Afternoons are crowded along Bruin Walk, the paved path that climbs through the center of the University of California—Los Angeles campus located in the Westwood neighborhood of the city.
Founded in 1919, UCLA is one of 10 schools in the University of California system and is known as both an academic and athletic powerhouse.
It is also among the most funded research universities in the country, and undergrads can choose from more than 125 majors.
Plus, the Division I Bruins hold the record for the most NCAA championship wins. "It's kind of like an all-star school," says senior Tara Noorani.
And a popular one: UCLA counted more than 80,000 freshman applicants for fall 2013 and admitted only about 20 percent of them. About 85 percent of undergrads are from California, but the population includes students from 46 states and more than 80 countries.
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With some 40,000 undergraduate and graduate students, the sheer size of UCLA can be intimidating.
Freshmen and sophomores can have trouble securing their top-choice classes, and some of the most popular majors, including those in the schools of engineering, arts and architecture, and theater, film and television, have their own admissions requirements.
Still, many students think the university "does a good job of making sure you don't get lost," notes Sunny Singh, a junior originally from New Delhi. Only about 10 percent of courses have more than 100 students.
Freshmen can choose from among about 150 single-credit seminars of up to 20 students on a wide range of topics.
They can also sign up for a yearlong freshman cluster, where teams of faculty members focus on interdisciplinary themes and expose small groups of first-years to seminar and lab courses, faculty research and occasional field trips.
"Everyone I know has at least one professor connection," says recent graduate Daniel Allen.
Bruins can also live in one of several themed housing communities, including those focused on the humanities, global health and sustainable living. Most rooms are doubles or triples, which students say can feel cramped.
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The castlelike Powell Library, on UCLA's central quad, is said to be the most-used, yet quietest, spot on campus, while the sprawling Ackerman Union features the standard restaurants, college store and conference rooms, along with less common features like a barbershop and grand ballroom.
Students can stay active with the school's 900-plus student organizations and enjoy frequent sneak previews of new films.
Just south of campus is Westwood Village, a miniature college town full of stores, theaters and restaurants. Many students take advantage of LA for concerts, museums, sporting events and other attractions, too.
Though local transportation serves Westwood, students say getting around without a car can be tough. But most Bruins seem to relish the advantages of going to a major public research university in a big city.
"While at a large school you really have to carve out and find things, there's more for you to choose from," notes recent grad Kavitha Subramanian.
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This story is excerpted from the U.S. News "Best Colleges 2014" guidebook, which features in-depth articles, rankings and data.