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Top college in America for 50 different rankings

  • Top college in America for 50 different rankings

    The phrase “quality education” means different things to different people, and with the sheer number of colleges and universities to choose from, finding the right needle in the endless haystack of postsecondary schools can be daunting, to say the least. That’s why it’s so important for students to ask themselves what, exactly, they want to get out of college from the moment they start trying to narrow the incredibly crowded field of options.

    Some students are concerned mostly with their field of interest and are drawn to schools with great engineering, science, or journalism programs. Others are more concerned with the location of their school of choice, like those in big cities, near beaches, or in mountain regions or small towns. Others vet their options by looking at practical criteria like graduation rates, post-graduation employment percentages, and alumni networks, while many are forced to narrow the selection first by value and cost.

    Ultimately, every prospective student measures potential colleges, universities, and trade schools with a different yardstick, which is why it’s so important for them to choose a few categories that matter most and then apply to the very best schools therein that correspond to their qualifications.

    Stacker used rankings and categories from Niche’s 2021 Best Colleges in America list, as well as rankings from past Stacker college stories, to compile a list of the top schools for 50 different metrics. These metrics range from student population (such as best HBCU) to academics (such as the best school for studying education). While there are a few repeat appearances, no single school appears more than five times.

    From the schools that offer the most bang for the buck to the most highly selective and ferociously competitive institutions on earth, there’s truly something for everyone when it comes to higher education in the United States. Keep reading to learn which schools earned top billing in the 50 categories that separate one great college or university from another, depending on which student you ask.

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  • Best private college: Massachusetts Institute of Technology

    - Location: Cambridge, MA
    - Undergraduate enrollment: 4,557
    - Student-to-faculty ratio: 3:1
    - Acceptance rate: 7%
    - Graduation rate: 94%
    - Six-year median earnings: $104,700
    - Two-year employment rate: 94%

    With eight Fields Medal winners, 15 Turing Award winners, and nearly 100 Nobel Prize laureates among them, the success of MIT’s faculty and alumni tells the tale of the school’s status as one of the preeminent polytechnic universities in the country and the world. Its history as a gold mine of research, development, and innovation can be traced to the Industrial Revolution, which MIT was originally founded to expand in the United States. Today, more than 85% of its undergrads engage in faculty-led research across all 30 departments, and MIT holds a place in the small and exclusive club of schools that can boast the trifecta of being land-grant, sea-grant, and space-grant institutions.

  • Best public college: University of Michigan - Ann Arbor

    - Location: Ann Arbor, MI
    - Undergraduate enrollment: 29,245
    - Student-to-faculty ratio: 11:1
    - Acceptance rate: 23%
    - Graduation rate: 92%
    - Six-year median earnings: $63,400
    - Two-year employment rate: 94%

    In June, the University of Michigan was not shy about boasting that QS World Rankings named it the best public university in all of America, and for good reason—2020 was the fifth year straight that UM topped the site’s rankings in that category. It’s lauded for its strong research programs, diverse graduate offerings, excellent faculty, and 500,000-strong alumni network.

  • Best small college: California Institute of Technology

    - Location: Pasadena, CA
    - Undergraduate enrollment: 948
    - Student-to-faculty ratio: 3:1
    - Acceptance rate: 7%
    - Graduation rate: 92%
    - Six-year median earnings: $85,900
    - Two-year employment rate: 89%

    The previously mentioned MIT has only one true peer and rival in terms of America’s top science and engineering polytechnic schools, and it’s on the opposite side of the country: Caltech. Like MIT, Caltech is known for its minuscule acceptance rate, highly accomplished alumni, and extraordinary research programs. It operates the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory, the Palomar and W. M. Keck Observatories, and the Seismological Laboratory, just to name a few of its more famous research initiatives.

  • Best big college: Cornell University

    - Location: Ithaca, NY
    - Undergraduate enrollment: 15,175
    - Student-to-faculty ratio: 9:1
    - Acceptance rate: 11%
    - Graduation rate: 95%
    - Six-year median earnings: $77,200
    - Two-year employment rate: 93%

    Just eight schools in America have earned a place in the vaunted Ivy League, the collection of elite private universities in the Northeastern United States that are synonymous with ultra-competitive admissions, world-class facilities and faculty, academic excellence, and alumni networks filled with the world’s movers and shakers. Among them is Cornell, a land-grant institution whose partnership with New York state is unique among the Ivy League schools—and one that continues to deliver an almost endless stream of funding to the university.

  • Best student life: University of Southern California

    - Location: Los Angeles, CA
    - Undergraduate enrollment: 19,194
    - Student-to-faculty ratio: 9:1
    - Acceptance rate: 13%
    - Graduation rate: 92%
    - Six-year median earnings: $74,000
    - Two-year employment rate: 92%

    USC has long been both famous and infamous for its student life, which an April 3, 2019 New York Times article described as: “Spring breaks in Bali, resort-style apartment buildings with rooftop pools and tanning beds, and regular dinners out at Nobu, where a tab for four roommates could easily stretch into four digits.” USC was recently at the heart of a highly publicized admissions bribery scandal in which rich, famous parents paid big money and cut serious corners to get their kids into the university, which for generations has been the school of choice for the children of the world’s wealthiest and most influential families. USC has worked hard to shed that image by heavily recruiting students from all walks of life, an effort that created an environment where “the children of celebrities and real estate moguls study alongside the children of nannies and dishwashers,” according to the Times.

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  • Best value: United States Merchant Marine Academy

    - Location: Kings Point, NY
    - Undergraduate enrollment: 996
    - Student-to-faculty ratio: 13:1
    - Acceptance rate: 22%
    - Graduation rate: 84%
    - Six-year median earnings: $88,100
    - Two-year employment rate: 97%

    The United States Merchant Marine Academy has a better two-year employment rate than every school on this list except one and boasts six-year median earnings that are among the highest out of all 50 schools—yet except for modest Midshipmen fees and a few other expenses, students pay nothing to go there. The federal government covers not just tuition but textbooks, uniforms, room and board, and medical and dental care.

  • Best community college: New Mexico Military Institute

    - Location: Roswell, NM
    - Undergraduate enrollment: 412
    - Student-to-faculty ratio: 16:1
    - Acceptance rate: 37%
    - Graduation rate: 68%
    - Six-year median earnings: $39,700
    - Two-year employment rate: 94%

    Known informally as “The West Point of the West,” New Mexico Military Institute “remains the only state-supported co-educational college preparatory high school and junior college in the United States,” according to the school. The institute prepares its highly diverse student body with a unique educational framework that includes not just academics but leadership training and character development programs.

  • Best trade school: Lake Area Technical College

    - Location: Watertown, SD
    - Undergraduate enrollment: 1,566
    - Student-to-faculty ratio: 17:1
    - Acceptance rate: 100%
    - Graduation rate: 75%
    - Six-year median earnings: $36,900
    - Two-year employment rate: 95%

    Lake Area Technical College offers 30 programs that vary from welding technology and cosmetology to financial services and registered nursing, including 15 online degrees that can be completed remotely. The school provides more than $400,000 in scholarships and boasts a 99% graduation placement rate. In 2017, it was named the Aspen Prize Best Two-Year College in the Nation.

  • Best college on the West Coast: Stanford University

    - Location: Stanford, CA
    - Undergraduate enrollment: 7,087
    - Student-to-faculty ratio: 5:1
    - Acceptance rate: 4%
    - Graduation rate: 94%
    - Six-year median earnings: $94,000
    - Two-year employment rate: 94%

    Although it’s listed here as the best college on the West Coast, Stanford University is consistently ranked among the very best universities in the entire world—and its intimidating 4% acceptance rate shows just how competitive the private research university is. Like MIT and Caltech, its alumni include a range of success stories, including billionaires, astronauts, members of Congress, presidents, Fields Medal winners, Nobel laureates, and, most notably, entrepreneurs whose companies have produced trillions of dollars in combined revenue and millions of jobs.

  • Best college in the South: Duke University

    - Location: Durham, NC
    - Undergraduate enrollment: 6,659
    - Student-to-faculty ratio: 6:1
    - Acceptance rate: 9%
    - Graduation rate: 96%
    - Six-year median earnings: $84,400
    - Two-year employment rate: 94%

    Duke University is most closely associated with the Blue Devils, a D-1 athletic powerhouse that includes one of the winningest NCAA men’s basketball teams of all time. It’s also, however, one of the most prestigious and significant private research universities in the country. Its Pratt School of Engineering is highly regarded for both its research and teaching, and Duke University Hospital is widely considered to be one of the top medical centers in the world in terms of both research and treatment.

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