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

U.S. News staff

Introduction by Brian Burnsed

Princeton University tied Harvard University as the top-ranked National University in U.S. News & World Report's 2012 rankings of Best Colleges. Last year, Harvard stood alone as the best ranked National University, a category that encompasses large, research-oriented schools.

No changes took place at the very top of the rankings of National Liberal Arts Colleges—schools that emphasize undergraduate education and award at least half of their degrees in liberal arts fields—as Williams College once again edged Amherst College for the highest rank.

Though college sticker prices continue to skyrocket, and it will now cost some students more than $200,000 to attain a degree at the aforementioned schools and others ranked by U.S. News, data indicate that the value of a college degree hasn't waned. A recent report by the Georgetown University Center for Education and Workforce indicates that those with bachelor's degrees earn 75 percent more over their lifetimes than those who only have high school diplomas.

While the national unemployment rate topped out at 9.8 percent in 2010, it was 5.4 percent among those with bachelor's degrees in the same year. Plus, a college or university doesn't need to cost six figures to provide a solid education; U.S. News highlights some of these schools in lists such as the best up-and-coming schools, the best schools for B students, and schools that provide the best value, to name a few.

There was little change among the top-20 ranked National Universities, though the University of Chicago jumped four spots, from a tie for ninth last year to a tie for fifth this year. Among the biggest movers in the top 50 are the University of Miami, which jumped nine spots from a tie for 47th to a tie for 38th, and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, which dropped from a tie for 41st to a tie for 50th this year.

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Some California schools are weathering the state's ongoing financial storm with their academic reputations intact, as the University of California—Berkeley and the University of California—Los Angeles were once again ranked as the top two public National Universities. Only three public schools—Berkeley, UCLA, and the University of Virginia—are ranked among the top 25 National Universities.

Like National Universities, there was little flux in the rankings of the top National Liberal Arts Colleges. Bryn Mawr College made one of the biggest leaps among the top 50 schools, catapulting five spots to from a tie for 30th to a tie for 25th. Conversely, Smith College fell five spots from a tie for 14th to a tie for 19th.

The rankings of Regional Universities, which offer an array of undergraduate and graduate degrees but few doctoral programs, are split amongst four quadrants of the country. Villanova University, Rollins College, Creighton University, and Trinity University all retained the top ranks in the North, South, Midwest, and West, respectively.

However, there was change among the top Regional Colleges—schools that emphasize undergraduate education, but award fewer than 50 percent of degrees in the liberal arts. This year, John Brown University garnered the top spot in the South; Carroll College earned top billing in the West after last year's top school in that region, the United States Air Force Academy, was reclassified as a National Liberal Arts College. The United States Coast Guard Academy and Taylor University retained their top spots in the North and Midwest, respectively.

After 27 years of ranking Best Colleges, U.S. News continues to make additions beyond the data, aimed at providing students and parents the tools to find a school that best meets their needs. Given the explosion of social media in the American higher educational landscape, U.S. News now provides links to many institutions' Facebook and Twitter pages. Also, a new Facebook tool on college directory pages on usnews.com allows readers to see which of their friends attended, or are attending, a particular school.

The Top 10 National Universities

Denis Tangney Jr./iStockphoto

1. Harvard University (tie)

City: Cambridge, MA

Total Enrollment: 19,627

2011-2012 Tuition and Fees: $39,849

Application Deadline: 1/1

Brian Wilson/Princeton University Office of Communications

1. Princeton University (tie)

City: Princeton, NJ

Total Enrollment: 7,802

2011-2012 Tuition and Fees: $37,000

Application Deadline: 1/1


3. Yale University

City: New Haven, CT

Total Enrollment: 11,701

2011-2012 Tuition and Fees: $40,500

Application Deadline: 12/31

Eileen Barroso/Columbia University

4. Columbia University

City: New York, NY

Total Enrollment: 22,283

2011-2012 Tuition and Fees: $45,290

Application Deadline: 1/1

Next: MIT, Duke and More

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