CollegeChoice Ranking Methodology

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How We Rank Programs

College Choice ranks the top schools and programs to help prospective students find the right fit for their particular needs. Instead of struggling to understand the differences between schools, applicants can use College Choice to make the process easier and more fun.

We rely on a custom methodology to create our college rankings. This methodology draws on reliable data sources to measure schools based on their academic quality, affordability, and return on investment. For example, to measure a program’s value, we consider each school’s median student debt, graduation rate, and average student earnings after enrolling. We also consider metrics such as retention rate, net price, and financial aid when ranking schools.

Before applying to schools, applicants can use our college rankings to make an informed decision. Here, we introduce our data sources, college ranking methodology, and the factors we consider when ranking schools and programs.

About the Data We Use



Our college ranking methodology relies on several reputable data sources to create rankings. For example, we use College Scorecard, a U.S. Department of Education source that offers information on colleges and universities. College Scorecard provides data on college costs, loan default rates, student borrowing, graduation rates, and employment after graduation. The resource draws on U.S. Department of Education data to provide the most relevant information for prospective students.

We also use data from the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), a division of the National Center for Education Statistics run by the U.S. Department of Education. IPEDS collects information from all higher education institutions that participate in federal student aid programs, which includes all regionally accredited colleges and universities. Schools report information on enrollment, graduation rates, student financial aid, and admission.

By gathering data from these sources, we can analyze the cost of a degree, academic quality at different institutions, and the return on investment for students.

A Breakdown of Our Rankings Methodology

Online Undergraduate Academics Rankings
Metrics Weight
Academic Quality 30%
Affordability 15%
Reputation 20%
Program Offerings 35%
Online Graduate Academics Rankings
Metrics Weight
Academic Quality 30%
Affordability 15%
Reputation 20%
Program Offerings 35%
On-Campus Undergraduate Academics Rankings
Metrics Weight
Academic Quality 35%
Affordability 15%
Reputation 25%
Program Offerings 25%
On-Campus Graduate Academics Rankings
Metrics Weight
Academic Quality 35%
Affordability 15%
Reputation 25%
Program Offerings 25%
Best Online Colleges Rankings
Metrics Weight
Academic Quality 25%
Affordability 25%
Reputation 25%
Online Enrollment Score 25%
Online Undergraduate Affordability Rankings
Metrics Weight
Academic Quality 10%
Affordability 50%
Reputation 10%
Program Offerings 30%
Online Graduate Affordability Rankings
Metrics Weight
Academic Quality 10%
Affordability 50%
Reputation 15%
Online Enrollment Score 25%
On-Campus Undergraduate Affordability Rankings
Metrics Weight
Academic Quality 15%
Affordability 50%
Reputation 15%
Program Offerings 20%
On-Campus Graduate Affordability Rankings
Metrics Weight
Academic Quality 15%
Affordability 50%
Reputation 15%
Program Offerings 20%

About Our Ranking Factors



Our ranking factors include key areas that matter to students, such as academic quality and affordability. The following factors offer a student-focused approach to ranking colleges.

Academic Quality
We take into account metrics such as graduation rate, retention rate, and student-to-faculty ratio to assess a school’s academic quality.
School Affordability
Many students rank affordability as one of their most important factors. We measure affordability by looking at the net price of the institution, the average amount of scholarships and loans available, and the median student debt after graduation.
School Reputation
Our college ranking methodology looks at key metrics, like admission rate and enrollment rate, to understand reputation. We also use graduates’ average earnings to assess a school’s impact on earning potential.
Program Offerings
To measure program offerings, we use tools such as the percent of degrees awarded at a certain level, the number of students taking online courses, and the number of fully online degree-seekers. We only consider online options when ranking online programs.

Subfactors for Academic Quality


  • Graduation Rate

    The graduation rate measures the percentage of students who earn a degree within six years of enrolling at the college or university. A high graduation rate indicates an institution that offers high-quality academics and strong student services.


  • Retention Rate

    The retention rate measures the percentage of first-time students who return to the school for their second year. A high retention rate often correlates with a high graduation rate. A low retention rate could indicate problems with academic quality, student services, or accreditation.


  • Student-to-Faculty Ratio

    This subfactor looks at the number of students per faculty member at a college or university. A low student-to-faculty ratio often correlates with smaller class sizes and more personalized attention from instructors. A high student-to-faculty ratio could indicate fewer opportunities to interact with instructors.


  • Proportion of Full-Time Faculty Ratio

    This subfactor measures the number of full-time faculty against part-time faculty. In general, a high number of full-time faculty indicates that an institution strongly invests in its instructors and academic quality. A low ratio could indicate a strong reliance on adjuncts and part-time instructors.


Subfactors for Affordability


  • Average Net Price For Students Awarded Financial Aid

    Tuition rates do not tell the whole story when it comes to affordability. Students often pay less than the listed tuition at many institutions. This subfactor looks at the average net price after students apply financial aid, such as scholarships, to pay for tuition. A lower net price indicates strong financial aid support for degree-seekers.


  • Average Loan Default Rate

    A program’s loan default rate measures how many graduates could repay their loans after completing the program. A high loan default rate indicates that many graduates were unable to repay their loans, which often points to a lack of employment opportunities. A low loan default rate indicates strong job prospects after graduation.


  • Percent of Undergraduate Students Awarded Federal Student Loans

    This subfactor evaluates the percentage of students granted federal loans for their undergraduate degree. A high average could indicate a more expensive school where students rely on loans to cover their costs.


  • Average Amount of Federal Student Loans Awarded to Undergraduate Students

    Millions of students rely on federal loans to pay for their undergraduate degree. This subfactor looks at the average amount of federal loans given to undergraduates at the institution. A higher amount could indicate a more expensive program, since students typically rely on grants and scholarships before turning to student loans.


  • Percent of Full-Time First-Time Undergraduates Awarded Any Financial Aid

    This subfactor considers the percentage of students receiving any financial aid, such as scholarships, grants, and loans. A high percentage indicates an inclusive and robust financial aid system, including institutional aid. A low number could indicate more self-funded students.


  • Average Amount of Grant and Scholarship Aid Awarded

    Many students rely on grants and scholarships to cover degree costs. These forms of aid, which recipients do not need to repay, factor into the affordability of programs. This subfactor evaluates the average value of grants and scholarships awarded to students, not counting loans or other financial aid with repayment provisions.


  • Median Debt for Students

    Affordability means more than the cost of the degree — it also means how much debt graduates hold after completing their program. This subfactor looks at the median debt for students six years after enrolling in the program. Schools with low median debt numbers offer a more affordable route to a degree.


Subfactors for Reputation


  • Admission Rate

    The admission rate measures the number of applicants who receive an offer of admission to a school. A low admission rate indicates a more selective program, while a high admission rate indicates a less selective program. Generally, a lower admission rate correlates with a strong reputation.


  • Enrollment Rate

    The enrollment rate measures the percentage of admitted students who enroll in the school. A high enrollment rate generally indicates a strong program that degree-seekers want to attend. A low enrollment rate reveals that many admitted students choose to attend other schools.


  • Average Earnings of Students Working

    Many students pursue degrees to increase their earning potential. This factor tracks the financial success of degree-seekers after completing their program. By evaluating average earnings, our rankings take into account whether the degree pays off.


Subfactors for Program Offerings


  • Percentage of Degrees Offered

    Colleges and universities offer various degrees at different levels. This factor evaluates the percentage of degrees offered at a particular level. For example, out of all the programs offered by the school, how many are at the bachelor’s level or master’s level? This number indicates the school’s investment in a particular degree level.


  • Percent of Students Enrolled in Online (Degree Level) Programs*

    This subfactor evaluates the percentage of majors enrolled in the program’s online option versus on-campus option. A high percentage indicates widespread enrollment in the online program.

    *We only consider the percent of students enrolled in online programs for online program rankings, not campus rankings.


  • Overall Online Enrollment*

    This subfactor looks at the percentage of learners enrolled in online courses. A high number of online learners indicates strong institutional support for online offerings, while a low number can indicate a lesser commitment to online education.

    *We only consider online enrollment as a subfactor for our online program rankings, not campus rankings.


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