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Do you have to be a math whiz to understand 'Best College' rankings?

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2. Academic quality is assessed, using data gathered primarily from three major sources

The magazine collects data via surveys sent to the colleges themselves, to faculty members and administrators who are from different colleges, and from high school counselors. It also uses data collected from the colleges' websites. There are as many as 16 indicators of academic quality, which fall into a number of categories:

3. Schools are ranked in their category by a total weighted score

The rankings are published every year in lists on the U.S. News & World Report website (and, of course, in its print magazine). Though the methodology may boggle the mind of the average citizen, the process has its critics, many of whom argue it is too superficial or weights the wrong things.

Here’s the list of the 2011 Top 20 "national universities." (For those who need help recognizing the Ivy League schools, look for the asterisks.)

1. *Harvard University (tie)

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