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    Best Colleges in the US: Guide for 2021

    September 22, 2021 | Staff Writers

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    Millions of people begin their higher education journey at colleges and universities across the nation every year. For many, a college education is the obvious next step after high school graduation. However, for some, the cost of going to school can be daunting if not completely overwhelming. The cost of attending college definitely warrants consideration and a careful look at the benefits of earning a degree. Attending one of the best colleges in the USA can definitely bring exceptional benefits. Earning a BS degree can bring you better job prospects and job security, increase your earning potential, qualify you for added benefits, and expand your career options. Online colleges can also provide a great place for further developing passion and experience in an area that you’re interested in, but not sure if you want to pursue as a career. The relationships you form in college can also last a lifetime.

    Rank School Location
    1University of North CarolinaChapel Hill, North Carolina
    2University of California – San Diego San Diego, California
    3University of MichiganAnn Arbor, Michigan
    4Rice UniversityHouston, Texas
    5Washington and Lee UniversityLexington city, Virginia

    Clearly, the many benefits of attending a top-level college pay off if you take the proper measures to plan academically and financially. Statistically, way more often than not, the benefits of college payout, in a big way. However, even when the decision to attend college is made, you may still be struggling with the choice of which college to attend. You may have an interest in a specific field already, or want to attend school in a specific state, but how do you know which university would best fit your needs and provide a quality education? There are thousands of colleges claiming to be the best, and the decision can be extremely difficult.

    What is the Best College in the USA?

    At BestValueSchools.org, we’ve researched thousands of the top colleges in USA and have analyzed each school, keeping in mind the factors most important for students. These include quality of education, degree and course offerings, cost of tuition, and student support resources among many others. Through this process, we’ve developed a list of the colleges providing the best value with those factors in mind. Each of the schools on the following list provides a top-tier education at the best possible price. Hopefully, this list will be a great starting point for your college search and will provide you with the resources you need to make an informed decision. In all reality, each of the schools on this list provides exceptional education and would be a great place to pursue higher education.

    The 30 Best Colleges in USA

    1

    University of North Carolina

    • Chapel Hill, North Carolina
    • Graduation Rate: 90%

    The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is one of the oldest public universities in the entire United States. Since its establishment in 1789, the school has grown to now host a student body of over 18,000. The school offers a wide variety of undergraduate and graduate programs in a huge number of different areas. Apart from its academic excellence, the university also boasts an incredible college atmosphere due to its location in Chapel Hill which offers great restaurants, music, and shopping. UNC is also one of the most storied universities in the realm of college basketball offering an electric athletic experience.  

    School Overview

    Tuition Cost: $33,648
    Graduation Rate: 90%
    Median Salary 10 Years After Graduation: $50,400
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    2

    University of California – San Diego

    • San Diego, California
    • Graduation Rate: 86%

    The University of California – San Diego is one of several California-based schools on this list. UC San Diego, with its origins stretching back to 1903, now has over 35,000 on-campus students enrolled. The school is focused on creating change-makers who innovate the world in which they live. That approach includes an incredible distinctive campus with phenomenal resources and breathtaking architecture. The faculty is another very strong point for the school. Sixteen Nobel laureates have taught at the university. With hundreds of programs to choose from, UC San Diego allows students to pursue studies in anything from Anthropology to Visual Arts.

    School Overview

    Tuition Cost: $40,225
    Graduation Rate: 86%
    Acceptance Rate: 36%
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    3

    University of Michigan

    • Ann Arbor, Michigan
    • Graduation Rate: 90%

    The University of Michigan, located in Ann Arbor, was established two-hundred years ago in 1817 and has grown to become one of the best U.S. universities in the nation. Michigan is another large university, hosting a student population of over 28,000 students. As great news to potential students, the 61% of students at the school receive some type of financial aid. UM is known for its undergraduate business school, but also reports that nearly half of bachelor graduates go on to pursue master’s degrees within a few years of finishing. Michigan is another school with a strong athletic presence. Both the football and basketball teams have done well in the past and look to be on the rise currently.

    School Overview

    Tuition Cost: $43,476
    Graduation Rate: 90%
    Median Salary 10 Years After Graduation: $57,900
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    4

    Rice University

    • Houston, Texas
    • Graduation Rate: 91%

    Rice University offers a more intimate student experience with a student population of only about 4,000. Located in Houston’s museum district, the school provides an exceptional student life experience. One interesting effort to support student life is that each student is assigned to one of eleven residential colleges whether they live on campus or not. These colleges provide students with housing, dining, and academic and social events. Rice is also one of the best engineering colleges in USA. It has several highly ranked schools that make up the university including well-respected music, engineering, graduate business, and architecture schools. The exceptional student experience combined with the academic rigor help Rice make the list of the best colleges in the USA.

    School Overview

    Tuition Cost: $43,918
    Graduation Rate: 91%
    Median Salary 10 Years After Graduation: $59,900
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    5

    Washington and Lee University

    • Lexington city, Virginia
    • Graduation Rate: 89%

    Washington and Lee University is a school located in Lexington, Virginia that is steeped in tradition. One interesting tradition is the school’s honor code which allows students to schedule their own exams and take them without supervision. Students at Washington and Lee can choose from 37 majors based in the liberal arts. The approach to education from WLU centers around a mindfulness of how education relates to emerging technologies and the benefits of interdisciplinary studies. Washington and Lee are also known for producing successful graduates with great opportunities for fulfilling careers.

    School Overview

    Tuition Cost: $44,660
    Graduation Rate: 89%
    Median Salary 10 Years After Graduation: $77,600
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    6

    Massachusetts Institute of Technology

    • Cambridge, Massachusetts
    • Graduation Rate: 92%

    The Massachusetts Institute of Technology is no unfamiliar name to rankings of the best schools in the country. As one of the most prestigious universities in the nation, it consistently draws the best and brightest students in the world. MIT has a student population of only a little over 4,500. Research endeavors at this university are huge undertakings in exciting topics, as the university spends more than $650 million a year doing work for organizations like The Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Defense. The majority of students at MIT live on campus and freshmen are required to do so.

    School Overview

    Tuition Cost: $45,016
    Graduation Rate: 92%
    Median Salary 10 Years After Graduation: $91,600
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    7

    University of Virginia

    • Charlottesville, Virginia
    • Graduation Rate: 94%

    The University of Virginia was founded by Thomas Jefferson back in 1819 and is located in Charlottesville. UV annually hosts a little over 22,000 students. The school offers four different undergraduate schools including the colleges of arts and sciences, architecture, engineering, and nursing. Student involvement on campus is a huge priority for this school, and the university offers over 600 student clubs and 25 varsity sports. The Jeffersonian architecture displayed on campus is another attractive feature of the school, giving students a peek into life during the birth of the country.

    School Overview

    Tuition Cost: $45,066
    Graduation Rate: 94%
    Median Salary 10 Years After Graduation: $58,600
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    8

    Princeton University

    • Princeton, New Jersey
    • Graduation Rate: 97%

    Princeton University is one of the oldest universities in the nation, originally established in 1746. As an Ivy League school, the academic excellence of Princeton goes nearly unmatched by any other institution in the nation. However, the university does offer an exceptional college experience outside of the classroom. Students live in one of six residential colleges which include dining services. Juniors and seniors also have the option to join one of ten eating clubs which provide additional social opportunities. Princeton also has a decided emphasis on service. One great example of the academic rigor of Princeton is the fact that even undergraduate students are required to write a senior thesis.

    School Overview

    Tuition Cost: $45,320
    Graduation Rate: 97%
    Median Salary 10 Years After Graduation: $75,100
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    9

    Vanderbilt University

    • Nashville, Tennessee
    • Graduation Rate: 93%

    Vanderbilt University was established by Cornelius Vanderbilt, an American businessman and railroad tycoon in 1873. The school caters to nearly 12,000 students split nearly evenly between graduate and undergraduate students. Slightly more women attend the school than do men. Vanderbilt has helped students to earn nearly 4,000 degrees since the beginning of the school. Outside of the highly-ranked undergraduate and graduate programs, another attractive feature of Vanderbilt is its location in Nashville, Tennessee. Students are able to enjoy one of the best music scenes in the USA and in the world at a short distance from their school.

    School Overview

    Tuition Cost: $45,610
    Graduation Rate: 93%
    Median Salary 10 Years After Graduation: $60,900
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    10

    Davidson College

    • Davidson, North Carolina
    • Graduation Rate: 93%

    Although Davidson College is located in North Carolina, the school has a tremendous international reach, with a very strong study abroad program. By graduation, nearly 80% of students have studied internationally through one of the over 100 study abroad options. Another way Davidson involves students is through its many Division I sports teams. Nearly a quarter of Davidson’s 2,000 undergraduate students play on one of the varsity teams. Small class sizes at Davidson create a uniquely personal educational experience for students, who receive more intimate and customized instruction from expert faculty members. Another benefit available to students is Davidson’s extensive array of student services and resources.

    School Overview

    Tuition Cost: $46,966
    Graduation Rate: 93%
    Median Salary 10 Years After Graduation: $58,500
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    11

    Harvard University

    • Cambridge, Massachusetts
    • Graduation Rate: 98%

    Harvard University was established all the way back in 1636. Harvard is synonymous with top-level education. The university boasts one of the very best business and medical schools in the world. It’s government, law, applied sciences, and graduate education schools also rank in as some of the top schools in the nation. Student social life stems from residential colleges with freshmen at the center of campus and upperclassmen in the surrounding areas. Among the thousands of distinguished alumni of Harvard are eight different U.S. Presidents. The school also enjoys the largest endowment out of any university in the world. Another important fact is that 70% of students receive some type of financial aid.

    School Overview

    Tuition Cost: $47,074
    Graduation Rate: 98%
    Median Salary 10 Years After Graduation: $87,200
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    12

    California Institute of Technology

    • Pasadena, California
    • Graduation Rate: 92%

    The California Institute of Technology is one of the most respected engineering and science schools in the nation and actually has an intimate connection with NASA. Caltech manages NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Located in Pasadena, California, the private institution annually hosts just over 2,000 students. One huge benefit of attending Caltech is one of the best teacher-student ratios in the world. On average, each teacher works with only three students. The varied learning opportunities and hands-on research projects further supplement students’ educational experiences.

    School Overview

    Tuition Cost: $47, 577
    Graduation Rate: 92%
    Median Salary 10 Years After Graduation: $74,000
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    13

    Pomona College

    • Claremont, California
    • Graduation Rate: 94%

    Pomona College is another excellent, but smaller school located in California. Sitting about 35 miles east of Los Angeles, the school calls Claremont home. Pomona offers 48 different majors in the arts, humanities, social sciences and natural sciences. The diverse student body at Pomona also benefits from low teacher to student ratios with eight students per professor. Due to its location, Pomona offers a great opportunity for fieldwork and internships while working closely with professors on research. One reason for Pomona’s success is its skill in balancing resources belonging to a large university with a smaller student body. Pomona is one of the smallest, most tightly knit schools, but is one of the best in the USA.

    School Overview

    Tuition Cost: $47,620
    Graduation Rate: 94%
    Median Salary 10 Years After Graduation: $52,600
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    14

    Stanford University

    • Stanford, California
    • Graduation Rate: 93%

    Stanford University is another extremely well-known university based on academic achievement. One very attractive feature of the school is the campus itself. The pristine campus sits in the Bay Area of California in close proximity to major urban areas. Many students choose to live on campus the entirety of their college career, however, doing so is only required of freshmen. Some of the best programs from the university come from the graduate schools which include the schools of education, law, engineering, medicine, and a tremendous graduate business school. The study and performance of the arts is also an exceptional strength of Stanford.

    School Overview

    Tuition Cost: $47,940
    Graduation Rate: 93%
    Median Salary 10 Years After Graduation: $80,900
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    15

    Emory University

    • Atlanta, Georgia
    • Graduation Rate: 89%

    Apart from providing top-level undergraduate, graduate, and professional programs, Emory University is also recognized for its leading healthcare systems. Emory is located in the Druid Hills neighborhood of Atlanta. Although the university places emphasis on teaching practice, the school also provides a phenomenal research experience with nearly $600 million in research funding each year. This university is another school that helps students to get out of the states and study abroad. One in three undergraduates spends time studying in foreign countries during their time at Emory. Two of Emory’s best schools include the undergraduate business and nursing schools.

    School Overview

    Tuition Cost: $47,954
    Graduation Rate: 89%
    Median Salary 10 Years After Graduation: $59,000
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    16

    Yale University

    • New Haven, Connecticut
    • Graduation Rate: 97%

    Yale University is another well-established school of huge academic renown. The New Haven, Connecticut school was founded in 1701 and is the second-oldest Ivy League school. Yale is widely regarded for its arts programs, especially the music and drama departments. Other top offerings from the school come from the highly touted school of medicine, management, and nursing schools. Students attending this college live in one of twelve residential colleges alongside a master and dean who spends significant time interacting with students. Only 6% of applicants are admitted to this school, but given acceptance, any of the 70 possible majors will lead to a very respected degree and sure chance of professional success anywhere in the country.

    School Overview

    Tuition Cost: $49,480
    Graduation Rate: 97%
    Median Salary 10 Years After Graduation: $66,000
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    17

    University of Notre Dame

    • Notre Dame, Indiana
    • Graduation Rate: 95%

    The University of Notre Dame is a storied college with rich traditions and a strong foundation of faith. Obviously, the football team has had incredible success and is one of the centers of campus life, but students also enjoy many activities centered around creating relationships and connecting through shared faith. With a setting in South Bend, Indiana, Notre Dame has a gorgeous campus with incredible vistas and breathtaking architecture. The university has been serving students since 1842 and currently hosts individuals from all fifty states and over 100 different countries.

    School Overview

    Tuition Cost: $49,685
    Graduation Rate: 95.3%
    Median Salary 10 Years After Graduation: $69,400
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    18

    Bowdoin College

    • Brunswick, Maine
    • Graduation Rate: 93%

    Bowdoin College is another school on this list from the east coast, located in Maine. Bowdoin offers a unique location with close proximity to a range of attractive destinations. Nestled in the small but active town of Brunswick, the college sits close to Boston and Portland in the south, beautiful farmland in the north, the Atlantic coast to the east and a natural playground of lakes, rivers, and mountains to the west. The school truly represents the benefits of attending great schools in the USA. As far as academics go, Bowdoin works to help students discover and develop passions for different subjects, requiring students to take at least one course in each of five general subject areas. The school also offers 35 different first-year seminars to choose from.

    School Overview

    Tuition Cost: $49,900
    Graduation Rate: 93%
    Median Salary 10 Years After Graduation: $54,800
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    19

    Northwestern University

    • Evanston, Illinois
    • Graduation Rate: 94%

    Northwestern University thrives on student involvement. The Evanston, Illinois-based school offers three different campuses and hosts over 21,000 students. Its 19 intercollegiate athletic teams and over 500 student organizations and clubs give all of those students a chance to connect with peers and spend time doing something they love when not in class. The school offers a number of undergraduate, graduate, and professional programs for students to choose from. Another unique feature of the school is its focus on innovation and the opportunity for entrepreneurship right on campus with two start-up incubators.

    School Overview

    Tuition Cost: $50,855
    Graduation Rate: 94%
    Median Salary 10 Years After Graduation: $64,100
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    20

    Cornell University

    • Ithaca, New York
    • Graduation Rate: 93%

    This Ivy League school prioritizes public engagement in order to effect positive change in the quality of life in the state of New York, the country, and the world. Cornell University is located in Ithaca, New York with over 21,000 current students. The school has some unique academic offerings with over 80 program choices including hotel administration and U.S. American studies. Two especially high-ranking schools from the university include the colleges of architecture and engineering. Cornell is another school commonly seen on lists of the best colleges in the U.S.

    School Overview

    Tuition Cost: $50,953
    Graduation Rate: 93%
    Median Salary 10 Years After Graduation: $70,900
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    21

    Tulane University

    • New Orleans, Louisiana
    • Graduation Rate: 80%

    Another university with a great architecture program is Tulane University. However, if you’re interested in something else, the school offers over 80 different majors to choose from. One strong point of this New Orleans university is its experienced and engaged faculty. Although Tulane professors are intimately involved in innovative research and nation-shaping projects, they dedicate incredible time and attention to their students within small classrooms. With only a little over 8,000 students attending the school, each individual receives personalized instruction from experts in the field. Due to its location in New Orleans, the university also enjoys an incredible cultural scene and a wide array of off-campus entertainment.

    School Overview

    Tuition Cost: $51,010
    Graduation Rate: 80%
    Acceptance Rate: 30%
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    22

    Brown University

    • Providence, Rhode Island
    • Graduation Rate: 95%

    Brown University is an Ivy League school made up of tremendously diverse individuals. With just under 9,000 students this school offers a more intimate college feel. One incredible liberty students from Brown University enjoy is the “open curriculum,” allowing students to personalize liberal arts course study. The school has been open since the mid-1700s and consistently churns out incredibly high-achieving alumni. The Providence, Rhode Island school also benefits students with a unique global reach as well as cultural events and campus activities.

    School Overview

    Tuition Cost: $51,367
    Graduation Rate: 95%
    Median Salary 10 Years After Graduation: $59,700
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    23

    University of Pennsylvania

    • Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
    • Graduation Rate: 96%

    Benjamin Franklin founded the University of Pennsylvania back in 1740. The school, located in Philadelphia is extremely well-established and well-respected for its high level of academic requirement and achievement. Although this university does offer residential colleges, many students live off-campus. Nearly a quarter of the school’s student body is involved in Greek life. Four different colleges offer undergraduate degrees at the university, but the school is better known for its excellent graduate programs from twelve different colleges. These include the Wharton Business School, School of Education and even the School of Dental Medicine. Wharton is one of the best-regarded business schools in the nation.

    School Overview

    Tuition Cost: $51,464
    Graduation Rate: 96%
    Median Salary 10 Years After Graduation: $78,200
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    24

    University of California – Los Angeles

    • Los Angeles, California
    • Graduation Rate: 91%

    The University of California at Los Angeles sits in one of the most influential cities in the world. L.A. is a star-studded town full of opportunity. UCLA seeks to provide the same degree of opportunity with an optimistic approach in confronting problems and improving the world. Due it’s incredible location, as well as its academic excellence, UCLA is the most applied-for college in the nation. The school offers 125 different majors, suiting the needs and interests of all kinds of different students. For new students, the campus is a social epicenter with over 96% of freshmen living on campus.

    School Overview

    Tuition Cost: $51,672
    Graduation Rate: 91%
    Median Salary 10 Years After Graduation: $59,200
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    25

    Carnegie Mellon University

    • Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
    • Graduation Rate: 88%

    Carnegie Mellon University is another excellent school in the USA with a diverse student body. Its nearly 14,000 students come from 109 countries across the world to pursue an outstanding education in Pittsburgh. Many of the colleges and programs at Carnegie Mellon rank as some of the best in the nation, including the computer science, drama, information and technology management, and engineering programs. Pittsburgh is also attractive to students as a city on the rise in the technology industry. Its low cost of living and opportunity for job growth make it a great place to live in during college and beyond.

    School Overview

    Tuition Cost: $52,040
    Graduation Rate: 88%
    Acceptance Rate: 13.7%
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    26

    University of Southern California

    • Los Angeles, California
    • Graduation Rate: 91%

    The University of Southern California is the longtime rival of UCLA and is also based in Los Angeles. Students at USC join the ranks of distinguished alumni recognized as Nobel laureates, National Academy members, and MacArthur Fellows. Over 44,000 students currently attend this university. Students are given the unique capability of customizing their education with the school’s Renaissance Ideal, allowing individuals to choose major and minor combinations that fit their interests no matter how unrelated they may be. Another great attractive feature of the school is the newly constructed USC Village, providing on-campus residential living along with shopping.

    School Overview

    Tuition Cost: $52,217
    Graduation Rate: 91%
    Median Salary 10 Years After Graduation: $66,100
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    27

    Tufts University

    • Medford, Massachusetts
    • Graduation Rate: 92%

    Tufts University was founded in 1852 and is based in Medford, Massachusetts. Nearly 12,000 students currently attend the school, pursuing one of its 150 major and minor options. Tufts is exceptional at providing a unique balance of research and liberal arts for a moderate-sized university. The size and academic excellence of the school provide an incredibly engaging environment for students and set the school apart from any in the area. Tufts also provides unique course offerings with courses like “Circus and Society” and “American Witches.” Such variety and creative learning approaches propel Tufts into the ranks of the best in the states.

    School Overview

    Tuition Cost: $52,430
    Graduation Rate: 92%
    Median Salary 10 Years After Graduation: $67,800
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    28

    University of Chicago

    • Chicago, Illinois
    • Graduation Rate: 93%

    The University of Chicago thrives on its big-city setting and provides an excellent student experience in all aspects. The academic rigor provided by this prestigious university is matched by the rich campus experience and opportunity provided by the Windy City. Student social life centers around campus with all freshmen required to live on campus and more than half of upperclassmen choosing to continue doing so. Every student living on campus is assigned to a house within their dorm providing academic and social support. A few of the best programs at the University of Chicago are offered through the Booth School of Business, the Law School, the Pritzker School of Medicine and the Harris School of Public Policy Studies.

    School Overview

    Tuition Cost: $52,491
    Graduation Rate: 93%
    Median Salary 10 Years After Graduation: $62,800
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    29

    Harvey Mudd College

    • Claremont, California
    • Graduation Rate: 91%

    Harvey Mudd College is the final California school on this list, located in the city of Clairemont. Students are pushed to reach their full potential at this college with rigorous academic expectations and a unique approach to interdisciplinary thinking. 99% of students live on campus all four years at Harvey Mudd. The residence halls themselves even offer leadership and organizational positions for students to get more involved and connected with their peers. Research, clinical, and study abroad opportunities are all available for students at this college as well.

    School Overview

    Tuition Cost: $52,916
    Graduation Rate: 91%
    Acceptance Rate: 13%
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    30

    Columbia University

    • New York City, New York
    • Graduation Rate: 90%

    Located on the upper west side of Manhattan, Columbia University thrives on its connection to New York City and connects students with vast arrays of internship and networking opportunities to facilitate the job search and gain invaluable experience. 90% of students actually live on campus at this university, creating a rich social scene for students. The college is somewhat exclusive with only slightly over 6,000 students, however, since its establishment in 1754, the school has helped tens of thousands of students on to graduate. For graduate students, Columbia also offers exceptional programs in journalism, law, and business. Columbia rounds out our list of the best colleges in the USA.

    School Overview

    Tuition Cost: $55,161
    Graduation Rate: 90%
    Median Salary 10 Years After Graduation: $72,900
    Visit School Website

    With a top-level college education from any of the schools on this list, you’ll be prepared to confront real-world problems with cutting-edge solutions. Hopefully your school of choice is in the top 10 colleges in USA. If you’re interested in attending any of these schools, request more information or take a closer look at the program offerings. Each of these schools was evaluated and included based on the most important factors for students like you.

    We know that finding the best school to fit your unique needs can be a huge challenge. For that reason, we work hard to develop lists of the best schools based on the characteristics most important for you. Whether that be the cost of attendance, student success, resources available, flexibility of schedule, or any other number of important factors, we’ve got you covered. For more information about our ranking process and to find lists of schools based on specific characteristics, check out our methodology page.

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