Colorado School of Mines, also referred to as simply Mines, is a small public research university at the foot of the Rocky Mountains, near both Denver and Boulder. Its principal academic focus is on engineering and applied science, with research programs focused on its "mission to enhance understanding of the earth, energy and the environment."

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The university has over 5,700 undergraduate students, and almost all of them receive grants or scholarships to bring down the price of attendance. Plus, they go on to earn early-career salaries of nearly nearly $96,000 a year.

Students report that the curriculum is rigorous, with classes taught in subjects like plate tectonics, energy economics and military leadership by professors who care. And athletes abound: The Orediggers play basketball, soccer and more in the NCAA's Division II.

Mines students can also choose from dozens of organizations — including clubs focused on bowling, ice cream and taekwondo — or head off campus to check out nearby ski areas. A favorite campus tradition is E-Days, or Engineering Days, which takes place every spring and includes not only a cardboard boat race in a nearby river but also concerts, a Tesla coil demonstration and fireworks on campus. Another fun fact: Rather than a parchment diploma, graduates of Mines receive a silver diploma engraved with their degree details.