800 faculty members tasked with the responsibility of teaching them. The public research university facilitates 95 bachelor’s programs, 78 master’s programs, and 22 doctoral programs through its eight colleges. Its main campus encompasses 283 acres of land in San Diego. It is listed among the world’s top 600 universities in both the Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU) 2019 and Times Higher Education World University Rankings 2020.

SDSU isn’t the cheapest university in San Diego, either for California residents or for those coming from other US states and outside the country. Yet, you wouldn’t probably mind spending the extra few thousand bucks a year to study at such a quality institution. Additionally, this cheap university in San Diego offers some kind of financial aid to around 52 percent of its freshman students, with the standard financial aid package being $13,931. The not-so-good news, however, is that SDSU is a highly selective institution, with an acceptance rate of only 34 percent.

2. California State University San Marcos

Beginning its journey in 1989, California State University San Marcos (CSUSM) is another member of the CSU system. It is located in the northern San Diego County city of San Marcos, at a distance of roughly 35 miles from downtown San Diego. The university’s suburban campus occupies 304 acres of land. Its total enrolment stands at over 17,000, while the number of its academic staff is about 1,000. Its academic programs include 43 bachelor’s programs, 24 master’s programs, and eight credential programs. It also offers a doctoral program in collaboration with UC San Diego. The university is organized into four colleges. It is one of the top 500 universities in the US, according to the Times Higher Education World University Rankings 2020.

The tuition at this cheap university in San Diego is impressively low by US standards. Moreover, the university is there to further assist you financially with scholarships, grants, loans, and work-study opportunities. Historically, 90 percent of students who applied for financial aid went on to receive it. The average financial aid received here is $11,197. This university has an acceptance of 58 percent.

3. Brandman University

  • Tuition Fees: $15,000/year

Brandman University is a non-profit private university that belongs to the Chapman University system. The university has more than 27 campuses across California and Washington, one of which is positioned on Mission Valley Road in San Diego. It has over 11,000 students and nearly 1,600 academic staff. The university offers more than 52 bachelor’s, master’s, doctoral, associate, certificate, and credential programs. It is made up of five academic schools. This university has been around since 1958.

Being a multi-state private university, Brandman charges the same tuition for in-state, out-of-state, and international students. If you aren’t a California resident, this university is your cheapest option in San Diego. The student loan default rate at Brandman is just 5.1 percent, which is lower than the national average of 6.9 percent. With an acceptance rate of 79 percent, the university appears to be one of the less selective ones.

4. San Diego Christian College

  • Tuition Fees: $30,760/year

San Diego Christian College (SDCC) is an undenominational Christian college located in the San Diego suburb of Santee, with a campus size of 50 acres. It was established in 1970 as Christian Heritage College and went on to earn its current name in 2005. The private college awards Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Science degrees in a variety of fields. It also offers a few master’s programs. The total number of academic programs exceeds 50. It boasts an impressive student-to-faculty ratio of 8:1. This cheap college in San Diego claims the 14th spot in the US News Best Regional Colleges West Rankings 2020.

Whether you are a California resident or someone coming from a different US state or outside the country, you will find the tuition here significantly higher than that at the institutions listed above. But don’t forget that there are many other colleges and universities that charge even higher. Also, more than 95 percent of students here find themselves with one kind of financial assistance or another. At the college, 62 out of every 100 applicants are accepted, making it one of the less selective institutions in San Diego.


We hope that this article on cheap universities in San Diego was helpful. To know more information on studying abroad, check out the Available Programs for International Students.

About the Author: Hyun Lee

Hi! I am Hyun, and I am the founder at Global Scholarships. I've received a full-tuition scholarship at Birmingham-Southern College and a $1,000 Burger King Scholarship for my undergraduate degree and was offered a fully funded scholarship consisting of tuition, living stipend, and health insurance for computer science Ph.D. program at North Carolina State University. You can read more about my scholarship journey here. If you are interested, you can follow me on Linkedin where I regularly write about scholarship opportunities.

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