An Overview of College Factual’s Best Colleges Rankings

The goal of the 2013 College Factual Best Colleges rankings is to measure the quality of education a student will receive at a specific college, relative to all the other colleges in the United States. This ranking focuses on four-year undergraduate programs and is currently based on 11 different factors.

Each factor below shows a brief description, a note about why it matters and an indication of how much impact it has on the rankings; high, medium or low.

Student Body Caliber

Students dedicated to learning challenge each other and themselves to grow and excel. These students can also become lasting and valuable career connections later in life.

Average Test Scores (High) – The average of the 25th and 75th percentile Math and Reading SAT scores as reported by IPEDS is calculated.  Where ACT score is reported instead, the same calculation is performed using the composite score and a formula to convert that score to an equivalent SAT score.

Educational Resources

The more resources a college can dedicate to supporting students’ educational goals the better.

Average Faculty Compensation (Medium) – Competitive salaries and benefits can attract the best of the best to a college or university.  (Compensation is adjusted for cost of living.)

Expenditures per Student (Medium) – This is focused on spending that can directly benefit students, such as instruction, academic support, research and student services.

Student to Faculty Ratio (Low) – The student to faculty ratio measures how many students each instructional faculty member must support on average.  The lower the ratio, the more potential there is for individualized attention when needed.

Percent Full-Time Teachers (Low) – This metric looks at all instructional employees, including adjuncts, to get a more complete measure of how many teachers are focused on full-time instruction at a given college.

Degree Completion

A school can be doing a lot of things right, but if few of its students actually graduate, does it matter?

Freshmen Retention Rate (High) – The higher the number of freshmen returning to the same school for sophomore year the more likely these students were satisfied with the school, and the more likely the college or university is successfully supporting its freshmen students.

6 Year Graduation Rate (High) – This measures the percent of students that started as freshmen and graduated with their four-year degree from a given school within six years after starting.  The higher the rate of graduation, the more likely the college is delivering on its promise of a higher education, and students are receiving the support they need to successfully complete their degree.

Expected vs. Actual Graduation Rate (Low) – Colleges with highly selective acceptance rates are also more likely to have higher graduation rates. This can speak to the caliber of the students and not necessarily to the educational prowess of the school. This metric calculates the expected graduation rate, based on the students that enrolled at the college. A higher than expected graduation rate is indicative that a school is doing a proportionally better job at graduating students, regardless of that students’ academic standing upon acceptance to the college or university.

Post-Graduation Earnings

Life after college should reward students for seeking a higher education. These metrics are all related to the earnings students’ realized after attending school.

Student Loan Default Rate (High) – A large majority of students rely on student loans to earn a degree, with the expectation that their entry-level salaries will sufficiently cover the cost of these loans. Students who default on loans within three years after graduation may not have been provided with a sufficient education, or a sufficient degree, compared to the cost of obtaining it. The lower the default rate on student loans the better.

Starting Salary Boost (Medium) – This metric compares the salaries earned by students in each major at a college and calculates how much more, or less, money those students make when compared to students graduating with the same major at other colleges. This measure focuses on the college’s impact on early career earnings.

Mid-Career Salary Boost (Medium) – This metric is similar to the starting salary measure above, but focuses on the prolonged impact the college might have on a student by looking at the relative boost to earnings mid-career.

A Note On Special Rankings

Our Best Colleges by Religious Affiliation uses the same ranking methodology as our quality rankings outlined above. The schools are simply grouped into categories by their religious affiliation as reported to IPEDS.

We created a unique methodology to rank Best Colleges for Veterans. Read about the methodology behind this ranking here.

In an effort to help non-traditional students find their best fit school, we have also created a Best Colleges for Returning Adults ranking with a unique methodology you can read about here.