The cost of a degree. Graduation rates. Post-graduate earnings. The average amount of student debt. All of these factors are important in choosing the right college.
But what about the football team you have to root for every Saturday?
While we’d never recommend you pick a college based on its football team's ability to win championships, a school's atmosphere is important. And if you love football, you'll want to choose one with a team worth cheering on and a student section that knows how to bring it on game day.
These 13 colleges have not only packed their stadiums this season but also scored big in Money's Best Colleges rankings, with comparatively strong graduation rates and alumni career outcomes.
When ranking these schools, we didn't favor college teams that are bowl game contenders or that ranked high in the AP Top 25 Poll—although many of our choices are and do. Instead, we used home game stadium attendance numbers for this season (regular season games through Nov. 29) provided by the NCAA to see which colleges sold out, or came close to selling out, their seats week after week. Using that measurement, we took the top 40 schools and checked that list against our Best Colleges 2015 rankings, to find the ones that deliver the best educational value to their students.
The 13 colleges that follow all placed in the top 150 of Money's Best Colleges rankings. They're listed here from lowest to highest in terms of our overall ranking.
13. Ohio State University
OH-IO! Ohio State University fans can be found all over the U.S., but there's nothing like game day in Columbus. The Buckeyes have long been a dominant force in college football. Since 2000, they've won two national championships, finished two seasons undefeated, and accumulated seven Big Ten conference championships. And OSU-Michigan is one of the most heated rivalries in the country.
Stadium Capacity: 102,329
Avg. Attendance: 107,244
Money Best Colleges Ranking: 134
12. University of Utah
One major benefit of being a University of Utah student: You're eligible to receive free tickets to all Ute home games. The student seating at Rice Eccles-Stadium, dubbed the Mighty Utah Student Section (MUSS for short), is notoriously loud and has been named a top-five Pac-12 student section by ESPN. Utah may not be a traditional football powerhouse, but since former coach Urban Meyer led the team to an undefeated season in 2004, the Utes have won eight of the nine bowls game they’ve played.
Stadium Capacity: 45,807
Avg. Attendance: 45,533
Money Best Colleges Ranking: 127
11. Clemson University
The Clemson Tigers are known for having crazy loyal fans, the South's best tailgate, an epic stadium entrance, Howard's Rock, and the school's famous fight song, the "Tiger Rag." And this year the Tigers are having an incredible season. If they beat North Carolina on Saturday, they'll bring the ACC title back to Clemson, and make their case for why they should play for their second national championship.
Stadium Capacity: 81,500
Avg. Attendance: 81,751
Money Best Colleges Ranking: 123
10. University of Wisconsin
The University of Wisconsin is the site of another cool home game tradition. Between the third and fourth quarters of a home game, the stadium plays "Jump Around" by House of Pain over the loudspeakers, sending the entire student section into a dancing fit. Most students know the words to the school's fight song, “On, Wisconsin,” and the Badger band plays—win or lose—after the game in what's known as the "The Fifth Quarter."
Stadium Capacity: 80,321
Avg. Attendance: 78,014
Money Best Colleges Ranking: 116
9. Michigan State
Since 2009, Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio and team have won two Big Ten championships. They're playing against the undefeated Iowa Hawkeyes Dec. 5 for another Big Ten championship.
Stadium Capacity: 75,005
Avg. Attendance: 74,661
Money Best Colleges Ranking: 109
8. University of Georgia
Georgia never won a championship under former head coach Mark Richt, who was recently fired after coaching the Bulldogs for 15 seasons. But that doesn't mean the Bulldogs were in the doghouse all those years. The team averaged nearly 10 wins a season under Richt and won an SEC Championship in 2005. Game day traditions are plentiful in Athens, and Georgia fans are known to travel far with the team. Their beloved lineage of live bulldog mascots (all named Uga) is a tradition in itself.
Stadium Capacity: 92,746
Avg. Attendance: 92,746
Money Best Colleges Ranking: 68
7. Virginia Tech
Virginia Tech head coach Frank Beamer announced his retirement this season, marking the end of an era in which the Hokies made 22 consecutive bowl game appearances (23 if they're picked Sunday). Despite losing an iconic figure, Hokies fans and students are excited for what new head coach Justin Fuente has planned for the team. One thing's for sure—Virginia Tech players might have the best entrance in the entire NCAA. Before every home game, players come out of the tunnel to Metallica's "Enter Sandman," while fans jump up and down in the bleachers.
Stadium Capacity: 65,632
Avg. Attendance: 60,824
Money Best Colleges Ranking: 48
6. The University of Notre Dame
Notre Dame football has a long and fabled history going back to the days of its storied coach Knute Rockne. The Fighting Irish's famed symbols and game day traditions include their 23.9 karat gold helmets, the "Play Like a Champion Today" sign at Notre Dame Stadium, and The Band of the Fighting Irish, which has been around since the team's very first football game in 1887. The student section is known to chant, dance, and even do pushups after every touchdown to match the team's score. Players who have worn the blue and gold jersey include Joe Montana, Jerome Bettis, Joe Theismann, and more recently, Brady Quinn, and Manti Te'o. Notre Dame's football prowess has even been featured in popular movies such as Rudy.
Stadium Capacity: 80,795
Avg. Attendance: 80,795
Money Best Colleges Ranking: 44
4. Georgia Tech
The year 2015 has been a dismal one for Georgia Tech football, with the Yellow Jackets recording their worst season since 1994. Still, students showed up week after week to support their team, which historically has played competitively in the Atlantic Coast Conference. In fact, until this season, the Yellow Jackets were on a streak of 18 consecutive bowl game appearances. Georgia Tech also participates in one of the most intense in-state college football rivalries in the country, against the University of Georgia.
Stadium Capacity: 55,000
Avg. Attendance: 50,707
Money Best Colleges Ranking: 30
4. University of Florida
With three national championships, eight SEC titles, and three Hiesman-winning quarterbacks to claim as their own, the Florida Gators are one of the strongest college football teams in the nation. And Gators fans are some of the most loyal. Fans dress in orange and blue to cheer on their team at "The Swamp" (as Ben Hill Griffin Stadium is nicknamed) and are famously known for their Gator Chomp cheer. A line in a song fans sing at the end of each third quarter even includes a promise of their loyalty: “In all kinds of weather, we all stick together for F-L-O-R-I-D-A.”
Stadium Capacity: 88,548
Avg. Attendance: 90,065
Money Best Colleges Ranking: 30
3. Texas A&M
Aggie football is a big part of Texas A&M's campus culture—so much so that the school refers to all its students and alumni as "the 12th Man" to symbolize their readiness to jump onto the football field if needed. The trademarked phrase dates back almost 100 years. Aggie fans' school spirits were tested this year, especially in the second half of the season. But the student section still showed up to support their team.
Stadium Capacity: 106,300
Avg. Attendance: 103,622
Money Best Colleges Ranking: 20
2. University of Michigan
Michigan's stadium—nicknamed "The Big House"—is the largest in North America, with a capacity of more than 100,000. What's more, it's pretty much always sold out on game day. Wolverines fans are rabid–and for good reason. Their team ranks #2 overall in all-time win-loss records by percentage and #1 by all-time victories, according to the NCAA. Michigan also participates in one of the nation's fiercest rivalries, against Ohio State University. And if that's not enough, Beyonce backs the maize and blue.
Stadium Capacity: 109,901
Avg. Attendance: 110,168
Money Best Colleges Ranking: 18
1. Stanford University
Stanford University certainly stands on its own when it comes to academics. Stanford also boasts a top-notch football team and a raucous student section that has embraced the school's nerdy culture. In fact, students, athletes, and Stanford's coach claim "Nerd Nation" as a kind of mantra and will often cheer the team on while wearing thick-rimmed black glasses. Another reason students come out to support the Cardinals on game day is that the university offers students free tickets to the Red Zone, Stanford's home game student section. Not a bad perk.
Stadium Capacity: 50,000
Avg. Attendance: 49,917
Money Best Colleges Ranking: 1