FAQ for College Factual’s Best Colleges for the Money

This page answers some of the most frequently asked questions about College Factual’s Best Colleges for the Money rankings. To learn about the factors used to determine this ranking, please read this overview.

What exactly are the “Best Colleges for the Money?”

The best colleges for the money are those schools that provide a quality education, as determined by our Best Colleges ranking, for a low average net price.

Does “best value” mean “cheap” or “low quality”?

Absolutely not!  Quality is a critical part of our definition of best value for the money.  In fact, makes up 50% of our total value ranking.  Our ranking aims to identify quality colleges at a discount.

How are the Best Colleges for the Money determined?

An estimated cost of a college’s four-year undergraduate degree is calculated based on the the average grants and scholarships provided and the average number of years it actually takes to complete the four-year degree. This cost is then compared to the schools quality ranking.  The bigger the difference between the schools quality and its cost, the more quality education you are getting for the dollar and thus the higher the value for the money. For more details, read this overview.

What costs are included in determining the Total Cost?

Total costs include tuition, fees, room, board, books, supplies and other living expenses.  Other living expenses account for some basic travel expenses while on campus, but does not really account for additional travel expenses required to travel to and from college.  So, keep that in mind when looking at schools a long distance away from a student’s home.

Where do you get your cost data from?

Our cost data comes from the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) from the National Center for Education Statistics, a branch of the Department of Education.

What’s the difference between “All Students”, “Students With Average Aid” and “Students With No Aid?”

“All Students” uses a cost estimate that is based on all undergraduate students at the school.  This includes in-state and out-of-state students; those receiving, and not receiving, financial aid; and those living on- and off-campus.  The calculation considers all these students and comes up with an estimate of what the average student pays the college, and then determines the value based on that average net cost.

“With Average Aid” and “With No Aid” are similar, except they separate out the “All Students” group into two sub-groups, one that includes only students that received grant or scholarship aid, and one that did not receive any.  These two groups usually pay a very different net price to attend the college or university, and so their calculated value can vary dramatically.  Look at the group that is most likely to reflect a student’s personal situation when looking at the best schools for your money.

What is the difference between the Nationwide, Regional and Statewide rankings?

In addition to the obvious, that regional limits schools to within a certain geographic region, and statewide to a particular state, there is one key difference. The nationwide and regional rankings use the ‘out-of-state’ tuition and fees for their cost calculations. This is necessary in order to compare schools across multiple states.  However, the statewide rankings use the ‘in-state’ discounted tuition and fees for those schools that offer one, and are thus geared toward identifying the best value for residents of that state, assuming they go to school in-state to benefit from that discount.

If a student expects to get some grant aid, is the net price shown what s/he will pay?

No, probably not.  Every student is unique and financial aid packages are based on individual circumstances. The numbers used on College Factual are the overall averages for students who received aid, and are meant to give a rough idea of where a school stands relative to other schools.  Be sure to visit the Net Price page for each college, which goes into more details about net price and may help prospective students get a more accurate picture of the price they will pay.

Why do some schools with significantly different overall quality rankings rank similarly for value?

The short answer to that question is cost.  The college that is lower quality is proportionally lower in cost to make up for that fact, such that you are getting a similar relative bargain at both colleges.

If two colleges are a similar “value”, why wouldn’t I always want to pick the one that is better quality?

While two schools may offer the same relative value for the money, the higher quality school will be proportionally more expensive in raw dollar terms. That may put a particular school out of your price range. Being higher quality may also mean it is harder to get into. Both of these factors may combine to make the lower quality school that is more affordable a better path for you to still achieve a great value for the money you do have to spend.

Our goal with these rankings is to identify the colleges that are proportionally the most under-priced relative to their quality. From this baseline, you can then figure out which colleges are both a good value and a good fit for your individual circumstances.