Ranked: The Best Colleges in America

Last fall 18.4 million students enrolled in postsecondary education across the U.S.
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Ranked: The Best Colleges in America Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

"The direction in which education starts a man will determine his future life," said Socrates in Plato's Republic. It seems many Americans agree with this sentiment in the millenia-old text; last fall 18.4 million students enrolled in postsecondary education across the U.S. according to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Centre.

Despite America's spiralling student debt crisis—which has now collectively reached the $1.5 trillion mark—it still pays to earn a degree. According to the OECD's 2018 report Education at a Glance, a man in the U.S. with a tertiary education will earn an extra $500,000 over the course of his career (that number drops to just over $300,000 for women).

The report also found that having a highly educated population is good for everyone, not just the individual. The public sector in particular benefits thanks to greater tax revenues and social contributions.

However, future university applicants should know that not all colleges are equal in terms of the education they provide, and how well they can set you up in your future career. And it's not actually universally agreed upon which are the best in the country.

Newsweek has looked at three separate university rankings—the Wall Street Journal/Times Higher Education College Rankings, U.S. News National University Ranking and Forbes list of America's Top Colleges, all of which rate America's universities slightly differently.

Both the Wall Street Journal/Times Higher Education College Rankings and the Forbes list of America's Top Colleges focus on student outcomes, such as post-degree career, future earning power and campus community.

U.S. News National University Ranking hones in on academic quality, such as graduation rates and faculty resources, and they separate out liberal arts colleges from the main rankings.

We've combined data from all three sources to create a list of the top fifty universities of the 5,000 or so across the country, as well as information about fees and post-graduation salaries.

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1. Harvard University, Massachusetts Wall Street Journal/Times Higher Education College Rankings 2019: 1. U.S. News National University Ranking: 2. Forbes List of America's Top Colleges: 1. Tuition and fees: $47,074. Salary after ten years: $91,200 Darren McCollester/Newsmakers