Our Rankings Methodology

Methodology for Higher Education Rankings

Ranking colleges is a process designed to facilitate one of a student's most important decisions. While there are many solid numbers we can use and rely on, there are also many outdated or otherwise unreliable figures. Not only that, but much of the college experience is subjective and defies quantification.

Nonetheless, we strive to present a fact-based picture of the colleges we rank. This is so we can help students make their best decision for college. Figures like admission rates can help students with reasonable expectations for admission, and retention rates can help them envision how their fellow students value the education they receive. Graduating salary figures can also help manage expectations, but those numbers are often difficult to collect and might not be terribly reliable. After all, students may spend a few years in entry-level positions or working to find the best position for them.

Ultimately, we strive to present an objective and unbiased view of colleges so that students can set reasonable expectations, discover outstanding schools, and embark on a path toward their best lives. We apply our methodology evenly and consistently so that students can trust that each #1 ranking is meaningful.

Data Collection


To gather data, we use on the most reliable sources available. More often than not, we use government sources, which are unbiased, consistent, and reliable. However, those numbers aren't always up-to-date as colleges may be slow to report or perhaps the agency is slow to aggregate and publish their findings.

Nevertheless, we continue to rely on the most reliable sources for current data. Further, each college in the rankings is assessed using the same data sources. That means that the comparisons are all even and consistent.

Data from


  • https://nces.ed.gov/collegenavigator/:
    This government site provides comprehensive data on every school in the nation. You can find your preferred major program, financial information, and much more. Tip: click expand all of the sections to print out a full report for your top college choices.
  • https://collegescorecard.ed.gov/:
    This government site is a bit more user-friendly than the College Navigator and offers more search features. For instance, you can search by state and other variables to generate an easily-comparable set of results.
  • https://www.bls.gov/:
    If you need up-to-date employment information, this site is invaluable. This government site provides outlook data for specific occupations and industries as well as detailed numbers broken down by state and region.
  • https://www.payscale.com/:
    This private site is also one of the largest job search sites available. Their data is only culled from the people and organizations that use it, but it can provide an up-to-date snapshot of occupational pay rates (also divided into shifts by city and skills), hiring data, and more.

Ranking Factors We Use:


  • Retention Rate:
    This is a big deal for all colleges. Retention rates show the percentage of incoming first-year students who stay for the following year. Many factors impact this number such as race, socioeconomic status, and whether students are the first in their families to seek post-secondary education. Students decide to stay or go for a lot of reasons, but a low rate of retention may mean that perhaps the school caters to a very specific sort of student or doesn’t offer the support students need.
  • Graduation Rate (4 Year, 6 Year):
    Similar to retention rate, this number shows how many students graduate in the expected time frame. If a large portion of the student body is graduating on time, then there is a high probability new students will be able to do so as well.
  • Admission Rate:
    This figure indicates how competitive the school really is. It's also been shown that there's a correlation between a low admission rate and high retention.
  • Cost of Tuition:
    This is an increasingly important factor when deciding on a college. We use this number to determine which schools offer the best value for your money.
  • Graduating Salary (ROI):
    These numbers are often difficult to attain, but we find the best estimates to help you project a return on investment.
  • # of Programs Offered:
    You might already know what to major in, but when a college offers a wide range of majors/minors, they tend to rise in the rankings. As many as 50% of students change their major at some point, and with many options to choose from, you can be sure you are graduating with the degree you really want.
  • Online Programs Offered:
    Students are taking more and more online courses these days. When schools add this sort of flexibility to their curriculum, it shows that they are seeking to meet student needs.
  • Loan Default Rate:
    Schools seek to lower their default rates by prepping students for success. You can weigh this number against the average graduating salary to get a view on how students fare with their diplomas.
  • Diplomas Awarded:
    This number shows how many students have graduated versus the number still working on their degrees. For an incoming student, you might be interested to know how vigorously your fellow students are pursuing their diplomas.
  • % of Students Receiving Financial Aid:
    This number is important when assessing overall affordability. While some schools' tuition fees give us an automatic sense of affordability, this number illustrates exactly how our hunches play out. Keep in mind, however, that even some private schools are heavily weighted with students that pay their tuition in full, with cash. Those schools might then seem more affordable than a public university that charges less for tuition but attracts students who cannot pay out-of-pocket for their education.