Princeton takes the top spot in the latest U.S. News & World Report college rankings, breaking a three-year tie for No. 1 with Ivy League rival Harvard.

Yale again took the No. 3 spot in the controversial but closely watched rankings, followed by the California Institute of Technology, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Stanford — all tied for fourth. The University of Pennsylvania drops from fourth to seventh, and Duke from fifth to eighth.

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The guide to "America's Best Colleges," hitting newsstands Monday, again names Williams the top liberal arts college. The University of California, Berkeley, is the top-rated public university, tied for No. 21 overall.

The formula for the rankings includes variables such as graduation and retention rates, faculty and financial resources, and the percentage of alumni donating money to their alma mater. The biggest single variable is a reputation assessment by peer institutions.

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Many colleges criticize the rankings, but they take them seriously. The University of Chicago, facing complaints from alumni about its ranking, says this year it re-examined figures it was submitting in categories such as financial resources and concluded it was underreporting. The school's ranking shot up from 15th to No. 9.

"If schools move up a couple points, down a couple points, that's not really meaningful to us," said executive editor Brian Kelly. "The difference between 1 and 10 is minuscule. Whether that's minuscule or not to a reader, that's up to them."

It was the seventh straight year Princeton has been at least tied for the top ranking.

The university issued a statement saying the institution was "pleased that our commitment to providing the highest quality undergraduate education continues to be recognized." But, it continued, "no methodical ranking can capture an institution's individual distinctiveness."

The top national universities were:

1. Princeton University

2. Harvard University

3. Yale University

4. California Institute of Technology

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Stanford University (tie)

7. University of Pennsylvania

8. Duke University

9. Columbia University

Dartmouth University

University of Chicago (tie)

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