College Factual’s Best Colleges for the Money Ranking identifies which colleges and universities offer the best bang for your buck – delivering quality education and economic value.
To create this ranking we compare the academic quality of a school (as indicated in the Best Colleges rankings) to the cost of obtaining an undergraduate degree from each institution. The higher the quality of the school and the lower it costs, the better the bargain.
Determining Actual Costs
Estimating the actual average cost to obtain an undergraduate degree from any particular school involves a four step process:
Step 1: Average Yearly Cost
Estimate the net price the average student will pay each year. This equals the average amount students pay for tuition, fees, room and board, books, supplies and other living expenses. Then, the average amount of grant and scholarship aid students receive is subtracted to get to the actual average yearly cost.
Step 2: Average Years to Graduate
To determine the total cost for an undergraduate degree, the length of time it takes to complete the degree is calculated. While many students finish their undergraduate studies within four years, most do not. We calculate the average length of time it takes students to complete degrees at each college, based on the number of students who graduated in four, five and six years.
Step 3: Total Degree Cost
Rather than multiply the yearly cost by four, we multiply it by the average years to graduate, calculated in step two above, to get to the estimated total degree cost.
Step 4: Affordability Rank
Once we have the estimated total degree cost for all schools we order them from least expensive to most expensive in what we call our Affordability Rank. The lower the number the more affordable the school is.
Cost + Quality = Value
The theoretical best quality school would be ranked #1 in quality and #1 in affordability (lowest cost). While no school exists that is perfect inquality as well as affordability, we can determine how close a school is to that ideal by adding the schools quality ranking, as determined by our Best Colleges ranking, and its Affordability Ranking calculated above. The lower the total, the better value for the money the school provides, and the better ranking we give the school.
This means that in order for a school to do well in our rankings, it must be lower priced than other schools in the same quality category. If a school is high quality, but priced accordingly, we would consider it a “fair” value and it would be ranked somewhere in the middle. However, if a similar high quality school has a low price, this would appear near the top of our rankings.
Likewise a low quality school that has a low price would appear somewhere near the middle of the ranking, while a low quality school with a high price would be near the bottom. The purpose of the ranking is to highlight schools that offer quality, but do it at a discount when compared to other similar schools.
Value Changes Based on You
We are working to build out ways to customize these value rankings based on your personalized costs and views on quality. For now, we offer the ability to view alternate rankings by both location and whether or not you expect to receive financial aid in the form of grants and scholarships.
College Factual’s Nationwide Best Colleges for the Money is the primary ranking we use throughout much of the site, unless otherwise specified. This compares all schools in the United States that were ranked in the overall Best Colleges ranking. The Regional Best Colleges for the Money rankings focuses in on the best value within one of eight different regions of the United States. Both of these rankings use the average ‘Out of State’ costs in their calculations to allow for proper comparisons across states.
In addition to being limited to schools from a particular state, the Statewide Best Colleges for the Money rankings use the discounted ‘in-state’ cost when calculating actual costs. This allows students to see the best school in their home states based on the costs they are likely to pay.
By Cost and Financial Aid
As previously mentioned, the actual cost a student will pay to attend a specific college can vary dramatically based on a number of factors that ultimately change the amount of grants and scholarship aid received, and thus the net price the student will pay. In an effort to provide rankings that are relevant to a wide range of students, we provide a number of ways to look at the data based on common use cases so that you can identify the scenario that best matches your personal circumstances.
- All Students – This uses an estimation of what the average net price was for the average undergrad student. This includes all undergrads, both those that paid in-state and out-of-state tuition, those that lived on or off campus and those that did or did not receive grant aid.
- With Average Aid – This uses the average price paid by students that did receive grant and scholarship aid.
- With No Aid – This uses the average price paid by students that did not receive grant and scholarship aid.toward the top of each rankings page.
To understand which school is truly the best financial fit for you, we recommend filling out your financial fit details in the college match profile. This will help you find schools that are within your education budget.