The U.S. Universities Tour took a journey around the nation to figure out which universities should be included in our list of the top universities in the United States. The methodology we used involved examining several aspects of each university we considered, including academic programs, selectivity of admissions, tuition costs and financial aid options. Since there is much more to a school’s value than its statistics and prestige, we didn’t stop there in our evaluations. In addition to these important features, we explored student life, the campus, and the surrounding location as some of the most important factors in a college experience.
Choosing a university is one of the most important decisions in not just a student’s life, but also the lives of the student’s family. The costs of attending many of these prestigious universities is very high for the average family to afford, so college options may seem limited. In the current economy, the idea of taking out large student loans to afford an education just doesn’t seem worth it. Federal, state, and local financial aid can greatly reduce the cost of education, as can choosing an in-state public university, or attending a community college for two years before transferring to a four-year university. Fortunately, nearly all of the universities selected here have large endowments, or funds that help the university run, even during times of economic downturn. Some of the money from endowments is used to assist students from lower-income families. Many of these universities have a need-blind admissions process, meaning they do not look at the financial situation of applicants until after they are accepted. At this point they have already pledged to meet the need, once it has been assessed. Scholarships based on a variety of parameters, like cultural background, or merit-based scholarships for outstanding academic achievement are offered by many of these universities as well as outside organizations.
For students who still need to take out student loans to attend their dream colleges, the choice is somewhat risky. Is the education worth the costs, and the risk of not being able to repay the loans? This question must be answered by each student with the help of their families, but many factors must be considered aside from the numbers. Much of the value of attending these top universities comes from the opportunities, not only for education in the classroom, but outside the classroom as well. The networking potential offered by these schools is invaluable – the connections students make and the networks they build mean that students will become forever connected to past and present alumni and faculty. The school unity and the strength of connections are particularly strong at smaller universities, such as many on our list.
One of the parts of a school that is most difficult to define or describe is the school’s atmosphere or character, which is best explored by actually visiting the school, taking a tour, and meeting some of the faculty and students. Each school has its own character and its own academic and research specialties, dependent on where the school chooses to spend its money, the professors that teach at each school, and the students that choose to attend the school. For example, when a school, like UC Berkeley, is known for having a very liberal student body, other like-minded students choose to attend the school, creating even more of the liberal atmosphere.
Programs and degrees offered, such as whether the school has only undergraduate programs, or if it also awards graduate and doctorate degrees, also affects the school’s vibe, and gives students different opportunities, depending on the offerings. A school with a heavy focus on technology, science, and engineering will attract a different variety of students than a school that focuses on medicine or the liberal arts. Each school’s history also contributes to the atmosphere of the college, for example, whether the school began as (or even continues to be) a religious institution, which can shape the school’s values and attract students who follow these same values. While we can present a detailed picture of life at each university, prospective students will find that the most accurate portrayal will be found with a visit to the university itself.
Selecting a university is a difficult decision, so learning as much as possible before making a choice is essential. It’s best to begin the process early and begin discerning which qualities are most important, like whether a public or private school would be best, or whether you need a wide variety of program options, in case you switch majors (as most students do), or if you would rather be in a big city or a small college town. After narrowing down the options, consider visiting and taking a tour of the top universities on your list.
Last Updated on: September 25th, 2017