The 25 best private colleges in America

The Surprising Reason Behind Princeton's Ranking

Business Insider recently released its annual list of the best colleges in America, which emphasized schools with high graduation rates, early-career earnings, and top-notch student life experiences.

The ranking also took into account the annual net cost of each school — the average cost of tuition for all students that applied for financial aid, after accounting for the amount of financial aid received — according to the US government's College Scorecard.

Private colleges dominated the list, with 42 of the top 50 spots. While private schools typically have higher tuition, they also tend to award generous financial aid to students, effectively trimming annual net cost for students, leading to a higher ranking on the overall list.

Here are the top-25 best private colleges in America.

2016's best private colleges ranking
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2016's best private colleges ranking

25. Dartmouth College

Location: Hanover, New Hampshire

Median salary 10 years after enrolling: $67,100

Average SAT score: 1446

Student life score: A-

Annual net cost: $29,597

Dartmouth encourages students to pursue a globally focused education, and the school'sflexible calendar — made up of four 10-week terms — lets students decide which seasons to spend on campus and which to take off to travel, volunteer, complete an internship, or conduct research. TheOffice of Undergraduate Research connects students with faculty mentors, helping any undergraduate interested in research find a project to pursue.

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23. Tufts University

Location: Medford, Massachusetts

Median salary 10 years after enrolling$67,800

Average SAT score: 1428

Student life score: A

Annual net cost: $29,271

Tufts University is made up of three undergraduate schools: the School of Arts and Sciences, the School of Engineering, and the School of the Museum of Fine Arts at Tufts. Students have the option to choose from about 150 majors and minors and participate in one or more of Tuft's341 student organizations. In the Experimental College, students go beyond the typical classroom environment, taking courses such as "Circus and Society" or "American Witches."

(Photo via Getty Images)

21. Northwestern University

Location: Evanston, Illinois

Median salary 10 years after enrolling: $64,100

Average SAT score: 1458

Student life score: A

Annual net cost: $28,544

With more than 500 clubs and organizations to join, including a capella groups and the student-run newspaper, there's no shortage of ways for Northwestern students to get involved on campus. On the academic side, Northwestern sponsors several opportunities for innovation, including two startup incubators and a certificate program in entrepreneurship specifically targeted at undergraduates.

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20. University of Southern California

Location: Los Angeles

Median salary 10 years after enrolling$66,100

Average SAT score: 1380

Student life score: A+

Annual net cost: $28,352

Students who attend the University of Southern California will have the opportunity learn from professors who are Nobel laureates, National Academy members, and MacArthur Fellows. USC is dedicated to helping its students make the most of their education. Its Renaissance Ideal gives students the flexibility to put together a program for their majors and minors suited to their needs.

(Photo via REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni)

19. University of Chicago

Location: Chicago

Median salary 10 years after enrolling: $62,800

Average SAT score: 1504

Student life score: A

Annual net cost: $25,335

Since oil magnate John D. Rockefeller founded the University of Chicago in 1890, the private school has established a global presence with international centers in Beijing, New Delhi, Paris, and Hong Kong. UChicago's undergraduate program is recognized for preparing students to continue on to graduate school, with more than 15% of undergraduates eventually earning a Ph.D.

(Photo via REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque)

18. Washington and Lee University

Location: Lexington, Virginia

Median salary 10 years after enrolling: $77,600

Average SAT score: 1392

Student life score: A

Annual net cost: $23,916

Named for two significant figures in American history — President George Washington and Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee — Washington and Lee is steeped in traditions, including the school's honor code, which allows students such freedoms as scheduling their own exams and taking them without supervision. The school is centered on liberal arts, and it offers 37 majors, including studio art, journalism, and philosophy.

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16. Brown University

Location: Providence, Rhode Island

Median salary 10 years after enrolling: $59,700

Average SAT score: 1425

Student life score: A+

Annual net cost: $25,005

Brown students have the freedom to personalize their liberal-arts course study, a practice the school calls "open curriculum." Brown was founded in 1764 on the then-unprecedented idea ofaccepting students regardless of religion. It was also the first Ivy League school to establish an undergraduate engineering program in 1847.

(Photo via Getty Images)

15. Colgate University

Location: Hamilton, New York

Median salary 10 years after enrolling$61,500

Average SAT score: 1370

Student life score: A+

Annual net cost: $17,711

Colgate University boasts a student-to-faculty ratio of nine to one, allowing its students to work closely with the school's distinguished professors. The school offers more than 20 off-campus study groups — a study-abroad-like experience in which Colgate faculty lead a course at an international institution. Also focused on sustainability, Colgate pledged to diminish its carbon footprint and become "climate neutral" by 2019.

(Photo via Shutterstock)

14. Washington University in St. Louis

Location: St. Louis

Median salary 10 years after enrolling: $62,300

Average SAT score: 1474

Student life score: A+

Annual net cost: $33,484

Each year, Washington University supports more than 3,000 research projects, ranging from medical and health to innovation and entrepreneurship. The majority of WashU's more than 6,800 undergraduates study in the arts and sciences school, while nearly 1,000 students enroll in the university's high-ranking undergraduate business program at Olin Business School.

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13. Duke University

Location: Durham, North Carolina

Median salary 10 years after enrolling: $76,700

Average SAT score: 1444

Student life score: A+

Annual net cost: $28,058

Duke University places an emphasis on research, providing students with numerous avenues to pursue projects through research grants, travel opportunities, and apprenticeships with distinguished professors — and more than half of its undergraduates take advantage. Upon graduation, Duke students join the ranks of notable alumni such as Melinda Gates, Etsy CEO Chad Dickerson, and former "Nightline" anchor Dan Abrams.

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12. Cornell University

Location: Ithaca, New York

Median salary 10 years after enrolling$70,900

Average SAT score: 1422

Student life score: A+

Annual net cost: $26,484

The Ivy League school located in upstate New York was the first to establish a four-year hotel-administration school, and it was the first university in the US to offer an American studies program. Big Red, as it is nicknamed, offers nearly 80 majors including engineering, architecture, and agricultural sciences. Its College of Agriculture and Life Sciences is thesecond-largest undergraduate college at the university.

(Photo by Peter Spiro via Getty Images)

11. University of Notre Dame

Location: South Bend, Indiana

Median salary 10 years after enrolling: $69,400

Average SAT score: 1450

Student life score: A+

Annual net cost: $27,845

University of Notre Dame students become part of a storied history, where carrying on school traditions is a built-in part of the experience: Pep rallies, homemade-boat races, and masses at chapel are among the activities available during students' four years on campus. Graduates join the ranks of notable alumni who came before them, including former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Bank of America CEO Brian Moynihan, and author Nicholas Sparks.

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10. Georgetown University

Location: Washington, D.C.

Median salary 10 years after enrolling: $83,300

Average SAT score: 1398

Student life score: A+

Annual net cost: $27,801

The founding of Georgetown's undergraduate program in 1789 makes it the oldest Catholic and Jesuit college in the US. Rooted in a traditional liberal-arts curriculum, the private university is a cornerstone of Washington, D.C., and has produced a laundry list of accomplished alumni, including President Bill Clinton, who was class president during his freshman and sophomore years at Georgetown but lost his bid for student-body president.

(Photo via Getty Images)

9. Columbia University

Location: New York City

Median salary 10 years after enrolling: $72,900

Average SAT score: 1471

Student life score: A+

Annual net cost: $22,672

The oldest university in the state, Columbia called several locations across New York City home after its founding in 1754 — including a schoolhouse adjacent to Trinity Church in the financial district and a 40-year occupation in Midtown — before settling into its iconic campus on 116th Street. Students who wish to continue their education past their undergraduate years can look to Columbia's renowned graduate programs in business, law, and journalism.

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8. Rice University

Location: Houston

Median salary 10 years after enrolling: $59,900

Average SAT score: 1454

Student life score: A+

Annual net cost: $16,730

Rice University is home to pioneering applied sciences programs, including nationally recognized nanotechnology and biomedical engineering departments. The only Texas college on our list was founded in 1912 and is the youngest of the 10 best colleges.

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7. University of Pennsylvania

Location: Philadelphia

Median salary 10 years after enrolling: $78,200

Average SAT score: 1442

Student life score: A+

Annual net cost: $22,948

Founded in 1740, the University of Pennsylvania stands as one of the most selective schools in the US, accepting just 10.2% of applicants. During their time at UPenn, students can take advantage of the school's vast resources, including 6.38 million books, 1.16 million e-books, and 136 research centers and institutes, which are accompanied by an annual research budget of $878 million to boot.

(Photo via Alamy)

6. Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Location: Cambridge, Massachusetts

Median salary 10 years after enrolling$91,600

Average SAT score: 1503

Student life score: A+

Annual net cost: $21,816

The country's most renowned engineering school, MIT sees 22% of undergraduates go on to pursue jobs in the field. Graduates secure positions at tech powerhouses such as Google, Microsoft, Apple, and Oracle. Even more impressive, the MIT community includes 85 Nobel laureates, 58 National Medal of Science winners, and 29 National Medal of Technology and Innovation winners. 

(Photo via Shutterstock)

5. Vanderbilt University

Location: Nashville, Tennessee

Median salary 10 years after enrolling: $60,900

Average SAT score: 1475

Student life score: A+

Annual net cost: $17,340

American business and railroad tycoon Cornelius Vanderbilt established his namesake university in 1873. Since then, Vanderbilt's high-ranking undergraduate program has producedhundreds of notable alumni, including two NASA astronauts, best-selling novelist James Patterson, and Ann Moore, the first female CEO of Time Inc.

(Photo by Sean Pavone via Getty Images)

4. Stanford University

Location: Stanford, California

Median salary 10 years after enrolling: $80,900

Average SAT score: 1466

Student life score: A+

Annual net cost: $15,713

Known for the proliferation of technology companies spurred from students' time on campus, Stanford boasts top-notch computer science and engineering programs, with specialties offered in areas like atmosphere and energy as well as biomedical computation. The school's four-to-one ratio of students to teachers ensures that every student interacts closely with professors and receives personal attention.

(Photo via Getty Images)

3. Yale University

Location: New Haven, Connecticut

Median salary 10 years after enrolling$66,000

Average SAT score: 1497

Student life score: A+

Annual net cost: $16,743

The second-oldest Ivy League school, Yale aims to provide students with a strong liberal-arts education. Its undergraduate college puts an emphasis on four areas — arts, sciences, international studies, and writing — and offers more than 70 majors, including astronomy, theater studies, and economics. It's also one of the hardest schools to get into, with an acceptance rate of just 6%.

(Photo via Getty Images)

2. Harvard University

Location: Cambridge, Massachusetts

Median salary 10 years after enrolling: $87,200

Average SAT score: 1501

Student life score: A+

Annual net cost: $14,049

Synonymous with prestige since its founding 380 years ago, Harvard University remains one of the most respected schools in the world — and a degree from the college reflects that. Though Harvard's annual tuition (including fees and room and board) is a steep $60,659, nearly 70% of students receive some type of financial aid — thanks to the school's $37.6 billion endowment — trimming the average student's annual net cost to just over $14,000.

(Photo by Marcio Jose Basto via Shutterstock)

1. Princeton University

Location: Princeton, New Jersey

Median salary 10 years after enrolling: $75,100

Average SAT score: 1495

Student life score: A+

Annual net cost: $8,413

Princeton has trained a barrage of successful graduates, including 15 Nobel Prize winners, 10 National Humanities Medal winners, and 21 National Medal of Science winners. The prestigious Ivy League institution also counts President John F. Kennedy, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, and author F. Scott Fitzgerald among its many distinguished alumni.

(Photo by Xiaoping Liang via Getty Images)


See Also:

DON'T MISS: The 50 best colleges in America

SEE ALSO: The 22 colleges that have students with the highest SAT scores

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