The How-to-Go-to-College Guide

Working to demystify the Ivory Tower for 25 years.

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The first version of America's Best Colleges appeared 25 years ago, in 1983. It was a poll of college officials and took up a few pages of the magazine. The 2009 version is a little more ambitious.

We've long said that the U.S. News college franchise is about a lot more than rankings. Who's No. 4 vs. No. 5 may be a life-and-death matter for some, but it's not all that important to us. What we like is the way we've been able to demystify colleges—some of the most mysterious and important institutions in the country. When we started the rankings, most schools didn't want to share crucial information like their admissions data. Now we're practically broadcasting live from the president's office. Or soon will be.

Huge growth. In addition to the highlights you can find in this issue, Best Colleges has become a multimedia extravaganza that's meant to provide parents, students, and anyone else who's interested with a wealth of information about America's 1,800 four-year colleges. Beyond the magazine, we have our handy newsstand guide, which includes all the rankings tables and miniprofiles of the schools. For full profiles, look for the definitive, 1,700-page Ultimate College Guide in bookstores.

But the biggest growth has come on our website, usnews.com. This year, we feature more than 100,000 pages of searchable information about schools. That's one-hundred-thousand. But you won't need to page through them all at once. Our improved search tools let you find what you want and make side-by-side comparisons.

Our burgeoning student center  now has advice from admissions experts as well as student bloggers talking firsthand about the college experience. There's a detailed calendar of key dates and college-related events across the country. We now have online forums for each school so current and prospective students can exchange information. Or you might want to check out Paper Trail, our daily online roundup of the most interesting stories from student newspapers around the country.

We've also added 2,000 videos to give you the look and feel of a place. But why trust us? Make your own. We've launched a student video contest with YouTube.

As I said, we're about a lot more than the rankings.

—Brian Kelly