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11 Universities to Watch in 2011

Sure, everybody knows Harvard, Yale and Princeton, but when it comes to getting a good education, Ivy League schools aren't the only game in town. If you're thinking about applying to college this year, don't miss these little-known and up-and-coming college and universities.

Hampshire College

Hampshire College

1. Hampshire College

This little school in Amherst, Massachusetts, stands out for offering one of the most self-directed educational programs in the U.S. There's no such thing as an 'off the shelf' major at Hampshire - students plan and design their own courses of study throughout their time at the college. Furthermore, Hampshire professor don't give out letter grades. Instead, students receive detailed evaluations and feedback at the end of each class or independent study.

2. Reed College

Portland, Oregon's Reed College is another small liberal arts school that bucks traditional methods of assessment. Although students are graded, they never see their grades unless they file a request with their advisors. Instead, students receive written evaluations of their progress much like those at Hampshire.

But Reed's rebellion goes further than an alternative grading system. Although it has a reputation as one of the most academically rigorous schools in the country, Reed refuses to participate in popular ranking systems like U.S. News & World Report's Best Colleges. In 2010, Reed made headlines for this position when college president Colin Diver published an article titled 'Should You Trust College Rankings?' as the introduction to the Newsweek education guide.

Will such a PR move actually bring more acclaim to this formerly obscure institution in 2011?

3. University of Virginia

The University of Virginia, in Charlottesville, is already one of the most prestigious public universities in the country, but it looks like the school may be kicking it up a notch for 2011. UVA is the only public institution on a highly-publicized recent list of the 'New Ivies.'

UVA stands out for having all the extracurricular trappings of a large state university - sports, Greek life and even secret societies - with the intense academics of an Ivy League school.

4. Harvey Mudd

STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education is all the rage these days, and Harvey Mudd takes it to the next level. This tiny school in Claremont, California, rejects traditional stereotypes of the humanities-centric liberal arts college: Harvey Mudd only offers nine majors, and all of them are in math or science.

In addition to its commitment to rigorous academics, 'Mudders' (as Harvey Mudd students are known) hew so closely to the honor code that they can take their exams in their dorms and leave their backpacks lying around anywhere.

5. Berea College

There's a national movement to reduce student debt, and Berea College is doing more than its part. This small, well-regarded liberal arts college offers full tuition scholarships to all admitted students in exchange for 10-15 hours a week of work. (There's no fee to apply, either.)

And there's more to Berea than affordability. It was listed as one of the two most eco-friendly schools in Kentucky by the Green Report's 2010 sustainability rankings, and boasts the originators of Black History Month and touch-screen technology among its diverse and accomplished graduates.

University of Maryland Baltimore County

University of Maryland - Baltimore County

U.S. News & World Report: Up and Coming

There are some characteristics of colleges and universities that education insiders can see before they're obvious to the rest of the public. Following that logic, U.S. News & World Report started asking college provosts, admissions deans and presidents to nominate the top 'up and coming' institutions in the U.S. This feature of the peer assessment survey, which is an integral part of the magazine's highly influential rankings, gives the rest of us insight into which schools 'are worth watching because they are making promising and innovative changes.'

The following institutions ranked - or tied - at number one or number two in their respective categories.

6. University of Maryland - Baltimore County

The University of Maryland - Baltimore County topped the list of up and coming national universities for the second year in a row (it takes more than a year to come up in the world of academia). UMBC is also listed as a Best Value University by The Princeton Review and a Best Value Public College by Kiplinger.

7. Hendrix College

Hendrix College in Conway, Arkansas, is listed as the #1 liberal arts college to watch in 2011 by U.S. News & World Report. The institution has recently launched a curricular initiative called 'Your Hendrix Odyssey: Engaging in Active Learning' that is designed to 'engage students in the active pursuit of knowledge.'

8. Arizona State University

This large public university tied with two others for #2 in the U.S. News & World Report 2011 list of up and coming national universities. ASU has a strong research focus - it's ranked #16 among public universities and colleges for research and development expenditures by the National Science Foundation (NSF). This means that ASU offers students research experiences and opportunities that they won't find at many other public universities.

9. Drexel University

Also tied for #2 in up and coming national universities is Drexel University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. This private institution stands out for civic engagement and stellar programs in areas like business and public safety. Better yet: Distance learning students can choose from an impressively wide range of online certificates, bachelor's and master's degree programs offered through the university.

10. Northeastern University

The final holder of the #2 distinction among up and coming national universities is Northeastern University in Boston, Massachusetts. Although it has stiff competition with Harvard and MIT residing in neighboring Cambridge, Northeastern is rapidly developing a reputation for rigorous, hands-on and interdisciplinary research and learning experiences.

11. Ursinus College

Ursinus College in Collegeville, Pennsylvania, holds the #2 spot for up and coming liberal arts colleges. The school was also listed among the Best Value private colleges by Kiplinger's Personal Finance and had its first Rhodes Scholar (Aakash K. Shah) in 2010. The small, affordable institution is definitely on the academic upswing.

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