The 50 Best Colleges In America

When it comes to assessing the value of a college, only one thing matters: how much that school will help you succeed in life. So when it comes to choosing a college, it pays, literally, to choose well.

For our fifth annual list of the Best Colleges in America, we asked our readers — professionals in a variety of industries — what they consider to be the best colleges in America.

And for the fourth year in a row, they rated the Massachusetts Institute of Technology as the number one college in America.

Go straight to the colleges »

Stanford and Harvard both maintained second and third place, respectively.

More than 1,000 readers responded to the survey; 91% of them have bachelor’s degrees, and 70% are involved in hiring decisions. Despite the steadily climbing costs of a college education, 52% of readers believe college is still worth it, and another 31% say a bachelor’s degree is worth it if it will help garner credibility, build a network, or achieve a specific means to an end.

“Are you going to learn any distinct, transferable skills?” one reader points out. “If the value of your degree would be negligible at a non-top-tier school, then what is the point of even pursuing it? That’s why we’re seeing so many people pursuing technology and (computer) networking degrees. In those markets, job prospects are often based on a skill set, not a piece of paper.”

Click here to go to a one-page version of our “best colleges” list »

Go to our Best Colleges home page to read about the most expensive colleges, the highest-paying majors, what it’s like at MIT, and more »

50. Penn State University

Penn State scored a 2.72 out of 5 on Business Insider's rating.

Tuition and fees: $31,024

After falling off Business Insider's Best Colleges list in 2012, the Nittany Lions are back. The Big 10 school produces academically well-rounded students who are prepared for the real world, making Penn State recruiters' top choice in 2010, according to the Wall Street Journal.

'A Penn State University degree is one of the most valuable degrees you can have when job searching after college graduation,' one reader said. 'With the largest alumni association in the world (of more than half a million), networking is built into your degree.'

Business Insider's rating is scored out of 5 and is based on the results of a 1,000-person reader survey that asked how much each college will help students succeed in life. Tuition was used as a tiebreaker, with cheaper tuition pushing a school to a higher spot.

49. Wesleyan University

Wesleyan scored a 2.73 out of 5 on Business Insider's rating.

Tuition and fees: $47,244

With roughly 2,900 undergraduates on a 316-acre campus overlooking the Conn. River, Wesleyan uses its small size to provide highly personal faculty support and customisable programs of study to students.

Its three-year option, in which students declare majors early and earn credit during summer sessions, helps students save roughly 20% on their education costs.

Business Insider's rating is scored out of 5 and is based on the results of a 1,000-person reader survey that asked how much each college will help students succeed in life. Tuition was used as a tiebreaker, with cheaper tuition pushing a school to a higher spot.

48. Claremont McKenna College

Claremont McKenna scored a 2.74 out of 5 on Business Insider's rating.

Tuition and fees: $45,625

Claremont McKenna College is arguably the most selective of the Claremont Colleges, a consortium of seven independent colleges located in Southern California. Educating leaders in business and public affairs, this liberal arts institution sent Class of 2012 graduates into the real world with starting salaries of $54,120.

Students choose a major and have the option to pursue a 'sequence,' which consist of a series of courses related to a subject and selected from different disciplines offered at the four other undergraduate Claremont Colleges.

Business Insider's rating is scored out of 5 and is based on the results of a 1,000-person reader survey that asked how much each college will help students succeed in life. Tuition was used as a tiebreaker, with cheaper tuition pushing a school to a higher spot.

47. Bowdoin College

Bowdoin scored a 2.74 out of 5 on Business Insider's rating.

Tuition and fees: $45,446

Since its 1802 founding in a small Maine town, Bowdoin has sought to apply a liberal arts education toward the common good.
The Joseph McKeen Center for the Common Good helps students discover the ways in which their talents, passions, and academic pursuits can be used for the benefit of society through public engagement.

Bowdoin College's biggest source of pride however is its faculty, a mix of nationally and internationally esteemed scientists, scholars, artists, and writers. 90-nine per cent of professors hold a Ph.D. or higher in their respective fields.

Business Insider's rating is scored out of 5 and is based on the results of a 1,000-person reader survey that asked how much each college will help students succeed in life. Tuition was used as a tiebreaker, with cheaper tuition pushing a school to a higher spot.

45. Boston University

Boston University scored a 2.79 out of 5 on Business Insider's rating.

Tuition and fees: $44,910

Another first-timer to the list, Boston University's traditions of inclusiveness, practical engagement and service, and entrepreneurship have led it to become one of the largest independent, nonprofit universities in the Northeast.

A concrete campus located in the bustling city of Boston, BU has nearly 100 study abroad programs in 23 countries, an active social media presence with more than 200 Facebook pages and groups, and 20-plus NCAA Division I varsity sports, including a multiple NCAA national championship-winning hockey team.

Business Insider's rating is scored out of 5 and is based on the results of a 1,000-person reader survey that asked how much each college will help students succeed in life. Tuition was used as a tiebreaker, with cheaper tuition pushing a school to a higher spot.

39. Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

RPI scored a 2.94 out of 5 on Business Insider's rating.

Tuition and fees: $36,053

The nation's oldest technological research university was founded on 'the purpose of instructing persons ... in the application of science to the common purposes of life.' Its five schools offer highly specialised STEM (science, technology, engineering, and maths) degrees, although more than half of 2012 graduates majored in engineering.

Students may enroll in an accelerated program such as the one-year Master of Science in Technology Commercialization and Entrepreneurship degree, completed in five years, or the B.S./J.D. in Science, Technology and Society Law, which takes six years to finish.

Business Insider's rating is scored out of 5 and is based on the results of a 1,000-person reader survey that asked how much each college will help students succeed in life. Tuition was used as a tiebreaker, with cheaper tuition pushing a school to a higher spot.

36. Boston College

Boston College scored a 3.09 out of 5 on Business Insider's rating.

Tuition and fees: $46,088

Boston College jumps four spots on our list, thanks in part to its tremendous growth in recent years. Undergraduate applications have soared 75% over the past decade, and voluntary giving by alumni has increased the university's endowment to $1.9 billion.

Bloomberg Businessweek ranks BC's Carroll School of Management the sixth-best undergraduate business school in the country.

Business Insider's rating is scored out of 5 and is based on the results of a 1,000-person reader survey that asked how much each college will help students succeed in life. Tuition was used as a tiebreaker, with cheaper tuition pushing a school to a higher spot.

35. Rice University

Rice scored a 3.09 out of 5 on Business Insider's rating.

Tuition and fees: $39,596

Slipping seven spots on the list, Rice University combines small liberal arts college advantages -- like a student-to-faculty ratio of 6 to 1 -- with the resources and facilities of a premiere research university. Its engineering program is the eighth-best in the country, according to U.S. News and World Report.

Rice practices need-blind admission, covering 100% of students' demonstrated need in paying tuition.

Business Insider's rating is scored out of 5 and is based on the results of a 1,000-person reader survey that asked how much each college will help students succeed in life. Tuition was used as a tiebreaker, with cheaper tuition pushing a school to a higher spot.

33. Emory University

Emory scored a 3.13 out of 5 on Business Insider's rating.

Tuition and fees: $44,108

Emory University calls for 'disruptive innovation': empowering faculty to change the institution's future, enhancing student experiences, and exploring new markets for resource growth.

One survey participant noted its Ivy-like ability to cultivate an 'extraordinary alumni network' -- helping Emory keep its No. 33 slot two years running.

Business Insider's rating is scored out of 5 and is based on the results of a 1,000-person reader survey that asked how much each college will help students succeed in life. Tuition was used as a tiebreaker, with cheaper tuition pushing a school to a higher spot.

32. University of Texas -- Austin

UT -- Austin scored a 3.14 out of 5 on Business Insider's rating.

Tuition and fees: $32,422*

The largest school in the University of Texas system, the Austin location has grown from a single building, eight teachers, two departments, and 221 students to a 350-acre main campus with 17 colleges and schools, about 24,000 faculty and staff, and more than 50,000 students.

UT -- Austin did not make our 2012 list but was ranked 34th in 2011.

*Tuition at UT -- Austin varies by program; listed is the tuition and fees for the liberal arts program

Business Insider's rating is scored out of 5 and is based on the results of a 1,000-person reader survey that asked how much each college will help students succeed in life. Tuition was used as a tiebreaker, with cheaper tuition pushing a school to a higher spot.

30. Harvey Mudd College

Harvey Mudd scored a 3.22 out of 5 on Business Insider's rating.

Tuition and fees: $46,609

Inching forward three spots on our list, Harvey Mudd College produces leaders in mathematics, physical and biological sciences, and engineering. 30-three per cent of its enrolled students were high school class valedictorians or salutatorians.

'Harvey Mudd is an amazing college with high levels of energy in all endeavours,' one survey participant wrote.

Business Insider's rating is scored out of 5 and is based on the results of a 1,000-person reader survey that asked how much each college will help students succeed in life. Tuition was used as a tiebreaker, with cheaper tuition pushing a school to a higher spot.

26. University of Notre Dame

Notre Dame scored a 3.31 out of 5 on Business Insider's rating.

Tuition and fees: $44,605

The Fighting Irish have 14 major research institutes, two dozen centres and special programs, and four undergraduate colleges including The Mendoza College of Business, the No. 1 nationally ranked business school according to Bloomberg Businessweek.

'Notre Dame's alumni network is worth the tuition alone,' one survey participant wrote. 'It helps you for the rest of your life.'

Business Insider's rating is scored out of 5 and is based on the results of a 1,000-person reader survey that asked how much each college will help students succeed in life. Tuition was used as a tiebreaker, with cheaper tuition pushing a school to a higher spot.

24. New York University

NYU graduation at Yankee Stadium on May 16, 2012.

NYU scored a 3.35 out of 5 on Business Insider's rating.

Tuition and fees: $44,845

NYU moved up one spot this year.

'NYU does an amazing job of staying up to date with applicable classes that relate directly to what students will do in the work world,' said one enthusiastic reader. 'Their best in class career center also better prepares students for internships -- their students are hands down the most well-prepared for interviews, with well-crafted resumes and the necessary skills to succeed -- and this transcends all programs -- business, arts and science, design, and engineering.'

Business Insider's rating is scored out of 5 and is based on the results of a 1,000-person reader survey that asked how much each college will help students succeed in life. Tuition was used as a tiebreaker, with cheaper tuition pushing a school to a higher spot.

22. University of Virginia

UVA scored a 3.44 out of 5 on Business Insider's rating.

Tuition and fees: $39,852

UVA ranked as the No. 2 best public university in the country by U.S. News & World Report, and remained No. 22 on our ranking. The school, founded by Thomas Jefferson himself in 1819, offers its students a lot of history to go with their education.

Business Insider's rating is scored out of 5 and is based on the results of a 1,000-person reader survey that asked how much each college will help students succeed in life. Tuition was used as a tiebreaker, with cheaper tuition pushing a school to a higher spot.

19. Georgetown University

Georgetown scored a 3.63 out of 5 on Business Insider's rating.

Tuition and fees: $45,196

In 20th place last year, Georgetown was more highly favoured by our readers this year, namely for the take-charge abilities Georgetown students develop in school. 'Sure Harvard and MIT kids are smart and jump right in,' one HR professional said, 'but we hire Georgetown graduates because they run the company.'

Business Insider's rating is scored out of 5 and is based on the results of a 1,000-person reader survey that asked how much each college will help students succeed in life. Tuition was used as a tiebreaker, with cheaper tuition pushing a school to a higher spot.

18. Carnegie Mellon University

Carnegie Mellon scored a 3.69 out of 5 on Business Insider's rating.

Tuition and fees: $47,642

Year after year, CMU is praised for its top-notch engineering and computer science programs which garner a lot of attention from potential employers.

'My son is a sophomore at Carnegie Mellon studying Computer Science,' said one survey participant. 'At the end of his summer internship his employer offered to double his salary and give him share options if he would stay on and drop out of school for a year. My son declined and is now back at CMU in his sophomore year and interviewing with some well-known names for next summer's internship. CMU's CS program is second to none.'

Business Insider's rating is scored out of 5 and is based on the results of a 1,000-person reader survey that asked how much each college will help students succeed in life. Tuition was used as a tiebreaker, with cheaper tuition pushing a school to a higher spot.

17. Northwestern University

Northwestern scored a 3.73 out of 5 on Business Insider's rating.

Tuition and fees: $45,528

Northwestern was ranked No. 19 for the past two years, but skipped ahead to 17th place in this year's survey. Students can study at one of three campuses: their main campus in the Chicago suburb of Evanston, a smaller city campus in Chicago, or their overseas campus in Doha, Qatar.

Business Insider's rating is scored out of 5 and is based on the results of a 1,000-person reader survey that asked how much each college will help students succeed in life. Tuition was used as a tiebreaker, with cheaper tuition pushing a school to a higher spot.

14. Johns Hopkins University

Johns Hopkins scored a 3.82 out of 5 on Business Insider's rating.

Tuition and fees: $45,470

Johns Hopkins is America's first research university, and the largest employer in all of Maryland, with additional campuses in Washington, D.C.; Bologna, Italy; and Nanjing, China. In addition to all kinds of research, students have the freedom to pursue 240 different courses of study.

Business Insider's rating is scored out of 5 and is based on the results of a 1,000-person reader survey that asked how much each college will help students succeed in life. Tuition was used as a tiebreaker, with cheaper tuition pushing a school to a higher spot.

13. United States Naval Academy

The U.S. Naval Academy scored a 3.89 out of 5 on Business Insider's rating.

Tuition and fees: N/A

Students accepted into the U.S. Naval Academy serve five years in the Military after graduation, but they get a world-class education at absolutely no cost. Even room and board are free.

'The Naval Academy offers students the ability to not only grow as intellectuals, but to develop as leaders,' said one reader. 'The leadership is real and the problems they face are much more consequential than what colour to pick as an upstart company's logo.'

Business Insider's rating is scored out of 5 and is based on the results of a 1,000-person reader survey that asked how much each college will help students succeed in life. Tuition was used as a tiebreaker, with cheaper tuition pushing a school to a higher spot.

12. United States Military Academy at West Point

West Point scored a 3.90 out of 5 on Business Insider's rating.

Tuition and fees: N/A

'West Point is the premier leadership institute in the world that looks to get the cream of the crop not just in one aspect, but overall,' one survey respondent said. 'West Point invests and grows the cadets and builds a leader to lead.'

If that's not a good enough reason to attend, the U.S. Military Academy, like the Naval Academy, is 100% free to attend after a minimum service of five years.

Business Insider's rating is scored out of 5 and is based on the results of a 1,000-person reader survey that asked how much each college will help students succeed in life. Tuition was used as a tiebreaker, with cheaper tuition pushing a school to a higher spot.

10. Cornell University

Cornell scored a 3.91 out of 5 on Business Insider's rating.

Tuition and fees: $45,358

Cornell held steady at the No. 10 spot on our list from last year. Students who are residents of New York benefit from in-state tuition if they go to land-grant colleges, but all students benefit from a great college town environment and an even bigger nearby learning campus: New York City.

Business Insider's rating is scored out of 5 and is based on the results of a 1,000-person reader survey that asked how much each college will help students succeed in life. Tuition was used as a tiebreaker, with cheaper tuition pushing a school to a higher spot.

9. Dartmouth College

Dartmouth scored a 3.96 out of 5 on Business Insider's rating.

Tuition and fees: $46,752

At 4,200 enrolled undergraduate students, Dartmouth is the smallest of the Ivies. But its size has no bearing on the prestige of its programs; the school was ranked No. 1 in undergraduate teaching courses by U.S. News & World Report for the fourth year in a row.

Business Insider's rating is scored out of 5 and is based on the results of a 1,000-person reader survey that asked how much each college will help students succeed in life. Tuition was used as a tiebreaker, with cheaper tuition pushing a school to a higher spot.

8. University of Pennsylvania

UPenn scored a 4.03 out of 5 on Business Insider's rating.

Tuition and fees: $45,890

UPenn jumped up one spot on this year's list. The College at Penn -- their School of Arts and Sciences -- is the biggest undergraduate program, but the undergrad business program at Wharton is by and large the most prestigious.

'I have consistently been impressed by the professionalism and level of preparation of both the undergraduate and MBA students at UPenn's Wharton School,' one survey participant said.

Business Insider's rating is scored out of 5 and is based on the results of a 1,000-person reader survey that asked how much each college will help students succeed in life. Tuition was used as a tiebreaker, with cheaper tuition pushing a school to a higher spot.

7. Columbia University

Columbia scored a 4.13 out of 5 on Business Insider's rating.

Tuition and fees: $49,138

HR personnel and those involved in hiring decisions definitely place a high value on places like Columbia, which has a great return on investment.

'People applying for jobs at my firm after graduating from brand name schools (specifically Harvard, Stanford, Yale, Columbia, Brown, Dartmouth, Princeton and NYU) are the people I personally meet with for interviews,' wrote one hiring manager. 'The others are greeted by my personal staff and rarely ever get called after the interviews.'

Business Insider's rating is scored out of 5 and is based on the results of a 1,000-person reader survey that asked how much each college will help students succeed in life. Tuition was used as a tiebreaker, with cheaper tuition pushing a school to a higher spot.

5. Yale University

Yale scored a 4.25 out of 5 on Business Insider's rating.

Tuition and fees: $44,125

Our readers were not shy in praising Yale's hardworking professors: 'Yale is still the best ranking... school thanks to it(s) high profile faculty,' one respondent pointed out. 'It's them who keep Yale in the top.'

Founded in 1701, Yale is one of the oldest institutes of higher education in the country.

Business Insider's rating is scored out of 5 and is based on the results of a 1,000-person reader survey that asked how much each college will help students succeed in life. Tuition was used as a tiebreaker, with cheaper tuition pushing a school to a higher spot.

4. Princeton University

Princeton scored a 4.28 out of 5 on Business Insider's rating.

Tuition and fees: $45,275

Princeton nudged its way up from fifth place to fourth this year, and our readers had nothing but good things to say about it: 'Princeton is Simply The Finest 'Center Brain Education' in the World! They Stimulate, Inspire and Develop every part of their Students Body, Mind and Soul! Go Tigers!!'

However, not everyone can be lucky enough to get in; Princeton is highly selective and barely admits 7% of applicants.

Business Insider's rating is scored out of 5 and is based on the results of a 1,000-person reader survey that asked how much each college will help students succeed in life. Tuition was used as a tiebreaker, with cheaper tuition pushing a school to a higher spot.

1. Massachusetts Institute of Technology

MIT scored a 4.50 out of 5 on Business Insider's rating.

Tuition and fees: $42,050

For the second year in a row, MIT is our readers' top pick for the best college in America. It's one of the most selective in the nation; one reader notes, 'MIT continues to have the highest admission qualifications for ALL its students. When it comes to hiring, you can be assured that all students who graduate from MIT have been through a rigorous college curriculum.'

The tech school admits fewer than 9 per cent of applicants, some of whom have gone on to achieve prestigious awards like Nobel Prizes, National Medals of Science, MacArthur Grants, and National Medals of Technology and Innovation.

Business Insider's rating is scored out of 5 and is based on the results of a 1,000-person reader survey that asked how much each college will help students succeed in life. Tuition was used as a tiebreaker, with cheaper tuition pushing a school to a higher spot.

Don't miss our other features on the best colleges in America.

NOW WATCH: Briefing videos

Business Insider Emails & Alerts

Site highlights each day to your inbox.

Follow Business Insider Australia on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram.