Choosing a college is one of the most important financial decisions families ever have to face. Not only does it represent a huge up-front expense — one year at an "affordable" public university can easily set you back $20,000 a year — but where you go to college can also affect your salary for years to come.
To help families make smart choices, MONEY's annual college rankings examine dozens of data points to measure the costs and payoffs of thousands of schools. Colleges are judged on how much families really pay after financial aid, how many students go on to graduate, and how well those graduates fare in the workplace according to salary data collected by PayScale.com.
MONEY's 2016 Best Colleges list, released today, offers a mix of public and private, large and small, uber-selective and lesser-known gems. All 705 of the colleges on the list (chosen from the roughly 2,000 four-year colleges in the U.S.) provide an above-average value for students' and parents' money.
Here's a peek at some of this year's highest-ranked colleges. For the full list, check out MONEY's College Planner.