Even though the United States is home to a great number of prestigious and accredited colleges and universities, there is an elite group of higher-education institutions that are regarded by ranking systems and the general public alike as the top national colleges and universities. Examining the characteristics of some of these top-tier schools makes it clear why they’re regarded so highly.

Harvard University

According to the 2013 edition of "U.S. News & World Report: Best Colleges," Harvard University is at the top of the list of best national universities. Harvard is located in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and is home to the largest private library collection in the world (See Reference 2). The school is incredibly selective, accepting only 6.3 percent of applicants. It has a total undergraduate enrollment of 6,657, and it is made up of 13 other schools that range from its respected business school to its John F. Kennedy School of Government.

Williams College

When creating the national rankings for liberal arts colleges and schools that focus on undergraduate education, "U.S. News & World Report" placed Williams College at the top of the list. Williams College is a smaller school, has an undergraduate enrollment of 2,053 and prides itself on offering students an intimate and specialized classroom experience. Many of its tutorials rely heavily on student participation, and the student-to-teacher ratio is seven to one.

Princeton University

Joining Harvard at the top of the "Best National Universities" list put out by "U.S. News & World Report: Best Colleges" is Princeton University. Located in the small town of Princeton, New Jersey, the university’s campus sits on 600 acres and provides practice and competition space for its Ivy League sports teams, including men’s and women’s lacrosse. Princeton focuses on research and grants bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees.

Vassar College

Vassar College is located in Poughkeepsie, New York, has a campus that extends over 1,000 acres and is ranked number 10 on the 2013 "U.S. News" list of best national liberal arts colleges. The school has a commitment to on-campus housing, which is a factor that contributes to the school’s excellent sense of community. The school makes sure that every student has housing for all four years, and 98 percent of the students end up living on campus for the entirety of their college experience. Noteworthy graduates include Grace Hopper and Meryl Streep.

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