Best College Reviews ranks the top schools and programs to help prospective students find the right fit to reach their personal and professional goals. As part of our mission to help students make informed decisions about higher education, we created a ranking methodology that offers reliable, objective information.
Our methodology highlights the areas that matter most to students, including academic quality, affordability, and earning potential after graduation. By considering over a dozen metrics, including retention rate, net price, median student debt, and average earnings after enrolling, our methodology provides the information students need to choose a school.
We regularly update our rankings with new data to respond to the changing field of higher education. In particular, our rankings focus on online programs that offer flexible routes to a degree. Here, we introduce our data sources, our ranking methodology, and the subfactors that go into creating our rankings.
About the Data We Use
Our rankings rely on reputable data sources that come from the U.S. Department of Education (ED). For example, we use data from College Scorecard, which reports information on college costs, loan default rates, and student borrowing. College Scorecard uses ED data to help prospective students compare schools, offering information on student outcomes such as graduation rates and employment.
We also use data from the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS). Conducted by the National Center for Education Statistics, a division of the ED, IPEDS collects data on college graduation rates, net prices, enrollment, and financial aid. Every college and university that participates in federal financial aid programs must complete IPEDS surveys. As a result, all regionally accredited institutions provide data to IPEDS.
By drawing on these reliable data sources, our methodology compares schools based on the metrics that matter most to students.
A Breakdown of Our Ranking Methodology
|Online Enrollment Score||15%|
|Online Enrollment Score||15%|
|Online Enrollment Score||30%|
|Online Enrollment Score||10%|
|Reputation||15%||Online Enrollment Score||10%|
About Our Ranking Factors
Our ranking factors consider areas like academic quality, affordability, and reputation. These factors emphasize the student experience and the value of a degree. Learn more about our ranking factors in this section.
- Academic Quality
- A high-quality institution prepares graduates with the knowledge and skills required for the workforce. Our subfactors look at the school's graduation rate, retention rate, and student-to-faculty ratio to measure academic quality.
- School Affordability
- Affordability ranks at the top of many students' concerns when it comes to higher education. We assess affordability by looking at net prices, financial aid data, and median student debt after graduation.
- School Reputation
- A strong reputation helps graduates advance their careers. This factor evaluates reputation by measuring the admission and enrollment rates, which indicate a school's selectivity. We also weigh the average earnings for graduates as a measure of school reputation.
- Program Offerings
- This factor evaluates program offerings by degree level and the size of the school's online programs, including the percentage of students earning an online degree. We only take online data into account for online program rankings.
Subfactors for Academic Quality
The graduation rate measures the percentage of students who earn a degree within six years of enrolling in the institution. A low graduation rate acts as a red flag for accrediting agencies and for our measure of academic quality. If few incoming students earn a degree within six years, that could indicate problems with the school.
The retention rate measures the number of first-year students who stay at the school for their second year. The retention rate correlates with student investment in the school and the institution's support services.
The student-to-faculty ratio measures the number of students per faculty member at the institution. Schools with a low student-to-faculty ratio typically prioritize one-on-one attention and small class sizes, which benefit students. A high number could indicate less attention from instructors.
Several metrics look at the education quality in the classroom. This subfactor looks at the ratio of full-time to part-time faculty. Schools with a higher number of full-time faculty generally invest more in their educational staff and rely on fewer adjuncts and part-time faculty to teach students.
Subfactors for Affordability
Posted tuition rates say less about a school's affordability than the net price students pay to attend the school, which factors in financial aid. A low average net price indicates an affordable school, while a high average net price indicates a less affordable institution.
A program's loan default rate measures how many graduates were able to repay their loans after completing the program. A high loan default rate indicates that many graduates were unable to repay their loans, which often points to a lack of employment opportunities. A low loan default rate indicates strong job prospects after graduation. Our methodology factors in the loan default rate as a measure of a degree's affordability and its ability to prepare graduates for the workforce.
Many students rely on federal loans to cover the cost of their bachelor's degree. This subfactor looks at the percentage of undergraduates using federal student loans to pay for their bachelor's degree. A high percentage can indicate a more costly school.
This subfactor analyzes the average size of federal loans awarded to students. A high number could indicate a more expensive school where students rely on loans to cover their costs.
This subfactor looks at the percentage of incoming full-time undergraduates who use financial aid to pay for their degree. A high number can indicate a strong institutional commitment to financial aid.
Unlike loans, recipients do not need to repay grant and scholarship aid. This subfactor considers the average amount of grant and scholarship money awarded to students. A high number indicates a more affordable school where degree-seekers will likely graduate with less debt.
Many degree-seekers want to avoid student debt. A lower median debt number indicates a more affordable program, while high median debt points to more expensive schools.
Subfactors for Reputation
Selective schools tend to admit a lower number of applicants compared to less-selective schools. The admission rate measures the percentage of applicants who receive an admission offer. Selectivity positively correlates with reputation and future earnings, making the admission rate an important subfactor for ranking schools.
The enrollment rate measures the percentage of accepted students who actually attend the school. A higher enrollment rate indicates the school's desirability, while a low enrollment rate indicates that many accepted students choose to attend a different school.
This subfactor considers the average amount of money graduates earn six years after enrolling at the school. Since many students enroll in degree-granting programs to increase their earning potential, average earnings represents an important metric for evaluating schools.
Subfactors for Program Offerings
Colleges and universities may specialize in undergraduate or graduate education. This subfactor looks at the percentage of various degree types a school offers. For example, if the school primarily offers bachelor's degrees, then master's programs might make up a small percentage of the school's offerings. A high number can indicate a strong reputation for offering programs at a particular degree level.
This subfactor looks at the percentage of degree-seekers who choose a fully online option. A high number indicates a strong online cohort with institutional support for distance learning. A low number indicates fewer online degree-seekers.
*We only consider this subfactor for our online program rankings; not our on-campus rankings.
This subfactor measures the size of the online learning community at the school, which indicates the institution's investment in distance learning.
*We only use overall online enrollment as a subfactor in our online program rankings; not our on-campus rankings.