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15 Top-Notch Colleges Without Bloated Reputations

Sometimes, good schools don't get the name recognition they deserve. This list of the 15 most underrated colleges should help you cut through overblown prestige and find some great schools that you might not have heard of.

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By Sarah Wright

amherst

1. Harvey Mudd College

You may or may not have heard of Harvey Mudd, but if you're interested in science or technical fields, you should put the small California college on your radar. This is particularly true if, in spite of your nerdy academic tendencies, you've got a personality hiding under all that brain.

2. St. John's College (Maryland)

If you'd rather treat college as an enriching educational experience than one long tailgate party, St. John's should be on your list of colleges to consider. Its intensive curriculum is designed to produce well-read thinkers, rather than producing an easy 'A' to bolster the school's overall GPA.

3. Amherst College

Plenty of accolades have been granted to Amherst over the years. But we're most impressed by outgoing college president Anthony Marx's successful efforts to make admission to the Amherst a more likely possibility for qualified students from low-income families.

4. The University of Virginia

Founded by Thomas Jefferson, the founding father with a personal library large enough to form the basis of the Library of Congress, UVA is one of those rare public universities with more of a focus on academics than sports. With in-state tuition at less than $10,000, you'll get quite a bargain for a great education from a school with a great reputation.

5. New College of Florida

If getting lost in a crowd of 2,000 freshmen in identical school hoodies isn't exactly your idea of an ideal college experience, consider New College. This is also a great choice for those who know what their academic interests are, and want the freedom to pursue those interests while also getting excellent support from professors.

6. The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art

Don't let the long name put you off - serious students are lucky to score admission to Cooper Union. If its fantastic academic reputation and hardworking student body aren't enough proof that this little-known school is a great choice, consider this: every admitted student is granted a full-tuition scholarship.

7. Eugene Lang College of The New School for Liberal Arts

Its big-city location may not be a draw for everyone, but New York City's Eugene Lang College, a part of The New School, offers a small-college feel in spite of its surroundings. In 2011, The Princeton Review recognized the school for its propensity for encouraging class discussions.

8. Swarthmore College

If you're a good student, but don't have the pumped-up resume necessary to get into big-name schools like Harvard or Dartmouth, consider Swarthmore. You'll get a similarly great education, but without all the country club jocks and proto-corporate yes-men.

9. The University of Pennsylvania

Don't let the name fool you! The University of Pennsylvania, commonly known as UPenn, is actually a private, Ivy League institution. UPenn is a fantastic institution with a great reputation, but the prestigious name doesn't come at a ridiculous price: The Princeton Review and USA Today named UPenn one of the 50 'Best Value Colleges' for 2011.

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10. Rice University

Located in Houston, TX, Rice is really doing something right: The Princeton Review ranked the school #1 in the 'Happiest Students' and 'Best Quality of Life' categories for 2011. That same publication also recognized Rice for its excellent financial aid, great student health services and diverse student body.

11. Reed College

Full disclosure - the author of this piece graduated from Reed. But who better to trust than a former student? Reed is a true gem, and is a great refuge for intellectual students who want to go to college to learn among peers with similar academic goals.

12. Sweet Briar College

Though Sweet Briar is all-female, its students are exposed to a variety of excellent academic programs on the private college's beautiful Virginia campus. But the school's 'Sweet Briar Promise' program is what really makes this little gem stand out. This program is designed to help students succeed in whatever area they choose to pursue after graduation, and is pretty rare among small liberal arts colleges.

13. Williams College

Though those who know of it will recognize it as a fantastic school, Williams' small stature makes it unlikely to hit everyone's radar. That's a shame, because this liberal arts institution boasts a great student-to-faulty ratio (7:1) and has drawn attention from The Princeton Review and other university rankers for its academic quality.

14. Georgetown University

Georgetown doesn't have a bad reputation - far from it - so we can't really say it's that underrated. But its policy of grade deflation earns props from us, since so many of Georgetown's top-tier peers can't seem to resist the lure of inflation.

15. Stanford University

Like Georgetown, Stanford doesn't really need our help in the reputation department. But we still think the elite West Coast institution deserves more recognition than it gets. Though Stanford is a large school, it maintains an impressive student-to-faculty ratio of 6:1, and in 2011, The Princeton Review recognized the university for having the second-best classroom experience for undergrads, among other accolades.

Whether you're applying to one of these schools or any other higher education institution, make sure you don't let admissions myths fools you.

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