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Colleges with the best student life in every state

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    Colleges with the best student life in every state

    Picking the right university can be a complex web of wants and needs: academic rigor and a vivacious social life; plenty of space to find yourself, but the intimacy of a small classroom. Finding a college that has it all may seem like an insurmountable task. The tug-of-war often feels like it has nothing to do with the students, and is instead wrapped up in a longstanding competition between universities. So when it comes to figuring out the answer, who better to turn to than the students themselves?

    Stacker has compiled a definitive list of colleges with the best student life, using data provided by Niche, which creates rankings based on a combination of student polls and statistics from the U.S. Department of Education. Both the polls and stats reflect the criteria that help make sense of “student life”—school athletics, facilities, diversity, safety, access to nightlife, and more—and take into account the practical details as well, such as class size, and tuition or enrollment fees per-year. But all of this data reflects just how broad those elements are. For every Harvard, there is a Harvard for, say, mechanical engineering or a Yale for binge-drinking (unfortunately). Universities know how to sell a school. But to find out who does the college experience right, look to the kids; they are our future.

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    Alabama: University of Alabama

    Location: Tuscaloosa, AL
    Overall Niche grade: A
    Student life grade: A+
    Acceptance rate: 53%
    Net price per year: $20,133
    Student body size: 29,220 undergrads

    The University of Alabama is considered the #2 college in the country when it comes to athletics, as well as a beloved site for hedonism: it's the #5 college for Greek life, and #12 for general partying. On the flip side, the university also boasts the only publicly supported law school in the state.

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    Alaska: University of Alaska Fairbanks

    Location: Fairbanks, AK
    Overall Niche grade: B-
    Student life grade: C-
    Acceptance rate: 73%
    Net price per year: $9,097
    Student body size: 3,189 undergrads

    The University of Alaska Fairbanks provides an affordable tuition for students, at less than $10,000 a year. The campus also boasts seven world-renowned research units, including the Geophysical Institute, the Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station and the Institute of Arctic Biology—the latter of which is one of the most highly regarded in the world.

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    Arizona: Grand Canyon University

    Location: Phoenix, AZ
    Overall Niche grade: B+
    Student life grade: A+
    Acceptance rate: 57%
    Net price per year: $21,168
    Student body size: 14,543 undergrads

    Grand Canyon University was founded as a non-profit liberal arts university before its 2004 purchase and transformation into a for-profit Christian university. To this day, Grand Canyon University is the only for-profit university to compete in a Division 1 NCAA athletics tournament. They've won several conference titles between 1995 and 1998.

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    Arkansas: University of Arkansas

    Location: Fayetteville, AR
    Overall Niche grade: A
    Student life grade: A
    Acceptance rate: 63%
    Net price per year: $15,411
    Student body size: 19,853 undergrads

    The University of Arkansas was recognized by the Carnegie Foundation as the university with the highest level of research activity in the country. The university is also known for its deep ties to the history of Greek life on campus, which includes the founding chapter of the Chi Omega sorority as well as the largest fraternity chapter in the country: Kappa Sigma.

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    California: Stanford University

    Location: Stanford, CA
    Overall Niche grade: A+
    Student life grade: A+
    Acceptance rate: 5%
    Net price per year: $16,695
    Student body size: 7,034 undergrads

    Stanford is of California’s premier universities, located in Palo Alto, on the edge of Silicon Valley. It boasts an infamously harsh acceptance rate of 5%, but holds the distinct honor of being the #1 university in America for both academia and athletics, nailing two of the most important elements of student life.

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    Colorado: Colorado State University

    Location: Fort Collins, CO
    Overall Niche grade: A
    Student life grade: A
    Acceptance rate: 78%
    Net price per year: $16,232
    Student body size: 21,977 undergrads

    Colorado State University is the largest land grant university in the state, meaning the school’s construction was paid for using federal funds amassed from land sales. That said, Colorado State University is the flagship university of the Colorado State system. The school also ranked in the top 30 best college locations in the country, and in the top 50 best colleges in America.

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    Connecticut: Yale University

    Location: New Haven, CT
    Overall Niche grade: A+
    Student life grade: A+
    Acceptance rate: 6%
    Net price per year: $18,319
    Student body size: 5,469 undergrads

    Yale University hardly needs an introduction, but it should be said in any case that the third-oldest college in the United States houses some of the best programs in the country. Its professors are consistently top-ranked, and the school has the best psychology, history and international relations programs in the United States.

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    Delaware: University of Delaware

    Location: Newark, DE
    Overall Niche grade: A
    Student life grade: A
    Acceptance rate: 70%
    Net price per year: $15,894
    Student body size: 17,761 undergrads

    UD is the largest university in Delaware, and one of the top 50 best public universities in the country. Though the university is one of the oldest in the nation, the school was not identified as an establishment for higher learning until 1833. Its inaugural class included ten graduates, three of whom—George Read, Thomas McKean, James Smith—would go on to sign the Declaration of Independence.

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    Florida: University of Florida

    Location: Gainesville, FL
    Overall Niche grade: A+
    Student life grade: A+
    Acceptance rate: 46%
    Net price per year: $14,761
    Student body size: 31,014 undergrads

    The University of Florida is ranked by students as housing the best athletics program in the country, and one of the top five best universities for student-athletes. Academically, it has developed one of the best criminal justice programs in America, continually ranking among the top ten. In 2018, University of Florida tied for the ninth best public university in the country.

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    Georgia: University of Georgia

    Location: Athens, GA
    Overall Niche grade: A+
    Student life grade: A+
    Acceptance rate: 54%
    Net price per year: $14,956
    Student body size: 26,328 undergrads

    The University of Georgia is notable for a number of things, including its renowned criminal justice program and its vivacious atmosphere, ranked by students as the #2 party school in the country. It is also one of the few institutions to be recognized as a “public Ivy,” a publically funded university with a level of excellence comparable to that of an Ivy League school.

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    Hawaii: Chaminade University of Honolulu

    Location: Honolulu, HI
    Overall Niche grade: B
    Student life grade: B+
    Acceptance rate: 91%
    Net price per year: $18,660
    Student body size: 1,370 undergrads

    The Chaminade University of Honolulu is a private school founded in 1955 under the Roman Catholic religious order. Accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges, the college is renowned for a number of specialized areas of research including biology and forensic sciences, as well as interior design and religious studies.

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    Idaho: Brigham Young University—Idaho

    Location: Rexburg, ID
    Overall Niche grade: B
    Student life grade: A-
    Acceptance rate: 96%
    Net price per year: $8,344
    Student body size: 16,538 undergrads

    This private university is run by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and is consistently ranked among the top five most conservative colleges in the country. Students are required to follow a strict honor code, which ranges from traditional requirements of academic honesty to dress and grooming standards, and rules on extramarital sexual relations. A reported 99% of students are active members of the LDS church.

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    Illinois: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

    Location: Champaign, IL
    Overall Niche grade: A+
    Student life grade: A+
    Acceptance rate: 60%
    Net price per year: $16,683
    Student body size: 32,540 undergrads

    U of I is a long-admired sports institution and is one of the founding members of the Big Ten conference, the oldest Division I collegiate sports conference in the United States. The campus also holds the second-largest library in the country, trailing just behind Harvard. It was classified by the Carnegie Institute of Higher Education as having a notably high level of research activity.

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    Indiana: University of Notre Dame

    Location: Notre Dame, IN
    Overall Niche grade: A+
    Student life grade: A+
    Acceptance rate: 19%
    Net price per year: $26,683
    Student body size: 8,514 undergrads

    The University of Notre Dame is not considered to be an Ivy League university, but it is consistently recognized as one of the top in the world, noted particularly for its undergraduate education. Notre Dame also boasts a number of highly respected graduate programs, the most notable being its school of architecture, which awards the prestigious Driehaus Architecture Prize annually.

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    Iowa: University of Iowa

    Location: Iowa City, IA
    Overall Niche grade: A
    Student life grade: A+
    Acceptance rate: 84%
    Net price per year: $14,161
    Student body size: 20,868 undergrads

    The University of Iowa has the distinct honor of being the original architect of the Master of Fine Arts (MFA) degree, now offered at numerous top universities around the world. UI is also beloved for its prestigious Iowa Writers Workshop, which has been responsible for no fewer than 17 of the University’s astounding 46 Pulitzer Prize winners.

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    Kansas: Kansas State University

    Location: Manhattan, KS
    Overall Niche grade: A
    Student life grade: A+
    Acceptance rate: 94%
    Net price per year: $16,431
    Student body size: 17,699 undergrads

    Kansas State was the first public institution of higher learning in the state and has amassed a number of notable titles since then. It consistently ranks as one of the top five colleges for agricultural studiesand who would expect any less from the Sunflower State? Its campus is also often ranked in the top 30 of Best Campuses in America for students.

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    Kentucky: Bellarmine University

    Location: Louisville, KY
    Overall Niche grade: B+
    Student life grade: A-
    Acceptance rate: 82%
    Net price per year: $24,742
    Student body size: 2,473 undergrads

    Bellarmine ranks in the top 50 Catholic universities in the country and is often ranked among the top 20 best college locations. The school is divided into seven individual colleges, and features an educational system of more than 50 academic majors and five doctoral degrees.

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    Louisiana: Tulane University

    Location: New Orleans, LA
    Overall Niche grade: A+
    Student life grade: A+
    Acceptance rate: 26%
    Net price per year: $32,515
    Student body size: 6,487 undergrads

    Tulane University does right by its New Orleans location by consistently being ranked by students as the number-one party school in the country. It is also ranked in the top 20 best colleges for architecture, and notable for being the most selective institution of higher education in Louisiana. The school is known for attracting a diverse student body, and touts two Nobel Laureates as University affiliates.

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    Maine: Bowdoin College

    Location: Brunswick, ME
    Overall Niche grade: A+
    Student life grade: A+
    Acceptance rate: 15%
    Net price per year: $24,888
    Student body size: 1,801 undergrads

    Bowdoin College in Maine is beloved by its students and alumni alike, consistently ranked by students as the #1 small college in the country. Bowdoin is also considered one of the best liberal arts colleges in the country, ranked by U.S. World News & Report as #3, and ranked by students as #1. 

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    Maryland: University of Maryland—College Park

    Location: College Park, MD
    Overall Niche grade: A+
    Student life grade: A+
    Acceptance rate: 48%
    Net price per year: $15,757
    Student body size: 26,350 undergrads

    The University of Maryland in College Park has been given the rare distinction of a “Public Ivy” title, meaning the university remains publicly funded, but its educational standards meet those of an Ivy League university. It is the largest university in the Washington metropolitan area, and as a result of its proximity to the nation’s capital, the University of Maryland and its faculty receive funding from a number of government agencies, including NASA, the FDA and the Department of Homeland Security.  

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    Massachusetts: Massachusetts Institute of Technology

    Location: Cambridge, MA
    Overall Niche grade: A+
    Student life grade: A+
    Acceptance rate: 8%
    Net price per year: $21,576
    Student body size: 4,476 undergrads

    MIT is known for its rigorous curriculum and low acceptance rate, making it routinely one of the hardest colleges to apply to. The school is ranked #1 in both computer sciences and engineering, with an expected median salary of $94,000 post-graduation.

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    Michigan: University of Michigan—Ann Arbor

    Location: Ann Arbor, MI
    Overall Niche grade: A+
    Student life grade: A+
    Acceptance rate: 29%
    Net price per year: $16,107
    Student body size: 27,969 undergrads

    The University of Michigan is ranked as the top public university in the country. Those nearly 28,000 undergraduate students have also ranked Ann Arbor as the third best school in the entire country when it comes to student life.

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    Minnesota: Carleton College

    Location: Northfield, MN
    Overall Niche grade: A+
    Student life grade: A+
    Acceptance rate: 23%
    Net price per year: $28,587
    Student body size: 2,087 undergrads

    Students rank Carleton College as the second-most liberal university and the third-best liberal arts college in the country. U.S. World News & Report found Carleton to offer the best undergraduate education in the liberal arts, with particular attention paid to the school’s robust notable alumni list: 112 Fulbright Scholars, 22 Watson Fellows, and 2 Rhodes Scholars.

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    Mississippi: University of Mississippi

    Location: University, MS
    Overall Niche grade: A-
    Student life grade: A
    Acceptance rate: 78%
    Net price per year: $14,678
    Student body size: 17,852 undergrads

    The University of Mississippi manages to hit a pretty consistent trifecta of lists, ranked as one of the best party schools in the country, one of the best for Greek life, and one of its most conservative. Fun fact: John Grisham, the literary king of the legal thriller, received his Juris Doctor degree at Ole Miss Law.

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    Missouri: Washington University in St. Louis

    Location: Saint Louis, MO
    Overall Niche grade: A+
    Student life grade: A+
    Acceptance rate: 17%
    Net price per year: $28,824
    Student body size: 6,915 undergrads

    Washington University in St. Louis has the distinct honor of being ranked the #1 best college campus in the country. This helps explain why, in 2013, the college received a record 30,000 applicants. Of the 1,500 freshmen admitted, 90% of them were ranked in the top 10% of their high school classes.

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    Montana: Carroll College

    Location: Helena, MT
    Overall Niche grade: B+
    Student life grade: B+
    Acceptance rate: 71%
    Net price per year: $25,449
    Student body size: 1,324 undergrads

    Carroll College is a private university beloved by its students for its small, accessible campus and community feel. The Roman Catholic liberal arts college has earned a number of national accolades for both athletic and academic programs, most notably its nursing and pre-med programs.

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    Nebraska: University of Nebraska—Lincoln

    Location: Lincoln, NE
    Overall Niche grade: A
    Student life grade: A
    Acceptance rate: 75%
    Net price per year: $16,462
    Student body size: 19,381 undergrads

    UNL is the oldest university in the Cornhusker State, and is a renowned public research institution. The university is celebrated for its football team, which has won 46 conference championships and five national championships. Its women’s volleyball team has enjoyed nabbing five national championships as well.

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    Nevada: University of Nevada—Reno

    Location: Reno, NV
    Overall Niche grade: B+
    Student life grade: B+
    Acceptance rate: 83%
    Net price per year: $15,022
    Student body size: 15,408 undergrads

    The University of Nevada in Reno is a top destination for partying, ranking high on student-voted lists of best schools “to rage at.” The university is also a notoriously research-intensive campus. The school’s structures laboratory within its school of engineering has been on the forefront of major innovations with regards to earthquake prediction and monitoring. Its school of Journalism would make noted Nevada junkie Hunter S. Thompson proud, having produced six Pulitzer Prize winners.

     

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    New Hampshire: Dartmouth College

    Location: Hanover, NH
    Overall Niche grade: A+
    Student life grade: A-
    Acceptance rate: 11%
    Net price per year: $21,177
    Student body size: 4,270 undergrads

    The ninth-oldest educational institution in the country, Dartmouth College is one of America’s premiere Ivy League universities. Its students have been repeatedly hailed as some of the most professionally sought-after in the world, due to its unique academic rigor. Just this year, the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education listed Dartmouth as the only "majority-undergraduate, arts-and-sciences focused, doctoral university" in the United States with notably high research activity.

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    New Jersey: Princeton University

    Location: Princeton, NJ
    Overall Niche grade: A+
    Student life grade: A+
    Acceptance rate: 7%
    Net price per year: $17,732
    Student body size: 5,251 undergrads

    Princeton produces some very unique thinkers: the school houses one of the most acclaimed philosophy departments in the country. Ditto for engineering and chemistry. Having always hovered between the top two spots, Princeton remained the top school in the country for sixteen straight years between 2001 and 2018.

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    New Mexico: Northern New Mexico College

    Location: Espanola, NM
    Overall Niche grade: C+
    Student life grade: B+
    Acceptance rate: 100%
    Net price per year: $6,271
    Student body size: 590 undergrads

    Northern New Mexico College is consistently ranked by its students as one of the most diverse universities in the state, and employs some of the state’s top professors. Additionally, the campus hosts some of New Mexico’s best student life, coming in at #1 in a student poll.

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    New York: Columbia University

    Location: New York, NY
    Overall Niche grade: A+
    Student life grade: A+
    Acceptance rate: 7%
    Net price per year: $22,973
    Student body size: 7,552 undergrads

    Columbia University is the oldest college in the state of New York, and is the fifth-oldest in the country. Its mix of arts and letters—it ranks second in English and third in performing arts in the country—has helped establish its reputation, though name-dropping five founding fathers as alumni doesn’t hurt either.

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    North Carolina: University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

    Location: Chapel Hill, NC
    Overall Niche grade: A+
    Student life grade: A+
    Acceptance rate: 27%
    Net price per year: $10,077
    Student body size: 17,869 undergrads

    UNC is ranked by students as the sixth-best public university and best big college in the country. Additionally, the school has received worldwide attention for its UNC Medical Center, which opened in 1952. Since its inception, the program has focused on the research and development of a cure for cancer, making it one of the front-runners in the race to end the disease.

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    North Dakota: North Dakota State University

    Location: Fargo, ND
    Overall Niche grade: A-
    Student life grade: A-
    Acceptance rate: 93%
    Net price per year: $14,581
    Student body size: 10,680 undergrads

    As a public research university, NDSU is ranked by students as a top university for agricultural studies in the United States. It’s also been ranked in the top 100 best public universities in the country, simultaneously serving as the fifth-largest employer in the state of North Dakota.

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    Ohio: Ohio State University

    Location: Columbus, OH
    Overall Niche grade: A+
    Student life grade: A+
    Acceptance rate: 54%
    Net price per year: $17,971
    Student body size: 41,862 undergrads

    No other school comes close to rivaling Ohio State pride, thanks in large part to the crowd-pleasing Buckeyes, so it’s no surprise that the school constantly ranks in the top ten best college athletics programs in the country. That may also help explain why it consistently ranks as one of the country’s best party schools too, coming in at #18.

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    Oklahoma: University of Oklahoma

    Location: Norman, OK
    Overall Niche grade: A
    Student life grade: A
    Acceptance rate: 71%
    Net price per year: $17,966
    Student body size: 18,444 undergrads

    OU is ranked first among public universities for enrollment of National Merit Scholars and has been recognized as ranking in the top ten for number of graduated Rhodes Scholars. Neither are easy feats, nor is ranking fourth-best in the country for college athletics.

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    Oregon: Reed College

    Location: Portland, OR
    Overall Niche grade: A+
    Student life grade: A+
    Acceptance rate: 31%
    Net price per year: $27,805
    Student body size: 1,379 undergrads

    Reed College, tucked away in a protected forest canyon in southeast Portland, is considered the 13th-best college for art. It also routinely ranks as one of the country’s best small colleges, with an undergrad size of roughly 1,400 backing up the school’s reputation.

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    Pennsylvania: University of Pennsylvania

    Location: Philadelphia, PA
    Overall Niche grade: A+
    Student life grade: A+
    Acceptance rate: 9%
    Net price per year: $22,944
    Student body size: 10,468 undergrads

    The University of Pennsylvania offers some of the country’s best-ranked programs, including business, accounting, finance, and nursing. Additionally, Penn was one of the first American universities to follow the multidisciplinary model of European universities. The school is also known for its notable alumni, producing 14 future heads of state, and two U.S. Presidents.

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    Rhode Island: Brown University

    Location: Providence, RI
    Overall Niche grade: A+
    Student life grade: A+
    Acceptance rate: 9%
    Net price per year: $25,264
    Student body size: 6,565 undergrads

    Brown, one of the country’s distinguished Ivy Leagues, is found by students to have the third-best teaching faculty in the country. Additionally, the University, which is itself a pillar of American education, is additionally one of the leaders in teaching education: students rank it #3 in the country for its outstanding program.

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    South Carolina: Clemson University

    Location: Clemson, SC
    Overall Niche grade: A
    Student life grade: A+
    Acceptance rate: 51%
    Net price per year: $17,797
    Student body size: 17,883 undergrads

    Aside from being ranked by U.S. World & News Report as 21st among all national public universities, Clemson is also considered a doctoral university with the highest research activity. The students don’t seem to hate it too much eitherit’s ranked 26th best big college in the entire country.

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    South Dakota: Augustana University

    Location: Sioux Falls, SD
    Overall Niche grade: A
    Student life grade: A
    Acceptance rate: 69%
    Net price per year: $19,974
    Student body size: 1,574 undergrads

    An Evangelical Lutheran-affiliated school, Augustana University is considered by a majority of its students to be safe and secure as well as friendly and welcoming. Augustana is often ranked highly among Midwestern schools, but rarely among publications like The Princeton Review or U.S. News & World Report. As for its students? They rank the nursing program among the top 30 in the country.

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    Tennessee: Vanderbilt University

    Location: Nashville, TN
    Overall Niche grade: A+
    Student life grade: A+
    Acceptance rate: 11%
    Net price per year: $23,150
    Student body size: 6,817 undergrads

    Offering one of the best educations in the country—and the ninth-hardest school to be admitted to—Vanderbilt University is a Southern institution. The University was named after Cornelius Vanderbilt, the shipping magnate, whose great-great-great grandson is none other than news reporter Anderson Cooper. Cornelius Vanderbilt is said to have donated the $1 million endowment that jump-started the school, though he had never stepped foot in the South.

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    Texas: Rice University

    Location: Houston, TX
    Overall Niche grade: A+
    Student life grade: A+
    Acceptance rate: 15%
    Net price per year: $22,061
    Student body size: 3,836 undergrads

    Houston’s Rice University has developed one of the most rigorous STEM programs in the country, with a high percentage of post-graduate job placements. Additionally, Rice offers STEM summer programs for younger students, grades 8-12, giving middle school and high school students the opportunity to connect with the university at an early age.

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    Utah: Brigham Young University

    Location: Provo, UT
    Overall Niche grade: A+
    Student life grade: A+
    Acceptance rate: 51%
    Net price per year: $12,864
    Student body size: 28,012 undergrads

    Brigham Young University, sometimes called “the Y” by its community, boasts one of the 50 best film programs in the country, according to its students. Brigham Young’s students have hailed many of the school’s programs, including its information technology major, ranked fourth in the U.S., as some of the best.

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    Vermont: Middlebury College

    Location: Middlebury, VT
    Overall Niche grade: A+
    Student life grade: A
    Acceptance rate: 16%
    Net price per year: $21,437
    Student body size: 2,506 undergrads

    Middlebury College is historically noted for being the first institute of higher learning to grant a bachelor’s degree to an African-American student. That student, Alexander Twilight, is also famous for having arguably the most fun name in American history. Students rank the school among the top five best liberal arts universities in the country, and in the top ten best small colleges overall.

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    Virginia: University of Virginia

    Location: Charlottesville, VA
    Overall Niche grade: A+
    Student life grade: A+
    Acceptance rate: 30%
    Net price per year: $15,945
    Student body size: 15,476 undergrads

    Though the school was thrust into the national spotlight over the past year over the enduring trauma of a complex racial history, University of Virginia students actually rank their university warmly as the second-best public institution in the country, and America’s third-best big college. 

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    Washington: University of Washington

    Location: Seattle, WA
    Overall Niche grade: A+
    Student life grade: A+
    Acceptance rate: 45%
    Net price per year: $10,068
    Student body size: 28,380 undergrads

    The University of Washington is ranked by students as one of the thirty most diverse colleges in the country. It is the flagship institution of Washington State’s higher educational system, which boasts six public universities. In 2015, University of Washington received more than $1 billion in research funding, making it the third-largest for research grants among all American universities.

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    West Virginia: West Virginia University

    Location: Morgantown, WV
    Overall Niche grade: A-
    Student life grade: A
    Acceptance rate: 76%
    Net price per year: $10,814
    Student body size: 20,524 undergrads

    Student life is alive and well at West Virginia University, since the campus ranks as the sixth-best party school in the country, according to its student body. The school’s Greek life, however, is ranked as #31, meaning that its social scene doesn’t necessarily need fraternities to thrive. The school is also listed among the top 100 public universities in the country.

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    Wisconsin: University of Wisconsin

    Location: Madison, WI
    Overall Niche grade: A+
    Student life grade: A+
    Acceptance rate: 53%
    Net price per year: $15,874
    Student body size: 28,577 undergrads

    Historically, the University of Wisconsin was the first public university to be constructed in the state, and remains Wisconsin’s oldest and largest. Additionally, its gorgeous 933-acre campus is the site of four national monuments

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    Wyoming: University of Wyoming

    Location: Laramie, WY
    Overall Niche grade: A-
    Student life grade: B-
    Acceptance rate: 95%
    Net price per year: $13,155
    Student body size: 8,102 undergrads

    Students rank the University of Wyoming as having the best food of any college in the state, and hail its nursing program the best in state as well. As for notable alumni, former U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney proudly calls himself a lifelong U-Dubber.

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