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Choosing a college or university is hard work, and takes a lot of time and research for those who are serious about making the right choice. Of the myriad factors usually considered, however, the intellectual prowess of a school's faculty might not be something degree-seekers put on their priority list.

It's worth investigating, after all, since the caliber of the instructor surely has some bearing on student performance. Here are the top five institutions of higher learning, each ranked by the perceived intellect of its faculty, courtesy of the website Niche – which uses a variety of sources for its ratings, including polls of students and alumni.

Stanford University, California

Currently No. 5 on U.S. News & World Report's ranking of national universities, Stanford has some extremely well-regarded programs, notably its Law School and School of Engineering, and is one of the top schools for computer science, as well. At more than $43,000 per year, the university is very pricey; those surveyed by Niche gave the school an A+ in academics, computers, and campus strictness – which may indicate a level of discipline that is conducive to learning.

University of Chicago

Tied with Stanford for position No. 5 by U.S. News is the University of Chicago, where the personal attention given to students undoubtedly has contributed to its strong academic rating. Over 77% of the University's classes have fewer than 20 students, and another 17% have between 20 and 49. Tuition and fees top those of Stanford, though, at more than $46,000 per year.

College of Wooster, Ohio

Of the five schools on this list, College of Wooster is probably the least well known. This college is, not surprisingly, quite a bit smaller than either Stanford or the University of Chicago, though it rates only an A- in academics by Niche contributors. Still, students note that faculty treat them less formally, and despite the fact that the student to faculty ratio of 12 to 1 is double that of the two universities, students like the easy camaraderie and community spirit that permeates the college.

College of William and Mary, Virginia

A venerable institution founded in 1693, the College of William and Mary is a public school, which makes its price tag a bit more platable: Out-of-state students pay just under $38,000 in tuition and fees annually, while those who reside in-state face a much smaller bill, just over $15,000. Students feel affection and loyalty toward the college, professors, and each other, and most say they would choose William and Mary again, if they had the opportunity.

Smith College, Massachusetts

This private college in western Massachusetts has its own brand of cachet, perhaps due to its continuing status of being a women-only institution – though its graduate programs are available to men, as well. Smith's yearly tuition is comparable to Stanford's at approximately $43,000.

The overall perception of Smith by its students is that its appeal is somewhat limited, but that it offers a stellar academic experience. Especially attractive is the school's willingness to allow undergraduates a taste of graduate work, such as independent study and research with the college's faculty.

While there are many factors involved in choosing where to pursue your college degree, knowing that you will be taking instruction from the cream of the crop is no small thing, and is definitely worthy of your consideration.

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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