The Best Colleges and Universities

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Choosing a college forces you to answer some tough questions: What college is right for me? Can I afford school? Is an education worth my time and energy? What college should I go to?

We’ve answered those questions for you.

College Choice has lots of rankings, from state-specific comparisons to online college lists to rankings of the best places to get certain degrees. But this one is simple: the Best Colleges and Universities in the country.

So you’re looking for a traditional, on-campus experience – ivy climbing the walls of marble buildings; studying in the corner of the library, submerged in a maze of books; meeting a lifelong friend in a freshman dorm mate; being immersed in a rich history and culture of learning.

Top 10 Best Colleges and Universities

Rank School Locationt
1 Harvard University Cambridge, MA
2 Princeton University Princeton, NJ
3 Stanford University Stanford, CA
4 Yale University New Haven, CT
5 Duke University Durham, NC
6 Massachusetts Institute of Technology Cambridge, MA
7 Dartmouth College Hanover, NH
8 California Institute of Technology Pasadena, CA
9 Amherst College Amherst, MA
10 The University of Pennsylvania Philadelphia, PA
Advertisement CollegeChoice.net is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

Recommended Online Programs

This is the list for you.

If you’re open to non-traditional education, we’ve also ranked the Best Online Colleges and Universities. If you’re looking strictly for a good deal, check out the Most Affordable Online Colleges and Universities.

Should I choose a public or private college?

The biggest considerations that separate private and public universities are size, price, and reputation. Private universities tend to be smaller, which means they have to be more selective when accepting applicants. And because they don’t receive taxpayer funding, private schools also charge more to cover facilities, student support, and often superb faculty.

In terms of reputation, many small, private colleges rank as the best in the country. The top schools on this list are private colleges. They tend to have smaller class sizes and offer more opportunities for personal interaction with professors.

Public universities present their own unique opportunities. I larger amount of available resources can provide more opportunities for research, internships, and on-campus jobs. Public school sports teams often have the most hyped school spirit and the most intense rivalries. They usually have a lighter price tag.

How much money do people make with a college degree?

College is a giant investment. It’s important to make sure you get a good return on the time and money you spend.

That’s why, in our rankings, we not only take academic quality into account but also return on investment. Return on investment is basically a comparison of tuition (how much you’ll pay) – to expected early career salary (how much you’ll earn).

Average college tuition is undoubtedly rising. Over the past ten years, college tuition has increased an average of 3.2 percent nationally. You’ve probably heard stories about graduates carrying student loan debt all the way to retirement.

Competition after college has also increased. In 2000, 29 percent of Americans had college degrees. By 2016 that had increased to 36 percent.

So is a degree really worth it?

Degree naysayers exaggerate. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 78 percent of young adults with a bachelor’s degree had full-time jobs in 2015. Compare that to only 69 percent for high school graduates.

So college grads are getting jobs, but are they getting paid?

According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers, the average salary of a bachelor’s grad directly out of school was $50,556 in 2015. High school graduates with no college experience averaged $30,500 per year between the ages of 25-35. Of course, your salary depends on your major and the quality of institution you attend.

The statistics show that college grads are more likely to get jobs and get paid more than those who don’t have degrees.

Can I get into college?

Colleges base their acceptance on several factors: high school GPA, SAT and ACT scores, application essays, and extracurriculars.

Colleges see GPA as how much effort you put into your education in high school. While it isn’t the end all be all, it does matter. For instance, the average high school GPA of students accepted into the top 10 schools on this list was 4.09. That’s straight As and then some!

But if your GPA isn’t perfect, don’t fret. Schools also focus on SAT and ACT scores, which may give a better idea of your education potential. Having strong extracurricular activities show dedication to hard work. For instance, Harvard weighs personal interests and even part-time jobs when considering applications.

What are the Best Colleges and Universities?

By combining data points from U.S. News and World Report, Payscale.org, the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and information provided by schools, we’ve created a system for discovering the best colleges in the country.

Our scores are based on five factors:

Quality: The schools that have the best programs and faculty, and return superb alumni. We base this research on the National Center for Education Statistics, admission rates, and sometimes standardized test scores.

Reputation: The schools known nationwide as the best. This is primarily based on the U.S. News and World Report’s annual rankings, but we also consider trade publications and higher education researchers.

Affordability: The schools that don’t overcharge for their services. This is based on the National Center for Education Statistics’ most recent report of average net cost for each school.

Value: The schools that prove to have a good return on investment. This is based on Payscale, Glassdoor, and the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Satisfaction: The schools that students enjoy. We base this on student testimonials on sites like Niche, RateMyProfessor, and Students Review.

The College Choice Score you see beside each school is a composite score that balances academic excellence with return on investment.

The United States is home to over 3,000 four-year colleges and universities. About 21 million students are currently enrolled in college. We’ve combed through the data to produce this list of The Best Colleges and Universities. Best of luck in your search!

  1. Harvard University
    Location

    Cambridge, MA

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Overview

    Harvard University is a private, not-for-profit, Ivy League research university that is the oldest school in the country. It was established in 1636 and is located in Cambridge, Massachusetts and is the most prestigious and selective school in the country. This school is regionally accredited by the NEASC.

    Harvard confers 46 undergraduate degrees and 166 graduate and professional degrees within its 11 academic units. It is also a highly selective school and rigorous in terms of academic standards; transferring in is almost impossible and students who do transfer in are almost always behind schedule for their graduation timetable.

    Life at Harvard can be difficult, particularly considering how much emphasis is put on educational outcomes. Students often build their own internship and research opportunities and take the time to network with both classmates and faculty. Ambitious students will find the 400 student organizations to be a welcome relief from the rigors of academia, all which make up one of the best institutions of higher learning in America.

  2. Princeton University
    Location

    Princeton, NJ

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Overview

    Princeton University is a private, not-for-profit, Ivy League research university that was founded in 1746 and is one of the oldest schools in America. It is associated with producing a large number of US politicians, Nobel Laureates, Rhodes Scholars, and Marshall Scholars. This school is located in Princeton, New Jersey, and holds regional accreditation by the MSCHE.

    This school offers degrees in 31 areas at the undergraduate and graduate levels. Certificate programs, as well as some select online offerings, are also available for ambitious students. The most popular programs at this school include engineering, biology, business, and chemistry.

    All students have guaranteed placement during their undergraduate years at Princeton. Students also have access to a variety of traditions, cultural events, and even the Model United Nations Conference, all on campus. Students are also encouraged to become members of any one of the 250 student organizations that are represented on campus.

  3. Stanford University
    Location

    Stanford, CA

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Overview

    Stanford University is a private research university that is headquartered in Stanford, California. It is one of the largest campuses in the country and covers over 12 square miles. The school is regionally accredited by the WASC SCUC.

    This university offers over 100 degrees at all levels of education, including professional degrees, across seven different schools. Stanford houses its own medical and law school, meaning that undergraduate students in these areas of study can move onto advanced study through their alumni. Currently, the schools majors with the highest enrollments numbers are STEM subjects.

    Stanford has over 650 student organizations that are represented on campus, including religious groups, political organizations, sports clubs, and more. Greek life is also a large part of life on campus, and traditions help create a welcoming and friendly atmosphere.

  4. Yale University
    Location

    New Haven, CT

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Overview

    Yale University is a private, Ivy League research university in New Haven, Connecticut. It is one of the most prestigious universities in the world; Yale has graduated U.S. Presidents, Supreme Court Justices, diplomats, and Rhodes Scholars. It is regionally accredited by the NEASC.

    Yale confers over 65 undergraduate degrees and 100 graduate and postgraduate degrees, including professional and online programs. Dual degree and concurrent programs are also available. Students can also take part in certification and non-degree offerings as well.

    The school has over 375 registered student organizations, with 75 groups in the application process at any given time. The schools student life is best known for its secret societies, including Skull and Bones, the Scroll and Key, and the Sage and Chalice. Traditions and annual events are also celebrated throughout the school year.

  5. Duke University
    Location

    Durham, NC

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Overview

    Duke University is a private, not-for-profit research university that is located in Durham, North Carolina, and is part of the states Research Triangle. It is known as one of the best universities in the world. This school holds regional accreditation by the SACS COC.

    This school offers over 100 degrees at the undergraduate and graduate levels, including professional programs. The university is best known for its professional schools, including the Duke-NUS Graduate Medical School and the Fuqua School of Business. Online courses are also available; however, there are no online degrees.

    Duke students are required by the school to live on campus for the first three years of their undergraduate career; it has been mandated in order to make students feel more apart of the campus. The school also offers more than 400 clubs and organizations that are recognized by the student association, as well as civic engagement activities and traditions.

  6. Massachusetts Institute of Technology
    Location

    Cambridge, MA

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Overview

    The Massachusetts Institute of Technology is a private research university that is known as one of the worlds top institutions. It is located in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and focuses on STEM subjects. This school holds regional accreditation by the MSCHE.

    This university confers 11 degrees at all levels of education in over 100 major areas of study. Students often refer to their majors through numbers or acronyms alone, showcasing the individual nature that comes with learning at the school. Students may also decide to take on concurrent or dual degrees, thereby shortening their time at the school. Online courses are also available through the school and on Coursera.

    MIT differs from other schools in various ways; there is no grading system for undergraduates. Instead, they are graded on a pass/fail basis, alleviating some of the stress of trying to maintain perfect scores. Students are also required to complete the General Institute Requirements, regardless of their major, and may also be required to recite formulas and take oral examinations in lieu of traditional assignments.

  7. Dartmouth College
    Location

    Hanover, NH

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Overview

    Dartmouth College is a private, not-for-profit, Ivy League research university that is located in Hanover, New Hampshire. It was established in 1769, making it one of the oldest colleges in the country. It is regionally accredited by the NEASC.

    This school offers undergraduate degrees in over 55 areas of study and 19 degrees at the graduate and postgraduate levels. Dual-degree programs in partnership with other schools is also available here, especially through the Thayer School of Engineering. Students can also elect to take courses online through the schools portal.

    Dartmouth is consistently named one of the best schools for its quality of life, including student life. The campus offers more than 350 student organizations, team sports, arts groups, and more for students; traditions and celebrations are also par for the course at this school.

  8. California Institute of Technology
    Location

    Pasadena, CA

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Overview

    The California Institute of Technology is a private, not-for-profit university that is headquartered in Pasadena, California. It was founded in 1891 as a vocational school but quickly grew to become a doctorate-granting institute. It holds regional accreditation from the WASC SCUC.

    This school offers undergraduate degrees in more than two dozen major areas of interest as well as over 60 degrees at the graduate and postgraduate levels. This school has a vested interest in the STEM fields; students often choose to major in engineering, biochemistry, or applied science. Online programs are also available; however, they are currently limited to California residents.

    Caltech has a variety of pranks and traditions that liven things up on campus, particularly during the holidays and throughout the school year. These include the Millikan Pumpkin-Drop Experiment, Ditch Day, Ride of the Valkyries, and more. Past pranks include covering up the Hollywood sign to read Caltech and other various widely-reported antics.

  9. Amherst College
    Location

    Amherst, MA

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Overview

    Amherst College is a private, not-for-profit, liberal arts college that is located in Amherst, Massachusetts. It is the third-oldest institution in the state. It was established in 1821 and holds regional accreditation by the NEASC.

    This school confers 38 undergraduate degrees in an open curriculum tradition. Students may also feel free to create their own major with the help of an advisor or faculty member. The school is currently ranked in the top tier by both U.S. News and World Report and Forbes.

    Students have a variety of student organizations and traditions to look forward to when attending Amherst, including the Sabrina State Battle and other musical events and lecture series. Freedom of speech is also huge at the school; while several members have spoken out against the liberal views held by the college, it nevertheless allows its faculty and members to speak freely about their own beliefs.

  10. University of Pennsylvania
    Location

    Philadelphia, PA

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Overview

    The University of Pennsylvania is a private, Ivy League, research university that is located in the heart of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. It is one of the founding members of the Association of American Universities and an original member of the Colonial Colleges. It is regionally accredited by the MSCHE.

    This school was founded by Benjamin Franklin and focuses on education for public service and commerce. It confers undergraduate degrees in more than 90 areas of study and more than 170 graduate degrees across 16 colleges and schools. The school is also known for its dual-degree programs that are in partnership with other colleges, including professional degrees that are both dual-degree and accelerated.

    Penn is known for its number of major scientific discoveries that students have shared in. It is the home of the first general-purpose electronic computer, the first spelling and grammar check applications, as well as the Rubella and Hepatitis B vaccines. The school integrates research with education, meaning that students all have the option to share in these discoveries if they choose to go that route.

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