Princeton, Williams Top U.S. News Best Colleges Rankings

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Students react during Princeton University's graduation ceremonies Tuesday, June 4, 2013 in Princeton, N.J. University President Shirley Tilghman on Tuesday addressed the graduates for the last time. Tilghman became the Ivy League school's first woman president in 2001. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)

Ballooning student debt and lean job prospects leave many questioning whether college is a worthwhile investment. The simple answer: yes.

In 2012, full-time workers with a bachelor's degree earned an average of $414 more per week than those with only a high school diploma, according to median earnings data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. College graduates with a four-year degree were also nearly twice as likely to be employed.

Rising tuition makes choosing the right college more important than ever. The 2014 U.S. News Best Colleges rankings, released today, are designed to help students and parents make an informed decision.

[Explore the full 2014 Best Colleges rankings.]

This year's installment offers data on nearly 1,800 colleges and universities, including tuition, acceptance rates, class sizes, graduation rates, average debt of graduates and much more. Eligible schools are ranked on up to 16 different factors, each weighted for importance.

U.S. News updated the methodology for the 2014 rankings to reflect the current state of college admissions and better measure student outcomes. High school class rank, a figure included on fewer student transcripts, is less important in college admissions decisions than in years past. As a result, class standing received significantly less weight in this year's rankings.

We also increased the weight of graduation and retention rates for national universities and liberal arts colleges and extended graduation rate performance, which measures the difference between an institution's predicted and actual graduation rates, to regional schools.

Despite these changes, there was little movement at the very top of the rankings. Princeton University took sole possession of No. 1 among the U.S. News National Universities – schools that emphasize research and offer bachelor's, master's and Ph.D. programs – breaking a tie with Harvard University. Harvard didn't fall far, though, claiming the No. 2 spot.

[See photos of the top National Universities.]

Williams College tightened its grip on the top spot among National Liberal Arts Colleges, schools that focus on undergraduate education and award at least 50 percent of their degrees in fields such as English, economics or sociology. The private Massachusetts school claimed sole possession of the top spot four years ago, breaking a tie for No. 1 with Amherst College, and has held it since. Amherst now ranks second.

The top Regional Colleges, schools that grant fewer than half of their degrees in liberal arts disciplines, also held firm this year. Cooper Union in New York, High Point University in North Carolina, Taylor University in Indiana and Carroll College in Montana retained their No. 1 ranks in the North, South, Midwest and West, respectively.

In the rankings of Regional Universities – schools that offer many bachelor's, some master's and few Ph.D. programs – Villanova University in Pennsylvania held onto its No. 1 rank in the North, while North Carolina's Elon University moved from No. 2 to tie Florida's Rollins College for top billing in the South. In the Midwest and West, Creighton University in Nebraska and Trinity University in Texas held onto their No. 1 positions in their respective regions.

While many of the highest-ranked schools only shifted one or two places, if at all, it's a different story outside of the top 20.

Pennsylvania State University, for instance, climbed nine spots in the National Universities rankings, moving from a tie at No. 46 to No. 37, where it tied with Case Western Reserve University in Ohio. Pitzer College in California also gained ground among National Liberal Arts Colleges, moving from a tie at No. 43 to No. 35.

College choice isn't just about rankings, though. Cost is also a major factor for most students. President Barack Obama emphasized the importance of finding a school that offers a good value during his recent college affordability bus tour. Students can use the U.S. News Best Value Schools rankings to determine which colleges will give them the most bang for their buck.

This ranking looks at three variables – the ratio of quality to price, the percentage of all undergrads who receive need-based grants and the average discount off a school's total cost – to determine which institutions offer the best value in each ranking category.

[Discover more Best Value Schools.]

Schools on this list don't always appear affordable, so students need to look beyond sticker prices. Vassar College in New York, the No. 6 Best Value School in the Liberal Arts Colleges category, listed 2012-2013 tuition, room and board, fees and expenses at $59,860, but awarded need-based grants to nearly 60 percent of students that year. The average cost after receiving those funds was $19,470, an average discount of $40,390 off the total cost of attendance.

Other exclusive U.S. News rankings and lists include A-plus Schools for B Students, Top Public Schools and schools with the highest four-year graduation rate.

Regardless of whether students are aiming for an Ivy League education or want to attend a more affordable public university, the Best Colleges rankings provide critical information to help narrow the search.

Looking for full rankings information? Access the U.S. News College Compass to find all published data points, including student debt and employment statistics.



The Top 10 National Universities

1. Princeton University (NJ)            

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Total enrollment: 8,010   
2013-2014 Tuition & fees: $40,170
Regular decision application deadline: January 1









2. Harvard University (MA)         
   

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Total enrollment: 19,726
2013-2014 Tuition & fees: $42,292
Regular decision application deadline: January 1








3. Yale University (CT)   
       

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Total enrollment: 11,906
2013-2014 Tuition & fees: $44,000
Regular decision application deadline: December 31







4. Columbia University (NY)            

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Total enrollment: 23,168
2013-2014 Tuition & fees: $49,138
Regular decision application deadline: January 1









5. Stanford University (CA)   


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Total enrollment: 18,217   
2013-2014 Tuition & fees: $43,245    
Regular decision application deadline: January 1









5. University of Chicago   


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Total enrollment: 12,508   
2013-2014 Tuition & fees: $46,386    
Regular decision application deadline: January 2










7. Duke University (NC)   


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Total enrollment: 15,386   
2013-2014 Tuition & fees: $45,476    
Regular decision application deadline: January 2









7. Massachusetts Institute of Technology   


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Total enrollment: 11,189   
2013-2014 Tuition & fees: $43,498    
Regular decision application deadline: January 1









7. University of Pennsylvania   


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Total enrollment: 21,339   
2013-2014 Tuition & fees: $45,890    
Regular decision application deadline: January 1









10. California Institute of Technology  
 

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Total enrollment: 2,243   
2013-2014 Tuition & fees: $41,538    
Regular decision application deadline: January 3










10. Dartmouth College (NH)   


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Total enrollment: 6,277
2013-2014 Tuition & fees: $46,752    
Regular decision application deadline: January 1












The Top 10 National Liberal Arts Colleges

1. Williams College (MA)   
Total enrollment: 2,106   
2013-2014 Tuition & fees: $46,600    
Regular decision application deadline: January 1

2. Amherst College (MA)   
Total enrollment: 1,817   
2013-2014 Tuition & fees: $46,574    
Regular decision application deadline: January 1

3. Swarthmore College (PA)   
Total enrollment: 1,552   
2013-2014 Tuition & fees: $44,718    
Regular decision application deadline: January 1

4. Bowdoin College (ME)   
Total enrollment: 1,839   
2013-2014 Tuition & fees: $45,446    
Regular decision application deadline: January 1

4. Middlebury College (VT)   
Total enrollment: 2,516   
2013-2014 Tuition & fees: $45,314    
Regular decision application deadline: January 1

4. Pomona College (CA)   
Total enrollment: 1,607   
2013-2014 Tuition & fees: $43,580    
Regular decision application deadline: January 1

7. Carleton College (MN)   

Total enrollment: 2,055   
2013-2014 Tuition & fees: $46,167    
Regular decision application deadline: January 15

7. Wellesley College (MA)   
Total enrollment: 2,481   
2013-2014 Tuition & fees: $43,554    
Regular decision application deadline: January 15

9. Claremont McKenna College (CA)   
Total enrollment: 1,295   
2013-2014 Tuition & fees: $45,625    
Regular decision application deadline: January 1

9. Davidson College (NC)   
Total enrollment: 1,790   
2013-2014 Tuition & fees: $42,849    
Regular decision application deadline: January 2

9. Haverford College (PA)

Total enrollment: 1,205   
2013-2014 Tuition & fees: $45,426    
Regular decision application deadline: January 15

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