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Friday is decision day, when many high school seniors choose which college to attend. In the process, they are making one of the biggest investment decisions of their lives. New rankings from the Brookings Institution aim to demystify the value of a college education by examining how much a particular school can add to your earnings potential.

Others have also taken a crack at measuring the return on investing in a college education. Money magazine ranks what it called "schools that deliver great value." And PayScale uses 20-year salary data to determine the colleges and universities that offer the biggest bump above what a student could earn with a high school degree (factoring in the cost of college).

Read MoreWhich colleges have the best return on investment?

Brookings aims to take that measurement a step further by calculating what a student can expect in mid-career earnings from an education at a particular college, given the student's characteristics and the type of college or university. It then looks at actual midcareer earnings, and counts the difference as the value the college adds relative to similar schools. Some of the difference comes from measurable factors, such as financial aid availability and a school's emphasis on STEM careers. Other intangibles, like teaching quality, play a role as well, Brookings said.

The list includes several marquee names but also some surprises. Here are the top 10 four-year institutions on Brookings' list.

—By CNBC's Kelley Holland
Posted 1 May 2015

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