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The Princeton Review has published its Best 379 Colleges for 2015, polling 130,000 students to produce ranking lists covering issues from academics to extracurriculars – and everything in between.

These kinds of rankings are very interesting to read, and can give excellent insights into the type of college experience a particular school offers. One list rates colleges by how happy its students say they are while attending. What a great idea – after all, who doesn't want to be happy during their college years?

The website is a bit light on details on why it chose 20 particular schools as having the "Happiest Students" (registration required), however, so I compared the Review's top five colleges with the database at RateMyProfessors.com, where students use a scale of 1 to 5 to weigh in on the best – and worst – of college life.

1. Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tennessee

Founded in 1873 with a $1 million endowment from Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt, the campus offers a wide array of majors for undergraduates and graduate students alike. Students on RateMyProfessor give the school 4.7 points out of five for happiness, and a 4.6 rating for overall quality. The average professor grade is 3.78.

2. Claremont McKenna College, Claremont, California

Though ranked at No. 2 on the Princeton Review, Claremont McKenna is clearly the favorite among student reviewers on RateMyProfessor. Amongst the five schools discussed here, Claremont scores highest in almost every category: Professors average a high 3.87 rating, and overall quality hits a high note at 4.7. Notably, the college receives a ringing endorsement in the happiness category, with an unbeatable score of 5.

3. Clemson University, Clemson, South Carolina

Though this school rates a bit lower on the overall quality and average professor ratings – 4.3 on the former, and 3.69 on the latter – the happiness score of 4.7 indicates how well-liked this school is with the more than 300 students who submitted reviews on RateMyProfessor. Nearly every person who commented recently used terms such as "great", "fantastic", and "awesome" to describe the school, and some spoke to the "family" feeling the university gave them while they studied there.

4. Tulane University, New Orleans, Louisiana

Tulane also sports a 4.7 happiness quotient, and a fairly high 3.81 professor rating, as well. The school's overall score on RateMyProfessor is a decent 4.3, like Clemson – but some of the more recent comments are less than flattering, mentioning a lack of cultural diversity and a raucous party atmosphere. Tulane's Law School, however, claims to be one of the most diverse in the country, offering a chronology on its webpage outlining its achievements in that arena.

5. Virginia Tech Blacksburg, Virginia

Overall quality gets a rating of 4.5 on RateMyProfessor, and happiness registers a 4.7 at Virginia Tech, while professors have earned an average score of 3.75. Foodies, take note: of all the schools profiled in this article, Virginia Tech is rated 4.9 out of 5 for food. The only other school that came close is Claremont McKenna, with a score of 4.7.

College rankings are plentiful these days, and no matter how well an institution is regarded, there will surely be some negative reviews alongside the enthusiastically positive ones. The trick is to parse out the criteria that matters the most to you, and make your decision based on your personal goals. When it comes to deciding where you will spend four – or more – years of your life, a school's happiness quotient is definitely worth investigating.

The Motley Fool is a USA TODAY content partner offering financial news, analysis and commentary designed to help people take control of their financial lives. Its content is produced independently of USA TODAY.

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