Four local universities placed at the top of U.S. News & World Report's annual college rankings, as Johns Hopkins took top honors at 13th. Georgetown, the University of Virginia and the College of William & Mary also ranked in the top 50.

Meanwhile, George Mason University and the University of Maryland-Baltimore County tied as the top "up-and-coming schools" in the nation.

By the numbers
Best national universities
1. Harvard University Princeton University
3. Yale University
4. Columbia University University of Chicago
6. Massachusetts Institute of Technology Stanford University
8. Duke University University of Pennsylvania
10. California Institute of Technology Dartmouth College
13. Johns Hopkins University
21. Georgetown University
24. University of Virginia
33. College of William and Mary
51. George Washington University
58. University of Maryland, College Park
72. Virginia Tech
77. American University
120. Catholic University
120. Howard University
139. George Mason University
160. University of Maryland Baltimore County
Top 5 'up-and-coming' schools
1. George Mason University University of Maryland Baltimore County
3. Drexel University (Pa.)
4. Arizona State University
5. University of Central Florida University of Southern California

"The D.C. area with Maryland and Virginia did well," said Robert Morse, the director of data research for the magazine. The rankings weigh graduation rates, class sizes, SAT scores, selectivity and faculty resources, among other factors.

While Baltimore's Johns Hopkins was the only area school to crack the top 20, Georgetown wasn't far behind at No. 21, inching up one spot from last year. The University of Virginia also moved up one spot to No. 24, the fourth-highest status claimed by a public university.

The College of William & Mary came in at 33rd, while George Washington University slipped one spot to No. 51. The University of Maryland, College Park fell three spots to No. 58, while American University launched itself from No. 82 to 77.

But there is, of course, more to life than rankings.

"It's always nice to be considered among the top in the country, but we would certainly caution students that rankings are not a precise guide to quality and certainly not a precise guide to how well a student will fit the university," said Dennis O'Shea, a spokesman for Johns Hopkins.

But it is, of course, hard not to get excited.

George Mason University was abuzz after being named the best up-and-coming college in the country, tied with UMBC after trailing the public school last year. The up-and-comers list is chosen by college administrators across the United States, who nominate schools making innovative changes to academics, student life and other areas of the universities.

Provost Peter Stearns said George Mason is getting recognized partly because of its student body's diverse mix of ethnic and religious groups. "That's an area where we're sort of a vanguard of the 21st century," he said.

Stearns also says George Mason's emphasis on interdisciplinary programs -- some of their degrees are the first offered in the world -- garnered it attention. For example, George Mason is the first university to offer a doctorate degree in conflict analysis and resolution.

Coming in at No. 139 on the overall list, however, after being one of the nation's top up-and-coming programs for half a decade, raises the question: When do you make it?

"I asked that question the first year," Stearns said. "Frankly, we hope and expect we'll be steadily gathering the kind of reputation that we'll go to the 'comers' ranks, but I hope we always retain a sense of innovation."