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The Most Sought-After Colleges and Universities in the United States

Bold.org Editorial Team

Top experts in a variety of areas

Choosing which college or university to attend is a big decision, and everyone wants to make sure they choose the school that’s best for them and their future! We reviewed the schools of interest for our database of more than 1.7 million profiles to find out which colleges and universities students are most eager to attend. Here’s how schools ranked in the United States:

#1: University of California, Los Angeles

Location: Los Angeles, California

Students enrolled: 45,900

Acceptance rate: 14%

Notable attendees:

  • Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
  • Jackie Robinson, Ken Jeong
  • Carol Burnett
  • John Williams

UCLA is one of the most well-known schools on the west coast and has had its name changed three times since opening. It’s also one of the major research universities in the U.S. and the only one that was founded in the 20th century.

#2: The University of Texas at Austin

Location: Austin, Texas

Students enrolled: 51,991

Acceptance rate: 39%

Notable attendees:

  • Matthew McConaughey
  • Owen Wilson
  • Roger Clemens
  • Kevin Durant
  • Jon Hamm

With a campus full of museums and interesting artifacts, including one of the Gutenburg Bibles, the University of Texas at Austin focuses heavily on both tradition and innovation. While it has a rich history of education and athletics, it also looks to the future with the latest technology and teaching methods that make it one of the most popular in the nation.

#3: New York University

Location: New York, New York

Students enrolled: 53,576

Acceptance rate: 20%

Notable attendees:

  • Angelina Jolie
  • Anne Hathaway
  • Meg Ryan
  • Sarah Silverman
  • Amal Clooney

Located in one of the oldest and most populated cities in the United States, New York University attracts people from all over the world. Many of its students and alumni have won prestigious awards, such as the Pulitzer Prize, Olympic medals, and entertainment awards, including Emmy Awards, Tony Awards, Academy Awards, and Grammy Awards.

#4: University of California, Berkeley

Location: Berkeley, California

Students enrolled: 45,057

Acceptance rate: 15%

Notable attendees:

  • Chris Pine
  • Steve Wozniak
  • Aaron Rodgers
  • Jason Kidd
  • Hannah Hart

Renowned for its many research contributions, the University of California, Berkeley is one of the most famous for students that want to pursue careers in science and technology. Some of the university’s most ground-breaking research includes the discovery of new chemical elements and the creation of the polygraph.

#5: Texas A&M University, College Station

Location: College Station, Texas

Students enrolled: 73,284 (all locations of Texas A & M University)

Acceptance rate: 68%

Notable attendees:

  • Yoon Mi-rae (Natasha Shanta Reid)
  • Eva Longoria
  • DeAndre Jordan
  • Von Miller
  • Tiffany Thornton

Texas A&M University was the first public higher education institution in Texas and helped to establish the importance of education throughout the state. It was the first to clone a pet, which took place in 2001 when scientists at the university successfully cloned a cat.

#6: Stanford University

Location: Stanford, California

Students enrolled: 18,623

Acceptance rate: 4%

Notable attendees:

  • Fred Savage
  • Sigourney Weaver
  • Tiger Woods
  • Reese Witherspoon
  • Julie Foudy

Covering more than 8,000 acres of land, Stanford University has one of the largest campuses in the nation. Many alumni have founded their own companies and the university is known for obtaining ample funding for startups, making it one of the best universities for entrepreneurship.

#7: University of Florida

Location: Gainesville, Florida

Students enrolled: 57,841

Acceptance rate: 39%

Notable attendees:

  • Tim Tebow
  • Aaron Hernandez
  • Emmitt Smith
  • Charlie Strong
  • Abby Wambach

The University of Florida is ranked as one of the best public universities in the country. Its alligator mascot is one of the most recognizable, especially for its sports teams, seeing as the Florida Gators have won many championships throughout the years.

#8: University of Southern California

Location: Los Angeles, California

Students enrolled: 49,500

Acceptance rate: 13%

Notable attendees:

  • Will Ferrell
  • George Lucas
  • Tom Selleck
  • Lily Collins
  • Dave Franco

The University of Southern California is known for both its great academics and its sports teams. Many of USC’s athletes have gone on to win more medals at the Olympic Games than athletes from any other university in the nation.

#9: Florida State University

Location: Tallahasee, Florida

Students enrolled: 45,493

Acceptance rate: 37%

Notable attendees:

  • Jim Morrison
  • Deion Sanders
  • Courtney Hansen
  • Allan Havey
  • Michael James Nelson

Florida State University has been working towards being ranked with the top public research universities in the United States and has expanded its research and PhD programs to help achieve such. Many of its undergraduate programs have become highly competitive and have high demand among students.

#10: Columbia University

Location: New York, New York

Students enrolled: 31,455

Acceptance rate: 5%

Notable attendees:

  • Barack Obama
  • Jake Gyllenhaal
  • Amanda Peet
  • Julia Stiles
  • Alicia Keys

Originally known by the founders of our nation as King’s College, Columbia University is one of the oldest and most pregious universities in the U.S. With it being one of the first higher education institutions in our country, its alumni have made numerous contributions to the progress of the science and technology fields.

#11: University of Central Florida

Location: Orlando, Florida

Students enrolled: 70,406

Acceptance rate: 43%

Notable attendees:

  • Alan Eustace
  • Nicole Stott
  • Brian Acton
  • George Kalogridis
  • Blake Bortles

The University of Central Florida has ties to the Kennedy Space Center and U.S. space program. It’s especially known for its technology and engineering programs and many students have made strides in these fields and support NASA once they complete their formal education.

#12: University of Houston

Location: Houston, Texas

Students enrolled: 47,031

Acceptance rate: 62%

Notable attendees:

  • Hakeem Olajuwon
  • Kenny Rogers
  • Jim Parsons
  • Dennis Quaid
  • Jim Parsons

The University of Houston is the third largest university in the state of Texas. Like other Texas schools, sports are an integral part of the university’s culture and its golf team has more national championships than any other in the country.

#13: Baylor University

Location: Waco, Texas

Students enrolled: 19,297

Acceptance rate: 39%

Notable attendees:

  • Jeff Dunham
  • Matt Bryant
  • Michael Johnson
  • Angela Kinsey
  • Joanna Gaines

The oldest operational university in Texas, Baylor University has seen many changes and events throughout its history. The school has various traditions that have been ongoing for many years, including the telling of the Immortal Ten to freshman students.

#14: University of Pennsylvania

Location: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Students enrolled: 28,038

Acceptance rate: 8%

Notable attendees:

  • Elon Musk
  • Noam Chomsky
  • John Legend
  • Elizabeth Banks
  • William Henry Harrison

The University if Pennsylvania was founded by none other than Benjamin Franklin, making it one of the few colleges that existed before the United States officially declared its independence. It also is home to the first medical school in the nation, which came to be in 1765.

#15: Harvard College

Location: Cambridge, Masachusetts

Students enrolled: 35,276

Acceptance rate: 4%

Notable attendees:

  • John F. Kennedy
  • Mark Zuckerberg
  • Michael Bloomberg
  • Margaret Atwood
  • Natalie Portman

As the oldest college in the nation (founded in 1636), Harvard College has always been one of the top places to obtain post-secondary education. It’s one of the most competitive and prestigious colleges one can attend, with an extremely low acceptance rate at just 4%.

#16: Boston University

Location: Boston, Massachusetts

Students enrolled: 33,678

Acceptance rate: 22%

Notable attendees:

  • Gena Davis
  • Howard Stern
  • Mariel Hemnigway
  • Joan Baez
  • Martin Luther King Jr.

Boston University started out as a Methodist theological school and eventually transformed into the institution it is today. The school has become an essential part of Boston’s economy as it is one of the city’s largest employers, providing jobs for many professors, researchers, and administrative professionals.

#17: University of Georgia

Location: Athens, Georgia

Students enrolled: 29,765

Acceptance rate: 49%

Notable attendees:

  • Ryan Seacrest
  • Maxine Clark
  • Matthew Stafford
  • Maria Taylor
  • Amy Robach

The University of Georgia was founded in 1785, making it one of the oldest public universities in the country. It has hundreds of alumni that have moved on to received awards and accolades such as a United Stated Poet Laureate, Pulitzer Prize winners, Peabody Award winners, and Rhodes Scholars.

#18: University of Miami

Location: Coral Gables, Florida

Students enrolled: 17,809

Acceptance rate: 32%

Notable attendees:

  • Dwayne Johnson
  • Enrique Iglesias
  • Ray Liotta
  • Sean Taylor
  • Rohan Marley

Once carrying the nickname “Cardboard College,” due to the thin partitions that were temporarily used to create classrooms, the University of Miami has come a long way from its humble beginnings. It now is the third largest employer in its county and its baseball and football teams have both won national championships.

#19: University of Michigan, Ann Arbor

Location: Ann Arbor, Michigan

Students enrolled: 47,659

Acceptance rate: 23%

Notable attendees:

  • Sanjay Gupta
  • Tom Brady
  • Arthur Miller
  • John Jacob Abel
  • Nancy M. Hill

The University of Michigan has always been ahead of its time. From being a coeducational college since 1871 to being a founding university of the American Association of Universities, there’s no shortage of innovation.

#20: Cornell University

Location: Ithaca, New York

Students enrolled: 25,582

Acceptance rate: 10%

Notable attendees:

  • Christopher Reeve
  • Jane Lynch
  • E. B. White
  • Andrew Ross Sorkin
  • Barbara McClintock

Cornell University was founded in 1865 with the goal of providing knowledge on a variety of subjects. It carries this legacy with the many current alumni and is one of the top universities in the world for students that go on to pursue PhDs in various fields.

Methodology

We looked at our database of more than 1.7 million student profiles and the schools students are interested in applying to in order to find which colleges and universities are the most sought-after in the United States.

Sources:

https://bold.org/schools/

https://www.ucla.edu/about/facts-and-figures

https://www.utexas.edu/about/facts-and-figures

https://www.nyu.edu/about/news-publications/nyu-at-a-glance.html

https://opa.berkeley.edu/campus-data/uc-berkeley-quick-facts

https://www.tamu.edu/about/at-a-glance.html

https://registrar.stanford.edu/everyone/enrollment-statistics/enrollment-statistics-2020-21

https://news.ufl.edu/media/newsufledu/documents/UF-Fact-Sheet-for-Media-2021.pdf

https://about.usc.edu/facts/

https://www.fsu.edu/about/students.html

https://opir.columbia.edu/sites/default/files/content/Statistical%20Abstract/opir_enrollment_history.pdf

https://www.ucf.edu/about-ucf/facts/

https://uh.edu/ir/reports/facts-at-a-glance/facts-at-a-glance.pdf

https://www.univstats.com/colleges/baylor-university/student-population/

https://www.upenn.edu/about/facts

https://www.harvard.edu/about/

https://www.bu.edu/president/boston-university-facts-stats/

https://www.usnews.com/best-colleges/university-of-georgia-1598

https://www.univstats.com/colleges/university-of-miami/student-population/

https://umich.edu/facts-figures/

https://www.cornell.edu/about/facts.cfm

https://ivyleagueprep.com/columbia-university/

https://college.harvard.edu/admissions/admissions-statistics

https://admissions.cornell.edu/facts-about-cornell