Each year Money ranks the best four-year colleges in the U.S., based on affordability, educational quality, and graduates’ career success. The just-released 2016-2017 rankings feature 705 colleges that Money rates as solid values for your tuition dollar.
While all 705 may be terrific schools, no college is a perfect match for everyone. For example, the super-competitive “elite” schools on the list may be out of reach for students without stellar high-school grades and lofty ACT or SAT scores.
So, if you’re a B or even C student hoping for a great education, or a stronger student in search of a good safety school, this list of “Best Colleges You Can Actually Get Into” is worth a close look.
All of these colleges accept at least 51% of applicants, compared to some elite schools with acceptance rates as low as 5%. Most of them placed in the top 50 of Money’s latest rankings, and none scored lower than No. 54.
Click through the gallery for the top 15 schools. View Money’s complete list of “50 Best Colleges You Can Actually Get Into” here.
Sources: U.S. Department of Education, Peterson’s, PayScale.com, Money/College Measures calculations.
1. Texas A & M University - College Station, TX
- Estimated price 2016-17 without aid: $23,900
- Estimated price 2016-17 with average aid: $15,900
- Early career earnings: $55,100
- Average SAT/AVT score: 1180/26
With some 46,000 undergraduates, Texas A&M is the largest school in Money’s top 50. It’s also one of the most affordable for in-state students. Almost a quarter of students come from low-income familie, and Texas A&M accepts 71% of applicants. Best known for its business, agriculture, and engineering programs, TAMU also has one of the country’s largest programs in recreation, park, and tourism management.
2. Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, VA
- Estimated price 2016-17 without aid: $26,900
- Estimated price 2016-17 with average aid: $22,600
- Early career earnings: $55,300
- Average SAT/AVT score: 1220/NA
Virginia Polytechnic and State University, or Virginia Tech, is a leader in using technology to teach—and have fun. The campus Math Emporium is a former department store that houses hundreds of computers programmed with math tutoring lessons that have boosted students’ math success rates. Geography teacher John Boyer (who styles himself as “The Plaid Avenger”) is regularly voted among the top instructors at the school and made a name for himself by getting world leaders to hold discussions with his classes via Skype. Such programs are one reason the school has an unusually high graduation rate: 83%, which is 12% higher than the average for its peers.
3. Clemson University, SC
- Estimated price 2016-17 without aid: $30,300
- Estimated price 2016-17 with average aid: $22,700
- Early career earnings: $53,100
- Average SAT/AVT score: 1245/29
Clemson dates its history to 1889, when it was founded as an agricultural college. Today, it’s a major public research university, and while agricultural science continues to be one of the school’s specialties, agricultural students are outnumbered by those studying engineering or business. Clemson’s graduation rate is a solid 82%, 8% higher than schools with similar student demographics, according to Money’s calculations.
4. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, IL
- Estimated price 2016-17 without aid: $30,800
- Estimated price 2016-17 with average aid: $22,100
- Early career earnings: $56,800
- Average SAT/AVT score: 1355/29
The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign is steadily building its reputation as a stellar research institution. The university is among the top 15 public schools on the National Science Foundation’s list of high research spenders, and its strongest academic programs include accounting, several types of engineering, and physics. Students also have access to the country’s second largest university library system. (Only Harvard’s is larger.)
5. Saint Johns University, MN
- Estimated price 2016-17 without aid: $52,400
- Estimated price 2016-17 with average aid: $28,300
- Early career earnings: $47,400
- Average SAT/AVT score: 1096/26
Saint John’s University is a Catholic school for men that partners with a nearby women’s school, College of Saint Benedict. “Bennies”—students at the women’s college—and “Johnnies” share academic programs and have access to resources on both campuses. Nearly 80% of students graduate within six years, 12% higher than similar schools. The school admits students of all religions, although about 60% are Catholic.
6. Earlham College, IN
- Estimated price 2016-17 without aid: $56,700
- Estimated price 2016-17 with average aid: $24,700
- Early career earnings: $45,600
- Average SAT/AVT score: 1245/29
Earlham began as a Quaker school in 1847, open only to Friends. It started admitting non-Quaker students about 20 years later and hiring non-Quaker faculty about 20 years after that. Today a little over 12% of students are Quaker. Its student body of 1,000 undergrads is ethnically and nationally diverse—nearly 22% come from abroad and over 24% are minority. Earlham prides itself on exposing students to international culture. In addition to welcoming students from more than 80 countries, the school offers courses in 11 languages, including Arabic, Chinese, and Swahili.
7. University of Washington - Seattle Campus, WA
- Estimated price 2016-17 without aid: $27,800
- Estimated price 2016-17 with average aid: $19,600
- Early career earnings: $54,000
- Average SAT/AVT score: 1230/28
The flagship Seattle campus of the University of Washington has emerged as one of the world’s leading research universities. UW is known for strong social science, business, medical, and engineering programs. Because of its proximity to Boeing’s manufacturing facilities, the school has a particular expertise in aeronautics and counts many astronauts among its alums. UW has encouraging admissions odds for such a top-rated school: The typical student has SAT scores of roughly 1350, and the school accepts about 55% of applicants.
8. Washington State University, WA
- Estimated price 2016-17 without aid: $29,300
- Estimated price 2016-17 with average aid: $23,500
- Early career earnings: $49,200
- Average SAT/AVT score: 1030/22
The huge majority of Washington State University students come from within the state, and most will agree that the WSU experience is well worth their price of admission. WSU’s former reputation as a party school appears to be fading. Current students say that classes are challenging and that professors take the time to get to know them both inside and outside of the classroom. Particularly ambitious incoming students can apply to WSU’s Honors College.
9. University of California-Santa Cruz, CA
- Estimated price 2016-17 without aid: $35,600
- Estimated price 2016-17 with average aid: $26,200
- Early career earnings: $49,600
- Average SAT/AVT score: 1095/23
Imagine going to school on a 2,000-acre ranch. Well, you almost can at UC Santa Cruz, where the campus was once a timber ranch and limestone mine. Students take classes among the redwood trees and party on the sprawling meadows overlooking Monterey Bay. The more than 16,000 undergrads and 1,600 grad students at this public research university live in a veritable nature bubble an hour and a half from San Francisco. Although the campus is huge, all UC Santa Cruz undergrads belong to one of 10 residential colleges, fostering a smaller community feel.
10. Massachusetts Maritime Academy, MA
- Estimated price 2016-17 without aid: $23,600
- Estimated price 2016-17 with average aid: $16,400
- Early career earnings: $58,400
- Average SAT/AVT score: 1055/22
Located on Cape Cod, Massachusetts Maritime Academy is in an ideal spot to attract lovers of all things nautical, which—as the name implies—describes most of its students. The school’s degrees are limited to the maritime industry and include marine engineering, international maritime business, and marine environmental protection. MMA is structured similar to military academies, and students have the option to earn a Merchant Marine Officer’s License and a Naval Officer’s Commission while in school. All students—also called cadets—are required to complete one “sea term,” spending about seven weeks training aboard ship, en route to a variety of U.S. and foreign ports.
11. College of Saint Benedict, MN
- Estimated price 2016-17 without aid: $53,900
- Estimated price 2016-17 with average aid: $30,100
- Early career earnings: $41,800
- Average SAT/AVT score: 1059/26
The College of Saint Benedict is the only Benedictine college for women in the U.S. It partners with a nearby men’s school, Saint John’s University, to share academic programs and provide access to resources on both campuses. (Its students are known as “Bennies,” while Saint John’s students are called “Johnnies.”) About 81% of women at Saint Benedict graduate within six years, 19% higher than similar schools. The school admits students of all religions, although about 60% are Catholic.
12. Purdue University-Main Campus, IN
- Estimated price 2016-17 without aid: $23,900
- Estimated price 2016-17 with average aid: $16,500
- Early career earnings: $56,200
- Average SAT/AVT score: 1200/27
Purdue is a major public university with nearly 39,000 students, including more than 29,000 undergraduates. The majority of its students come from Indiana (55%), but 27% come from other states and 18% from other countries. Purdue is especially well known for its engineering and agriculture programs, but undergraduates have some 200 different majors to choose from.
13. St Mary's University, TX
- Estimated price 2016-17 without aid: $41,100
- Estimated price 2016-17 with average aid: $26,700
- Early career earnings: $43,100
- Average SAT/AVT score: 1050/23
St. Mary’s is one of three U.S. universities operated by the Brothers of the Society of Mary, also known as the Marianists. The oldest Catholic university in Texas offers programs in three schools—Humanities and Social Sciences; Science, Engineering and Technology; and the Greehey School of Business—as well as its law school and graduate studies programs. It has a diverse student body of 3,600, and popular majors include business, kinesiology, and biology.
15. University of Delaware, DE (tie)
- Estimated price 2016-17 without aid: $27,300
- Estimated price 2016-17 with average aid: $19,300
- Early career earnings: $50,700
- Average SAT/AVT score: 1170/27
The University of Delaware, which traces its history back to 1743, is one of the oldest universities in the U.S. Today it is a major research university, with more than 140 bachelor’s degree programs, and majors as wide ranging as business, education, criminology, and chemical engineering that routinely show up in top college rankings. UD is a land-, sea-, and space-grant university, meaning it commits to researching and teaching fields related to agriculture, marine, and space through an agreement with the U.S. government.
15. Michigan State University, MI (tie)
- Estimated price 2016-17 without aid: $26,400
- Estimated price 2016-17 with average aid: $17,100
- Early career earnings: $49,600
- Average SAT/AVT score: 1120/26
Michigan State is a Big Ten school with more than 50,000 students, close to 39,000 of them undergraduates. Its students represent all 50 states and more than 130 other countries. nationally known for its phenomenal sports teams, the Spartans, MSU is also recognized internationally as a major research university.