California State University, San Marcos is relatively new to the academic arena, opening in 1990 in North San Diego County. However, the college has continued to grow in recent years, now encompassing 304 acres of the idyllic San Marcos foothills. The university, which is minutes from the beach and about an hour from the desert and mountains, comprises four colleges, with the College of Humanities, Arts, Behavioral and Social Sciences boasting the highest enrollment.

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About 14,000 students are enrolled in CSU San Marcos' undergraduate program. And, as a state school, CSU San Marcos is relatively affordable; Money estimates the net price of its undergraduate degrees to be about $122,000. That price is before factoring in state or federal aid, which most of its students receive. About 70% of first-year incoming students receive grant or scholarship aid, with an average award of $10,000 per year.

The most popular undergraduate major is business administration, followed by psychology and criminology. In addition to the natural outdoor wonders at students’ fingertips, there are also more than 100 organizations to pick from, including a finance society, a powerlifting group and a Minecraft club. Plus, students can play on or simply support the San Marcos teams in sports like baseball, golf and soccer. Alumni include snowboarder Shaun White and Blink-182 member Mark Hoppus.