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Newsweek Education Front 

America's Hot Colleges

Yes, Harvard's on the list. But so are lesser-known schools. Here are our picks for the places creating buzz for 2005-06.

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By Jay Mathews
Newsweek
Updated: 11:13 p.m. ET Aug. 14, 2005

Aug. 22, 2005 issue - Ah, serendipity. A generation ago, when Americans spoke of the best colleges, they had a pretty good idea: the oldest ones, a few of the biggest and not much else. Even now, among the old guard, that focus often remains on the eight Ivies, a few small institutions like Amherst and some celebrated state schools like the University of California, Berkeley. But today's students, when they start looking for their own best schools to attend, often wind up discovering many that are just as good, and often just about as difficult to get into, as the famous ones. And it's sort of cool to find out that a hot school doesn't need to be one that Grandma and Grandpa have even heard of.

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With so much attention paid to college selection these days—as the number of high-school graduates reaches 3 million and beyond—families are looking for lesser-known schools that make the grade, along with those icons that live up to their reputations. All the colleges on the Hot List for 2006 have one attribute in common: they're creating buzz among students, school officials and longtime observers of the admissions process. Our choices, and corresponding categories, are inherently subjective: there are no equations for assessing the magic that makes a school sparkle. And the colleges suit a range of tastes—big and small, urban and rural, private and public. But each reflects a place that is preparing students well for a complex world. Herewith, a dozen of our picks for America's Hottest Colleges (to see the rest of the 25 schools, read the NEWSWEEK-Kaplan College Guide for 2006):

HOTTEST FOR REJECTING YOU
Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass.
Last year Yale edged out Harvard as the most selective Ivy. But after Harvard announced that families earning less than $40,000 wouldn't have to pay the usual parental contribution to tuition, applications jumped to a record 22,796, and the acceptance rate this spring dropped to a new low for the Ivies, only 9.1 percent. The aid initiative increased the number of low-income students—296 qualified. Bottom line: competition was tougher than ever. Harvard undergrads often mock themselves. "It's nice to know you're going to school with people who will control the world," says rising senior Simon Vozick-Levinson. But they also know how to take advantage. The student paper, the Crimson, is putting out a new book, "How They Got Into Harvard," which has profiles of successful applicants, along with a second book full of winning application essays.

HOTTEST FOR SCIENCE
University of California, San Diego, La Jolla, Calif.
Science can be fun. UCSD undergraduates mark the end of the school year with the Watermelon Drop, a 40-year-old tradition that began when physics students tested velocity by dropping a melon from seven stories up. On a campus where a quarter of the $1.8 billion in revenue is federal research funds, and where there are eight Nobel laureates on the faculty, the science is also quite serious. UCSD chancellor Marye Anne Fox, an organic chemist, says welcoming undergrads into labs is a priority. The school, she says, is raising the quality of undergraduate education by offering new science majors like molecular synthesis and bioinformatics.

Its coastal location, too, is a plus. "Where else can you collect samples from the beach, the desert and the mountains all in one day—and still have time to run genetic tests on them that night?" says Meg Eckles, a biology doctoral student. Faculty and alumni have spun off nearly 200 companies, including about a third of the region's biotech firms.

HOTTEST FOR LIBERAL ARTS
Macalester College, St. Paul, Minn.
The 1,900-student campus in the middle of a vibrant metropolis has become a key recipient of the growing number of Harvard, Yale and Princeton applicants who are rejected for no other reason than that those schools don't have space for all the A-plus applicants. Macalester has one faculty member for every 11 students and an emphasis on international affairs, symbolized by one of its most famous alumni, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan. The college has six language residences: Chinese, French, German, Japanese, Russian and Spanish. It offers the intimacy of the archetypal small-town campus—in the middle of the Twin Cities. Applications have increased 60 percent since 1995.

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