U.S. News and World Report has been ranking national colleges since 1983, and their list is hugely influential on schools, their curriculum and their admissions.
The Washington Monthly has turned the USNWR model on its ear, and has arrived at some very different conclusions regarding which are the country's top schools and why.
If you're even remotely interested in the topic, check it out. Personally, I like WM's scoring criteria, and think that it places value where it belongs. Here's hoping that their College Guide gets the exposure it deserves.
(thanks to Shirah for the lead)