Top 50 Colleges & Universities in America for 2014


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With this 2014 edition of The Best Colleges Top 50 Colleges and Universities in America, we set out to create a college ranking that exceeds all the others in focusing on what really matters to students and those who may be helping foot the bill for their education. We’ve gone beyond investigating standard indicators of academic quality and student satisfaction used by other major ranking systems to also consider indicators of the economic value of a school and the quality of life offered by the city or town it is located in.

Choosing a college is one of the most important decisions a person will ever make.

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The quality of social and economic opportunities opened up to a person in their lifetime will in large part be determined by whether and where they choose to go to school. In some respects, to choose a college is to choose a future. That’s why many people talk about college education as an investment. Students (and their parents!) pour enormous amounts of money into tuition, fees, books and living expenses, not to mention all the time and effort, expecting to get something in return. Naturally, they want to know they are making a smart choice in where to invest their time and money.

They want to know they will receive a quality education among other highly qualified students where they can get the kind of individualized attention from professors that they deserve. And so in generating our rankings The Best Colleges awarded schools with competitive admissions and a low student-to-faculty ratio.

They want to know they are in a place that other students really want to be and that has a track record of students satisfied enough to stick with a program and finish. And so The Best Colleges awarded schools with high rates of enrollment, retention and graduation.

Students also want to know that the place they will be living for the next four (or more) years will be a place where they can hang out and make connections with other young, successful and highly educated people, while not having to go broke to do it. And so The Best Colleges awarded schools in locations with more youthful, wealthy and highly educated populations and a low cost of living.

And finally, especially during tough economic times like these, students (and their parents) want to know that when they graduate they won’t be overburdened by student loan debt and will have a good chance of making a decent income. And so The Best Colleges awarded colleges with low tuition, generous financial aid, and a track record of graduating students who go on to make a good living.

In all, The Best Colleges measured each school across a dozen (12) different data points to come up with an overall score for each school. You can read a more detailed explanation of our ranking methodology and data sources by clicking here.

A few notes to help navigate the rankings list. Underneath the school’s name is a brief introduction to the school, as well as a little bit about the city or town where it is located. Below that is the school’s classification, setting, population and student-to-faculty ratio. By clicking on the magnifying glass icon next to the student-to-teacher ratio, the profile will expand to display additional information on the school and city or town. By clicking the “expand all” or “collapse all” buttons at the top of the rankings list, the entire list can be expanded or collapsed.

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Princeton University

This traditional academic powerhouse is also a forward-thinking pioneer in financial aid reform, becoming the first major American university to replace all need-based student loan packages with scholarships and grants.

Princeton, NJ is a wealthy, highly educated but somewhat expensive town frequently rated one of the top places to live in America.

Private Research UniversityLarge Suburb7,5926:1

Additional Information

  • Acceptance Rate: 9%
  • SAT 25th-75th percentile: 2100-2370
  • ACT 25th-75th percentile: 31-35

Princeton, New Jersey

  • Median age: 24.7
  • Median household income: $106,377
  • Cost of living index: 125.3
  • College degreed: 60.1%

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Harvard University

The oldest and most prestigious institution of higher education in America needs little introduction, but some may not be aware of the school’s recent efforts to reduce the economic barriers for prospective low-income students, offering a free ride to students of families making less than $60K a year.

Not surprisingly, Cambridge, MA is one of the most highly educated cities in the country and offers students easy access to Boston’s historical and cultural riches.

Private Research UniversityMidsize City27,6517:1

Additional Information

  • Acceptance Rate: 7%
  • SAT 25th-75th percentile: 2100-2390
  • ACT 25th-75th percentile: 31-34

Cambridge, Massachusetts

  • Median age: 30.4
  • Median household income: $69,227
  • Cost of living index: 145.0
  • College degreed: 65.1%

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Swarthmore College

Though no longer officially tied to its Quaker heritage, one of America’s first co-ed schools retains its legacy of social activism, joining the “no-loans movement” to ensure all students not only have access to a high quality college education regardless of financial need, but don’t have to go into debt to get it.

Residents of the wealthy Philadelphia suburb of Swarthmore, PA enjoy a reasonable cost of living and easy access to the big city.

Private Liberal Arts CollegeLarge Suburb1,5258:1

Additional Information

  • Acceptance Rate: 16%
  • SAT 25th-75th percentile: 2020-2300
  • ACT 25th-75th percentile: 29-33

Swarthmore, Pennsylvania

  • Median age: 33.4
  • Median household income: $119,315
  • Cost of living index: 106.6
  • College degreed: 77.1%

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Massachusetts Institute of Technology

With primary strengths in engineering, technology, and computer science, student’s receive one of the most rigorous and challenging education experiences available while benefiting from a generous financial aid program that covers 100% of tuition and fees with scholarships and grants for those from families making less than $75K.

Named after that famous university across the Atlantic, Cambridge, MA is a highly educated but expensive city with close proximity to Boston.

Private Research UniversityMidsize City10,3848:1

Additional Information

  • Acceptance Rate: 10%
  • SAT 25th-75th percentile: 2080-2330
  • ACT 25th-75th percentile: 32-35

Cambridge, Massachusetts

  • Median age: 30.4
  • Median household income: $69,227
  • Cost of living index: 145.0
  • College degreed: 65.1%

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The College of William and Mary

America’s oldest public university offers an “Ivy League” quality education at a public school price, augmented by a commitment to ensuring low and middle-income Virginian students are able to graduate debt-free.

In historic Williamsburg, VA students can take advantage of the beautiful surroundings and a below average cost of living.

Public Research UniversityLarge Suburb7,87411:1

Additional Information

  • Acceptance Rate: 32%
  • SAT 25th-75th percentile: 1880-2160
  • ACT 25th-75th percentile: 31-34

Williamsburg, Virginia

  • Median age: 22.6
  • Median household income: $40,562
  • Cost of living index: 101.4
  • College degreed: 45.0%

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Williams College

Utilizing Oxbridge-style tutorials that emphasize student participation and direct engagement with professors, this academically demanding liberal arts college also promises students a financial aid package covering all demonstrated need.

A small, picturesque college town, Williamstown, MA has a very young and highly educated population.

Private Liberal Arts CollegeFringe Town2,1417:1

Additional Information

  • Acceptance Rate: 20%
  • SAT 25th-75th percentile*: 1310-1530
  • ACT 25th-75th percentile: 30-34

Williamstown, Massachusetts

  • Median age: 22.1
  • Median household income: $39,628
  • Cost of living index: 110.7
  • College degreed: 60.1%

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Amherst College

This little liberal arts college is as liberal with its academics as it is with its financial aid, allowing students to take whatever courses they want and in any order, while guaranteeing to meet all demonstrated financial need through grants and scholarships.

The town of Amherst, MA is located in the “happy valley” region known for its highly educated, artistically inclined and socially progressive population.

Private Liberal Arts CollegeFringe Town1,7448:1

Additional Information

  • Acceptance Rate: 15%
  • SAT 25th-75th percentile: 2020-2310
  • ACT 25th-75th percentile: 30-34

Amherst, Massachusetts

  • Median age: 21.8
  • Median household income: $49,187
  • Cost of living index: 112.6
  • College degreed: 68.7%

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Stanford University

This established world leader in computer science, mathematics and other left-brain subjects also offers a top-notch liberal arts education accessible to those of modest means through its “no-loans” aid program that waives tuition for students from families making less than six figures.

Immediately adjacent to the city of Palo Alto and in the center of Silicon Valley, it’s not surprising that Stanford, CA has one of the most tech savvy and highly educated populations in the U.S.

Private Research UniversityLarge Suburb18,49810:1

Additional Information

  • Acceptance Rate: 7%
  • SAT 25th-75th percentile: 2040-2330
  • ACT 25th-75th percentile: 31-34

Stanford, California

  • Median age: 22.1
  • Median household income: $49,763
  • Cost of living index: 163.5
  • College degreed: 94.6%

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California Institute of Technology

This former vocational school turned science and engineering powerhouse practices need-blind admissions and graduates students with one of the lowest average debt amounts and among the highest starting salaries.

Best known for hosting the Rose Bowl and Tournament of Roses Parade, Pasadena, CA is a moderately expensive city home to the NASA Jet Propulsion Lab and a sizable population of non-indigenous parrots.

Private Research UniversityMidsize City2,1303:1

Additional Information

  • Acceptance Rate: 13%
  • SAT 25th-75th percentile: 2180-2360
  • ACT 25th-75th percentile: 34-35

Pasadena, California

  • Median age: 34.5
  • Median household income: $61,298
  • Cost of living index: 138.1
  • College degreed: 41.3%

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Yale University

The school that produced more presidential candidates in the last three decades than any other doesn’t just cater to the upper crust, joining a select few universities practicing need-blind admissions and committed to meeting every student’s demonstrated financial need.

New Haven, CT is pretty pricey, but boasts loads of beautiful and historic architecture, including Hillhouse Avenue, “the most beautiful street in America” according to Charles Dickens.

Private Research UniversityMidsize City11,5936:1

Additional Information

  • Acceptance Rate: 8%
  • SAT 25th-75th percentile: 2100-2370
  • ACT 25th-75th percentile: 30-34

New Haven, Connecticut

  • Median age: 29.3
  • Median household income: $38,279
  • Cost of living index: 134.4
  • College degreed: 27.1%

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University of Pennsylvania

The prestigious Ivy League university birthed out of the mind of Benjamin Franklin carries forward his vision of increasing access to a practical liberal arts education through its recently expanded “no-loan” financial aid policy.

The City of Brotherly Love, Philadelphia, PA, is about average in terms of cost, but offers students a host of historical sites and cultural opportunities.

Private Research UniversityLarge City24,5996:1

Additional Information

  • Acceptance Rate: 14%
  • SAT 25th-75th percentile: 2030-2300
  • ACT 25th-75th percentile: 30-34

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

  • Median age: 34.2
  • Median household income: $37,045
  • Cost of living index: 104.7
  • College degreed: 17.9%

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University of North Carolina

The oldest public university in the United States is one of the original “Public Ivies” offering a top quality education accessible to a broad range of students, now made even more accessible through the innovative “Carolina Covenant” program that guarantees qualified lower-income students the opportunity to graduate debt-free.

A historic but youthful and low-cost town, Chapel Hill, NC boasts abundant natural beauty and a vibrant music scene.

Public Research UniversityLarge Suburb28,91614:1

Additional Information

  • Acceptance Rate: 32%
  • SAT 25th-75th percentile: 1790-2090
  • ACT 25th-75th percentile: 26-31

Chapel Hill, North Carolina

  • Median age: 24.0
  • Median household income: $47,356
  • Cost of living index: 98.3
  • College degreed: 73.7%

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Duke University

Known for its outstanding academics and prowess on the basketball court, need-blind and full-need aid policies mean just about anyone with the smarts to get in can afford to study within the beautiful Gothic buildings of this elite Southern school.

A former tobacco town, Durham, NC has undergone a significant downtown revitalization in recent years, offering significant cultural opportunities to go along with a relatively low cost of living.

Private Research UniversityMidsize City14,3508:1

Additional Information

  • Acceptance Rate: 19%
  • SAT 25th-75th percentile: 2000-2290
  • ACT 25th-75th percentile: 30-34

Durham, North Carolina

  • Median age: 31.0
  • Median household income: $46,136
  • Cost of living index: 94.2
  • College degreed: 41.8%

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Washington and Lee University

Still partially funded by George Washington’s $20,000 investment, this historic liberal arts college once presided over by Robert E. Lee combines strong academics with a call to personal character embodied in an unwritten, student-administered code of honor traceable back to the General himself.

The birthplace of Sam Houston and final resting place of General Lee and Stonewall Jackson, Lexington, VA is a historically rich city with a relatively young population and an exceptionally low cost of living.

Private Liberal Arts CollegeDistant Town2,1537:1

Additional Information

  • Acceptance Rate: 19%
  • SAT 25th-75th percentile: 1950-2190
  • ACT 25th-75th percentile: 29-32

Lexington, Virginia

  • Median age: 23.3
  • Median household income: $32,310
  • Cost of living index: 88.5
  • College degreed: 42.6%

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University of Virginia

Thomas Jefferson’s brainchild is a standout among public universities, attracting some of America’s best and brightest while guaranteeing full funding for all who get in and zero debt for those with the most outstanding need.

The hometown of Jefferson and James Madison, Charlottesville, VA offers students high historical value at a very low cost of living.

Public Research UniversitySmall Suburb24,35518:1

Additional Information

  • Acceptance Rate: 33%
  • SAT 25th-75th percentile: 1830-2170
  • ACT 25th-75th percentile: 28-32

Charlottesville, Virginia

  • Median age: 25.6
  • Median household income: $37,742
  • Cost of living index: 96.1
  • College degreed: 40.8%

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Vanderbilt University

This urban university with a campus designated a national arboretum not only offers students beautiful surroundings in which to pursue a great education, but the opportunity to do so entirely debt-free through its full-need, no-loan financial aid policy.

In addition to the outstanding music, dining, and cultural opportunities, the “Music City” of Nashville, TN offers students an exceptionally low cost of living.

Private Research UniversityLarge City12,5068:1

Additional Information

  • Acceptance Rate: 18%
  • SAT 25th-75th percentile: 2020-2280
  • ACT 25th-75th percentile: 30-34

Nashville, Tennessee

  • Median age: 33.9
  • Median household income: $45,540
  • Cost of living index: 89.5
  • College degreed: 29.7%

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Colgate University

Named after the toothpaste magnate, this former Baptist seminary turned non-sectarian liberal arts college has made great strides in recent years opening up its top-notch academic programs to a more socially and economically diverse population and promising to meet the demonstrated financial need of all students.

A quaint little village with a very young and highly educated population, Hamilton, NY is only slightly larger than the University itself.

Liberal Arts CollegeDistant Town2,83710:1

Additional Information

  • Acceptance Rate: 33%
  • SAT 25th-75th percentile*: 1270-1460
  • ACT 25th-75th percentile: 29-32

Hamilton, New York

  • Median age: 20.8
  • Median household income: $47,028
  • Cost of living index: 104.0
  • College degreed: 53.1%

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Rice University

A small research university known for its research and programs in the applied sciences, the school also has a strong commitment to undergraduate education, operating on a residential college system with a student-enforced Honor Code that allows for all tests and exams to be taken home and completed unsupervised and at the student’s convenience.

Students on the large wooded campus near the Houston, TX museum district have easy access to the amenities of the big and relatively low cost city.

Private Research UniversityLarge City5,5768:1

Additional Information

  • Acceptance Rate: 21%
  • SAT 25th-75th percentile: 2000-2300
  • ACT 25th-75th percentile: 30-34

Houston, Texas

  • Median age: 30.9
  • Median household income: $42,945
  • Cost of living index: 93.0
  • College degreed: 27.0%

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Brown University

This small Ivy League research university places a strong emphasis on undergraduate education and offers a “no-loan” financial aid policy for students from families making less than $100K and zero family contribution for students from families making less than $60K.

An inexpensive place to live, Providence, RI is the state capital and said to have more coffee shops and restaurants per capita than any other American city.

Private Research UniversityMidsize City8,5749:1

Additional Information

  • Acceptance Rate: 9%
  • SAT 25th-75th percentile: 2000-2300
  • ACT 25th-75th percentile: 29-33

Providence, Rhode Island

  • Median age: 28.1
  • Median household income: $37,619
  • Cost of living index: 99.3
  • College degreed: 24.4%

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Pomona College

In addition to offering the institutional resources of a large university through its membership in the Claremont University Consortium, this small, academically challenging liberal arts college recently adopted a “no-loans” financial aid policy, meeting all demonstrated student financial need through grants and scholarships.

With seven institutions of higher education and loads of beautiful trees, the wealthy town of Claremont, CA has become known as “the City of Trees and PhDs.”

Private Liberal Arts CollegeLarge Suburb1,5507:1

Additional Information

  • Acceptance Rate: 15%
  • SAT 25th-75th percentile: 2070-2330
  • ACT 25th-75th percentile: 31-34

Claremont, California

  • Median age: 35.8
  • Median household income: $84,997
  • Cost of living index: 128.6
  • College degreed: 52.4%

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University of Michigan

One of the original “Public Ivies” offers comparable academic quality and many of the amenities of much more expensive schools while continuing to open up greater access to lower income students through programs like M-Pact, which replaces student loans with grants for students with the greatest need.

With a reputation for being socially progressive, Ann Arbor, MI has been recognized as one of the best small cities to live in, offering its highly educated population a lower than average cost of living.

Public Research UniversityMidsize City41,67412:1

Additional Information

  • Acceptance Rate: 51%
  • SAT 25th-75th percentile: 1840-2150
  • ACT 25th-75th percentile: 27-31

Ann Arbor, Michigan

  • Median age: 28.1
  • Median household income: $50,291
  • Cost of living index: 96.2
  • College degreed: 69.3%

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Cooper Union

This truly unique institution of higher education focuses exclusively on architecture, engineering, and the fine arts, while following through on its founder’s vision for education being as “free as air and water” by offering a full scholarship to every student admitted.

It may be crowded and expensive, but New York, NY is also one of the most interesting and exciting places to live for students who like the city life.

Private Liberal Arts CollegeLarge City9959:1

Additional Information

  • Acceptance Rate: 8%
  • SAT 25th-75th percentile: 1830-2250
  • ACT 25th-75th percentile: 29-33

New York, New York

  • Median age: 34.2
  • Median household income: $50,033
  • Cost of living index: 161.8
  • College degreed: 27.4%

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University of California-Berkeley

The one time hotbed of student activism has mellowed over the years, but still offers students a wide berth for self-expression and one of the most outstanding undergraduate educations in the world at a public school price.

Located on the San Francisco Bay, Berkeley, CA is a highly educated and rather expensive city with a reputation as one of the most politically liberal places in the country.

Public Research UniversityMidsize City35,83016:1

Additional Information

  • Acceptance Rate: 22%
  • SAT 25th-75th percentile: 1840-2180
  • ACT 25th-75th percentile: 26-32

Berkeley, California

  • Median age: 32.5
  • Median household income: $60,625
  • Cost of living index: 144.1
  • College degreed: 64.3%

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Dartmouth College

The smallest of the Ivy League schools is big on quality and generous with the financial aid, becoming one of only seven institutions of higher education in the world to practice need-blind admissions while promising to meet the full financial need of all students, including internationals.

A young, diverse and highly educated small town, Hanover, NH is frequently rated one of the top places to live in America.

Private Research UniversityFringe Rural5,9878:1

Additional Information

  • Acceptance Rate: 13%
  • SAT 25th-75th percentile: 2020-2330
  • ACT 25th-75th percentile: 30-34

Hanover, New Hampshire

  • Median age: 21.9
  • Median household income: $90,228
  • Cost of living index: 102.3
  • College degreed: 77.0%

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Claremont McKenna College

Pursuing the ideals embodied in its motto, “Civilization prospers with commerce”, this small liberal arts college emphasizes studies in government, economics, and international affairs and practices a full-need, no-loan financial aid policy.

As part of the Claremont University Consortium, the college shares a campus and facilities with six other higher education institutions in the highly educated and somewhat expensive town of Claremont, CA.

Private Liberal Arts CollegeLarge Suburb1,2389:1

Additional Information

  • Acceptance Rate: 17%
  • SAT 25th-75th percentile*: 1300-1480
  • ACT 25th-75th percentile: 29-33

Hanover, New Hampshire

  • Median age: 21.9
  • Median household income: $90,228
  • Cost of living index: 102.3
  • College degreed: 77.0%

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Texas A&M University

The oldest public university in Texas shows it has a heart as big as its massive campus and student body, offering a full-need, no-loan financial aid package to qualified Texas student from families making less than $60K a year.

A youthful and highly educated town, College Station, TX offers country flavor in a conservative atmosphere and an exceptionally low cost of living.

Public Research UniversityFringe Rural48,70219:1

Additional Information

  • Acceptance Rate: 69%
  • SAT 25th-75th percentile*: 1610-1950
  • ACT 25th-75th percentile: 24-30

College Station, Texas

  • Median age: 21.9
  • Median household income: $24,525
  • Cost of living index: 91.6
  • College degreed: 58.1%

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University of California-Davis

The former farming school has developed into a world leader in science and engineering research while expanding opportunities for qualified low and middle income California students by covering the cost of tuition and fees of students from families making less than $80K a year.

One of the most highly educated cities in America, Davis, CA is known for its liberal politics and bike-friendly streets and manages to keep its cost of living fairly low.

Public Research UniversitySmall Suburb31,24716:1

Additional Information

  • Acceptance Rate: 47%
  • SAT 25th-75th percentile*: 1590-1960
  • ACT 25th-75th percentile: 23-29

Davis, California

  • Median age: 25.2
  • Median household income: $59,733
  • Cost of living index: 102.7
  • College degreed: 68.6%

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Georgia Institute of Technology

One of the few public institutes of technology has a global reputation for its science and engineering programs and works to make sure promising Georgia students from low-income families have the opportunity to graduate debt-free.

Atlanta, GA is a low-cost, cosmopolitan big city known for its cultural diversity and business-friendly climate.

Public Research UniversityLarge City20,29118:1

Additional Information

  • Acceptance Rate: 59%
  • SAT 25th-75th percentile*: 1810-2100
  • ACT 25th-75th percentile: 27-31

Atlanta, Georgia

  • Median age: 31.9
  • Median household income: $49,981
  • Cost of living index: 97.9
  • College degreed: 34.6%

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Davidson College

This small college doesn’t have the public profile of some comparable schools, but offers students an outstanding liberal arts education with the opportunity to design their own majors and was among the first liberal arts colleges to implement a full-need, no-loan financial aid policy.

A highly educated and wealthy small college town, Davidson, NC offers lots of Southern charm and a very low cost of living.

Private Liberal Arts CollegeLarge Suburb1,74311:1

Additional Information

  • Acceptance Rate: 29%
  • SAT 25th-75th percentile: 1880-2150
  • ACT 25th-75th percentile: 28-32

Atlanta, Georgia

  • Median age: 31.3
  • Median household income: $77,162
  • Cost of living index: 93.9
  • College degreed: 61.6%

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University of Notre Dame

The flagship Catholic university in the United States offers students a world-class education within a strongly religious environment and practices a need-blind/full-need approach to admissions and aid with a commitment to keeping student debt as low as possible.

South Bend, IN offers students an extremely low cost of living only about an hour from the big city of Chicago.

Private Research UniversityLarge Suburb11,81610:1

Additional Information

  • Acceptance Rate: 29%
  • SAT 25th-75th percentile*: 1320-1510
  • ACT 25th-75th percentile: 31-34

South Bend, Indiana

  • Median age: 32.7
  • Median household income: $32,778
  • Cost of living index: 86.5
  • College degreed: 20.3%

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Cornell University

An Ivy League school with a historical commitment to professional studies and equal access requires no financial contribution from families making less than $60K and meets the full financial need of all students, with no loans for families making less than $75K and very reasonable loan caps for families who make more.

A small city with a college town feel, the moderately expensive Ithaca, NY has a highly educated population and a vibrant cultural scene.

Private Research UniversitySmall City20,63312:1

Additional Information

  • Acceptance Rate: 18%
  • SAT 25th-75th percentile*: 1300-1500
  • ACT 25th-75th percentile: 29-33

Ithaca, New York

  • Median age: 22.0
  • Median household income: $27,342
  • Cost of living index: 112.0
  • College degreed: 57.9%

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Harvey Mudd College

Sharing a campus and facilities with the other Claremont Colleges, this tiny liberal arts school maintains an exclusive focus on science, engineering, and mathematics and its graduates do better financially than those of any other school around.

A wealthy college town at the base of the San Gabriel Mountains, Claremont, CA has a highly educated population and a fairly high cost of living.

Private Liberal Arts CollegeLarge Suburb7638:1

Additional Information

  • Acceptance Rate: 23%
  • SAT 25th-75th percentile: 2080-2320
  • ACT 25th-75th percentile: 33-35

Claremont, California

  • Median age: 35.8
  • Median household income: $84,997
  • Cost of living index: 128.6
  • College degreed: 52.4%

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Carleton College

The home of the oldest student-run pub offers students an exceptional liberal arts education and a generous full-need financial aid program that covers the majority of costs through grants and scholarships.

The thwarting of one of the Jesse James Gang’s last bank robbery is still celebrated in Northfield, MN a college town on the Cannon River with a relatively young population and an extremely low cost of living.

Private Liberal Arts CollegeFringe Town20099:1

Additional Information

  • Acceptance Rate: 31%
  • SAT 25th-75th percentile: 1950-2240
  • ACT 25th-75th percentile: 29-33

Northfield, Minnesota

  • Median age: 23.0
  • Median household income: $62,253
  • Cost of living index: 79.6
  • College degreed: 43.0%

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Bucknell University

The largest private liberal arts college in America has strengths in engineering and the environmental sciences, drawing on its size to offer a wider variety of courses and research opportunities than most other liberal arts schools are able.

Lewisburg, PA is a historic rural borough on the Susquehanna River with a youthful population and low cost of living.

Private Liberal Arts CollegeFringe Rural3,67310:1

Additional Information

  • Acceptance Rate: 31%
  • SAT 25th-75th percentile: 1820-2070
  • ACT 25th-75th percentile: 27-31

Lewisburg, Pennsylvania

  • Median age: 22.4
  • Median household income: $29,383
  • Cost of living index: 94.2
  • College degreed: 37.4%

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University of Washington

Among the oldest and largest universities on the West Coast, this highly regarded “Public Ivy” guarantees a full ride to low-income Washingtonians with the chops to get in through its “Husky Promise” program.

One of the most highly educated large cities in the nation, Seattle, WA and a mecca for espresso and indie rock lovers everywhere.

Public Research UniversityLarge City45,94311:1

Additional Information

  • Acceptance Rate: 58%
  • SAT 25th-75th percentile*: 1100-1330
  • ACT 25th-75th percentile: 24-30

Seattle, Washington

  • Median age: 35.4
  • Median household income: $60,843
  • Cost of living index: 117.1
  • College degreed: 47.2%

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University of Florida

One of the premier public universities in the nation has taken consistent steps to increase accessibility to economically disadvantaged students, joining a handful of other schools around the country in eliminating early admissions that don’t allow students time to evaluate financial aid offers before making a decision.

Frequently recognized as one of the best places to live in America, Gainesville, FL is a youthful city with a remarkably low cost of living.

Public Research UniversityMidsize City50,69120:1

Additional Information

  • Acceptance Rate: 43%
  • SAT 25th-75th percentile*: 1170-1360
  • ACT 25th-75th percentile: 26-30

Gainesville, Florida

  • Median age: 26.4
  • Median household income: $27,420
  • Cost of living index: 90.4
  • College degreed: 42.8%

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University of Texas at Austin

One of the original “Public Ivies”, the biggest university in Texas has the largest endowment of any other public university in the nation, allowing it to offer outstanding research opportunities, in addition to being generous with the financial aid.

Billed as “The Live Music Capital of the World,” Austin, TX is a youthful and active city with a reasonable cost of living and an eclectic personality.

Public Research UniversityLarge City50,99517:1

Additional Information

  • Acceptance Rate: 47%
  • SAT 25th-75th percentile: 1630-2020
  • ACT 25th-75th percentile: 25-31

Austin, Texas

  • Median age: 29.6
  • Median household income: $50,132
  • Cost of living index: 94.8
  • College degreed: 40.4%

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Purdue University

The first university with its own airport is an established leader in aviation, aerospace, and engineering, graduating more aviators and astronauts than any other university, including both the first man and the last man to walk on the moon.

West Lafayette, IN is an inexpensive, youthful and highly educated suburban city overlooking the Wabash River.

Public Research UniversityMidsize Suburb41,05214:1

Additional Information

  • Acceptance Rate: 65%
  • SAT 25th-75th percentile: 1530-1900
  • ACT 25th-75th percentile: 23-29

West Lafayette, Indiana

  • Median age: 22.3
  • Median household income: $22,469
  • Cost of living index: 92.0
  • College degreed: 69.7%

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University of Chicago

This big city school has a very strong academic reputation and practices need-blind admissions while committing to meet the full demonstrated financial need of every student for the entirety of their undergraduate careers.

For those who love the big city life, it’s hard to top Chicago, IL, “The Most American of Big Cities,” and not too overpriced, either.

Private Research UniversityLarge City15,0946:1

Additional Information

  • Acceptance Rate: 19%
  • SAT 25th-75th percentile: 2090-2330
  • ACT 25th-75th percentile: 30-34

Chicago, Illinois

  • Median age: 31.5
  • Median household income: $45,734
  • Cost of living index: 108.1
  • College degreed: 25.5%

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Bowdoin College

The academically exceptional college that graduated Nathaniel Hawthorne and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow is one of the growing number of “SAT optional” schools that further expands access to a more diverse population through its need-blind admissions and full-need, no-loan financial aid policy.

Brunswick, ME is a small coastal town with a low cost of living and a long, rich history.

Private Liberal Arts CollegeFringe Town1,7779:1

Additional Information

  • Acceptance Rate: 20%
  • SAT 25th-75th percentile: 1970-2250
  • ACT 25th-75th percentile: 30-33

Brunswick, Maine

  • Median age: 36.3
  • Median household income: $42,517
  • Cost of living index: 102.6
  • College degreed: 33.6%

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University of California at Los Angeles

With an outstanding global reputation for both academics and athletics, not to mention its glamorous location, the most selective public university in the country also gets more freshman applicants than any other.

The second largest city in the nation, Los Angeles, CA is a global leader in entertainment, fashion, culture, and business, but the cost of living is high.

Public Research UniversityLarge City38,55017:1

Additional Information

  • Acceptance Rate: 22%
  • SAT 25th-75th percentile: 1730-2100
  • ACT 25th-75th percentile: 24-31

Los Angeles, California

  • Median age: 31.6
  • Median household income: $48,617
  • Cost of living index: 134.9
  • College degreed: 25.5%

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Berea College

The first coeducational and racially integrated college in the American South caters especially to low-income students, offering an outstanding liberal arts education at no charge, though every student must put in 10 hours of work for the school per week.

The little town of Berea, KY is one of the fastest growing places in the country, thanks in part to the exceptionally low cost of living and vibrant arts and crafts scene.

Private Liberal Arts CollegeDistant Town1,54810:1

Additional Information

  • Acceptance Rate: 17%
  • SAT 25th-75th percentile: 1500-1885
  • ACT 25th-75th percentile: 21-26

Berea, Kentucky

  • Median age: 30.5
  • Median household income: $38,124
  • Cost of living index: 83.5
  • College degreed: 23.4%

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University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

A “Public Ivy” especially known for its science and engineering programs boasts the largest library of any public university and is committed to covering the costs of tuition, fees, room, board, books, and supplies for admitted Illinois students from families below the poverty line.

The twin cities of Urbana and Champaign, IL (a.k.a. “Chambana”) have youthful, well educated populations and a very low cost of living.

Public Research UniversitySmall City43,88119:1

Additional Information

  • Acceptance Rate: 67%
  • SAT 25th-75th percentile: 1780-2100
  • ACT 25th-75th percentile: 26-31

Urbana-Champaign, Illinois

  • Median age: 25.0
  • Median household income: $35,206
  • Cost of living index: 88.8
  • College degreed: 48.9%

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Wellesley College

The women’s college that has graduated more female leaders of Fortune 500 companies than any other has opened its doors more widely in recent years through need-blind admissions, a commitment to meeting every student’s full demonstrated financial need, and by replacing loans with scholarships for students with the greatest need.

The most highly educated small town in America, Wellesley, MA is also extremely wealthy and expensive.

Private Liberal Arts CollegeLarge Suburb2,3248:1

Additional Information

  • Acceptance Rate: 33%
  • SAT 25th-75th percentile: 1920-2230
  • ACT 25th-75th percentile: 28-32

Wellesley, Massachusetts

  • Median age: 37.6
  • Median household income: $133,359
  • Cost of living index: 140.8
  • College degreed: 75.9%

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Northwestern University

This lakeside research university has strengths in journalism, communication, engineering, education, and music, but provides all students with a solid foundation in the liberal arts and a commitment to meet 100% of demonstrated need through grants, loans, and scholarships.

Evanston, IL is a highly educated, moderately wealthy city located on the banks of Lake Michigan and just minutes from downtown Chicago.

Private Research UniversitySmall City19,8537:1

Additional Information

  • Acceptance Rate: 27%
  • SAT 25th-75th percentile: 2030-2290
  • ACT 25th-75th percentile: 31-33

Evanston, Illinois

  • Median age: 32.5
  • Median household income: $67,661
  • Cost of living index: 108.1
  • College degreed: 62.4%

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Columbia University

This elite Ivy League university in the middle of the big city is an academic powerhouse, responsible for administering the Pulitzer Prize and boasting more Nobel Prize laureates than any other institution of higher education.

If you can afford it, there’s nothing like New York, NY, widely considered the financial and cultural capital of the world.

Private Research UniversityLarge City24,2306:1

Additional Information

  • Acceptance Rate: 10%
  • SAT 25th-75th percentile: 2050-2320
  • ACT 25th-75th percentile: 31-34

New York, New York

  • Median age: 34.2
  • Median household income: $50,033
  • Cost of living index: 161.8
  • College degreed: 27.4%

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Georgetown University

The oldest Catholic university in North America emphasizes social justice in its curriculum and its admissions policy, taking a need-blind approach and committing to cover the full demonstrated financial need of all students through a combination of scholarships, grants, and loans.

As the capital of the United States, Washington, D.C. is a buzzing bloom of political and cultural activity, but pretty pricey.

Private Research UniversityLarge City16,52010:1

Additional Information

  • Acceptance Rate: 20%
  • SAT 25th-75th percentile*: 1300-1500
  • ACT 25th-75th percentile: 27-33

Washington, District of Columbia

  • Median age: 34.6
  • Median household income: $59,290
  • Cost of living index: 124.2
  • College degreed: 39.1%

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Washington University in St. Louis

The prestigious research university known for hosting more presidential debates than any other institution has strengths in business, social work, medicine, and law and practices a full-need, no-loan financial aid policy for low-income students.

Near where the Mississippi and Missouri rivers converge, St. Louis, MO offers inexpensive big city living and some of the best barbecue and blues around.

Private Research UniversityLarge City13,5757:1

Additional Information

  • Acceptance Rate: 21%
  • SAT 25th-75th percentile*: 1390-1540
  • ACT 25th-75th percentile: 32-34

St. Louis, Missouri

  • Median age: 33.7
  • Median household income: $34,801
  • Cost of living index: 90.1
  • College degreed: 19.1%

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Middlebury College

One of the oldest liberal arts colleges in the country builds on a long legacy of progressive thinking and policies, offering need-blind admissions and a commitment to meeting the full demonstrated financial need of all students.

A small college town with a highly educated population and a low cost of living, Middlebury, VT is situated in a scenic valley between the Green Mountains and Adirondacks.

Private Liberal Arts CollegeFringe Rural2,4829:1

Additional Information

  • Acceptance Rate: 17%
  • SAT 25th-75th percentile*: 1940-2230
  • ACT 25th-75th percentile: 30-33

Middlebury, Vermont

  • Median age: 22.7
  • Median household income: $43,525
  • Cost of living index: 96.3
  • College degreed: 40.8%

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Emory University

This Methodist research university with a strong emphasis on undergraduate liberal arts education and cultivating a commitment to service practices need-blind admissions and commits to eliminating or minimizing debt for low and middle-income students through its Emory Advantage program.

The business and cultural hub of the American South, Atlanta, GA offers a low-cost big city blend of Southern hospitality and global cosmopolitanism.

Private Research UniversityLarge Suburb12,9307:1

Additional Information

  • Acceptance Rate: 30%
  • SAT 25th-75th percentile*: 1950-2220
  • ACT 25th-75th percentile: NA

Atlanta, Georgia

  • Median age: 31.9
  • Median household income: $49,981
  • Cost of living index: 97.9
  • College degreed: 34.6%

 

 

Detailed Ranking Methodology

A college education is among the largest and most important investments of time, effort and money most Americans will make in their lifetime. The Best Colleges ranking of the 50 best American colleges and universities of 2014 was designed to help guide undergraduate students and their parents in making a wise investment.

The schools in our ranking were put through a rigorous selection process and then objectively evaluated across 12 unique data points in four different categories: economic value, quality of life, academic quality, and student satisfaction. Subjective decisions were limited to which data points to consider and the weight given to each one.

Reputation and Recognition

In order to be included in our rankings pool a school had to be a four-year, bachelor degree granting liberal arts college or university in the United States with at least one top 50 ranking in another major American ranking system in the last year (U.S. News & World Report, Forbes, Washington Monthly, or Newsweek). In ranking systems that rank liberal arts colleges and national universities separately, a top 50 ranking in either category was sufficient for inclusion. This decision ensured that only colleges and universities of significant reputation and marketplace recognition were included. Military academies were not included in our pool due to their uniquely focused mission.

Rankings Criteria and Weights

Economic Value (35%)

-1. Real Cost (15%)

-2. Median starting salary of graduates (10%)

-3. Median mid-career salary of graduates (10%)

Quality of Life (30%)

-4. Cost of Living Index of city/town (15%)

-5. Median age of city/town residents (5%)

-6. Median household income of city/town residents (5%)

-7. Percentage of city/town residents with bachelor’s degree or higher (5%)

Academic Quality (20%)

-8. Acceptance rate (10%)

-9. Student-to-faculty ratio (10%)

Student Satisfaction (15%)

-10. Enrollment rate (5%)

-11. Freshman to sophomore retention rate (5%)

-12. Six-year graduation rate (5%)

ECONOMIC VALUE

1. Real Cost

As the cost of a college education continues to climb and the overall economy struggles, keeping costs and student loan debt low is more important to students (and their parents) than ever. With that in mind The Best Colleges awarded schools for having lower real costs, which we calculated by taking the estimated undergraduate student tuition and fees and subtracting the average amount of freshman financial aid. Because the average amount of financial aid packages tracks the tuition costs of the majority of the student body, for public schools that draw most of their students from in-state we subtracted the average aid amount from in-state tuition costs.

Data on tuition, fees and aid was taken from the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), which is the core postsecondary education data collection program of the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), a branch of the U.S. Department of Education. After the data was compiled and average aid was subtracted from estimated tuition and fees to get the real cost, the data was standardized using Z-scores and then weighted to give it a 15% overall importance in the final ranking.

2. Median Starting Salary of Graduates

In order to get a sense for the value of a degree from a given college, it is important to consider the likely economic payoff. Students (and their parents) want to know that after all the blood, sweat, tears and cash, there’s a good paying job to look forward to. And so The Best Colleges awarded schools with higher starting salaries for recent graduates.

We collected data on the median starting salary of college graduates (1-4 years post-graduation) from the 2010-2011 PayScaleU College Salary Report. Data for the report was collected through a voluntary survey of full-time employees in the U.S. with a bachelor’s degree but no higher degree. You can read more about the report’s methodology here. After collecting salary data for each of the schools in our pool, the data was standardized using Z-scores and then weighted to give it a 10% overall importance in the final ranking of the top colleges.

3. Median Mid-Career Salary of Graduates

How much one makes several years into a career is just as important as what one makes immediately after graduation (and this may indicate more about the knowledge and skills actually learned at a school since recent graduates are often hired more on the basis of the reputation of their alma mater than their actual knowledge and skill). And so The Best Colleges awarded schools with higher mid-career salaries for graduates.

We collected data on the median mid-career salary of college graduates (10-19 years post-graduation) from the 2010-2011 PayScaleU College Salary Report. Data for the report was collected through a voluntary survey of full-time employees in the U.S. with a bachelor’s degree but no higher degree. You can read more about the report’s methodology here. After collecting salary data for each of the schools in our pool, the data was standardized using Z-scores and then weighted to give it a 10% overall importance in the final ranking.

QUALITY OF LIFE

4. Cost of Living Index

Especially during tough economic times like these, many students (and their parents) are concerned to live in a place where they can make a dollar stretch. The Best Colleges measured the buying power of a student’s dollar in a given location by the cost-of-living index (COLI), a theoretical price index which measures the relative cost of living in a place base on the relative costs of goods and services. Schools were awarded for being in locations with a lower COLI.

The COLI of each city/town came from City-Data.com, a private company which collects and analyzes data on thousands of cities and towns across the U.S. After the data was compiled for each one of the cities/towns in our pool, it was standardized using Z-scores and assigned a weight giving it a 15% overall importance in the final ranking.

5. Median Age of Population

Assuming most students prefer to live with and around other young people and appreciate the social and cultural opportunities that tend to accompany younger populations, The Best Colleges awarded cities/towns with more youthful populations.

Data on the median age of a city/town’s population was taken from City-Data.com. After the data was compiled for each one of the cities/towns in our pool, it was standardized using Z-scores and assigned a weight giving it a 5% overall importance in the final ranking.

6. Median Household Income

On the assumption that most students prefer to live in areas populated by economically successful people, which often correlates with greater social, cultural and economic opportunities, The Best Colleges awarded cities/towns with higher amounts of income wealth.

Data on the median household income of a city/town’s population was collected from City-Data.com. After the data was compiled for each one of the cities/towns in our pool, it was standardized using Z-scores and assigned a weight giving it a 5% overall importance in the final ranking.

7. Percentage of Population with College Degrees

On the assumption that students prefer to live in places with well-educated populations, which often correlates with greater tolerance and more interesting social opportunities, The Best Colleges awarded cities/towns with a greater percentage of residents with college degrees.

Data on the percentage of a town/city’s residents with a bachelor’s degree or higher was collected from City-Data.com. After the data was compiled for each one of the cities/towns in our pool, it was standardized using Z-scores and assigned a weight giving it a 5% overall importance in the final ranking.

ACADEMIC QUALITY

8. Acceptance Rate

The quality of a college education is largely determined by the academic quality and competitiveness of the student body. Generally speaking, the more stringent and selective a college is in its admissions process, the better the quality of students. And so The Best Colleges awarded schools with lower acceptance rates.

Data on acceptance rates was collected from the IPEDS database. After the data was compiled for each one of the schools in our pool, it was standardized using Z-scores and assigned a weight giving it a 10% overall importance in the final ranking.

9. Student-to-Faculty Ratio

On the assumption that smaller class sizes and fewer students per professor means the possibility for more individualized attention and greater access to faculty during and after class, The Best Colleges awarded schools with lower student-to-faculty ratios.

The most recent available data on student-to-faculty ratios was collected from the IPEDS database. After the data was compiled for each one of the schools in our pool, it was standardized using Z-scores and assigned a weight giving it a 10% overall importance in the final ranking.

STUDENT SATISFACTION

10. Enrollment Rate

In general students are happier and more satisfied at a school where they really want to be. Thus The Best Colleges awarded schools with higher enrollment rates, which measure the percentage of admitted students who choose to enroll. Generally, a higher enrollment rate indicates a school is more desirable to students who apply.

The most recent available data on enrollment rates was collected from the IPEDS database. After the data was compiled for each one of the schools in our pool, it was standardized using Z-scores and assigned a weight giving it a 5% overall importance in the final ranking.

11. Retention Rate

The freshman to sophomore retention rate measures the percentage of students who return to a school after their freshman year. We interpret this as a general measure of student satisfaction with a school and awarded schools with higher retention rates.

Data on enrollment rates was collected from the IPEDS database. After the data was compiled for each one of the schools in our pool, it was standardized using Z-scores and assigned a weight giving it a 5% overall importance in the final ranking.

12. Six-Year Graduation Rate

The six-year graduation rate measures the percentage of students who graduate from a school within six years of enrolling. We interpret this as a general measure of student satisfaction with a school and awarded schools with higher graduation rates.

Data on graduation rates was collected from the IPEDS database. After the data was compiled for each one of the schools in our pool, it was standardized using Z-scores and assigned a weight giving it a 5% overall importance in the final ranking.

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