College Factual FAQ

About College Factual

Questions About the Rankings

General Questions About Rankings & College Profiles

Questions About Tools

About College Factual

Who is College Factual

College Factual is a website created to help every student discover a college and career they love without debt holding them back. Learn more about our story and our team.

Where do you get your data from?

We obtain our data from many different sources, both public and private. One of our data sources is the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) from the National Center for Education Statistics, a branch of the Department of Education

We obtain our salary data from Pay Scale and the Department of Education.

Our data on crime comes from college campuses as well as the FBI.

Our various other data sources are documented in the methodology articles for each ranking.

Does College Factual allow advertising on the site?

In order to provide free tools and services to our users, we do run ads on the site. We also occasionally promote the products and services of some carefully selected partners whose philosophy and values line up with our own. We do this because we believe our users could benefit from those services. 

How is College Factual funded?

College Factual is a subsidiary of Bright Hub Inc. and is being funded by Intersouth Partners, an active and experienced venture capital firm specializing in technology and life science companies.

How do you come up with your rankings?

How do you come up with your quality ranking?

The goal of our Best Colleges Ranking is to identify those schools that are offering an exceptional quality education to students. This is a ranking only of quality, and does not take into account the costs of the degree, aside from the student loan default rate, which is an excellent way to tell if students are able to pay off their loans after graduation.

Read the complete overview of the methodology behind our quality ranking here.

How many schools are included in your ranking?

We currently publish information on all four year degree-granting colleges and universities in the United States that are included in the IPEDS dataset (a little over 1,800 schools).  For each particular ranking we only include those schools that reported enough information for us to calculate a proper ranking. For our 2017 rankings this resulted in 1,387 schools in our overall Best Colleges rankings.

How are your rankings different than U.S. News?

U.S. News segments their rankings into ten different buckets; national universities, national liberal arts colleges, four sets of regional universities and four sets of regional colleges. A school will only show up in one of these buckets, reducing the number of schools competing for top ranking.

Therefore, it may appear as if a particular college is ranked much higher in U.S. News than at College Factual. In reality, that is because the comparison pool is much smaller than our Best Colleges ranking, which puts all colleges and universities into one large bucket for a truly nationwide ranking.

We do believe that having various ways to segment rankings is a good thing. To this end, we offer both regional and state level rankings, and plan to offer many more segments, such as rankings by the highest degree offering. (This would be similar to U.S. News ‘National Universities’ ranking, which is only those universities that offer PhDs.)

However, we’ve found that a majority of people just want to know how a college ranks overall, which is why the Best Colleges, our base ranking, looks at all four-year colleges nationwide. With this as the foundation, segments can be easily developed, but you will always know where a college or university ranks compared to all others across the nation.

How do you come up with your "Best Colleges for the Money" ranking?

The "Best Colleges for the Money Ranking", also sometimes known as the "Best Value" ranking, identifies colleges that are offering the best education quality for the best price.

To come up with this ranking we measure the total average cost of the degree, and then compare the cost of the school to other schools of similar value. The schools delivering the best educational quality for the lowest price appear at the top of the rankings. A fairly priced school would appear somewhere in the middle of the ranking. Low quality schools that are priced much more highly than they ought to be would appear at the bottom of the ranking.

Learn more about the methodology behind the ranking here.

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.

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.

Net price is an estimate, and will be different for every student depending on what grants, scholarships and other types of aid you are eligible for. The filters are meant to allow you to get closer to an estimate that is accurate for you, but it is likely your net price will be different.

What is the difference between nationwide, regional, and statewide rankings?

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.

Why do some schools with different 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 schools are a similar "value", wouldn't I always pick the one that is higher 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.  We are working on improving our tools to allow you to easily filter by the above factors so that you can more easily do this, so stay tuned.

How do you come up with your rankings by major?

Our Rankings by Major is intended to reveal schools that are offering an exceptional quality education to students in a specific program. We identify this by looking at how popular the program is, how many resources are devoted to it within the school, and how well graduates of the program are doing in the workforce. Read our full methodology here.

What is a Field of Study and what is a Major?

The U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) Classification of Instructional Programs (CIP) is the base of information used to report on findings related to fields of study (programs) and majors.

The Classification for Instructional Programs mentioned above breaks down graduations into a three-level category structure.  We use the word ‘field of study’ or ‘program’ to refer to the top level of this category structure (e.g. Engineering). These can be thought of as groupings of majors and are often, but not always, similar to the various departments or schools within a college or university, for example, a School of Engineering, or a Department of Philosophy. 

The next level down we then refer to as ‘Majors’ (e.g. Chemical Engineering).

The third category would be concentrations within a major, however at this time we don't have information on concentrations on our website.

In addition to rankings by major, we also have rankings by field of study. Read more about the methodology of our field of study ranking here.

Why doesn't the list of majors you show for a school match the list I see on their website?

Each school is tasked with taking all of their majors and reporting them in the categories that best represent that major.  Many schools have different names for similar majors.

Sometimes there is a clear choice for how to report a particular major at a school, and other times it can be less clear. (For example, should they report their ‘computer programming’ major in ‘Computer Science’, ‘Computer Engineering’, or ‘Computer Information Systems’?)  Different schools often make different decisions based on the nuances of their programs.

Additionally, the classifications can sometimes be broad or vague. Often a school must take several different majors that they consider very unique and combine them into one generic category in order to report it. This is often the case with schools that are pushing the boundaries and creating new cutting-edge majors that are not yet represented in the Department of Education’s classification schema (which is only updated every 5 – 10 years).

In all these cases, the school will have reported information for every major; it’s just a question of understanding what category they reported it in.  We encourage readers to use the information we present as a general guide and then dive into more detail with the school directly if the major you are looking for is subject to the above challenges.

Why can't I find the major I'm looking for?

If you are browsing through the list of college majors and you cannot find what you are looking for, try using the search widget instead, as we have an additional feature built-in to the search function.

We strive to keep an updated list of the many ways each major is referenced. When you complete a search for a major we can direct you to the category that most likely includes the information for the major you are looking for. As an example, if you are looking for information on a degree in Social Work, you may not quickly identify that it is within the Public Administration and Social Service field of study. However, if you search for it, you will automatically be directed to that program, and will be able to explore all the related majors within that field as well.

Where do you get the salary information to determine the highest paid grads?

We have partnered with, a leader in compensation data analytics, to identify salary information for each major and field of study at top colleges across the country. PayScale surveys millions of people each year to identify details about how well they are paid, their experience level in their profession, what job they have, where they went to school and what they studied. This information is then aggregated and analyzed to determine the salary information we use in our rankings.

The numbers reported from include only those people who report having a bachelor’s degree from the school.  Those that have earned a higher degree (i.e. Masters, Ph.D.) from the same school, or any school, are excluded in order to rule out the impact a higher degree may have on salary.

In cases where we have enough information about both the normal range of earnings for that particular major, and the general earnings potential for graduates from that school as a whole, we calculate an estimate of what we would expect the earnings to be based on that information. That is indicated by (est.) after an earnings figure.

This information is meant to give you a rough idea of what you might expect to earn if you should graduate from that college with a degree in that major.  While based largely on PayScale data, it is not a true average salary figure reported and verified by PayScale and is instead based on our own internal calculations.

For more about how PayScale gets their data, visit the PayScale’s Methodology Overview. For more on how we use the salary data, read this article.

What is the difference between starting and mid-career salaries?

Starting salaries represent salaries reported by those that have graduated less than 5 years ago, while mid-career salaries include all those that graduated 10+ years ago.

Why doesn't a school show up in the rankings when I know they offer a specific major?

PayScale collects a large number of surveys each year, but unfortunately they cannot collect information from everyone. In order for PayScale to report a number that accurately represents the average salary for any given field at a college, a certain number of graduates must report their salary information, based on PayScale’s data methodology. There are many schools where there is simply not enough information collected to provide an accurate average salary.

It is possible a college or university has graduated top earning students for a particular major, but may not be represented in our rankings, due to a lack of participants in the salary collection process.  Although this means the rankings are not 100% complete, we believe allowing readers to see the differences in earnings between the schools wedo have information on is better than not reporting any salary information at all.

Over time, we expect the amount of payroll information to increase.  In the meantime, if you have never filled out a survey at and compared your earnings to other people similar to you, we encourage you to do so hereand add your data to the mix.

What does "most-focused" mean?

In the context of majors rankings, focus is the % of undergraduates in the given degree at that school.

Colleges that rank highly for "engineering focus" have a larger percentage of their undergraduate student in "engineering" than those that do not rank highly.

A college with 80% of the student body enrolled in engineering is likely to be more focused on this field of study than a college that has only 5% of their students enrolled in that field.  Using this logic, the most focused rankings identify the schools that are likely to have a greater concentration on a particular major, based solely on the percentage of students enrolled at the college or university.

How do you come up with your rankings for sports?

Our sports rankings are likely different than any other sports rankings you've seen. The purposes of our sports rankings is to help students discover schools that offer the option to play on a competitive sports team AND get a quality education at the same time.

We use metrics such as the win/loss percentage of the sports team, academic progress rate of the athletes, athletic aid available to students, other resources available, and the overall quality ranking of the college.

Read our complete methodology here.

How do you come up with your rankings for Veterans?

Veterans and active duty service members often have unique needs which means the type of colleges they seek can be different than the "traditional" student. Our Best for Veterans Rankings uncovers those colleges that are offering quality educations, but that also offer support and resources specific to the needs of veterans. 

To learn more about the methodology behind our Best for Veterans Rankings, go here.

Click here to learn more about what makes our rankings different from other rankings for veterans.

Do you include community colleges in your rankings?

Unfortunately at this time we do not include community colleges in our rankings. All of the colleges on our website are classified as four-year degree granting institutions. 

We do recognize that community colleges are a great options for many veterans, so we do include data on community colleges in our GI Bill Calculator, but they aren't listed on our site or in our rankings right now.

How do you come up with your rankings for returning adults?

Many students who are looking at colleges are considered "non-traditional". A non-traditional student could be a transfer student, a part-time student, an adult who is going back to school after being in the work-force, a student who took a year off before heading to college after high school, a veteran, or any combination of the above factors.

These students often have different needs and requirements than the average student. Our "Rankings for Returning Adults" provides an alternative ranking that may help students with specific needs discover colleges that are more likely to cater to their lifestyle. 

Read our complete methodology for more information.

Do you include online schools in your rankings?

Yes. Our ranking methodology for returning adults includes factors which allows online schools to appear in the rankings. This is because we assume that a returning adult is usually interested in taking a portion of their classes online. This is obviously not true of everyone, which is why we have so many different types of rankings.

We only include schools in our rankings if they are accredited through a recognized regional accreditation agency. This is an important quality measure which ensures that online schools only appear if their credits are typically able to transfer to other schools. (Whether or not a school accepts credits will vary depending on the individual transcript, however credits from a regionally accredited school are much more likely to be accepted at other regionally accredited schools.) 

Do you include for-profit schools in your rankings?

Yes. The government collects data on for-profit colleges, and thus we use that data to report what we can on such schools. You will find for-profit schools while browsing the website, and they do also sometimes appear in rankings if we have enough data on them. 

To learn whether a school is private, public or for-profit, navigate to the college overview tab and check the type.

The government tracks data on colleges based on traditional students. Unfortunately, because for-profit schools often cater to "non-traditional" students, there is a general lack of available data on these schools. The reason for-profit colleges do not often appear in our rankings is because we just do not have enough good data on them in order to assign them a ranking.

Our dream is to make data about all schools more accessible to students, teachers, those who work for colleges, and anyone else interested. Thus, we are developing a way to allow any college to report data. To learn more about this project, visit

How do you come up with your rankings for religious schools?

Rankings by Religious Affiliation were developed to help students to identify college and universities of a particular religious denomination.

The colleges in the rankings are ranked by the same criteria as our Quality Rankings, but are filtered by the religious affiliation of the school as reported to IPEDs. This ranking does not include any additional measures, it is simply a ranking of the school's overall quality.

Religious affiliation is determined when the school reports its information to IPEDs. If you cannot find a school listed under a particular denomination it may be because the school has reported itself under a different denomination or the school has failed to report this piece of data. Failure to report information does not impact the school's quality, it just means it may not show up in our rankings.

How do you come up with your diversity rankings?

College Factual Rankings for Diversity take into account three measures of diversity: the ethnic background of the student body, the geographic representation among students, and the gender makeup of the student body.

Many people assume a highly diverse campus is synonymous with a high presence of minorities on campus. However, our diversity rankings measure of how many students of various ethnic backgrounds are represented, as well as location and gender. 

For more about our diversity ranking, please see this article.

Can colleges pay money to appear in your rankings?

Absolutely not! All of our rankings are based on objective data from various sources we deem reliable. This includes public sources such as the Department of Education, or the FBI, and private sources such as Pay Scale, and many others.

No college can pay to appear in our rankings or to change the outcome of our ranking methodology.

Why doesn't College ABC appear in your rankings? It's great!

At this time we only publish information on schools that are defined as four-year institutions via IPEDS. If a school does not appear on our website it is likely because it is either not classified as a four-year institution, or that we do not have enough data on the school to list it. We only include schools in rankings if we have enough data available to calculate a proper ranking.

At some point in the future we would like to expand the website to include community colleges as well as graduate schools.

If you know a school you are looking for is a four-year school, they may have not reported enough data to IPEDS or may have had errors in their data. 

We are developing a way to allow schools to report data to us directly. Learn more about this project at

Why does College XYZ appear in your rankings? It's terrible!

Our rankings are based on objective data we collect from various different reliable sources. However, just because the majority of students at a specific school have a good experience does not mean that all students do. 

Our rankings are meant to be a starting point and in no way do we believe that a school ranking highly in a specific ranking means that it is a good school for everyone. We believe all students should build their own list of top schools that are great fits for them and no one else.

How do I report errors on your website?

Much of our data that populates our college profiles is from the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS). We use the most up-to-date data available.

That being said, IPEDS is generally a year behind, as data from the most current year is still being collected and distributed. For our 2017 rankings we will be using data from the 2014-2015 year. This may be the reason for slight data differences between our website and other sources. Again, this is the most up-to-date data available to us, and is based upon public data reported directly from colleges.

Because most factors do not change very much on a year-to-year basis, we find it to be quite accurate for making decisions about a college and predicting future trends.

However, sometimes there is a bug or a misreporting of data. If you think you see an error, please contact us at and we will look into it. 

Can I make a suggestion for a new feature or change?

We welcome your ideas and suggestions. Please email us at, or post your feedback in our support forum.


Questions About our Tools

How does College Factual choose college matches for me?

College Match is our free tool available to help students discover colleges. When you begin College Match, you will be asked to answer a series of questions in order to determine which schools may be a great fit, and also to rule out schools that will never be a good fit. Our site essentially creates a custom ranking for you based on the data you input, such as your grades, finances, and ideal location. The more complete the profile, the better the matches.

If you have not completed your whole profile you will receive matches heavily influenced by our quality ranking, as we have no other data to work with to provide more customized matches. If you are unhappy with your matches, you may need to complete more of your profile.

For more on how fit scores or percentages are calculated, read this article.

How does College Factual choose majors for me?

Majors Matcher is a free tool that can help you discover majors that fit your personality and interests. The first part of the test will help you identify your natural strengths and personality. The second part of the test allows you to choose what subjects interest you the most or the least. This will rule out subjects of study that have little interest for you, allowing us to recommend majors that suit both your personality and your unique interests.

Most students are very happy with their personality profile and find that the tool predicts very accurate major matches. Your downloadable report gives you more in-depth information into both the majors your have chosen as your favorites, as well as success tips for your personality type in college and in a career.

If you are not happy with your results you can re-take the quiz at any time and generate a new report, but your old answers will be erased and cannot be restored.

How do I compare two colleges?

College Combat is a fun way to compare two schools, and can be customized depending on what factors you consider most important. 

For each factor included in College Combat, a school is awarded a grade based on its performance. The better the grade, the more points that school earns, with A+ being the best and F- the worst. These points are then totaled for each school and shown at the bottom of the page. The school with the most points is declared the winner.

By default, all factors are weighted equally. A grade of “A+” for something like Graduation Rate is worth the same number of points as an “A+” for Nationwide Value. Each person may consider some things to be more or less important than others.

Rather than force a ‘one-size-fits-all’ set of rules on everyone, we allow you to select how important each factor is to you. Increasing the importance of a factor increases the points awarded for that factor while decreasing it reduces the points awarded for that factor.

When you change the importance of each factor, you will notice the color of the row will change. Light means it has been given less weight. Dark means it has been given more. In addition, you can scroll down to the bottom of the page to see that the total points and the winner has been re-calculated based on the selected preferences.

Please let us know what you think of our tools by providing feedback.

How does the GI Bill Calculator work?

Answer the questions on the calculator to receive your customized result. 

After answering the questions you'll be presented with a screen that will show you:

  • Known costs of a degree at that particular school.
  • Known benefits paid to you (includes monthly housing allowance and book stipend).
  • Known benefits paid to that particular college.
  • Potential post 9/11 benefits paid to the college (this includes other benefits such as the yellow ribbon award which is not available at every college nor is every student eligible).
  • Potential non-military benefits paid to/by the college (this includes any financial aid you may be eligible for on top of your GI Bill benefits).

You will then see the maximum net price you would have to pay as well as the potential minimum you would have to pay. A negative number means you could receive more money than you pay.

Click on the blue plus signs to see more detail in any category. 

In the College Notes section you'll see additional important information for you. This includes average amounts of financial aid given by this college, how many months of benefits you have remaining, when your benefits will expire and other data.

Click email your results to receive a copy of all of this information.

The calculator is most valuable and effective when comparing at least two colleges or universities.

Go back to the top.