Biggest College Enrollments in the U.S.
How we look at college enrollment numbers has changed drastically in the last two years — just like how we look at education, in general, has changed.
While attending classes in person has become more of a suggestion than a requirement, one thing that hasn't changed is the upward trajectory of undergraduate enrollment at some of the biggest colleges and universities in the United States. When it comes to higher education, the biggest institutions of higher learning in America continue to push the envelope as far as how many students they can fit on campus.
Here's a look at the colleges with the largest undergraduate enrollments in the U.S.
15. University of Minnesota
Location: Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota
Bottom line: The University of Minnesota has long been considered a "Public Ivy" school — public universities that offer comparative education to Ivy League schools.
One look at the list of achievements from Minnesota's alums backs that up. Among them are two former vice presidents of the United States, 26 Nobel Prize winners, 25 Rhodes Scholars, three Pulitzer Prize winners and arguably the greatest singer/songwriter of all time in Bob Dylan.
Athletically, the school most notably produced the bulk of the players on the most famous team of all time — the 1980 U.S. Men's Hockey Team a.k.a. "The Miracle on Ice" squad — along with its coach, the late Herb Brooks.
Famous alumni: Bob Dylan, Hubert Humphrey, Walter Mondale, Herb Brooks, Garrison Keillor, Henry Fonda, Dave Winfield, Kevin McHale, Ric Flair, Brock Lesnar
Note: Numbers are based on median enrollment figures reported from 2019 to 2021.
14. California State University, Fullerton
Location: Fullerton, California
Bottom line: Of the 23 campuses that make up the California state university system, California State University, Fullerton's enrollment tops them all, making it a behemoth in its own right with an estimated $2.6 billion impact on the California economy as well as supporting some 16,000 jobs.
More commonly known as Cal State Fullerton, the school originally opened as Orange County State College in 1959, changed its name to Orange State College in 1962 then California State College at Fullerton in 1964 before settling on its current name in 1974.
Cal State Fullerton is commonly known to sports fans around the country for its greatness on the baseball diamond — they've won four NCAA national championships in baseball. The Titans also won a national championship in softball in 1986.
Famous alumni: Kevin Costner, Gwen Stefani, Tracy Caldwell Dyson, Gabe Kapler, Adam Lambert, Phil Nevin, Jenny Topping, Bruce Bowen
13. University of Arizona
Location: Tucson, Arizona
Bottom line: You'll be hard to find many more beautiful college campuses in the U.S. than the University of Arizona, with its gigantic palm trees lining the walkways that crisscross its campus. The University of Arizona was founded in 1885 — 27 years before Arizona even became a state — and was the first university in the Arizona Territory.
Not to be the shallow one of the bunch ... but this place loves to party. Loves it. In fact, Tuscon is one of the most fun college towns in the country.
Famous alumni: Barry Goldwater, Jerry Bruckheimer, Rob Gronkowski, Kristen Wiig, Savannah Guthrie, Steve Kerr, Trevor Hoffman, Andre Iguodala, Geraldo Rivera, Kourtney Kardashian
12. Rutgers University
Location: New Brunswick, New Jersey, and Piscataway, New Jersey
Bottom line: Rutgers is the oldest college on this list by a long shot — it was founded as Queen's College in 1755. It's grown so much since then that its campus spreads across two cities. It wasn't renamed Rutgers until 1826, which is still way, way before most of the colleges on this list were open.
Of all of its famous alumni — and the list is pretty amazing — no one stands above the late, great James Gandolfini, who is in the conversation as the greatest actor who ever lived. RIP.
Famous alumni: James Gandolfini, Jim Valvano, Carli Lloyd, Elizabeth Warren, Philip Roth, Cappie Pondexter, Calista Flockhart, Sebastian Stan, Keir Dullea, Kurt Sutter
11. Michigan State University
Location: East Lansing, Michigan
Bottom line: Opened in 1855 as the Agricultural College of the State of Michigan, Michigan State has been firmly affixed among the largest colleges in the U.S. for long enough that it now boasts an incredible 634,000 living alumni.
Of those alumni, none is more famous (or rich) than one raised right in East Lansing, Michigan — former NBA superstar Earvin "Magic" Johnson. Magic led Michigan State to an NCAA championship in 1979 and led the Los Angeles Lakers to the first of five NBA championships in 1980. Magic is one of the great investment stories in sports history and now owns the Los Angeles Dodgers — he has an estimated net worth of approximately $650 million.
Famous alumni: Magic Johnson, James Caan, Sam Raimi, Jemele Hill, Steve Garvey
10. University of Houston
Location: Houston, Texas
Bottom line: It's saying something that the University of Houston is the smallest of three colleges in Texas to break the Top 10 on this list because it's a behemoth in its own right.
Taking up almost 700 acres just southeast of downtown Houston, this is about as urban as it gets when we talk about big-time college campuses. The Cougars have a long and proud basketball tradition, most notable for its men's basketball team, which thrived in its "Phi Slama Jama" era of the early 1980s and has four Final Four appearances. Houston's golf team also won an impressive 16 NCAA championships.
Famous alumni: Hakeem Olajuwon, Clyde Drexler, Fred Couples, Tom DeLay, Lizzo, Jim Parsons, Jack Valenti, Alice Sebold
9. University of Texas
Location: Austin, Texas
Bottom line: You get a feeling when you step on campus at the University of Texas that the school is a living, breathing thing — maybe the very heart of the state itself. After all, it has been home to 13 Nobel Prize winners and four Pulitzer Prize winners.
Just like anything else in Texas, the most important thing on campus is the football team, which last won a national championship in 2006, when the Longhorns pulled off one of the great upsets in sports history when they beat the two-time defending national champion USC Trojans in the Rose Bowl.
No story about the University of Texas is complete without mentioning the tragic events of Aug. 1, 1966, when student Charles Whitman barricaded himself in the tower on the main campus with several firearms, killing 14 people and injuring 31 more in a shooting rampage before he was killed by police — Whitman killed 16 people in total that day, including his mother and wife before he came to the tower.
Famous alumni: Walter Cronkite, Renee Zellwegger, Laura Bush, Lady Bird Johnson, Matthew McConaughey, James Baker, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Roger Clemens, Kevin Durant, Owen Wilson
8. Penn State University
Location: University Park, Pennsylvania
Bottom line: Penn State has long been considered one of the "Public Ivies" alongside fellow Big Ten institution University of Minnesota.
All told, there are now 23 campuses that encompass Penn State total, and it costs almost $1 billion per year to run the school, which was also home to arguably the worst sports scandal of all time — the child sex abuse scandal involving former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky.
In an interesting twist, the scandal may have never come to light had it not been for the work of Penn State graduate Sara Ganim, who won a Pulitzer Prize for her work uncovering the story while working for The Patriot-News in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, in 2012. Ganim, who graduated from Penn State in 2008, was just 24 years old when she won the Pulitzer.
Famous alumni: Sara Ganim, Rick Santorum, Keegan-Michael Key, Terry Pegula, Franco Harris
7. Utah Valley University
Location: Orem, Utah
Bottom line: Utah Valley University is just a baby compared to other schools on this list. It didn't open until 1941 and was known as Utah Valley Community College until it changed its name to Utah Valley State College in 1993 and began awarding four-year degrees.
Since it went from community college to four-year school, the enrollment at Utah Valley University has grown exponentially. It became the largest college in Utah in 2018 when it finally surpassed the University of Utah.
Famous alumni: Christopher Fogt, Matt Gay, Jef Holm, Ronnie Price, Wesley Silcox
6. Arizona State University
Location: Tempe, Arizona
Bottom line: Arizona State University jumped on the national radar in the 1980s and 1990s when Playboy Magazine ranked it as the top party school in the country — probably an unfair tag to put on a school that's home to almost 150,000 students when you include its online enrollment.
One thing Arizona State does really well is journalism, thanks to the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, as evidenced by its 10 Pulitzer Prize winners.
Famous alumni: Pat Tillman, Jimmy Kimmel, Nick Nolte, Kate Spade, Barry Bonds, Phil Mickelson, Reggie Jackson, David Spade, Al Michaels
5. The Ohio State University
Location: Columbus, Ohio
Bottom line: It's a common misperception that the ultra-pretentious "The" was added to the official name of Ohio State in recent times — but that's actually how it was spelled out in the state legislation when the school was renamed from Ohio Agricultural and Mechanical College to its current name in 1878. The name change is largely credited to former U.S. President Rutherford B. Hayes.
It may just be by sheer virtue of the size of its undergraduate enrollment, but Ohio State had more students in the 95th percentile for standardized testing than any public university in the U.S. in 2021.
They're good at sports, too. They've produced 108 Olympic medalists in their time — most notably track and field star Jesse Owens, who defied Nazi leader Adolf Hitler by winning four gold medals at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, Germany. Ohio State also has the only two-time Heisman Trophy winner with running back Archie Griffin, who won the award in 1974 and 1975.
Famous alumni: Jesse Owens, Archie Griffin, John Havlicek, Katie Smith, Bobby Knight, Rutherford B. Hayes, Ric Ocasek, Dwight Yoakam
4. Liberty University
Location: Lynchburg, Virginia
Bottom line: This ultra-conservative university in Lynchburg, Virginia, became known more as Super Spreader U during the pandemic. You may remember that it stayed open during the worst part of the pandemic, with then-president Jerry Falwell Jr. comparing the virus to a "seasonal flu."
Liberty, which disbanded its Democratic Student Union because it "went against conservative values," saw Falwell Jr. step down in August 2020 in the wake of a sex scandal involving himself, his wife and a pool boy at a hotel the two frequented.
Famous alumni: TobyMac, Samantha Ponder, Sid Bream, Jerry Falwell Jr., Vic Mignogna, Malik Willis
3. Florida International University
Location: Miami, Florida
Bottom line: Florida International University's (FIU) picturesque Miami campus isn't just known for having one of the largest undergraduate populations in the U.S. It's also been a backdrop for some pop culture touchstones — an episode of "Miami Vice" was filmed there in 1985, and the school also hosted the Miss Universe competition in 2014.
If you're thinking about going to FIU, you're going to have to be among the best of the best academically — the freshman class in the fall of 2021 had an average GPA of 4.34, average SAT score of 1288 and average ACT score of 29. Hey, it's always good to have a backup school!
Famous alumni: Andy Garcia, Dennis Lehane, Carlos Arroyo, Elsa Murano
2. Texas A&M University
Location: College Station, Texas
Bottom line: Texas A&M became the first institution of higher education in Texas when it was founded in 1876 and is still going as it approaches its 150th anniversary.
The campus is notably home to the George H.W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum, and the college itself is widely known for its traditions. None more so than on Saturdays in the fall when the student body, or "12th Man" as it's known to the masses, helps fill Kyle Field to its 103,000-person capacity and helps cheer on the Aggies.
Famous alumni: Rick Perry, John David Crow, Johnny Manziel, Lyle Lovett, Robert Earl Keen, Robert Gates
1. University of Central Florida
Location: Orlando, Florida
Bottom line: The main campus for the University of Central Florida (UCF) is located in a sprawling, unincorporated area located just east of Orlando — home to the single largest undergraduate student population in the country.
UCF opened its doors in 1968 as Florida Technological University to support the booming U.S. space programs at Cape Canaveral and the Kennedy Space Center. Even though it changed to its current name in 1978, it still maintains a healthy connection with NASA via the Florida Space Grant Consortium.
In the realm of athletics, UCF is probably best known for claiming a fake national championship in football after its team went 13-0 in 2017.
Famous alumni: Gene Frantz (inventor of Speak and Spell), Cheryl Hines, Daniel Tosh, Brandon Marshall, Michelle Akers, Tacko Fall