Holding down first place, and quite solidly, it is probably not a big surprise seeing Harvard University firmly in the top spot. While many factors considered together go into the rankings, clearly in this case one of the biggest is tradition.
2. Also of little or no surprise to most, Yale University places second on the list. The surprise is that they have not yet fallen out of second after awarding a degree to someone who went on to become the utterly evil president w. bush. Even so, again, tradition.
3. Rounding out the top three is Columbia University, possibly somewhat easier for more people to relate to than the first two. Also with big tradition as the first two, and also with the highest quality research, and medical and law schools as well.
4. Some people do not actually believe or consider tradition and say it's not Ivy, yet Brown University is that and makes fourth. It's considered one of the best for very good reasons.
5. As a young person exploring college options, I remember being amazed that there are more colleges and universities (at least 88, possibly more) in Boston, than in some entire states! One of the very top, in fifth, is Tufts University, which like those above and many below has a very competitive admissions process, and ranks so highly not only through tradition and academic quality, but quality of student life generally as well, and that surely is also deeply important.
6. Believe it or not, Princeton University is still in sixth, even though like the # 2 rank there could be seen reasons to break with strong tradition and be demoted (some may say this has already begun as they did not make third, fourth, or fifth, and the people who say that would be right). Tradition in this case is offset by the use of prejudicial admissions and quotas based on group membership through at least the late 1980s. While maybe not 100% conclusively proven despite clues and possibly evidence, those quotas were in fact used and are sufficient grounds alone for a lowering of ranking.
7. Coming in at seventh place is the University of Pennsylvania. Again, this is a school with some doubters or disputers who question whether it really does merit any special status. Yet like the earlier case with doubters (see # 4), there is more than one very good reason for consistently ranking highly.
8. Another example of a school that many agree deserves to be in the top rankings yet with some dissenters about that is Stanford University. While lacking the age of many of the northeastern powerhouses in the first seven positions, this school in its own right is worthy of being eighth in the rankings based on top level academic quality and offering a pleasant environment for acquiring that education.
9. OK, now that the dimension of tradition drops a level after the first eight spots (but is not eliminated completely), at ninth is MIT, which sits at this high spot primarily due to difficulty of admission and being a recognized leader in technology education.
10. Rounding out the top ten is the second public school to make it into the rankings, none other than UCLA. One thing that would be difficult to argue with in justifying so high a ranking is the factor or dimension of "financial cost paid in return for what quality of education received?", and in the case of this very high quality public school with lower cost than the famous big names above, it beats every one of them on that dimension, while at the same time providing an overall college experience that ranks ahead of a large number of other schools.
11. At eleventh is NYU, with high scores on many dimensions, including quality of education, and variety of fields of study.
12. Except of course for the few who might argue, at all or even about positioning, it probably is not an enormous surprise to see USC make it into the rankings, at # 12. A very wide offering of subjects of study at a very high level of academic quality contributes the most.
13. Please know right away that it does not matter how many people argue or protest the inclusion of University of Miami in these rankings at all, and even as high as # 13. If it were 35 years ago, dissenters would be correct. Now, the claims of the past are no longer true. With a concerted effort to make admissions tougher and tougher every year, together with making academic standards and requirements for already enrolled students tougher every year, it's been literally decades already since moving from top ranks of the party schools to top ranks of schools overall. In this exact specific case, educational quality and overall quality are the factors with the highest weights.
14. Yes, their "sister school" already came in at # 10, yet UCSD in its own right places here at # 14 in the rankings. Another example of a public school rightfully deserving of placing, contrary to the naysayers who load up their ranks with only private schools. Too bad for them and their readers and believers, because they hardly ever incorporate quality of student life as a factor (and it's a vitally important factor that should not be overlooked or excluded), and because reputation of the school alone is pretty much a valueless ranking dimension at this point.
15. Combining tradition, reputation, very tough admissions standards, and very high level quality of education, Cornell University places solidly at # 15 in the rankings. The social quality of life, once again, should not be overlooked, if you can tolerate freezing your @ss off.
16. It's not only the famous top basketball program at Duke University that places them at # 16 in the rankings. In fact, that's really a much smaller part of it than the pleasant conditions for students and truly high academic quality.
17. Once again, as noted at # 13 above, it will not matter how many disagree with the inclusion of UCSF at # 17 in the rankings. Yes, two sister schools of the University of California already occupy positions higher in these rankings, yet that cannot take away the qualities of having a very high ratio of cost to quality of education offered along with one of the most diverse student populations.
18. While not one of the larger schools making it into the rankings, at least as measured by size of the student population, Emory University at # 18 combines very high scores on quality of education and also student life to be a worthy placer here.
19. Despite not being Ivy, Clarke University is at # 19. Positive social environment and high educational quality make this a worthy placer.
20. As the only school whose name ends in "State University" to make it into the rankings, at # 20 is Pennsylvania State University, which sits at this spot based on providing very high academic quality for a much lower cost than most other schools in the top 25, as well as pleasant conditions for student life generally.
21. Even though the campus at College Park may be the most well known at the University of Maryland, this is a state school in its entirety that places firmly at # 21 in the rankings. High scores on student life and ratio of cost to quality of education received are the factors most heavily contributing.
22. The star of the Pacific northwest, University of Washington makes # 22 in the rankings based on quality of student life, and quality of education offered compared to cost.
23. In addition to school spirit, Vanderbilt University places # 23 in the rankings because of a very high score on community integration with the school (as opposed to colleges and universities that are quite insular and almost separate even from their surrounding neighborhoods), as well as high academic quality.
24. At second-to-last of the top colleges is the University of Texas, whose campus at Austin with over 100,000 students is the largest in the nation. Believe it or not, there are even some people who are not born in the Lone Star State that decide to attend.
25. Making the final spot on the list is the University of Massachusetts: Amherst. This public school offers high quality education that rivals many similarly-sized private schools, for far lower cost.
If your school did not make the top 25 colleges, maybe next year.