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by Vault Education Editors | August 07, 2009

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West Point tops the Forbes list this year, jumping up from No. 6 in 2008. The military academy knocked Princeton out of the No. 1 spot into No. 1, as well as jumped Cal Tech (No. 3), Williams (No. 4), Harvard (No. 5) and Wellesley (No. 6). The Top 10 (which I've listed below) are an diverse mix of schools in terms of size, location, academic focus and student body--a mix one doesn't usually see on the top of a college ranking.

America's Best Colleges 2009: Forbes' Top 10

  1. United States Military Academy
  2. Princeton University
  3. California Institute of Technology
  4. Williams College
  5. Harvard University
  6. Wellesley College
  7. United States Air Force Academy
  8. Amherst College
  9. Yale University
  10. Stanford University

So how did such a variety of schools make it to the top of Forbes' ranking? How is West Point No. 1? In short, Forbes' survey is based on cost, employability and academic success.

"To our way of thinking, a good college is one that meets student needs. While some college rankings are based partly on school reputation as evaluated by college administrators and on the amount of money spent, we focus on things which directly concern incoming students: Will my courses be interesting and rewarding? Will I get a good job after I graduate? Is it likely I will graduate in four years? Will I incur a ton of debt getting my degree?"

100 percent of West Point cadets graduate within four years, they incur no debt because all their tuition and other costs are covered, and they are automatically employed as military officers after they graduate. It's a pretty good deal, if you can handle it. Application numbers for the top U.S. military academies (including the U.S. Air Force Academy (No. 7) Naval Academy (No. 30)) jumped this year, as more prospective students recognized the appeal of a top-flight, tuition-free education. But in the end, members of the West Point student body are also a very driven, self-selected bunch. Their success is their own.

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