Top Ranked Colleges by Major Full Methodology

We offer many different ways to rank colleges offering a particular major. Many of these look at these colleges from a single dimension (i.e. graduate earnings, number of students, etc.). For more information on all of the rankings, see our Overview of College Factual’s Top Schools by Major.

This article will dive into the methodology behind the much more comprehensive “Top Ranked” colleges for each major. This ranking attempts to identify the best overall colleges for each major by looking at a combination of ten different factors. For a shorter summary of these rankings, please see our A Summary of Our Rankings by Major: The Quick Version.

Factors We Consider In The Ranking

Graduate Earnings

Because recent college graduates usually have very limited work experience, early career earnings often reflect the employer’s perception of the university and how well prepared graduates are for the workforce. This can be a good indicator of the quality of the specific program and of the school.

Similarly, a student’s mid-career earnings can reflect how well the university prepared them for the working world, allowing them to build steam in their career, as well as giving them a solid alumni base to make connections with.

We obtain salary data from PayScale.Com. We only use the earnings from students at that college in the particular major we are ranking, and only from students with undergraduate degrees (those who go on to receive advanced degrees would no doubt make a higher salary).

Major Focus

Every organization has a limited number of resources.  This goes for businesses, charities, families, etc.  Colleges are no different. These three metrics measure how many resources we can expect a college to devote to the major in question.

Major Focus

This is the percentage of students at the school who are studying a particular major: the higher the better. We take it as a good sign if a large percentage of a college's students choose a particular major.

All organizations have limited resources to spread around. It only stands to reason that colleges will spend more of their resources on the departments with the most students enrolled. It is also important to recognize this as a signal from the students at the college who are voluntarily choosing the major, that they can recognize the strength of the program.

Major Market Share

This is a measure of what percentage of all U.S. students in a particular major are enrolled at a specific college. We take it as a positive signal if a college is attracting a lot of students to a particular major, and has a large market share.

Does this mean we are rewarding big schools unfairly? We don't think so. Take the case of two colleges that have the same percentage of students studying a particular major, but College A has twice the overall number of students in that major than College B due to an overall larger student body.  It's true that bigger isn't always better, but the fact remains that College A has twice as many students paying tuition than College B.  This gives College A an advantage as it has twice as much income to cover its fixed costs and further invest in the program.

This measure of "market-share" not only highlights the schools likely to have the most resources to dedicate to a major but also serves as a proxy for which schools students and their families have chosen in the past.  People vote with their wallet, so paying attention to where students and parents are choosing to pay tuition is an important signal.

Post-Graduate Resources

While this ranking is focused on undergraduate programs, a college that has significant graduate and doctoral level programs indicates a college that is even more focused on a particular major.  This can mean more resources available to all students, not least of which is access to an expanded group of professors and research opportunities.  To measure this, we use the same "market-share" approach as we did above, but do it for both graduate students studying that major and doctoral students.

Related Major Concentration (mPower Index)

Would you go to a college that focused on liberal arts if you wanted to study engineering?  If you answered "No" to this question, then you intuitively know what the following measures are all about.

There are lots of different majors.  Many different majors compliment each other.  For example, consider the need to study math and science on an engineering track or the need to study various social sciences at a liberal arts college.   As another example, consider two colleges that both offer Computer Science and are both strong in core related classes like math and science.  Beyond that, College A offers Political Science, Architecture, Nursing, Germanic Languages, Cosmetology and Culinary Arts while College B offers Computer Engineering, Information Technology, Information Science, Data Science and Cognitive Psychology.  Where do you think your odds of getting a better Computer Science education are?

A college that is also strong in the majors closely related to a particular major is likely to be capable of offering a better overall education in that major (versus a college that spends its resources supporting entirely unrelated majors).  Furthermore, if a student is like the 74% of students that change majors at least once, having a college that is strong in other similar majors means the student is more likely to be able to change majors without transferring or losing credits.

To factor all of this in, we use proprietary algorithms based in network theory to identify how closely related each major at a school is and use that to calculate the following two factors.

  • Related Major Focus - This is a measure of how closely related all the other majors at a college are to the major in question.
  • Related Major Breadth - This is a measure of the count of highly related majors offered at the college.

Accreditation

Accreditation by a third party organization for a particular program or major at a college is a positive signal. It means that an unbiased source looked at that particular program or major at the college and made sure that it met certain standards. It also suggests that the college cared enough to go through the trouble and expense of accreditation for that major.

There are over 100 different accrediting bodies that are recognized by either the Department of Education (DOE) or the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA). These are the two organizations recognized by the United States government who regulate the various accreditation organizations.

For the purposes of our rankings by major, we looked at all the recognized program-specific accrediting bodies (as opposed to the school wide groups) and mapped them to the relevant major(s).  For majors where we could identify a relevant accrediting body, we used whether or not a college is accredited as a factor in the rankings.

Overall School Quality

Receiving a degree from a college that is otherwise good in your major but not good overall has limited value.  Regardless of what major a student selects, they are paying to receive a quality education.   It is for this reason that we include how well a college ranked in our Best Colleges Ranking as a factor.

Our Best College Ranking is unique from many other rankings in that it is very outcomes based. It takes into account important metrics like retention and graduation rates, student loan default rates, and overall average post grad earnings as well as academic quality signals like student to faculty ratio.

Read more about our ranking here.