(Source: Duke University)
I'm always asked to rank the top universities in America. "Quick," people say, "give me the ten best off the top of your head." Fair enough, I suppose, because that's essentially how U.S. News began its ranking of colleges. The publication asked higher education officials to "rank" the best according to their own opinions. Reputations, not objective criteria, ruled the day. After a time, the magazine began using a more scientific, though no less controversial, set of criteria to judge institutions. Even today, reputation scores still factor into the rankings.
So let's turn the clocks back a bit and assume I'm in the position of ranking universities (I'll save liberal arts colleges for another time) based on my subjective feelings. I'll start with Number 10, as follows:
#10: DukeDuke University sure has come a long way over the past generation or two. It's always been considered one of the best "southern" universities, but only recently has it achieved world-class status. Great schools of medicine, law and business, along with an undergraduate division that occasionally robs the Ivies of good students, push Duke into the top ten. A nice climate and a perennial powerhouse basketball team don't hurt, either.