Best value colleges 2014

Graduates toss their hats in the air at the end of the commencement ceremony at the United States Military Academy at West Point

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Picking the right college can be one of the best investments you make. Picking the wrong school can be one of your costliest mistakes. In today’s era of skyrocketing college costs, the stakes are as high as ever. Over the past five years, tuition and fees at private and public four-year schools have risen 14% and 27%, respectively. The average student now graduates with over $30,000 of student loan debt.

In the light of these trends, some students are perhaps wisely ditching the most expensive schools for the best price performers. By looking at a school’s Quality Score (calculated for FORBES’ annual rankings) divided by the school’s published in-state tuition and fees, we are able to identify 25 “best value” schools—top colleges and universities that deliver the goods without picking your pocket.

More on Forbes: The Best Public Colleges

It’s no surprise that the service academies lead the way. While admissions are rigorous and competitive (think congressional nominations and acceptance rates below 10%), those who make the cut are rewarded with free tuition, books and room and board. Schools like the United States Military Academy (West Point) and the United States Naval Academy (Annapolis) are great gateways to military careers and these schools produce leaders in other sectors as well, including business and government. Attending a service academy does not come without a cost though—students must weigh the perks against a commitment to active duty military life upon graduation.

More on Forbes: America's Top 100 Colleges: 2014

Those seeking bargains may also want to look west. Utah and Wyoming offer some of the best value educations. Students can take advantage of the area’s relatively low cost of living and abundant recreational activities. For those seeking warmer weather, six of this year’s best value schools are located in Florida, Texas and Louisiana.

Interestingly, students pursuing bargains do not have to sacrifice the chance to attend a major research university. Schools like the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, the University of Texas, Austin and the University of Wisconsin, Madison are among the world’s most renowned research institutions.

While college is always going to be a significant financial undertaking, a great education doesn't have to break the bank.

Top 10 best value colleges 2014:

1. United States Military Academy

Overall Rank: No. 9
Best Value Rank: No. 1
Tuition: $0
West Point, NY

2. United States Naval Academy

Overall Rank: No. 27
Best Value Rank: No. 2
Tuition: $0
Annapolis, MD

3. United States Air Force Academy

Overall Rank: No. 34
Best Value Rank: No. 3
Tuition: $0
U.S. Air Force Academy, CO

4. United States Coast Guard Academy

Overall Rank: No. 114
Best Value Rank: No. 4
Tuition: $0
New London, CT

5. United States Merchant Marine Academy

Overall Rank: No. 211
Best Value Rank: No. 5
Tuition: $1,032
Kings Point, NY

6. Brigham Young University

Overall Rank: No. 79
Best Value Rank: No. 6
Tuition: $4,850
Provo, UT

7. University of Wyoming

Overall Rank: No. 200
Best Value Rank: No. 7
In-State Tuition: $4,404; Out-of-State Tuition: $14,124
Laramie, WY

8. Brigham Young University, Idaho

Overall Rank: No. 351
Best Value Rank: No. 8
Tuition: $3,850
Rexburg, ID

9. University of Florida

Overall Rank: No. 87
Best Value Rank: No. 9
In-State Tuition: $6,263; Out-of-State Tuition: $28,541
Gainesville, FL

10. University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

Overall Rank: No. 50
Best Value Rank: No. 10
In-State Tuition: $8,340; Out-of-State Tuition: $30,122
Chapel Hill, NC

Click here for the complete ranking of America’s Top Colleges.

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