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How Many Universities Are There in the US?

By Gabriel Jimenez-Ekman

Gabriel Jimenez-Ekman is a content editor and writer at Scholarships360. He has managed communications and written content for a diverse array of organizations, including a farmer’s market, a concert venue, a student farm, an environmental NGO, and a PR agency. Gabriel graduated from Kenyon College with a degree in sociology.

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Edited by Maria Geiger

Maria Geiger is Director of Content at Scholarships360. She is a former online educational technology instructor and adjunct writing instructor. In addition to education reform, Maria’s interests include viewpoint diversity, blended/flipped learning, digital communication, and integrating media/web tools into the curriculum to better facilitate student engagement. Maria earned both a B.A. and an M.A. in English Literature from Monmouth University, an M. Ed. in Education from Monmouth University, and a Virtual Online Teaching Certificate (VOLT) from the University of Pennsylvania.

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Updated: April 10th, 2024
How Many Universities Are There in the US?

Why does it seem so hard to choose a college university to attend? Well, it could have something to do with how many universities there are in the US alone. The latest data from the National Center for Education Statistics states that in 2021-2022, there were a whopping 3,899 degree-granting post-secondary institutions in the United States alone. This number can vary based on whether you count satellite locations as their own campus, or whether you want to factor in for-profit universities. But no matter how you cut it, that is a lot of choices. 

This wealth of options can be overwhelming as you begin your college search, but we are here to help. Don’t let the abundance of choice intimidate you; it’s lucky that we are offered so many options to pursue our education. In this article, we’ll show you how to make wise choices in your application and decision process. We’ll also discuss recent trends in university closures and new educational models, so you can see what models are finding success and which are struggling.

Related: How many colleges should I apply to?

Narrowing down your options

Making lists

With all of the universities in the US, it’s a good idea to start off your search by making a list of your priorities. Try to decide what you want in a college or university and write it down. Make appointments with your high school counselor and talk with your family and friends. While it’s a good idea to give each type of school your consideration, you can usually root out a lot of initial options by asking yourself what you want out of your college experience.

Also see: Do college rankings matter?

Going on college visits

College visits are a great way to narrow down your university options. By visiting a school, you can get an idea of the atmosphere and operation. You’ll also be able to ask questions to current students and admissions staff. You might even be able to use your visits to inform your opinions of other colleges. For example, you may visit a small liberal arts school and find it to be too insular or cramped. This would tell you that you’d prefer to look for bigger schools in the future. These are the types of impressions that you can only achieve through college visits rather than research.

Related: Top questions to ask on a college visit

Talk to college students you know

Maybe you have some friends from high school who already graduated, or you have family friends who are or recently were in college. These people are great resources to talk about the college experience and get an impression of what the current climate is like. Talking to someone who is or recently was in school provides valuable insight into what you can expect from each option. Most students are eager to talk about their college experience, so don’t be shy to ask.

Consider what you want to study

If you have an idea of some potential majors, it’s a good idea to keep this in mind when looking at schools. For example, some schools may not carry an academic reputation that is prestigious all-around, but they could have a few departments that are nationally renowned. Don’t be put off by a low-ranking institution if the department you are interested in carries a good reputation.

Also see: How to choose a college

Don’t forget to consider studying abroad

In addition to universities in the US, there are many great places to study in other countries. Studying overseas can offer a host of perks, and sometimes you can even earn scholarships for studying abroad.  These include heavily reduced tuition, learning another language, and making international connections. You might find it to be personally enriching and could thank yourself when you graduate with significantly less debt than your peers. But you should also ensure you know what you’re getting into before you sign up to go to school in another country. You might face a lot of homesickness and culture shock. But if you are the type of person who enjoys traveling, meeting new people, and hates student debt, a degree abroad might just be the ticket. 

Related: Countries with free college: How to get a free degree abroad

Be mindful of institutions that are closing 

Recently, for-profit universities and small liberal arts colleges have been closing. This is because they have been unable to support themselves financially. This can come from a combination of factors, including low attendance or low alumni donation rates. Oftentimes, this can indicate that these types of degrees are not paying off financially for students. It’s a good idea to keep this in mind before choosing to enroll at either type of school.

This is not to say they are never a good idea. For instance, liberal arts colleges often provide less job security than more specialized degrees, but many students choose to attend them for the academic and social experience. If a liberal arts degree is what you want, you should not let the declining rates of attendance deter you.

Don’t miss: Finding a financial safety school

New institutions

As some types of institutions begin to phase out, others have become more popular. Online education has seen soaring popularity since the  COVID-19 pandemic. Because every school was forced to go online for the majority of 2020 and 2021, people are realizing the credibility of online education. Many accredited institutions are now offering iMBAs and other programs through Coursera. We expect to see a continuing rise in the popularity of online degrees. These include undergraduate, graduate, and certificate programs

In addition to these online options, we’ve seen a strong increase in coding bootcamps and certificate programs. If you are having trouble finding a good fit among universities, consider these alternatives. They might help you achieve a higher education despite financial or time-based restrictions.

Keep reading: Scholarships360’s free scholarship search tool

Funding your education

The college application process is full of decisions. Where to apply, which standardized test to take, what to emphasize in your essays, who to ask for recommendations, the list just goes on. But one thing rings true for any student writing their applications: it’s important to find a source of funding. Fortunately, we’re here to help you through the process.

We’ve got resources to help you read your financial aid award letter, write a financial aid appeal letter, and find local scholarships. You can also check out our lists of scholarships by state or by demographic. Finally, try out our scholarship search tool, which provides vetted, custom-matched scholarship opportunities, updated every day. Good luck!

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