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Harvard University Is America’s Most Popular University

Brigham Young University places second after topping the list in back-to-back years.

For the first time since 2009, Harvard University is the most popular National University in America among applicants, according to an analysis of yield (the percentage of students accepted to a school who opt to attend) by U.S.News & World Report. For Harvard, the top-ranked institution in U.S. News’s Best Colleges rankings, 75.5 percent of students who were accepted as part of the fall 2010 class ultimately chose to enroll.

Harvard officials point to improvements in programs for student life that have made the school more appealing to those who have been accepted. “Beyond improvements in financial aid, substantial changes in the past decade provide new levels of support for students once they enroll, and enrich their academic and extracurricular experiences throughout their time at Harvard,” said William Fitzsimmons, dean of admissions and financial aid at the university, in a press release.

Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, which topped the list the past two years, placed second with a 74.7 percent yield—just 0.8 percentage points lower than Harvard. BYU experienced a 2.2 percentage point drop in yield from the previous year, when 76.9 percent of accepted students enrolled in fall 2009. Many other highly ranked schools fared well in this list based on yield. Of the top 10 most popular universities, five schools are also among the top 10 ranking of National Universities—Harvard, Stanford University, Yale University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and the University of Pennsylvania. In some cases, a school’s yield has been impacted because it has either an early decision or early action plan where the yield typically approaches 100 percent for students admitted under those plans.

While highly selective private schools topped the list, many state schools also appeared among the most popular universities. The University of Florida, University of Nebraska—Lincoln, and University of Nevada—Las Vegas all boasted yields of greater than 55 percent while accepting more than 5,000 students each for fall 2010. The University of Alaska—Fairbanks and Georgia Southern University—schools whose rank is not published (RNP)—placed among the 10 most popular National Universities in the country. (RNP denotes an institution that is ranked in the bottom one fourth of its ranking category. U.S. News calculates a rank for the school but has decided not to publish it.)

Some students also seem drawn to schools with religious affiliations. BYU and Yeshiva University placed among the top five most popular universities, and the University of Notre Dame placed 39th.

Among National Liberal Arts Colleges (schools that place an emphasis on undergraduate education and award at least 50 percent of their degrees in the liberal arts), service academies took the top three spots. The United States Naval Academy posted a yield of 85 percent, while the United States Military Academy and United States Air Force Academy had yields of 81.9 percent and 81 percent, respectively. Military academies normally rank high on a list based on yield, because the admissions process—which requires students to obtain nominations from members of Congress and pass a fitness test—is rigorous, increasing the likelihood that a student will enroll after being accepted.

Savannah State University, a 3,900-student historically black university in Savannah, Ga., placed fourth on the list for liberal arts colleges, and is the most popular nonmilitary academy on the list. Savannah State, whose rank is not published in U.S. News’s 2012 rankings of National Liberal Arts Colleges, credits its change in recruiting practices for its position on the list. “One of the things we’ve done is just focused on Georgia,” says Timothy Cranford, executive director of enrollment services at the university. “In the past, we’ve done recruitment all over the nation, but we’ve really focused in on our in-state residents.”

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