U.S. Markets close in 3 hrs 36 mins

BYU Once Again Nation's Most Popular University

By Brian Burnsed

For the second year in a row, Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah 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. BYU dropped four spots to 75th in U.S. News's 2011 rankings of national universities, which are research-oriented institutions that offer degrees of all levels. That did not deter admitted students from choosing the school--76.9 percent of accepted students enrolled in fall 2009.

School officials credit a strong track record with employers as well as the school's popularity in the state for once again earning the top spot. "Because many of our prospective students have long had the goal to be a part of the BYU experience, many forgo applying to other schools altogether," says BYU spokesman Todd Hollingshead.

[See the 20 most popular national universities.]

Harvard University, which placed second last year to BYU, closed the gap, narrowly missing the title of most popular, which it once held. This year, Harvard's 76.5 percent yield was a mere .4 percentage points lower than BYU's after trailing by 2 percentage points last year. Other highly ranked schools also fared well, as Stanford University, the fifth ranked national university, and Yale University, the third ranked national university, both cracked the top 10 on the most popular list.

Larger state schools also appeared high on the list. Georgia Southern University, a Tier 2 school (Tier 2 schools are ranked in the bottom 25 percent of their category), the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and the University of Florida all boasted top-20 yield percentages despite accepting more than 5,000 students each.

Among liberal arts colleges (schools that place an emphasis on undergraduate education and award at least 50 percent of their degrees in the liberal arts), two service academies took top billing yet again. The United States Naval Academy and United States Military Academy had the highest yields: 85.5 percent and 77.0 percent, respectively. They repeatedly rank higher than other schools because their admissions processes are far more rigorous than traditional schools, requiring students to obtain nominations from U.S. congressmen and pass a fitness test, which heightens the chance that admitted students will attend.

[See the 20 most popular liberal arts colleges.]

Nearly topping this year's liberal arts list is the 1,600-student Berea College, located in Berea, Ky. Berea is ranked 67th in U.S. News's 2011 rankings of best liberal arts colleges and only admits students hailing from meager financial backgrounds. Because the school targets low income students, it offers full four-year scholarships, laptop computers, and an on-campus job to every student. A free education and computer in exchange for 10 hours a week of on-campus work is undoubtedly alluring to applicants. "They learn and earn their education," says Joe Bagnoli, the school's dean of enrollment and academic services. "Berea admits only students with limited financial resources and, as we like to say, provides them with 'one of the best educations money can't buy.'"

Searching for a college? Get our complete rankings of Best Colleges.