To come up with our best values, we start with data on nearly 1,200 public and private four-year schools provided by Peterson's, then add our own reporting. We narrow the list based on measures of academic quality. We then rank each school using cost and financial aid measures. Quality criteria account for 55% of total points, and cost criteria account for 45%. We offer a combined list of the 300 best values in private liberal arts colleges, private universities and public colleges to show how the top schools in each of the categories compare with the others. We also present the top 100 private universities, top 100 liberal arts colleges and top 100 public colleges.
In this category, we include admission rate (the percentage of applicants offered admission) and yield (the percentage of students who enroll out of those admitted). The first number demonstrates selectivity, and the second shows ability to compete for accepted applicants. We also consider the percentage of incoming freshmen who are high scorers on the SAT or ACT, because high achievers enhance the academic atmosphere.
On the quality side, our rankings give the most weight to four-year graduation rate to reward colleges that help students get undergraduate degrees on time and within budget.
Freshman retention rate shows the percentage of students who return for their sophomore year, an indication of how successful the college is in keeping them on track. Students per faculty—the average number of students per faculty member—is another measure of how well each college fulfills its academic mission.
- How We Rank the Colleges
- Best College Value Snapshot: Davidson College
- SLIDE SHOW: 10 Best College Values
- SLIDE SHOW: 10 Best Values in Public Colleges
- SLIDE SHOW: 10 Best Colleges With the Lowest Average Graduating Debt
- SLIDE SHOW: 10 Great Colleges That Won't Make Students Take Loans
- TOOL: See, Sort All 300 Best College Values
- TOOL: Kiplinger College Finder
Cost and Financial Aid
To evaluate costs, we give the most points to schools with the lowest total cost (tuition, fees, room and board, and books). In the combined rankings, we use out-of-state costs for the public schools to provide an apples-to-apples comparison with private schools. On the public-school list, we rank the schools according to in-state costs and calculate out-of-state costs separately for the out-of-state rank. We then add points to schools that reduce the price through need-based aid (grants but not loans) and to those that knock down the price through non-need-based aid. Some schools fail to cover the gap between expected family contribution and the aid they provide. We reward schools with the highest percentage of need met, and we give points to schools based on the percentage of students without need who receive non-need-based aid.
[EMBED TYPE=PARS ID=COLLEGE2017]
We give extra points to schools that keep down average debt at graduation. We also factor in the percentage of students who borrow. The lower the number, the better the score.
To offer a glimpse of what your child’s payday may look like a decade after starting college, we show the median earnings of workers who started at a particular college 10 years earlier and who received federal financial aid. The figures 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, nor do they reflect salary differences between those who studied, say, English rather than engineering. Because of these limitations, we don’t include the salary figures in calculating each school’s rank. Still, the information offers a way to gauge earnings outcomes at various schools and a starting point for your estimates.
Additions and Exclusions
Our rankings focus on traditional four-year schools with broad-based curricula, along with student housing.
Schools that offer great value but focus on special or narrow academic programs, such as the military service academies, are excluded. For our public-college rankings, Cornell University is another exception. It has three land-grant state schools; these schools have been omitted from the public list because the majority of schools at Cornell are part of the privately endowed university.
Schools We Couldn’t Rank
In our continuing effort to provide the most accurate and complete data available, we have excluded schools that did not supply us with all the data we need to calculate their ranking. Here are the schools:
Allegheny College, Meadville, Pa.
American Jewish University, Los Angeles, Calif.
Assumption College, Worcester, Mass.
Concordia College, Morehead, Minn.
Hofstra University, Hempstead, N.Y.
Illinois Institute of Technology, Chicago, Ill.
Northeastern University, Boston, Mass.
SUNY Polytechnic Institute, Utica, N.Y.
Stephens College, Columbia, Mo.
Stevens Institute of Technology, Hoboken, N.J.
Wagner College, Staten Island, N.Y.
Worcester Polytechnic Institute, Worcester, Mass.
USE OUR TOOL: Find the Best College for You
[EMBED TYPE=PARS ID=COLLEGE2017]
Six Steps to Take if You've Recently Inherited Money From a Loved One
It’s important to deal with the emotional aspect first before tackling the financial one.
By Kiplinger Advisor Collective Published
Alaska Airlines to Buy Hawaiian: Get Bonus Miles Now
How to use the Alaska Airlines credit card and frequent flyer program to save on trips to Hawaii, Alaska and beyond.
By Ellen Kennedy Published
Four Tips for Renting Out Your Home on Airbnb
real estate Here's what you should know before listing your home on Airbnb.
By Miriam Cross Published
Five Ways to a Cheap Last-Minute Vacation
Travel Procrastinator? No matter. You can pull off a fun and memorable getaway on a moment's notice — without breaking the bank.
By Vaishali Varu Published
How Much Life Insurance Do You Need?
insurance Instead of relying on rules of thumb, you’re better off taking a systematic approach to figuring your life-insurance needs.
By Kimberly Lankford Published
When Is Amazon Prime Day?
Amazon Prime In 2023 Amazon had two Prime Day events — one in July and another, called Big Deal Days, in October. We expect 2024 to follow the same schedule.
By Bob Niedt Last updated
How to Shop for Life Insurance in 3 Easy Steps
insurance Shopping for life insurance? You may be able to estimate how much you need online, but that's just the start of your search.
By Kaitlin Pitsker Published
5 Ways to Shop for a Low Mortgage Rate
Becoming a Homeowner Rates are high this year, but you can still find an affordable loan.
By Daniel Bortz Published
Retirees, It's Not Too Late to Buy Life Insurance
life insurance Improvements in underwriting have made it easier to qualify for life insurance, which can be a useful estate-planning tool.
By David Rodeck Published
How to Benefit From Rising Interest Rates
Financial Planning Savers will get the best rates from top-yielding savings and money market deposit accounts at online banks.
By Rivan V. Stinson Last updated