Civic engagement and community service are integral to campus culture at James Madison University, stemming back to the 1986 launch of an initiative promoting service-learning.

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At 83%, James Madison's six-year graduation rate stands out among large public universities, and is higher than the median of Money’s list as a whole. The college has strong offerings in visual and performing arts, as well as in the social sciences. Health-related programs, business and communications are among the most popular majors.

Although James Madison has about 20,000 undergraduates, 88% of classes have fewer than 50 students in them, and the student-faculty ratio is 17:1.

The university is situated in the middle of Virginia's Shenandoah Valley, offering mountain views and hilly walks around the campus — plus access to the city of Harrisonburg. (The school claims that the picturesque scenery is what helped it become the No. 1 “most-Instagrammed” landmark in the state of Virginia.) In their downtime, students can join 450 wide-ranging organizations like the aerospace club, caving club and the antisocial social club.