If you’ve ever researched university rankings or college degree programs, you’ve probably noticed what we’ve noticed:
There’s no way you could read it all.
And whose information are you supposed to trust?
Which numbers matter?
Which numbers don’t?
College Choice has a team trained in advanced data aggregation and analysis. We’ve boiled college rankings down to a few, key stats, and then combed through numerous databases to find those stats. And then we put it all together.
No one does college rankings like we do. And after you read ours, you won’t need anyone else’s rankings anyways.
First off, in order to be included in our rankings, each school must be an accredited public or private institution. That way, we weed out the schools that aren’t going to add any value to your education.
Then we collect and analyze college data on the basis of the five things that matter most to the broadest array of students.
- Quality: A rigorous education backed by the best educational practices
- Reputation: From a school that’s respected throughout the nation
- Affordability: At a price that makes sense
- Value: A degree which will increase their earning potential
- Satisfaction: From a college where they’ll be happy and fulfilled
Those are the five factors we research: Quality, Reputation, Affordability, Value, and Satisfaction.
Let’s break each of these down.
To measure quality, we analyze factors including graduation rate, strength of faculty, and curriculum. These components are found through government databases, specifically the Department of Education’s Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS). Quality also takes into consideration admission rate, and when applicable, standardized test results. These factors are first ranked individually before combining them on a weighted scale. This method is also applied to the other categories.
To factor in reputation, we consider the institution’s ranking according to other high-quality ranking sources. Our first source for the reputation score is U.S. News and World Report. Whenever available and applicable, we also incorporate data from industry-specific journals and rankings, such as the National Council on Teacher Quality for education-related degrees, and Financial Times for business degrees.
Considering the rising cost of higher education, it’s essential to incorporate the cost of a degree in our rankings. To do so, we look into the following criteria: Net Price according to school information, and when available, Percentage of Financial Aid Given and Average Student Loan Size. We use IPEDS to retrieve this information, though when available, we supplement it with self-reported numbers from individual college websites.
While it’s tied to affordability, we also measure value separately as a Return on Investment (ROI) score. We incorporate data such as expected average income for a graduate within 1-4 years of receiving a degree. We gather this information from institutions such as PayScale, Glassdoor, and the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics. This salary score is then weighed against tuition price in order to determine the value score.
We want to make sure students not only learn a lot and get prepared for the workforce, but that they’re happy at whatever school they choose. One of the best ways of measuring student satisfaction is by looking at the freshman retention rate: How many students return to school after their first year? We get this info from IPEDS as well. Additionally, we want to account for the voices of the students themselves. So we scan the reviews that students have left on RateMyProfessor, Cappex, Niche, and Students Review, and then we aggregate these with retention rate to create a Satisfaction metascore.
While the breakdown above gives you a general sense of the backbone of each of our scores, not every one of our rankings follows this exact formula. That’s because we want to include the most relevant information that we can.
For example, we mention that in order to measure quality, we also incorporate other peer-reviewed quality metrics. For an education ranking, we’ll use data from the National Council on Teacher Quality. But for other rankings, that doesn’t make sense. For a community college, for example, we’ll use data from the Aspen Institute. It always depends.
If you’re curious about what additional ranking material we’ve included, just read the introduction to an individual ranking. We try to include as much specific information in there as we can.
When we can’t retrieve information about a particular college no matter how hard we try, we don’t want to penalize them for our failure. So in that case, we’ll assign them a score that compares to their peer institutions, in order to give them a chance in our rankings and let their other qualities shine.
While we think we have the best college rankings out there, of course, College Choice can’t be the final word.
Make sure you research the colleges, talk to students and professors, and visit campus if you can. Seeing it in person can make a world of difference.