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NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - For the second consecutive year Williams College in Massachusetts was named the best university in the United States, ahead of Harvard and two top military schools.
With less than 2,100 students it nudged past Princeton and the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, which took the second and third spots on the annual list compiled by Forbes.com.
Another small western Massachusetts school, Amherst College, came in fourth, while Stanford University in Palo Alto, California rounded out the top five, edging out Harvard University, which was No. 6.
"We try and evaluate the college purchase as a consumer world," said Forbes Executive Editor Michael Noer. "Is it worth spending as much as a quarter of a million dollars for this degree?"
The U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs won the No. 10 spot, while Haverford College in Pennsylvania, which has just 1,190 undergraduates, placed seventh.
The smallest school in the top 50 was Harvey Mudd College in Claremont, California, with only 763 undergraduates.
Most schools cost around $55,000 a year, but Houston's Rice University was a relative bargain at just under $48,000, or some $10,000 less than a year at either the University of Chicago or Columbia University.
Forbes and the Washington D.C. think tank Center for College Affordability and Productivity (CCAP) compiled the list, its fourth, after considering the cost of tuition, the salaries of graduates and students' experiences.
Forbes.com said criteria focused on what matters to students -- quality of teaching, great career prospects, graduation rates and low levels of debt.
The highest-ranked public universities were the University of Virginia and the College of William & Mary, at numbers 46 and 49 respectively.
The Forbes/CCAP report looked at 650 of some 6,600 accredited institutions in the United States.
The full list can be found at www.forbes.com/top-colleges
Reporting by Chris Michaud; editing by Patricia Reaney