Forbes gave Princeton University the highest grade for its 2012 list of America's Top Colleges, the magazine's annual ranking of the nation's higher education institutions. The list, featured in the Aug. 20, 2012 issue, is compiled for Forbes by the Center for College Affordability and Productivity (CCAP).

Princeton led across a broad swath of categories, just beating out Williams College, which landed at No. 2. The colleges were judged based on a broad range of measures, including career prospects, graduation rates, and levels of debt after graduation.

The top five were rounded off by Stanford University, which rose to No. 3 from fifth last year, the University of Chicago and Yale University.

"It's easy to spend more than a quarter of a million dollars for an undergraduate degree, and a lot of people are beginning to ask: Is it worth it?" said Forbes Executive Editor Michael Noer. "The answer obviously varies, but it is still an unqualified 'yes' for those schools ranking at the top of our list."

The list also allows readers to see the average cost per semester, and with few exceptions the top 10 in cost are not the top 10 in quality. The most expensive, Sarah Lawrence College, digs a $60,000 hole into wallets but only ranks 138.