One of the most selective colleges in the South, Duke accepted only 4.8% of regular-decision applicants in 2023.

Though a major research institution, Duke offers its nearly 7,000 undergrads an extraordinary amount of direct interaction with professors. The student-faculty ratio – 6:1 – is one of the lowest in Money's ratings, and more than half of students work on research projects with faculty members. The most popular majors include computer science, economics and public policy.

Many professors are at the top of their fields, including Nobel-winning chemist Robert Lefkowitz, African and African American Studies chair Mark Anthony Neal, and — we are not making this up — scientists who spent several years developing an invisibility cloak. (To be fair, scientists at the universities of Rochester and Central Florida have also contributed to the advancement of the science behind invisibility cloaks.)

All of these advantages are wrapped in quintessential collegiate trappings. Duke's towering architecture has earned its almost 9,000-acre campus in Durham, North Carolina, the nickname "Gothic Wonderland." Undergrad social life, meanwhile, tends to revolve around fraternities and athletics. As any sports fan knows, the Blue Devils men's basketball team is a perennial winner with a passionate national following.

Students from Duke, which has a 94% graduation rate, also tend to do well outside academia: Students go on to earn median salaries of $97,400 annually, according to the federal College Scorecard.