This Ivy League school boasts a graduation rate of 95% and gives students an unusual amount of academic freedom — the only course requirement is they must take at least two writing classes. Otherwise, undergrads can choose whatever courses they like at Brown or just down College Hill at the Rhode Island School of Design. Grades are optional, too — any class can be taken satisfactory/no credit, which essentially amounts to pass/fail. Plus, students can design their own concentrations (what other colleges call a major).

Brown students can expect a lot of personalized attention with a student-faculty ratio of 6:1. The university has produced dozens of award-winning writers in fiction, journalism and theater. Aside from liberal arts, Brown is known for its strong science programs, especially in medicine, math and computer sciences. Like its Ivy League peers, Brown has an impressive list of alumni, including U.S. Secretary of the Treasury Janet Yellen, CNN founder Ted Turner and actor John Krasinski. Students who don’t go on to become household names still do well in the job market, with median earnings of more than $87,000 in their early careers.

Among the highlights of the social calendar are the concert-filled Spring Weekend and the elegant Campus Dance on the main quad to kick off commencement and reunion weekend. And even though students call the main dining hall "The Ratty" — it's short for Refectory — the food isn't bad.