Getting a great college education doesn’t have to cost a fortune—these top colleges in the U.S. prove it.

By Lauren Phillips
Updated August 14, 2019

Picking a college is no small decision, especially considering the ballooning costs of attending a top-rated institution for (hopefully) four years. Obviously most parents and students want to pick one of the best colleges—but determining the best colleges in the U.S. isn’t always straightforward. (In comparison, tackling that college packing list and college checklist will be a breeze.)

Are the best colleges determined by four-year graduation rates? Early career earnings? Quality of athletics programs? Different families will have different priorities, but most can probably agree that getting a good value out of a college education is a smart decision. Figuring out which colleges offer a good value, though? That could be a college major in itself.

Fortunately, the data aficionados at Money have it covered. Reporters at Money crunched the numbers to rank more than 700 institutions in the U.S. by value. The new analysis looked at more than 19,000 data points, including tuition fees, family borrowing, and career earnings, to determine which colleges set graduates up for professional success (and high early career earnings) at a moderately affordable price. (See the full report of The Best Colleges in America, Ranked by Value, here.)

The analysis has some interesting findings—California has five of the top 10 best colleges in the U.S.! Harvard and Yale didn’t break the top ten!—but for the financially savvy, the most important may be that the top 10 schools had an estimated price (with average aid packages) of less than $25,000 per year.

Top schools often have price tags of $50,000 or $60,000 per year, and those numbers are often enough to scare money-crunched or debt-averse families and students away. Money’s analysis found that the colleges offering the most value had much lower actual prices thanks to grants and aid packages, though, with early career earnings comparable to those of graduates from pricier institutions. (That sort of post-grad success merits some good college graduation gifts, no?)

There are other factors in choosing a college, of course, but if money is the number one concern for a prospective student, a school offering a good value may be the best decision. Read on for a list of the top ten best colleges in the country, according to Money’s analysis, or check out the full report to get more info.

The 10 Best Colleges in the U.S.

1. University of California-Irvine

2. City University of New York, Baruch College

3. Princeton University

4. University of California-Los Angeles

5. University of California-Davis

6. Stanford University

7. Massachusetts Institute of Technology

8. University of Michigan

9. University of California-San Diego

10. University of Virginia