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Top 25 Best Value Colleges 2014

Chase Peterson-Withorn
Graduates toss their hats in the air at the end of the commencement ceremony at the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York, May 28, 2014. U.S. President Barack Obama's commencement address was the first in a series of speeches that he and top advisers will use to explain U.S. foreign policy in the aftermath of conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan and lay out a broad vision for the rest of his presidency. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS MILITARY)

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.

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.

More on Forbes: The Best Public Colleges

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

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