FAQ for College Factual’s Rankings by Major

How do you determine fields of study and majors?

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.

What is a ‘field of study’ and what is a ‘major’?

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).

Why doesn’t the list of ‘majors’ you show for a school match up with the list I see on the school’s 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 am 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, and utilize that when a search for a majoris performed on the College Factual site. In this way, we can direct readers to the category that most likely includes the information for the major they 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.

Why doesn’t college XYZ show up in your rankings, it’s clearly awesome?!?

The most common reasons why a college doesn’t show up when you might expect it include:

  • We lacked enough data to rank them (insufficient salary data is often the culprit for this).
  • The college classified students in a different, but similar, major when reporting their data to the Department of Education (ie. they reported their students as having graduated with a “Computer Programming” degree instead of a “Computer Science” degree, or vice-versa).
  • We currently only list 4-year colleges and their corresponding bachelors degree programs, and you are searching for a 2-year, or a post-grad degree.  If a college offers a graduate degree in journalism, but not a bachelors, then they wouldn’t show up (at least not till we launch our graduate degree rankings, which are coming soon).

My college is the best, why didn’t it rank better?!?

College Factual’s ranking system is different from many other popular college ranking sites.  Most sites that rank schools by major or program rely on surveying a group of individuals for their opinions on what schools are the best. This is not a metric that factors into our ranking system. While we believe there is some value in surveys, there are also many downsides to these popularity contests. We have made our ranking as objective as possible and merely stick to the facts.

That said, we are constantly working to include additional data in our rankings to improve their ability to identify the best colleges for each major.  That is our only goal, to create un-biased rankings to help families make better decisions about which colleges are the best fit for them.  If you have any ideas on data sources that would serve as good signals to identify those quality colleges for a particular major we would love to hear them.

How do you determine the best colleges for a particular major?

It’s a complex explanation, as it involves several metrics. It’s explained in detail here: An Overview of the Top Ranked Colleges by Major

Where do you get your salary information for Highest Paid Grads?

We have partnered with PayScale.com, 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.

For more about how PayScale gets their data, visit the PayScale’s Methodology Overview.  To see what we then do with that data to come up with our numbers, see our Salary Data FAQ.

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.

What graduates from a school are included in the salary calculations?

The numbers reported from PayScale.com 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.

Why doesn’t a school I am looking for show up in the rankings when I know they offer a degree for that field of study or 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 PayScale.com and compared your earnings to other people similar to you, we encourage you to do so here and add your data to the mix.

What does it mean when I see “(est.)” after an earnings figure?

This means that the figure shown is an estimate of salaries from a particular school and major, not an actual value reported by PayScale.  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.

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.

What do you mean by ‘most focused’?

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.