Best Colleges in the Country

If you’re the best student in your high school, you deserve to go to the best school. The following ten schools were ranked as the top ten best colleges in the country by USNews & World Report based on academic excellence. These schools are also strong research institutions as well. All of these schools are really prestigious, so attending one of these schools will have you set for life.

  • Harvard – Cambridge, Massachusetts – USNews Ranking: #1

Located across the river from Boston, Harvard is the oldest university in the country, established in 1636. Eight US presidents attended school at Harvard, including George W. Bush and Barack Obama. Harvard is also home to the Harvard School of Law (which Barack Obama graduated from) and the Kennedy School of Government, named after Harvard alumnus John F. Kennedy.

COSTS: Before travel costs and health insurance coverage, ~$56,400

ACCEPTANCE RATE: For 2013, 5.79%


  • Princeton – Princeton, New Jersey – USNews Ranking: #1

Halfway between New York City and Philadelphia, Princeton was established before the American Revolution, in 1746. Three US presidents graduated from Princeton: Grover Cleveland, Woodrow Wilson and James Madison. The campus is home to the historic Nassau Hall, a chapel that can hold 2,000 students and an art museum with over 70,000 items.

COSTS: ~$56,750

ACCEPTANCE RATE: For 2013, 7.3%


  • Yale – New Haven, Connecticut – USNews Ranking: #3

Harvard’s rival, Yale University was established in 1701, the third oldest college in the United States (the second oldest is The College of William and Mary in Virginia). Five US Presidents attended school at Yale; in fact, a Yale graduate was on the Democratic or Republican ticket in every presidential election from 1972 to 2004.

COSTS: Last year’s tuition was estimated at $58,600. Yale offers need-based financial aid.

ACCEPTANCE RATE: For 2013, 6.72%


  • Columbia – New York City, New York – USNews Ranking: #4

Columbia University was established in 1754 and is located in Manhattan. Three US presidents attended school here, including Barack Obama and FDR. Columbia also has a rich art tradition, with people such as director Sidney Lumet, every member of Vampire Weekend, and writer Hunter S. Thompson.

COSTS: ~$50,100, although living on campus bumps it up to ~$61,600

ACCEPTANCE RATE: For 2013, 6.89%


  • University of Chicago– Chicago, Illinois – USNews Ranking: #4

Established in 1891, the University of Chicago has had a lot of influence on academics. If you have ever written a paper in Chicago style, thank this school. The first nuclear reactor was constructed on campus during World War II. Carl Sagan earned all of his degrees at this school. The University of Chicago partially operates Fermilab, a national lab that focuses on particle physics.

COSTS: ~$63,900 if you live on-campus

ACCEPTANCE RATE: For 2013, 8.8%.


  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology – Cambridge, Massachusetts – USNews Ranking: #6

Unlike most of the other colleges on this list, MIT has a focus on the sciences. Found in 1861, MIT was the largest R&D contractor for the USA during World War II. Many computing innovations started at MIT, including the first video games and the open source software movement. However, MIT also has strong showings outside of science: linguist Noam Chomsky has worked there for the last 50 years and the School of Architecture is the oldest in the country.

COSTS: ~$57,000

ACCEPTANCE RATE: For 2013, 8.2%


  • Stanford Stanford, California – USNews Ranking: #6

Stanford University was founded near Palo Alto in 1891. Stanford has highly influenced the Silicon Valley; some of the companies started by Stanford graduates include Hewlett-Packard, Google and Yahoo. Its athletics are also top notch, as Stanford has won the NACDA’s Director’s Cup every year for the last 19 years. President Herbert Hoover graduated from Stanford as well.
COSTS: ~$56,000 per year, although financial aid program reduces the price to ~$13,000 for those with incomes below $100,000 and to nothing for those with incomes below $60,000

ACCEPTANCE RATE: For 2013, 5.7%


  • Duke – Durham, North Carolina – USNews Ranking: #8

Duke was established in 1838 in Trinity, North Carolina before moving to Durham in 1892. Duke spent $983 million on research in 2010, more than any other college on this list. Duke is also a strong athletic institution, especially in regards to men’s basketball. Richard Nixon graduated from this school with a law degree.

COSTS: ~$58,300

ACCEPTANCE RATE: For 2013, 9.9%


  • University of Pennsylvania – Philadelphia, Pennsylvania – USNews Ranking: #8

Founded in 1740, UPenn is the home to the first business school in America, Wharton, and the first medicine school in America, Perelman. Researchers at UPenn invented the first general purpose computer, the Hepatitis B vaccine and cognitivie therapy, among many other things. William Henry Harrison, who was the President of the United States for thirty days, attended this school.

COSTS: $61,800

ACCEPTANCE RATE: For 2013, 12.1%


  • California Institute of Technology – Pasadena, California – USNews Ranking: #10

Like its rival, MIT, Caltech has a strong emphasis on the sciences and engineering, perhaps even more so. The campus was the home of Richard Feynman and where did most of his research. Caltech currently operates the Jet Propulsion Laboratory with NASA and is also the home of the Einstein Papers Project. If you’re incredibly smart and interested in science, I would highly recommend that you apply to both MIT and Caltech.

COSTS: ~$59,000

ACCEPTANCE RATE: For 2012, 11.7%


A brief warning: the best colleges in the country are very challenging to enter. As you can see in the acceptance rates, these schools have become highly selective in recent times. Almost all of these schools posted record low admission rates in 2013. In particular, University of Chicago’s admission rate fell from over 25% in 2009 to around 9% in 2013. In order to get into these top ranked colleges now, you pretty much have to be the best student at your school. Good luck!


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John Kesler

John Kesler

John Kesler is a senior studying communication at the University of California, Davis. If he is on campus, he can be found in the basement offices of the newspaper or the radio station. At home, he enjoys listening to whatever music he can, reading whatever books he can, and taking walks wherever he can.
John Kesler

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