Grinnell College is small — about 1,700 students — with a well-defined character and an excited, activist student body known for its liberal bent. Students take their culture of openness and acceptance seriously: There's a strong LGBTQ community and pride in the college's ethnic and racial diversity. Activism extends beyond social issues to Grinnell's self-governance policy, which allows students to shape campus life. Instead of adhering to lots of administrative rules, students resolve their own issues.

Thanks to its combination of motivated students and attentive faculty, the school sets an intellectual yet amicable tone, with challenging academics. It’s no wonder it’s one of the most selective schools on Money’s list, with an acceptance rate of 11%. There's no Greek life at Grinnell, but the social scene offers hundreds of student groups, dozens of which focus on political advocacy and cultural identity. Students' main complaint is Grinnell's location in rural Iowa, the nearest cities being about an hour away.

Grinnell lands in the middle of the pack when it comes to affordability, with the net price of a degree coming in at around $164,000 (not factoring in any federal or state aid). The typical student earns $62,500 annually a decade after enrolling.