The Best Colleges in the U.S.
To determine the top colleges in the U.S., Degreechoices has applied an economic analysis model to over 2,000 institutions of higher education. Our ratings system is meant to illustrate which schools offer superior economic outcomes, on average, in terms of relative cost and earnings. Economic outcomes are a crucial, yet often overlooked, consideration students must take into account when picking colleges to attend.
»Read: How we rank colleges
Our college rankings are split into a few different categories outlined below.
The best national universities
National universities include those categorized by the Carnegie Classification system as doctoral universities. Doctoral universities are institutions offering a wide variety of undergraduate and post-graduate programs and demonstrating a high level of research activity.
1. Princeton University
2. Stanford University
3. CUNY City College
The best liberal arts colleges
Liberal arts colleges are primarily undergraduate institutions, with the majority of degrees awarded in the liberal arts. These schools are almost always private and much smaller than national universities.
1. Claremont McKenna College
2. Harvey Mudd College
3. Washington and Lee University
Hispanic-serving institutions (HSI)
For an institution to be categorized as an HSI, Hispanic students must account for at least 25% of the student body. Most HSIs are public universities and colleges located in urban settings with large Hispanic populations.
1. CUNY Lehman College
2. CUNY City College
3. CUNY Hunter College
Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU)
HBCUs were established prior to the Civil Rights act, with a purpose of providing education to black students. More than 70% of HBCU students depend on Pell Grants, and a majority are first-generation students. Even so, HBCUs graduate a relatively high percentage of black students with STEM majors as compared to non-HBCU institutions.
1. Elizabeth City State University
2. Fayetteville State University
3. Xavier University of Louisiana
There are just over 40 women’s colleges in the U.S. today. Women pursuing STEM, business, or political studies may benefits most from attending women’s colleges, as these courses are often disproportionately male at coed colleges. A study by the Women’s College Coalition found 81% of women’s college graduates reported feeling ‘extremely’ or ‘very prepared’ for a career, compared to 65% nationally.
1. Texas Woman’s University
2. Barnard College
3. Mount Saint Mary’s University
The best for-profit schools
Though they take some flack, for-profit schools provide educational opportunities to many students that might not otherwise be able to attend college. Pick the right school and program, and you can get a very solid return on your investment – often in entirely online format.
1. Columbia Southern University
2. West Coast University-Dallas
3. Neumont College of Computer Science
The best colleges by state
Choosing the best college in your state or which out-of-state college to attend can be a fraught process for both students and parents. Location is key, but so are the long-term payoffs of your degree. We use official government data (College Scorecard and IPEDS) to provide prospective students and their parents with actionable guidance on which colleges in each state provide economic value and which do not.
College advice – picking colleges, and what comes after
How to choose a college is just one piece of the puzzle. The college application process comes first, with its own set of challenges. Once you accept an offer and start studying, then picking a major, balancing school and life, considering a study abroad program, and finding the right extracurriculars can all become overwhelming. See below a selection of our blog pieces with advice on all these topics and more.
Get advice on:
- Decision fatigue
- Picking a major
- Getting the support you need at college
- How to make the most out of your college years
- Dealing with addictions on campus
- Choosing between on-campus vs off-campus housing
- What to do if you’re failing a class
- Extracurricular activities
- Studying abroad
- Depression at college
- Managing learning differences
- Dealing with college ‘culture shock’