The best years of life are also among the most expensive. Choose with care.
Forbes' annual ranking of the 650 best undergraduate institutions focuses on the things that matter the most to students: quality of teaching, great career prospects, graduation rates and low levels of debt. Unlike other lists, we pointedly ignore ephemeral measures such as school “reputation” and ill-conceived metrics that reward wasteful spending. We try and evaluate the college purchase as a consumer would: Is it worth spending as much as a quarter of a million dollars for this degree? The rankings are prepared exclusively for Forbes by the Center for College Affordability and Productivity, a Washington, D.C. think tank founded by Ohio University economist Richard Vedder.
For the second year in a row, Williams College, a small, western-Massachusetts liberal arts school, has been named as the best undergraduate institution in America. With total annual costs adding up to nearly $55,000, a Williams education is certainly not cheap, but the 2,000 undergraduates here have among the highest four-year graduation rates in the country, win loads of prestigious national awards like Rhodes and Marshall Scholarships, and are often rewarded with high-paying careers.
Article continues below
Total Cost: $54,921 Student Population: 2,141 SAT Range: 1310-1530 % of applicants admitted: 20% See more...
Total Cost: $52,715 Student Population: 7,592 SAT Range: 1400-1580 Percent Admitted: 10% See more...
Total Cost: Free Student Population: 4,621 SAT Range: 1140-1350 Percent Admitted: 14% See more...
Total Cost: $54,322 Student Population: 1,744 SAT Range: 1340-1540 Percent Admitted 16% See more...
Total Cost: $55,918 Student Population: 18,498 SAT Range: 1360-1550 Percent Admitted: 8% See more...
Total Cost: $53,950 Student Population: 27,651 SAT Range: 1390-1590 Percent Admitted 7% See more...
Total Cost: $55,632 Student Population: 1,190 SAT Range: 1300-1490 Percent Admitted 25% See more...
Total Cost: $57,590 Student Population: 15,094 SAT Range: 1400-1560 Percent Admitted 27% See more...
Total Cost: $53,210 Student Population: 10,384 SAT Range: 1410-1560 Percent Admitted 11% See more...
Total Cost: Free Student Population: 4,620 SAT Range: 1230-1380 Percent Admitted 17% See more...
Total Cost: $56,406 Student Population: 19,853 SAT Range: 1360-1530 % of applicants admitted: 26% See more...
Total Cost: $55,330 Student Population: 1238 SAT Range: 1300-1480 % of applicants admitted: 16% See more...
In second place? Princeton University, which boasts nearly nonexistent student debt rates due to one of the most generous financial aid programs in the nation. Outside of Princeton and Harvard (#6), Ivy League schools fare relatively poorly, suggesting that their reputations might be a bit overblown. Yale (#14), Brown (#21) and Dartmouth (#30) crack the top 5%, but the other Ivies – Columbia (#42), Cornell (#51) University of Pennsylvania (#52) -- do not.
Because of our emphasis on financial prudence, the zero-cost military service academies rank highly. West Point, which topped the list two years ago, ranks third this time, thanks to outstanding teaching (#3) and high alumni salaries (#8), while the Air Force Academy (#10) and the Naval Academy (#17) glide easily into the top 20. Even the less prestigious academies – the Coast Guard (#97) and the Merchant Marine (#158) -- score well.
The rankings are based on five general categories: Post-Graduate success (30%), which evaluates alumni pay and prominence, Student Satisfaction (27.5%), which includes professor evaluations and freshman to sophomore year retention rates, Debt (17.5%), which penalizes schools for high student debt loads and default rates, Four Year Graduation Rate (17.5%) and Competitive Awards (7.5%), which rewards schools whose students win prestigious scholarships and fellowships like the Rhodes, the Marshall and the Fulbright. The complete methodology is available below and in .pdf format here.
In addition to the overall rankings, the Center for College Affordability and Productivity also prepares a “value” ranking which takes into account the overall cost of each school as relative to the quality of the education provided. Predictably, the service academies also dominate this “best-buy” list, nabbing the top three spots: West Point #1, Air Force Academy #2, and the Naval Academy #3. New York City’s Cooper Union, which grants full scholarships to every student, snags the #4 value slot (#154 overall), with the College of the Ozarks (#6, #191 overall) and the University of Wyoming (#10, #361 overall) also giving students amazing value for their educational buck.
***Check out other Forbes rankings:
The Top 200 Colleges In America
Best Buy Colleges
The Best Liberal Arts Colleges
The Best Public Colleges
All-Star Student Entrepreneurs
The Best Business Schools
More on Forbes Best Colleges
The full list of America’s Best Colleges