Best Colleges Rankings | College Raptor’s Methodology

College Raptor’s Best Colleges rankings are based on publicly-available data on each college. The distinction is determined based on numerous factors and colleges are ranked based on a specific and proprietary methodology, which is developed by College Raptor.

The colleges and universities in the Best Colleges rankings are included strictly on the merits of their institution, as shown by the data. No college or university is able to pay for inclusion or better placement in these rankings.

To provide transparency and insight to the public, colleges, and researchers, we have outlined the specific data and methods used in our rankings to determine which schools were considered among our rankings of the best colleges.

Factors included in ranking the best colleges

College Raptor’s Best College ranking is meant to be an overall assessment of the health and quality of a college. To that end, our ranking comprises a number of specific factors that are then combined into a single weighted score, which determines a college’s overall rank.

All of these factors are based on the most-recently available public data, generally from the prior academic year. (See below: data source and methods)

The full list of factors that are included in the College Raptor Best Colleges rankings:

  • First-year retention rate – The percentage of first-year students who return for a second year, which is a measure of the overall student satisfaction with the education and facilities provided by the college.
  • Median SAT/ACT scores for incoming freshmen – An analysis of the admissions test scores achieved by incoming students. In the case where this figure is not reported (e.g., test optional college), it may be estimated based on other factors (See below: Data source and methods)
  • Average faculty salary – The mean salary earned by faculty at this college or university. This is used as an approximation of the overall quality of the instructors at the institution. More tenured professors generally earn higher salaries, which means that a higher average salary is likely to reflect a more-tenured faculty, overall.
  • Student-to-faculty ratio – Number of students enrolled divided by total number of faculty. This is a common measure of academic quality, which emphasizes the importance of students having access to their professors and other faculty on campus.
  • Selectivity index – The percentage of applicants to the college who are accepted divided by the percentage of accepted students who enroll (yield rate). The selectivity index is one measure of the relative desirability or prestige of a college among students.
  • Endowment per student – Total endowment of the institution (dollars) divided by the total enrollment. This measures the relative financial strength of the institution and is often used as an indicator of access to resources for students on campus.
  • Four-year graduation rate – The percentage of students who graduate with a degree within 4 years of first enrolling. This is a standard measure of student success among colleges, indicating how likely a student is to graduate within four years.
  • Six-year graduation rate – The percentage of students who graduate with a degree within 6 years of first enrolling. This is a secondary measure of student success, which is used to include students who persist to graduation but do not achieve a degree within the traditional 4-year time window.

Weighting of the factors

The above factors are used in a weighted formula to calculate the college’s final score, which is then used to determine its ranking.

These factors are weighted as such:

  • 23% – First-year retention rate
  • 11% – Median SAT/ACT
  • 11% – Average faculty salary
  • 11% – Student-to-faculty ratio
  • 6% – Selectivity index
  • 6% – Endowment per student
  • 16% – Four-year graduation rate
  • 16% – Six-year graduation rate

Note: These weightings are shown in rounded percentages.

Data sources and methods

All data used in the College Raptor Best Colleges rankings is self-reported by colleges to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES).

This data is obtained from either the College Navigator website, which reflects the most recently-available data, or is downloaded via the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) database.

In some instances, the data reported by colleges will be incomplete. In the case where a college is missing two or fewer of the factors needed to calculate a ranking, College Raptor will use statistical analysis to estimate an appropriate figure for these factors, based on the remaining factors and the distribution found among other colleges. In the case where a college has failed to report more than 2 of the factors used, the college will not be ranked.

Additional data sources

For certain specialized rankings lists, additional data sources may be utilized. For instance, the previous Study Abroad rankings incorporate data from the Institute of International Education (IIE).

Segmenting the best colleges

Segmentation of the Best Colleges rankings is done for the purpose of diversity and accessibility of the rankings.

Each segment–campus setting, campus size, institution type, etc–is determined by the enrollment, campus setting, or classification data that is reported by the college, as shown in the data outlined above.

These rankings do not include any additional factors.

Exclusions and exceptions

Although our Best Colleges ranking does analyze the quality of all four-year colleges in the country, we have taken some editorial discretion with the published results.

Some colleges are excluded based on their classification (Carnegie Classification, as reported in the data outlined above) and/or because they only offer specialized education in specific fields.

These exclusions are intended to improve the overall quality of our Best Colleges rankings, providing what we feel is a more useful guide for prospective students and their parents.

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