The 50 best colleges in America

When it comes to assessing the value of a college, the most important factor to consider is how much that school helps students succeed in life.

For our seventh annual ranking of the best colleges in America, we asked over 1,000 Business Insider readers to choose the
colleges that best prepare their students for success after graduation.

We then combined those results with each school’s average SAT score from the college-data website College Board and the median starting salary from the employer-information website PayScale to come up with the final ranking. You can read the full methodology here.

This year, Massachusetts Institute of Technology tops our list after a brief hiatus from the No. 1 spot. Stanford, last year’s top school, slips to No. 2; Harvard, Princeton, and CalTech round out the top five.

Did your school make the cut this year? Read on to find out.

Find out how your salary stacks up on PayScale.

50. Villanova University

Average SAT score: 1960

Median starting salary: $US53,300

Founded in 1842 just outside Philadelphia by the Order of Saint Augustine, Villanova grants a liberal arts-based education in a large university setting. Among graduates of the class of 2014, 97% were employed or enrolled in graduate school within six months of graduation, and 60% held at least one internship.

49. Boston University


Average SAT score: 1945

Median starting salary: $US50,100

The Boston University alumni community is full of Nobel Prize and Pulitzer winners, Fulbright scholars, and poets laureate. The school received over $US350.3 million in grants and contract awards last year, powering it as one of the top research universities in the country.

47. Swarthmore College

Wikimedia Commons

Average SAT score: 2175

Median starting salary: $US51,000

The small liberal-arts school in Swarthmore, Pennsylvania, offers its undergrads more than 600 courses and a challenging honours program, reserved for a select group of top students. Modelled on the tutorial system at Oxford University, Swarthmore's honours program is the only one of its kind in the US.

45 (TIE). University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign/Facebook

Average SAT score: 2030

Median starting salary: $US55,000

Located about 140 miles south of Chicago, the University of Illinois is home to one of the largest public-university library collections in the world, with more than 24 million volumes across over 20 area-studies libraries. Students can take advantage of more than 400 study-abroad programs in more than 60 countries.

45 (TIE). Lehigh University

Average SAT score: 1980

Median starting salary: $US60,400

Lehigh offers more than 2,000 courses, of which the average class size is 28 students.

Based in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, Lehigh is ranked third in the Northeast for salary potential among its graduates -- tied with MIT -- and 96% of students are employed or continuing their education within six months of graduation.

43. Babson College

Babson College/Facebook

Average SAT score: 1900

Median starting salary: $US61,300

Babson College has a top-notch reputation for fostering entrepreneurship on its Massachusetts campus and in the real world. It also has a partnership with the F.W. Olin College of Engineering and Wellesley College to 'build on existing initiatives and explore new academic, social, and business relationships,' which enables students to get involved in joint research and curricular projects, conferences and programs, and other services with the two other colleges.

41 (TIE). Wake Forest University

Wake Forest University/Facebook

Average SAT score: 1975

Median starting salary: $US53,300

Students can get first-hand experience in networking in the fields of banking, politics, and real estate during a summer program hosted by Wake Forest in Washington, D.C. Current students meet and get advice from dozens of Wake Forest alumni who guide them on the path to living and working in the nation's capital.

'Wake Forest University provides true depth of learning that allows their graduates to succeed across industries,' one survey respondent said.

39. Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

Average SAT score: 2090

Median starting salary: $US62,300

Troy, New York's RPI recently ranked 12th on our list of the best computer science and engineering schools in America. Accordingly, 53% of students opt for an engineering-related major, while another 10% major in computer and information sciences.

Alumni have gone on from RPI to make incredible contributions to their fields, inventing the floppy disk and making breakthroughs in MRI technologies.

38. Middlebury College

Middlebury College/Facebook

Average SAT score: 2065

Median starting salary: $US51,900

Middlebury may be in the middle of rural Vermont, but it's not shut off from the world; in fact, the school is a leader in language instruction and international studies, and it offers 10 foreign-language tracks.

An emphasis on writing in all classes broadens students' ability for critical thinking and expression.

36 (TIE). Boston College

Boston College/Facebook

Average SAT score: 1950

Median starting salary: $US51,900

A Jesuit school, Boston College is committed to its liberal-arts core and to 'the continual process of intellectual inquiry and student formation.' The most popular undergraduate majors include economics, finance, and communication, but all students complete a certain number of liberal-arts courses.

'Jesuit institutions provide the most well-rounded education and prepare you for the real world,' one survey participant said.

35. Emory University

Emory University/Facebook

Average SAT score: 2060

Median starting salary: $US51,000

Located in Atlanta's historic Druid Hills neighbourhood, Emory University is known for its top nursing and business programs. Alumni have gone on to become high-ranking leaders and executives, including former speaker of the House of Representatives Newt Gingrich, Indigo Girls band member Amy Ray, and former New York Stock Exchange CEO Duncan Niederauer.

34. Northeastern University

Northeastern University/Facebook

Average SAT score: 2105

Median starting salary: $US54,100

Located in Boston, Northeastern has steadily climbed the ranks on US News' list: It was No. 42 in this year's ranking, up 56 spots from the publication's 2007 list.

Experiential learning opportunities ensure that students are exposed to real-world work, research, and study opportunities that will further them in their chosen fields far beyond life at Northeastern.

33. Bowdoin College

Courtesy of Daily Meal

Average SAT score: 2170

Median starting salary: Unavailable

Bowdoin College directs its liberal-arts education 'toward the common good.' More than half of students at the Brunswick, Maine-based school choose to study abroad in one of 46 countries, and many others participate in international volunteer or research opportunities through Bowdoin.

32. New York University

New York University/Facebook

Average SAT score: 2015

Median starting salary: $US50,000

The largest private university in the US, New York University is known for its renowned drama and theatre programs in the Tisch School of the Arts. The school is also recognised for the Stern School of Business, ranked the No. 5 undergraduate business program by US News.

'Networking, research, mentoring expertise, along with a location that allows for great internships as well as life experiences. New York City can't be beat for these, so NYU rank(s) very high,' a survey taker said.

30 (TIE). Williams College

Wikimedia Commons

Average SAT score: 2190

Median starting salary: $US50,200

Often considered one of the best liberal-arts colleges in the country (and, this year, the second-best overall college in America by Forbes), Williams considers its education more than a four-year program. The Williamstown, Massachusetts, school takes 'an approach to living and learning that prepares students for the 'real world' and instills lifelong connections with each other and with Williams,' the website says.

30 (TIE). Tufts University

Tufts University/Facebook

Average SAT score: 2165

Median starting salary: $US51,900

Just outside Boston, Tufts blends liberal arts and research, giving students access to the best of both worlds. The student-centered school offers research opportunities to students both while in school and after they finish their degrees.

Students can also spend a semester, a year, or a summer abroad, including at Tufts' own European Center in Talloires, France.

29. United States Military Academy

West Point - The US Military Academy

Average SAT score: 1880

Median starting salary: $US75,100

Getting into the Military Academy at West Point, located in the eponymous New York town, is no small feat: The Academy accepts only about 9% of applicants. For accepted students, each major -- ranging from American politics to nuclear engineering -- is specifically tailored to train 'officer-leaders of character to serve the Army and the Nation.'

28. University of Virginia

University of Virginia/Facebook

Average SAT score: 2025

Median starting salary: $US54,100

US News named UVA -- which is located in Charlottesville -- the No. 2 public school and the No. 6 undergraduate business program in the country. Research is also an important part of the school's curriculum, and it has 1.5 million square feet of research facilities, labs, and studio space, as well as $US26 million in research awards from corporate partners.

26. United States Naval Academy

United States Naval Academy/Facebook

Average SAT score: 1913

Median starting salary: $US80,700

As a military school, the Annapolis, Maryland-based Naval Academy rigorously prepares students for a career in the Navy, with a focus on military education, professional training, character development, and physical fitness. The Academy boasts a trove of notable alumni, including 52 astronauts, 48 Rhodes Scholars, and President Jimmy Carter.

25. Georgia Institute of Technology

Average SAT score: 2080

Median starting salary: $US61,700

Considered the smartest public college in America, Georgia Tech is known for its top-rated engineering, industrial design, and architecture programs.

'Atlanta is the technological hub of the South, and Georgia Tech is a major reason for this, attracting among the best technology students from around the world,' one survey respondent said.

24. University of Notre Dame

Notre Dame Admissions/Facebook

Average SAT score: 2140

Median starting salary: $US55,200

Within six months of graduation, 86% of Notre Dame's class of 2013 were employed full-time or enrolled in graduate school. Graduates from the South Bend, Indiana-based school end up at top companies including NBC Universal, Ernst & Young, and Deloitte.

23. University of Michigan at Ann Arbor

University of Michigan/Facebook

Average SAT score: 2065

Median starting salary: $US56,800

Michigan students received more Fulbright grants than anywhere else in the country but Harvard last year. The university counts Google cofounder Larry Page, actor James Earl Jones, and President Gerald Ford among its many high-profile alumni.

22. Georgetown University

Georgetown University/Facebook

Average SAT score: 2130

Median starting salary: $US51,000

Upon graduation day, 87% of Georgetown's class of 2014 were employed or had plans to start graduate school. And not only did students find jobs, but graduates of the Washington, D.C.-based school landed positions at some of the top companies in the country, including Oracle, PricewaterhouseCoopers, and Goldman Sachs.

21. Amherst College

Amherst College/Facebook

Average SAT score: 2170

Median starting salary: Unavailable

Amherst is part of the Five College Consortium, a community of colleges made up of Amherst, Smith, UMass at Amherst, Mount Holyoke, and Hampshire that allows students to take classes at any of the schools. This gives students a broader access to different kinds of classes and learning styles and the ability to meet and network with different kinds of students.

19 (TIE). University of Chicago

Michael Lyons/Facebook

Average SAT score: 2255

Median starting salary: $US48,800

The University of Chicago offers 51 majors and 33 minors to undergraduates, including everything from comparative literature to statistics. For students who want to continue their education, UChicago's business and law schools both earned the No. 4 spots for their respective categories from US News.

'University of Chicago offers an exhilarating mix of world-class instruction from Nobel prize winners in a radically changing social environment,' one survey participant said.

18. Brown University

Brown University/Facebook

Average SAT score: 2165

Median starting salary: $US55,100

The seventh-oldest college in the US, Brown is a leading research university with more than 40 specific centres of study, creating a plethora of opportunities for students to get involved with research projects. That is, if you can get in. The selective school in Providence, Rhode Island, accepts only 8.7% of applicants.

17. Harvey Mudd College

Average SAT score: 2215

Median starting salary: $US75,600

Harvey Mudd graduates earn the second-highest median starting salary on our list, after the Naval Academy. While Harvey Mudd is best known for its engineering and computer-science programs, the Claremont, California-based school is also a member of the Claremont Colleges consortium and a liberal-arts college.

The school makes sure its students learn in all areas with a solid core curriculum that incorporates humanities and social sciences in with maths and science.

16. Vanderbilt University

Vanderbilt University/Facebook

Average SAT score: 2230

Median starting salary: $US56,300

Vanderbilt was ranked the 16th-best college in the country and the 11th-best-value college in the country by US News. The Nashville, Tennessee-based school abides by an honour code that it says makes its graduates citizens with integrity.

'Students from Vanderbilt ... have always impressed me with their high level of intelligence, but low level of entitlement,' one survey taker wrote. 'They are not ostentatious about how much they know, but they are very personable -- at least in my experiences -- and have always been interesting people to be around.'

15. University of California at Berkeley

UC Berkeley/Facebook

Average SAT score: 2035

Median starting salary: $US59,500

The top strictly public school on our list, Berkeley is also ranked the No. 1 public university in the country by US News. Students can choose between 170 departments and programs across 12 colleges, and even at a big school 73% of undergraduate classes seat 30 students or fewer.

14. Carnegie Mellon University

Carnegie Mellon University/Facebook

Average SAT score: 2150

Median starting salary: $US62,300

Within three months of graduation, 77% of Carnegie Mellon's 2014 graduates were employed or enrolled in graduate school. On top of that, 2014 grads from the Pittsburgh-based university landed jobs at elite companies including Google, Deloitte, and ExxonMobil.

13. Northwestern University

Northwestern University/Facebook

Average SAT score: 2215

Median starting salary: $US54,200

Northwestern doesn't just focus on students' time during college; it helps them look to the future as well. The most popular majors among 2013 graduates at the Evanston, Illinois-based school were economics, journalism, and psychology, and within six months of graduation 81% of the class were employed or in graduate school full-time.

12. Johns Hopkins University

Johns Hopkins University/Facebook

Average SAT score: 2170

Median starting salary: $US58,700

With nine schools and more than 240 programs, Johns Hopkins, located in Baltimore, offers students unbeatable variety when it comes to choosing a field of study. Undergraduates can major in anything from biophysics to music composition, though JHU's biomedical and environmental engineering programs are exceptionally notable.

11. Cornell University

Cornell University/Facebook

Average SAT score: 2130

Median starting salary: $US58,200

Cornell strives to contribute to the world's knowledge in a way that 'prioritises public engagement to help improve the quality of life in our state, the nation, the world.' The Ithaca, New York-based school offers 80 fields of study and an active career-services office, which connects students with alumni for mentoring, networking, jobs, and internships.

10. Dartmouth College


Average SAT score: 2195

Median starting salary: $US55,500

At Dartmouth, students learn from the best -- the school is ranked No. 4 on US News' list of colleges with the best undergraduate teaching. Dartmouth, located in Hanover, New Hampshire, also offers a flexible academic calendar that allows students to easily fit in time for internships, work experience, and studying abroad.

9. University of Pennsylvania

University of Pennsylvania/Facebook

Average SAT score: 2190

Median starting salary: $US59,300

The University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School, located in Philadelphia, is routinely considered the best in the country at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. US News ranked it the No. 1 undergraduate business program overall, as well as naming it the best school for marketing, finance, management, and real estate. For students who aren't strictly interested in one subject, dual-degree programs make it possible to take advantage of any of Penn's 90 majors.

8. Columbia University

Columbia University in the City of New York/Facebook

Average SAT score: 2220

Median starting salary: $US59,200

Columbia counts 82 Nobel Laureates among its esteemed alumni and faculty, including two US presidents. The New York City-based Ivy League school also features several prestigious graduate programs for students planning to continue their education, including top-ranked law, business, engineering, and medical schools.

7. Duke University

Duke University/Facebook

Average SAT score: 2240

Median starting salary: $US59,500

Moving up an impressive 10 spots on our list this year, Durham, North Carolina-based Duke is the fifth-largest research university in the nation, and half of all undergraduates participate in a faculty research project. Students also receive ample opportunities to study abroad, including through the DukeEngage program, which sponsors students on an eight-week (at least) service trip.

6. Yale University

Tony Fiorini/Yale University/Facebook

Average SAT score: 2255

Median starting salary: $US58,500

Yale's undergraduate curriculum aims to provide a comprehensive liberal-arts education, and it allows students to choose from more than 65 different areas of study, including everything from anthropology to chemistry to modern Middle East studies. Not only that, but the New Haven, Connecticut-based school is a great deal for the money -- it's ranked the third-best-value undergraduate program in the country by US News.

5. California Institute of Technology


Average SAT score: 2310

Median starting salary: $US74,800

The Pasadena-based CalTech earned the No. 4 spot on US News' list of the best undergraduate engineering programs, as well as No. 8 on its list of the best value schools. The university follows through on its reputation, too: CalTech has produced 32 Nobel laureates, 57 National Medal of Science recipients, and 13 National Medal of Technology winners.

4. Princeton University

Princeton University/Facebook

Average SAT score: 2250

Median starting salary: $US60,000

For the 2014-2015 academic year, Princeton admitted only 7.4% of its 26,642 applicants. Students who attend the selective New Jersey school can choose between 34 majors and more than 30 interdepartmental programs. Research is important across all departments, and the school provides students with ample opportunities for both mentorships with professors and independent research projects.

3. Harvard University

Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences/Facebook

Average SAT score: 2260

Median starting salary: $US57,700

This Cambridge, Massachusetts-based university has produced 47 Nobel Laureates, 32 heads of state, and 48 Pulitzer Prize winners, and it offers outstanding graduate programs for students planning to continue their education, including top-ranked business and law schools.

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