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Our Ranking Methodology

Last Updated: April 2020

At, we focus on what benefits students the most to create our rankings. Our approach makes use of relevant, current data to review each school's overall merit, emphasizing concepts of program appeal, financing, and student success. We use data from national databases and incorporate that information into a unique formula created by our team.

Below, you can review a breakdown of our formula, which shows how we compile available data and weigh metrics that we regard as important for students assessing each particular school. By focusing on subfactors like affordability and program appeal, we uncover how specific colleges or universities can benefit individual learners.

While we do not claim our methodology is perfect, we do ensure that we focus on the most relevant data sources as we explore the most valuable factors and subfactors to students. We focus on the diversity of an institution, the percentage of students receiving financial aid, and mean earnings that graduates report, allowing counseling students to better understand the available opportunities during and after they complete their programs.

Our methodology focuses strictly on data-oriented information and remains free of editorial influence. We make use of national databases and source only the most relevant and current information to compile effective rankings. We aim for our rankings to serve as a helpful resource for potential counseling students searching for their ideal college or university.

Our Data Sources

The main data sources we use on include the most current available datasets from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). NCES is the primary source for information about universities, colleges, and technical and vocational institutions in the United States. This organization collects data on education in the country and reports findings accordingly.

As we use the data from NCES, our quality assurance team focuses on each school individually, excluding institutions missing a significant amount of data from our rankings to ensure our calculations are as accurate as possible. Our team also focuses on average net price and salary information from the US Department of Education's College Scorecard for average student earnings data.

We use strictly publicly available data in our ranking methodology, pulling information from December 2019 to create our rankings.

How We Calculate Our Rankings: A Breakdown By Ranking Type


"Best Of" Rankings


"Most Affordable" Rankings


"Most Accessible" Rankings


A Look Into Our Ranking Factors

Although there is no absolute or "right" way to measure the affordability or overall quality of a school, our team chooses the factors and subfactors that we believe our students will find most relevant and important. Our student-focused methodology focuses on program appeal, finances, and student success.

While the ranking factors allow learners to understand the benefits of a particular institution, we also find it important for learners to understand more about the relevance of the subfactors we focus on. In the following section, readers can review more information about these subfactors to better understand our holistic methodology approach.

Subfactors for Program Appeal

Enrollment Rate

A college or university's enrollment rate refers to the specific number of undergraduate and graduate students attending the institution. High enrollment rates can indicate a prestigious college or university that attracts learners, while low enrollment rates could mean that the offerings at the institution are not necessarily desirable.

Student-to-Faculty Ratio

This factor pertains to the number of students enrolled in an individual course, receiving instruction from one instructor. Lower student-to-faculty ratios often promote a more individualized experience for enrollees. Higher ratios do not necessarily indicate a learning environment that does not provide degree-seekers with the potential to receive individualized attention, but it can limit that access.


Across colleges and universities, diversity can enrich learning experiences for all students. Diverse student populations expose learners to different cultures and social backgrounds, granting them a unique student experience. Diverse student bodies can cultivate a more inclusive environment for minority students.


Subfactors for Finances

Tuition Change From Previous Year

Our methodology also considers tuition change from the previous year. Reviewing this information allows learners to see the way tuition structures at a particular institution can vary. These changes can lead degree-seekers to better understand what future trends they might expect for tuition at their chosen college or university.

Percent of Students Receiving Financial Aid

Observing how many students receive financial aid can help determine the opportunities available for tuition assistance at a particular institution. Financial aid opportunities can often indicate whether or not a student can afford to pursue their degree at a certain college or university.

Scholarship and Fellowship Offerings

Since many students rely on scholarship and fellowship funds to afford their tuition, our methodology reviews scholarship and fellowship offerings. Focusing on this information can help students determine whether they can afford the tuition costs at a particular college or university.

Loan Default Rate

Loan default rates refer to the number of graduates unable to make their student loan payments. When these figures reach high rates, students can sometimes infer that earning degrees from that institution might not provide them with lucrative career opportunities to help pay off their loans, or they can consider that the institution might not offer enough financial aid resources.


Subfactors for Student Success

Graduation Rate

Reviewing the number of students that graduate at a certain degree level within a college or university can show interested candidates the benefits or disadvantages of attending that particular institution. Schools with higher graduation rates often indicate a successful environment for students.

Reported Mean Earnings

For many learners, the opportunities after graduation are just as important as the opportunities during their program. Researching the reported mean earnings for graduates of a college or university can help potential students determine whether pursuing the institution can yield success in their postgraduate careers.