FAQs on Our Best College Value Rankings

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

Why do you rank public and private colleges together?

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. So you can 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.

This year, you've given a salary figure for each school on the list. Is that new?

Subscribe to Kiplinger’s Personal Finance

Be a smarter, better informed investor.

Save up to 74%

Sign up for Kiplinger’s Free E-Newsletters

Profit and prosper with the best of Kiplinger’s expert advice on investing, taxes, retirement, personal finance and more - straight to your e-mail.

Profit and prosper with the best of Kiplinger’s expert advice - straight to your e-mail.

Sign up

Yes. To offer a glimpse of what your child's payday may look like a decade after graduation, we've added a new column to our tables. 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 (opens in new tab). 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.

Schools like Columbia University and the University of Chicago have appeared in your ranking for years but are no longer listed. What happened?

As part of our continuing effort to provide the most accurate and complete data available, we have excluded schools that didn't supply us with all of the data required to accurately calculate their ranking.

Here are the schools listed in alphabetical order: Allegheny College, Arizona State University West Campus, Bard College, Baylor University, California Polytechnic University, Columbia University, Concordia College, Ithaca College, Moravian College, Northeastern University, Presbyterian College, Shimer College, University of Chicago, University of the Pacific, Wagner College and Worcester Polytechnic Institute.

Has Kiplinger made other changes to the rankings?

Our rankings now measure only four-year graduation rates. The change penalizes schools with a higher percentage of students who graduate in five or six years, but it's based on simple math: The faster your child graduates, the less money you'll spend on his or her education.

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 and score better on quality measures, such as test scores of incoming freshmen and graduation rates, than public colleges.

Shouldn't all 50 states be represented in the rankings? My school doesn'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 institutions 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, along with student housing. Schools that offer great value but focus on specific or narrow academic programs such as the military academies, are excluded. 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 art part of the privately endowed university. We have, however, included several schools in the City University of New York 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 campus. All of the CUNY schools in our rankings offer on-campus housing.

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 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.

We excluded specialized schools, such as teacher's colleges, schools of law and schools of medicine from our rankings.

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, on-time graduation rates, sticker price and financial aid. Neither our opinion nor anyone else's affect the calculations.

Kaitlin Pitsker
Associate Editor, Kiplinger's Personal Finance
Pitsker joined Kiplinger in the summer of 2012. Previously, she interned at the Post-Standard newspaper in Syracuse, N.Y., and with Chronogram magazine in Kingston, N.Y. She holds a BS in magazine journalism from Syracuse University's S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications.