The 25 Best U.S. Colleges, Ranked by Cost

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Right now, the coronavirus pandemic has many students sheltering at home. But would-be college students and their families still are planning for the future. That includes thinking about the cost of college, from tuition to room and board and books. It’s smart to take a good look at college costs.

Data analysis firm recently ranked the 2020 Best Colleges in America. says the study uses a “rigorous analysis of academic, admissions, financial, and student life data from the U.S. Department of Education along with millions of reviews from students and alumni.”

Here are the top 25 schools in this study, ranked by net cost, the average cost to students after any financial aid. Our list starts with the priciest of the top 25 and ends with the least expensive.

25. University of Chicago

University of Chicago
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Net price: $34,834 per year

The University of Chicago is not cheap. It has the highest net price among the top 25 colleges.

You get what you pay for, however. The school ranks No. 7 on Niche’s list of colleges with the best professors in America, as determined by student surveys, student-faculty ratios and other factors.

24. University of Southern California

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Net price: $32,892 per year

The University of Southern California is located in sprawling, sunny Los Angeles.

And although Los Angeles is far from a cozy college town, the home of USC’s urban campus landed a spot on WalletHub’s list of the best college towns and cities in the U.S. last year.

23. Cornell University

Cornell University
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Net price: $31,449 per year

Cornell University, an Ivy League private university in Ithaca, New York, dates back to 1865.

It has racked up plenty of firsts in American college history. For example, the school awarded the world’s first degree in journalism, the nation’s first degree in veterinary medicine and the first doctorates in electrical and industrial engineering.

22. Tufts University

Tufts University
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Net price: $29,449 per year

Tufts University, named for 19th-century Boston businessman Charles Tufts, is a research university in Medford, Massachusetts.

The school is highly selective, and took the No. 25 spot on a 2019 Niche ranking of the hardest U.S. colleges to get into.

21. Washington University in St. Louis

Washington University in St. Louis
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Net price: $27,777 per year

Don’t confuse Washington University in St. Louis with the University of Washington or any number of colleges in the Washington, D.C., area. The school is based in St. Louis, Missouri.

It’s an exceptional choice for artists: The college ranked second in a Niche ranking of the best U.S. colleges for design students, behind only the University of Southern California.

20. University of Notre Dame

University of Notre Dame
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Net price: $27,453 per year

The University of Notre Dame, famed for its Fighting Irish football as well as academics, was founded in 1842, just outside of South Bend, Indiana.

If a Catholic tradition in education is important to you, don’t pass up Notre Dame: Niche lists it as the top-ranked Catholic college in America.

19. Georgetown University

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Net price: $27,420 per year

Ranked at No. 2 on Niche’s list of best Catholic colleges is Georgetown University.

Located in Washington, D.C., Georgetown is the oldest Catholic and Jesuit university in the nation, established in 1789.

18. Northwestern University

Northwestern University
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Net price: $26,099 per year

Northwestern University isn’t anywhere near the Pacific Northwest. State and territorial boundaries were different back in 1850 when planning for the Evanston, Illinois, college began.

But, wherever you live, you’d better have some top-notch credentials to be accepted: Niche reports that Northwestern’s acceptance rate is in the single digits, at just 9%.

17. Brown University

Brown University
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Net price: $25,651 per year

Rhode Island may be the smallest state in the U.S., but it boasts a big-deal educational institution: Brown University, which was founded in 1764, in the state capital of Providence.

Its profs make the grade, too: Niche lists Brown No. 2 on its list of colleges with the best professors in America, as determined by student surveys, professor salaries, student-professor ratio and more.

16. University of Pennsylvania

Fisher Fine Arts Library, University of Pennsylvania
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Net price: $24,539 per year

Even if you’re not familiar with the University of Pennsylvania, located in Philadelphia, you know its founder: He was none other than one of the nation’s legendary Founding Fathers, Ben Franklin.

The university Franklin founded is still going strong. It tops Niche’s 2020 list of best U.S. colleges for business.

15. California Institute of Technology

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Net price: $24,466 per year

“California Institute of Technology” is a mouthful. Many just call this college in Pasadena, “Caltech.”

For future scientists and engineers, this might just be the right choice. Niche has listed Caltech as the second-best college in America for physics, the second-best for chemistry and the third-best for both engineering and environmental science.

14. Bowdoin College

Bowdoin College rowers
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Net price: $24,447 per year

Bowdoin College, founded in 1794 in Brunswick, Maine, may not be a household name. Maybe it should be: Bowdoin is among LendEDU’s 25 colleges with the best return on your money.

13. Rice University

Rice University
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Net price: $24,131 per year

Rice University in Houston, Texas, got its start in 1891 as the William Marsh Rice Institute for the Advancement of Literature, Science and Art.

The name may have changed, but Rice still shines, especially when it comes to art education: ranks it the fifth-best college in the nation for art in 2020.

12. Vanderbilt University

Vanderbilt Unversity
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Net price: $23,295 per year

Vanderbilt University, in Nashville, Tennessee, is named for the wealthy railroad and shipping magnate Cornelius Vanderbilt.

He gave $1 million to endow and build the school, in 1873.

Today, Vanderbilt’s acceptance rate is just 11%, with incoming students’ SAT scores in the 1440-1570 range.

11. Columbia University

Columbia University library
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Net price: $22,824 per year

Columbia University, located in New York City, has a storied past. (Take note, “Hamilton” fans: Alexander Hamilton was one of the school’s first students, although it was called King’s College at the time.)

Columbia still is graduating students who go on to much career success. The evidence: The school is of the 25 best colleges based on graduates’ career outcomes.

10. Dartmouth College

Dartmouth College
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Net price: $22,303 per year

Ivy League Dartmouth College, founded in 1769, is located in Hanover, New Hampshire. ranks it the No. 1 college in the Granite State.

Admission is highly competitive, with just a 10% acceptance rate. But if you can’t get in, there’s hope — like the other Ivies, Dartmouth offers a variety of free courses to take online.

9. Massachusetts Institute of Technology

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Net price: $22,230 per year

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology, better known as MIT, was founded in 1861 and is located in Cambridge, the Boston-area city that’s also home to Harvard University.

Like Harvard, MIT isn’t for everyone: The school accepts just 7% of those who apply.

8. Duke University

Duke University
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Net price: $22,011 per year

Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, traces its origins to a schoolhouse used to educate children of Methodist and Quaker families in 1838.

Today, undergraduate and graduate students make a combined school population of 16,095. They do well when they graduate: Duke made a recent list of the 25 best schools based on graduates’ career options.

7. Amherst College

Amherst College
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Net price: $19,519 per year

Founded in 1821 in Amherst, Massachusetts, Amherst College has just 1,800 students.

Small schools often offer good value, and Amherst landed at No. 16 on LendEDU’s 2019 list of The 25 Colleges With the Best Return on Your Money.

6. Pomona College

Pomona College
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Net price: $18,427 per year

Pomona College, a private, liberal-arts school in Claremont, California, was founded in 1887. It is about 35 miles east of Los Angeles.

Pomona may not be as well-known as some larger colleges. Yet, it is No. 17 on LendEDU’s 2019 list of The 25 Colleges With the Best Return on Your Money.

5. Yale University

Yale University
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Net price: $18,053 per year

Yale University, founded in 1701 in New Haven, Connecticut, has a rich history.

Yale applicants had better be competent test-takers: Niche notes that Yale students score in the 1460-1580 range on the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT).

4. Harvard University

Harvard University
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Net price: $17,030 per year

Prestigious Harvard, established in 1636 and based in Cambridge and Boston, Massachusetts, is the oldest institution of higher education in the United States.

The school is very choosy about its students, accepting only 5% of applicants.

3. Stanford University

Stanford University
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Net price: $16,562 per year

One of the highest-ranked universities on the West Coast is California’s Stanford University, founded in 1885.

The school was begun by California U.S. Sen. Leland Stanford and his wife, Jane, as a memorial to their only child, Leland Jr., who died of typhoid.

Getting accepted to Stanford isn’t easy: Only 5% of applicants make the grade and are granted admittance. Of those who make it in, 67% receive financial aid.

2. University of Michigan

University of Michigan football stadium
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Net price: $16,408 per year

The highest-ranked state university on the list is the University of Michigan, in Ann Arbor, at No. 23 on the Niche list of top colleges.

Applicants might have a better shot of becoming a U of M Wolverine than getting acceptd to some more-competitive schools: Niche reports that the school accepts 27% of applicants.

1. Princeton University

Princeton University
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Net price: $16,302 per year

Historic Princeton University, the fourth-oldest college in the United States, isn’t cheap. But the net tution here (after financial aid is subtracted) is the lowest of all the top 25 schools in this list.

This famous Princeton, New Jersey, institution offers students impressive value. Princeton ranks No. 5 among Niche’s Best Colleges in America and accepts just 6% of applicants.

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