The Best Colleges and Universities 2021

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Pursuing higher education pays off, literally. Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) supports that higher education yields higher earnings. Bachelor’s degree-holders earn a median annual salary of $72,830 — twice the $37,690 median wage for all occupations.

The best colleges and universities offer scholarly information that helps individuals succeed in their future careers. These institutions provide various majors tailored to specific interests and professions. To choose a college, aspiring graduates should conduct research. In this guide, we provide a starting point for individuals to learn more about higher education. Keep reading to discover how to choose a major, find the right school, and fund a degree

FAQ


  • When should I apply for college?

    Enrollment deadlines vary, but first-time applicants should start completing applications 6-12 months before the semester’s start.


  • What is the difference between college and university?

    A college refers to a smaller institution that provides a broad range of academic options. A university features larger class sizes and facilitates research.


  • What is the difference between college and trade school?

    Colleges offer more areas of academic study and primarily award four-year degrees. Trade schools provide fewer degree topics and mainly award two-year degrees and certificates.


  • How can I maximize financial aid?

    Prospective students can maximize financial aid by filling out the FAFSA earlyFAFSA early. The government distributes grants and “]subsidized loans on a first-come and need-based basis.


  • How do I choose a major?

    To select a major, prospective learners should identify their strengths and interests. Then, individuals can use tools like the BLS to learn more about specific careers related to their areas of interest.


  • How can I get scholarships?

    Most scholarships require application forms, essays, official transcripts, and recommendation letters. A judging panel awards funds based on merit or financial need.


  • What is acceptance rate?

    When you choose a university or college, pay attention to the acceptance rate. This percentage refers to the number of applicants who apply and earn acceptance.


  • What is graduation rate?

    This data refers to the number of individuals who begin and complete their studies at the same institution. The best universities and colleges boast high graduation rates, meaning they retain students well.


  • What is the difference between a private and public university?

    A public university receives government funds to operate. These institutions typically offer more financial aid and lower tuition rates. A private university tends to cost more but features smaller class sizes.


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Career and Salary Outlook

Higher education helps students reach career and salary goals. Before individuals choose a university, though, they need to determine the right major for their desired professional field. Many schools hire academic advisors to help undecided majors select the right career path. Choosing a major before enrolling helps learners avoid paying for unnecessary classes. Even so, many students end up switching majors at some point during their studies.

Since majors correlate with specific jobs, prospective learners should read career descriptions before enrollment. The BLS provides information on thousands of careers, even those relatively unknown. When researching careers on this site, pay attention to the job outlook. This percentage projects how much the need for particular professions should grow within the coming years. The BLS also offers data on unemployment rates and median weekly earnings by education level.

Data from the Social Security Administration show how education level influences earnings. Men with a bachelor’s degree earn $900,000 more in median lifetime earnings than high school graduates. Women with this same education level earn $630,000 more. You can learn more about higher education financial benefits by reading the CollegeBoard’s report.

Accreditation

Accreditation status marks another top factor to consider when students choose a college or university. Institutions with accreditation receive frequent quality assessments from third-party agencies that the U.S. Department of Education and the Council on Higher Education Accreditation oversee. This means the best universities maintain accreditation status.

The best colleges and universities feature programs with programmatic accreditation as well. Employers view degrees from accredited schools and programs as legitimate, and most scholarships only award funds to learners attending accredited institutions.

To quickly verify a school or program’s accreditation status, use the U.S. Department of Education’s lookup tool.

Financial Aid and Scholarships

To attend one of the best colleges, some students may need financial assistance in the form of scholarships, loans, or grants. The FAFSA allows academics to apply for multiple federal loans and grants through a single form. This application takes about 45 minutes to complete and requires income information found on federal tax documents. Individuals who file their taxes as dependents must submit their guardian’s tax information.

Based on the applicant’s FAFSA information, the government distributes Federal Pell Grants and subsidized loans to individuals with financial need. Subsidized loans do not collect interest while the recipient maintains enrollment. Individuals who do not financially qualify can borrow unsubsidized loans, which begin collecting interest immediately.

Scholarships provide financial assistance that does not require repayment. Universities, colleges, nonprofits, foundations, and businesses all award these funds. Some scholarships aid students majoring in a specific area. Others assist underrepresented students. Scholarships usually require essays, recommendation letters, and official transcripts.

The Best Colleges and Universities 2021

It takes time to choose a college, so we offer some initial research to help. Each year, we review graduate retention rates, tuition, and accreditation status for schools nationwide. Using these figures, we create a ranking of the best colleges and universities. Use this list as a starting point, but we encourage prospective students to research each school further.

  1. Franklin W Olin College of Engineering
    Location

    Needham, MA

    Founded in 1997, Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering is a private institution based in Needham, Massachusetts. The college enrolls approximately 390 undergraduates and operates on a semester basis, with tuition and fees totaling $54,700. The college stands out for its undergraduate engineering programs.

    This institution offers various engineering programs, including ABET-accredited degrees in electrical and computer engineering and mechanical engineering. The college's engineering degree program allows students to choose a field of focus as well.

    Students must earn high SAT or ACT scores to gain admission into the college's engineering programs. The university also considers students' high school class rank, GPA, and letters of recommendation. During the application process, students must submit official high school transcripts and senior grades, in addition to an $85 application fee.

    Franklin W Olin College of Engineering is regionally accredited by the New England Commission on Higher Education (NECHE).

  2. University of Florida
    Location

    Gainesville, FL

    Based in Gainesville, the University of Florida is a public university offering 100 undergraduate programs and 200 graduate programs. The Innovation Academy sets UF apart from other universities, giving students a college experience with a focus on creativity, innovation, and entrepreneurship. Students also benefit from leadership and ethics courses on a unique spring-summer schedule.

    The entomology department at UF ranks among the best in the world. The entomology and nematology curriculum looks to instill a perfect understanding of fundamental practices and concepts among students.

    Prospective students seeking admission to the University of Florida should earn an average 4.42 GPA, plus ACT scores of 30-34 or SAT scores of 1330-1470. Transfer students must complete at least 60 credits from a regionally accredited institution or earn an associate of arts degree from a public institution based in Florida. The University of Florida is fully accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC).

  3. Florida State University
    Location

    Tallahassee, FL

    Florida State University is a public university based in Tallahassee. FSU offers a variety of graduate and undergraduate degree programs in various fields. The university enrolls 33,270 undergraduates and charges $6,510 in tuition for in-state students.

    Students with all types of prospective careers can get their start at FSU. To gain admission, undergraduate applicants need an academic core GPA of 4.1-4.5. They should also submit a resume and earn a 1290-1410 SAT score and 29-32 ACT score.

    Transfer students need a minimum 2.0 GPA in all college courses taken. Graduate students must earn a bachelor's degree with upper-division GPAs of 3.0 or higher. Students applying for the master of science in cybersecurity must earn a quantitative 150 GRE score.

    FSU offers some of the best information technology, criminal justice, and finance programs in the country. Florida State University is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC).

  4. University of Central Florida
    Location

    Orlando, FL

    Based in Orange County, the public University of Central Florida offers various undergraduate and graduate programs. UCF educates 42,470 undergraduate students and features a fairly competitive admissions process.

    Notable programs at the university include computer science, electrical engineering, and the one-of-a-kind College of Optics and Photonics.

    UCF boasts a solid reputation for its exceptional psychology, health sciences, biomedical sciences, nursing, and hospitality management majors. To gain admission to UCF, first-year applicants need a high school GPA of 4.18, an average SAT score of 1320 or ACT score of 28.7, a $30 application fee, and TOEFL/IELTS or GED scores if needed.

    Transfer students must meet minimum high school GPA requirements and earn a minimum 2.0 college GPA. The University of Central Florida is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC).

  5. University of Georgia
    Location

    Athens, GA

    Founded in 1785, the University of Georgia is a public university based in Athens. UGA has an undergraduate enrollment of 28,850. The University of Georgia stands out for its reputable law school and college of education.

    The university offers a variety of bachelor's degrees in education to help students lay a foundation in conventional and modern educational policies and principles, in-class experience, and hands-on learning. Students can also choose from an array of dual-degree programs.

    For admission into UGA, applicants must earn an SAT score of 1240-1420 or an ACT score of 27-32. The university also considers high school GPAs and letters of recommendation. The minimum GPA requirements vary for transfer students. Prospective learners should complete 30-59 credits before applying and earn a minimum 3.3 college GPA.

    The University of Georgia is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC).

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