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Ivy League universities are notoriously competitive, with tens of thousands of students vying for limited seats at each college. Yet that application volume is nowhere near the top. In fact, state schools mostly dominate in terms of applications received.
While Harvard University in Massachusetts received more than 40,000 applications in fall 2020, that number is doubled at several public institutions on this list. Though these public schools tend to have higher acceptance rates and larger classes than their Ivy League counterparts, U.S. News rankings also show that many of the colleges receiving the most applications offer a great education.
Eight of the 10 schools with the most applicants for fall 2020 are among the top 40 National Universities in the 2022 U.S. News Best Colleges rankings, schools that tend to be research-oriented and offer a diverse range of bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees.
Among the 10 colleges that received the most applications in fall 2020, the average was 84,865. By comparison, the average number of applicants for fall 2020 was 9,071 at the 1,201 colleges that reported this data to U.S. News in an annual survey.
On the other end of the spectrum, some colleges received applications in the hundreds rather than the tens of thousands. In fact, 97 colleges reported receiving fewer than 1,000 applications in fall 2020 and two colleges had fewer than 100, per U.S. News data.
Of the 10 colleges that received the most applications for fall 2020, nine are National Universities. The lone exception is California State University–Long Beach, which belongs in the Regional Universities category for schools that offer bachelor’s degrees, some master’s programs and limited options at the doctoral level. Nine of the 10 are also public colleges, with New York University as the outlier.
California is home to seven of the 10 colleges on this list, and six are members of the acclaimed University of California system.
Below is a list of the 10 colleges with the most fall 2020 applicants. Unranked schools, which did not meet certain criteria required by U.S. News to be numerically ranked, were not considered for this report.
|School||Number of Applicants||U.S. News Rank and Category|
|University of California–Los Angeles||108,877||20, National Universities|
|University of California–San Diego||100,073||34 (tie), National Universities|
|University of California–Irvine||97,942||36 (tie), National Universities|
|University of California–Santa Barbara||90,963||28 (tie), National Universities|
|University of California–Berkeley||88,076||22, National Universities|
|New York University||80,210||28 (tie), National Universities|
|University of California–Davis||76,225||38 (tie), National Universities|
|Pennsylvania State University–University Park||73,861||63 (tie), National Universities|
|California State University–Long Beach||67,402||12 (tie), Regional Universities (West)|
|University of Michigan–Ann Arbor||65,021||23 (tie), National Universities|
Don’t see your school in the top 10? Access the U.S. News College Compass to find admissions figures, complete rankings and much more. Sign up for the U.S. News Extra Help: College Admissions free email newsletter to receive expert advice twice a month.
U.S. News surveyed more than 1,850 colleges and universities for our 2021 survey of undergraduate programs. Schools self-reported myriad data regarding their academic programs and the makeup of their student body, among other areas, making U.S. News’ data the most accurate and detailed collection of college facts and figures of its kind. While U.S. News uses much of this survey data to rank schools for our annual Best Colleges rankings, the data can also be useful when examined on a smaller scale. U.S. News will now produce lists of data, separate from the overall rankings, meant to provide students and parents a means to find which schools excel, or have room to grow, in specific areas that are important to them. While the data comes from the schools themselves, these lists are not related to, and have no influence over, U.S. News’ rankings of Best Colleges, Best Graduate Schools or Best Online Programs. The application data above is correct as of Oct. 19, 2021.
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