While the University of Chicago's official motto is "crescat scientia; vita excolatur," which translates to "let knowledge grow from more to more; and so be human life enriched," some students refer to the school as the place "where fun goes to die."

That may be a bit of an exaggeration, but it gets to the heart of UChicago's reputation for academic intensity. The school is incredibly selective, with an acceptance rate that hovers around 6%. All 7,600 or so undergraduates must complete a rigorous liberal arts core curriculum, where A's are much harder to come by than at other schools. Even the academic calendar year, divided into quarters instead of semesters, tends to intensify the atmosphere on campus.

The student body is intellectual and prides itself on being so: Many credit the school with teaching them to think critically. Partying happens, but students generally have to seek it out. Downtown Chicago, a few miles to the north of the school's Hyde Park campus, is a playground for students and an important part of university life, providing job, internship and volunteer opportunities to students, as well as athletic and cultural activities. The university's graduation rate of 95% is high, although it's a hair slightly less than is expected of schools that enroll students with similar test scores and economic backgrounds.