College Rankings

FAQs on Our Best College Value Rankings

Here are the answers to your questions about how we pick the schools on the list.

Because so many variables affect what you'll pay for college -- including the type of school your child attends, your eligibility for financial aid, the kind of financial aid the school offers and the school's sticker price -- it's critical to start the college search by looking at the universe of colleges and not limit yourself to just private or just public schools. To help you compare your options side by side, Kiplinger presents a combined ranking of colleges, as well as separate rankings for the best values in private universities, private liberal arts colleges and public colleges.

Why do your rankings include more schools than they have in previous years?

Selecting a college and deciding how to pay for it have become high-stakes financial decisions. To find the right college for your student and the best value for your family, it’s important to examine your full array of options, rather than limiting your search to the names you know. To that end, we’ve expanded our annual best college values list. This year, we name 400 schools to our best values list, plus 100 schools that narrowly missed our list but also deliver a great value. As in recent years, we feature a combined list that ranks the top values for all U.S. colleges and universities, plus lists of the best values in private universities, private liberal arts colleges (ranked separately to account for their different missions) and public colleges. As always, all the schools on our lists meet our definition of value: a high-quality education at an affordable price.

Has anything else changed?

Yes. On the quality side of our equation, we continue to award the most points for four-year graduation rates. But to reflect the benefit that comes from earning a degree -- even if it takes more than four years -- we now award a handful of points for five- and six- year rates. We also reward schools that do a stellar job of graduating students with financial need. On the financial side, our rankings now compare the average first-year financial aid award to that of all undergraduates, rewarding schools that avoid giving generous aid packages to incoming students only to reduce them in subsequent years.

To make way for the new values, we’re placing less emphasis on several factors, including a school’s admission rate and test scores for incoming freshmen. Both have become less meaningful in recent years as some schools try to drive down admission rates by encouraging more students to apply and may have made submitting SAT and ACT scores optional.

You've given a salary figure for each school on the list. Is that number used to calculate a school's rank?

No. The figures, which show the median earnings of workers who started at a particular college 10 years earlier and who received federal financial aid, come from the U.S. Department of Education. The data don't consider whether the workers graduated from college or went on to graduate school. Because of the limitations of this data, we don't include salary figures in calculating each school's rank on our list.

Why is the top of your combined list mostly private universities and private liberal arts colleges?

Private schools typically offer more generous financial aid packages than public colleges and score better on quality measures, such as test scores of incoming freshmen and graduation rates.

Shouldn't all 50 states be represented in the rankings? My state's schools don't appear on any of the lists.

In some states, no school meets our criteria for quality and affordability.

Do the costs listed in the tables reflect one academic year or all four years of undergraduate study?

One year. Costs reflect the amount each institution charges and the average amount of financial aid offered for one academic year.

Why didn't you include the military academies, which are not only top schools academically but also tuition-free? They even pay students to attend.

Our rankings focus on traditional four-year schools with broad-based curricula and on-campus student housing. Schools that offer great value but focus on specific or narrow academic programs, such as the military academies, are excluded. By the same token, we exclude specialized schools, such as teacher's colleges, schools of law and schools of medicine. Another exception is Cornell University, best known as a member of the Ivy League. Four of Cornell's colleges are part of the privately endowed university, which we consider as a private institution in our rankings. But three of Cornell's undergraduate colleges are land-grant state schools. These schools have been omitted from our rankings because the majority of schools at Cornell are part of the privately endowed university. We have, however, included several schools in the City University of New York (CUNY) system. For many years, schools in the CUNY system were not eligible for our list because we consider the cost of room and board in our rankings, and the CUNY system offered only limited housing. The CUNY system has since beefed up housing on some of its campuses. All of the CUNY schools in our rankings offer on-campus housing.

See our slide show 20 Things You Need to Know About Getting Into a Military Service Academy.

Why do you divide the private rankings into two lists?

To account for their different missions and to better compare apples to apples, we group private institutions into two categories. One list ranks private liberal arts colleges, which primarily offer bachelor of arts degrees; the other ranks private universities, which educate both graduate and undergraduate students and award a greater number of master's master's degrees and PhDs than liberal arts colleges.

Why is Washington and Lee University designated as a liberal arts college if it has "University" in its name?

We rely on the Carnegie Classification system, which distinguishes liberal arts colleges from universities based on their academic mission (see above) rather than their own designation.

I've read that college rankings are based on subjective opinions, not hard data. Is that true?

Unlike other college rankings, ours are based entirely on measurable criteria, such as student-faculty ratios, admission rates, graduation rates, sticker price and financial aid. Neither our opinion nor anyone else's else's affects the calculations.

Schools such as Northeastern and Worcester Polytechnic Institute have appeared in your ranking for years but are no longer listed. What happened?

In our continuing effort to provide the most accurate and complete data available, we have excluded schools that didn't supply us with all the data we need to calculate their ranking. Here are the schools, listed in alphabetical order:

  • Abilene Christian University (Abilene, TX)
  • Adrian College (Adrian, MI)
  • Allegheny College (Meadville, PA)
  • Arcadia University (Glenside, PA)
  • Arkansas Baptist College (Little Rock, AR)
  • Assumption College (Worcester, MA)
  • Bennett College (Greensboro, NC)
  • Bethany College (Bethany, WV)
  • Bethel University (McKenzie, TN)
  • Blackburn College (Carlinville, IL)
  • Bridgewater State University (Bridgewater, MA)
  • Concordia College (Moorhead, MN)
  • Drexel University (Philadelphia)
  • Emmanuel College (Boston)
  • Fisk University (Nashville, TN)
  • Gannon University (Erie, PA)
  • Georgetown College (Georgetown, KY)
  • Greensboro College (Greensboro, NC)
  • Hampshire College (Amherst, MA)
  • Hartwick College (Oneonta, NY)
  • Hofstra University (Hempstead, NY)
  • Hope International University (Fullerton, CA)
  • Houghton College (Houghton, NY)
  • Howard University (Washington, D.C.)
  • Judson College (Marion, AL)
  • Lane College (Jackson, TN)
  • Lees-McRae College (Banner Elk, NC)
  • Lindsey Wilson College (Columbia, KY)
  • Longwood University (Farmville, VA)
  • Lycoming College (Williamsport, PA)
  • Madonna University (Livonia, MI)
  • Manhattanville College (Purchase, NY)
  • Minnesota State University Moorhead (Moorhead, MN)
  • Misericordia University (Dallas, PA)
  • Monmouth College (Monmouth, IL)
  • Morehouse College (Atlanta)
  • Morgan State University (Baltimore)
  • Northeastern University (Boston)
  • Nova Southeastern University (Ft. Lauderdale, FL)
  • Olivet College (Oliviet, MI)
  • Oral Roberts University (Tulsa, OK)
  • Pace University, Pleasantville Campus (Pleasantville, NY)
  • Penn State Lehigh Valley (Center Valley, PA)
  • Penn State New Kensington (New Kensington, PA)
  • Penn State York (York, PA)
  • Pine Manor College (Chestnut Hill, MA)
  • Rider University (Lawrenceville, NJ)
  • Saint Augustine's University (Raleigh, NC)
  • Saint Francis University (Loretto, PA)
  • San Diego Christian College (Santee, CA)
  • St. John's University (Queens, NY)
  • State University of New York College of Agriculture and Technology at Cobleskill (Cobleskill, NY)
  • State University of New York Polytechnic Institute (Utica, NY)
  • Stephens College (Columbia, MO)
  • Tougaloo College (Tougaloo, Miss.)
  • Trevecca Nazarene University (Nashville, TN)
  • Trinity Baptist College (Jacksonville, FL)
  • University of Hartford (West Hartford, CT)
  • University of Michigan, Dearborn (Dearborn, MI)
  • University of New Mexico (Albuquerque, NM)
  • University of North Dakota (Grand Forks, ND)
  • University of Redlands (Redlands, CA)
  • University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma (Chickasha, OK)
  • University of Washington, Tacoma (Tacoma, WA)
  • Virginia Union University (Richmond, VA)
  • Wagner College (Staten Island, NY)
  • Waynesburg University (Waynesburg, PA)
  • Wells College (Aurora, NY)
  • Widener University (Chester, PA)
  • William Paterson University of New Jersey (Wayne, NJ)
  • William Woods University (Fulton, MO)
  • Worcester Polytechnic Institute (Worcester, MA)

Most Popular

When Could We Get a Third Stimulus Check?
Coronavirus and Your Money

When Could We Get a Third Stimulus Check?

President Biden and others in Congress are pushing for a third-round of stimulus checks, but it might be a while before we get them.
January 20, 2021
Where's My Stimulus Check? Use the IRS's "Get My Payment" Portal to Get an Answer
Coronavirus and Your Money

Where's My Stimulus Check? Use the IRS's "Get My Payment" Portal to Get an Answer

The IRS has an online tool that lets you track the status of your second stimulus check.
January 18, 2021
20 Best Stocks to Buy for the Joe Biden Presidency
stocks to buy

20 Best Stocks to Buy for the Joe Biden Presidency

Joe Biden has been sworn in as America's 46th president. These are 20 of the best stocks to own under the new administration.
January 20, 2021


Biden Extends Student Loan Relief, Is Loan Forgiveness Next?
Coronavirus and Your Money

Biden Extends Student Loan Relief, Is Loan Forgiveness Next?

On his first day as president, Joe Biden continued the suspension of student loan payments until October.
January 22, 2021
12 Ways the Biden Stimulus Package Could Put (or Keep) Money in Your Pocket
Coronavirus and Your Money

12 Ways the Biden Stimulus Package Could Put (or Keep) Money in Your Pocket

President Biden's "American Rescue Plan" includes several proposals to assist people financially harmed by the pandemic.
January 20, 2021
Will College Students Get a Second Stimulus Check? (Hint: It Depends!)

Will College Students Get a Second Stimulus Check? (Hint: It Depends!)

College students were shut out of the first round of stimulus payments, but they're hoping for a better deal with a second stimulus check.
December 28, 2020
What the New President Means for Your Money

What the New President Means for Your Money

President-Elect Biden wants more consumer protections and perks for the middle class and seniors.
November 17, 2020