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How the Best Colleges Rankings are Calculated

Data Collection

Data utilized in rankings is retrieved exclusively from the U.S. Department of Education to ensure accuracy and quality. Full data sources are described here. Website visitor generated ratings and reviews of colleges do not factor in any way into the CollegeSimply Best Colleges rankings.

Eligibility for Inclusion in Rankings

In order to appear in the Best Colleges ranking, colleges must meet the following criteria.

  • Data Completeness - Full data for the seven ranking factors must be available from public data sources
  • College Type - The school must be a four year public or private not-for-profit institution
  • Size - The college must have an enrollment over 1,000 full or part time students

If a college is missing from the rankings, it's likely that it had incomplete data reported to the Department of Educations IPEDS survey and a fully comparable rating could not be calculated. Note that it is possible for a college to be rated on the 1-10 scale with limited data missing, however ranking inclusion is limited to schools with complete data.

Ranking Factors Used for Calculation

Data points within three key areas are used for rating a college and determining its place in the overall ranking. The criteria analyzed attempt to determine the academic caliber of incoming students, educational resources available for teaching and outcomes after students have graduated from the college.

Academics (25%)

Admission Test Scores

Incoming freshman SAT and ACT scores provide an indicator of baseline academic achievement for the student body and the level that the college is teaching at. Data source: IPEDS SAT and ACT 75th percentile scores.

Admission Selectivity

The colleges acceptance rate shows how selective the college is and a schools capacity to weed out lesser-prepared students who apply. It is also an indicator of the public's perception of the value of a degree from a particular school, with more student's vying for slots at the best colleges. Data source: IPEDS Percent Admitted

Student Resources (27%)

Student to Faculty Ratio

The ratio of instructional staff to enrolled undergraduate students. This indicates how many teachers the college has available to teach and potentially engage with students on a one-to-one basis. It is also a directional indicator of class sizes. Data source: IPEDS student-to-faculty ratio.

Instruction Expenditure Per Student

Money spent by the college on teaching activities for each student shows how well funded the college is and how much it is investing back into educating its students. Data source: IPEDS Instruction expense per FTE.

Post-Graduation Outcomes (43%)

Graduation Rate

The percent of students who graduate measures the college's effectiveness in engaging students through their courses and degree completion. Data source: IPEDS Graduation rate 6-years after entry .

Student Loan Debt

Student loan debt has become a burdensome problem for many college graduates. Colleges that offer affordable tuition and generous financial aid and avoid high indebtedness place graduates on a more sound financial trajectory for life. Data source: U.S. Department of Education's College Scorecard Median total debt after graduation.

Graduate Earnings

Post graduation earnings measure the college's ability to prepare students to compete in the workforce and recoup the cost of their education. Data source: U.S. Department of Education's College Scorecard Median annual earnings 6-years after enrollment.

Detailed Ranking Factor Weightings

  • SAT/ACT Test Scores - 20%
  • Acceptance Rate - 10%
  • Student to Faculty Ratio - 12%
  • Instruction Expenditures Per Student - 15%
  • Graduation Rate - 18%
  • Student Debt - 10%
  • Post Graduation Income - 15%

Calculation Process

For each ranking factor, a statistical frequency distribution is constructed containing all colleges' values in order to normalize the data. The cumulative percent for each college is then determined (0-100%). This score indicates where on the distribution a college ranks, (eg. 95th percentile) for each factor. Using the factor weightings above, a weighted total score is computed for each college on a scale of 1 to 100. A college's position across a sorted list of all colleges' total scores determines its final ranking.

College Rating Assignment

Overall ratings and factor ratings (Academics, Student Resources, Post-Graduation Outcomes) are assigned to colleges on a 1 to 10 scale based on their cumulative percentage within the frequency. This determines the color coded rating badge you will find on college profiles on CollegeSimply.

Rating Percent
10/10 91% to 99%+
9/10 81% to 90%
8/10 71% to 80%
7/10 61% to 70%
6/10 51% to 60%
5/10 41% to 50%
4/10 31% to 40%
3/10 21% to 30%
2/10 11% to 20%
1/10 1% to 10%
NA Rating Not Available