Community service is a key feature of San Francisco State's programs. The school of nearly 21,000 undergrads and more than 3,000 graduate students was one of the first universities in the U.S. to offer academic credit for community work and include community service learning hours on students' transcripts. Students can choose from hundreds of courses with a community service element in a wide variety of fields.

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Bachelor's degrees are available in around 100 areas of study from seven different colleges, including the College of Ethnic Studies, which houses programs in Asian American studies, Africana studies, Latina/Latino studies and other disciplines. Business is by far the most popular bachelor's degree program, and biology, communications, education and criminal justice round out the rest of the largest programs on campus.

The school takes pride in its entertainment-oriented coursework, such as cinema, music and writing, and counts an impressive number of Oscar, Emmy and Pulitzer Prize winners and nominees among its alumni, including actors Annette Bening and Danny Glover. SFSU also lets nature-minded students take their studies outside, with two off-campus centers that provide on-the-ground opportunities for fieldwork: the Romberg Tiburon Campus, which focuses on tidal marshes and estuarine habitat; and the university's Sierra Nevada Field Campus, a site for classes and research in environmental subjects.