Why I Chose Bryn Mawr College (Bryn Mawr, Pa.)
Isha Pandya, sophomore
As a high school junior, I visited my sister, then a Bryn Mawr College sophomore. I came home certain the college was right for me.
The faculty and staff seem eager to help every student find her passion. In high school, I used to make educational videos on YouTube. Once I got to Bryn Mawr, I talked to people in the communications department and was hired to make videos to capture the experiences of past, current and future students.
Why I Chose Colorado College (Colorado Springs, Colo.)
Saraiya Ruano, 2013 graduate
I grew up near Colorado College, so I knew a lot about the school and its "block plan" before I applied. Students take one course at a time, each lasting three-and-a-half weeks, which has allowed me to immerse myself in painting and fiction writing.
Students can even design their own blocks or apply for a $1,000 Venture Grant to work on projects on or away from campus, as I did visiting the Navajo Nation and parks in Colorado to paint. CC has been a source of intellectual and creative fulfillment.
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Why I Chose Davidson College (Davidson, N.C.)
Mark Angel, 2013 graduate
When I first came to Davidson College, I knew I'd enter a small, academically rigorous community with a strong Honor Code; that my professors would challenge me; and that I'd enjoy our beautiful Lake Campus and cheer for our athletic teams.
Davidson gave me so much more, though. As a biology major, I learned how a biologist thinks, especially through my original research with a neuroscience professor. I enjoyed it, but I realized I wanted to use my critical thinking and analytical skills in a way that would have a more direct impact.
After talking with alumni, I felt a business career might let me do just that. My adviser helped tailor my class schedule to my new interests. Davidson's alumni network then helped me land a job after graduation. This path would have never been possible without the support of the Davidson family.
Why I Chose John Brown University (Siloam Springs, Ark.)
Rebecca Ridings, 2013 graduate
I followed my sister to John Brown University and was struck by the beauty of the campus's blooming dogwoods and its peacefulness. JBU's small class sizes and professors that care only made me feel more at home.
The school may be small, but resources like our new Berry Performing Arts Center and the Balzer Technology Center enable students to pursue multiple interests at once. As part of my degree program, I traveled to Ireland for a month, where I met with international faculty members and talked to local residents about Belfast's rich and often tumultuous history.
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Why I Chose Marymount Manhattan College (New York)
Lindsey Sullivan, senior
Marymount Manhattan College is a gem of a liberal arts college just blocks from Central Park. The college fosters a sense of community within its student body, who are encouraged to make the most of the city's offerings.
The school minimizes the usual class hierarchy. Seniors may collaborate with sophomores on the next student government association proposal; incoming "Griffins" can make new friends at the popular Admitted Students Day karaoke and ice cream bar or mingle with fellow students at the annual Apple Fest block party.
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Why I Chose Spelman College (Atlanta)
Jasmine Ellis, junior
When I was 10, my father first told me about Spelman College and its history of drawing women of color from around the world and producing noted leaders.
I've had classes in public speaking; spent a semester shadowing the executive director of Spelman's Center for Leadership and Civic Engagement; and been offered the chance to attend conferences, workshops and seminars with leaders in various professions from engineering to the arts.
Why I Chose Tulane University (New Orleans)
Maddie Ross, 2013 graduate
Tulane University fosters a rich academic environment and a culture of engagement on and off campus. The university offers interdisciplinary majors, small class sizes and public service internships that enable all students to translate their classroom knowledge into real-world situations.
As a public health major and premed student, I was able to spend an eye-opening semester living in rural KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, working as a public health educator. Later, I had a chance to intern in New Orleans with a nonprofit that worked to reduce the spread of HIV in local communities.
Tulane students value the culturally rich city around them. It's hard not be enamored by the gumbo, jazz melodies and "second line" parades that one can only find here.
Why I Chose University of Kentucky (Lexington, Ky.)
Roshan Palli, junior
I came to the University of Kentucky for the community: Students, faculty, staff and administrators collaborate to enhance the education and experiences of UK's student body.
Our beautiful, open campus hosts more than 500 student organizations, like the group that organizes Dance Blue, the annual dance marathon that this year raised more than $1 million for cancer research.
UK encourages freshmen to participate in research with professors and take on leadership positions. I was able to study with an economics professor the effects of tax policy on where people choose to live.
Why I Chose Washington University in St. Louis
Mariah Cushman, junior
I chose Washington University in St. Louis not only for its wonderful academic reputation, but also because, even on my first visit, I sensed the passion, excitement and mutual supportiveness that binds together the school's tight-knit community.
As a chemical engineering major, I've been able to pursue research in on-campus labs, intern at a national laboratory in São Paulo, Brazil, and develop other interests from intramural soccer to Spanish.
Wash U's drop-dead gorgeous campus in the city makes it easy to take a break to ice skate in nearby Forest Park, eat Italian food in The Hill neighborhood and attend arts festivals downtown.
This story is excerpted from the U.S. News "Best Colleges 2014" guidebook, which features in-depth articles, rankings and data.