FAQ for College Factual’s Best Colleges Rankings

This page answers some of the most frequently asked questions about College Factual’s Best Colleges rankings.  To learn about the 11 factors used to determine this ranking, please read this overview.

Where do you get your data?

We obtain our data from many different sources, both public and private.  The majority of our information about each college comes from the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) from the National Center for Education Statistics, a branch of the Department of Education.  Additional data sources are documented in the methodology articles related to each particular ranking.

Which schools are included in your rankings?

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.  This results in a listing of about 1,327 schools in our overall Best Colleges rankings.

Do colleges pay money to appear in your rankings?

Colleges cannot pay money to appear in our rankings, nor can they pay to achieve a higher ranking.

How is each factor weighted in your rankings?

This is particular to each ranking.  For our overall Best Colleges rankings we use advanced statistical methods to calculate the optimal weights to use for each factor.  Ultimately, each factor is going to have a different level of importance to each individual person, including experts.  Rather than rely on a set of subjective weights, we rely on proven statistical techniques to determine the weightings that best predict a quality education.

We are currently working on tools that will allow each person to customize a ‘base rank’ with weightings and factors that are most important to them.  College Factual believe this is the ideal solution that will help get students and parents get the most from a college ranking and comparison site, versus the ‘one-size-fits-all’ rankings that many other websites rely on.

Do your rankings take into account the cost of college?

No, our Best Colleges rankings focus on identifying the best quality colleges irrespective of cost.  For a look at quality of education relative to the cost of a school, check out our Best Colleges for the Money rankings.

Why are your rankings so 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 andstate 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.