Research universities are coming in hot for 2015.
The 2015 rankings for the best colleges nationwide, based on undergraduate programs, were released Friday by College Factual, a data-driven college choice resource.
The takeaway? Research institutions fill the top 10 seats and University of Pennsylvania — Philadelphia leads the pack.
"These rankings are based on a pure and distinct focus on data," says Bill Phelan, co-founder and CEO of College Factual, which aims to help students make better career and college decisions. "We don't count previous reputations … providing a more unbiased view."
The rankings include 1,394 four-year universities nationwide. They focus more heavily on outcomes, such as starting salary and student loan default rates, rather than inputs, such as acceptance rates.
"We also don't stop at the top 10 or 100 like other rankings … the lower 50% of schools is just as important as the top," says McWilliam, CF vice president.
The top three universities in College Factual's survey:
UPenn ranks first with a six to one student to faculty ratio and a "high earnings boost" — meaning grads of particular majors overall earn more than those of the same major nationwide. UPenn snagged Harvard's first-place ranking for 2014.
Read MoreCan'tafford college? Call an advisor
"The biggest factor shift was student loan default rates … Harvard went down 32 spots on its default rate ranking and UPenn went up 72 spots," McWilliam says.
Yale ranks second. The very selective Ivy in New Haven, Conn. boasts high graduation rates of 96.2% and, McWilliam says, a reasonable price tag compared to schools of similar quality.
"We look at what you are likely to pay and match that to the quality of the school to determine the best bang for your buck," McWilliam says.
Duke in Durham N.C. claims the No. 3 spot, with its diverse student body and quality of academics – 94.3% of teachers are fulltime. Plenty of face-time with professors!
For high school students — and their parents — who are considering colleges, ignoring rankings is a "really expensive experiment," Phelan says. "We want to help these students find their future faster."
—By McKenna Grant, USA Today