When the shocking cost of going to college nearly constitutes selling a kidney to an international ring of black market organ dealers, would-be students should probably ask themselves whether their education is really worth waking up in a bathtub full of ice just to pay for it.

While giving up a vital organ simply to go to college might sound a bit excessive to most kids, for those basking in the ranks of the super elite whose only immediate goal is to be accepted by one of the highest ranked schools on the 2012 Forbes list of America’s 650 Top Colleges, it just might be their only option.

That's because it will cost somewhere around a quarter of a million dollars to attend a leading four-year private school, like this year’s third- and fourth-ranked institutes of higher education, Stanford and the University of Chicago.

Even the more affordable state schools that ranked in this year’s top 100 can still cost more than $100,000, even for those in-state students, who do not pay as much tuition.

This year’s rankings were compiled by the Washington DC-based Center for College Affordability and Productivity, with focus on quality of teaching, great career prospects, high graduation rates and low-levels of debt, without considering a school’s reputation.

For the first time since 2008, Princeton University tops the rankings, beating out Williams College, which held the top spot for two consecutive years.

It should come as no surprise that Ivy League schools conquered the ranks, with Yale and Harvard placing  fifth and sixth and Columbia coming in at number eight. Cornell is the only Ivy league school not to make the prestigious top 50.

The rankings are based on an evaluation of post graduate success, which evaluates alumni pay, student satisfaction, which includes professor evaluations, debt, which penalizes schools for high default rates, four-year graduation rate and competitive awards, which rewards schools whose students win prestigious scholarships.

America’s Top 10 Colleges

1. Princeton University
Williams College
University of Chicago
West Point
Pomona College

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