Student selectivity (15 percent). A school's academic atmosphere is determined in part by the abilities and ambitions of the student body. We therefore factor in test scores of enrollees on the Critical Reading and Math portions of the SAT or Composite ACT score (50 percent of the selectivity score); the proportion of enrolled freshmen who graduated in the top 25 percent of their high school classes (40 percent); and the acceptance rate, or the ratio of students admitted to applicants (10 percent). The data are for the fall 2006 entering class.
Financial resources (10 percent). Generous per-student spending indicates that a college can offer a wide variety of programs and services. U.S. News measures financial resources by using the average spending per student on instruction, research, student services, and related educational expenditures in the 2005 and 2006 fiscal years. Spending on sports, dorms, and hospitals doesn't count, only the part of a school's budget that goes toward educating students.
Alumni giving rate (5 percent). The average percentage of living alumni who gave to their school during 2004-05 and 2005-06 is an indirect measure of student satisfaction.
To arrive at a school's rank, we first calculated the weighted sum of its scores. The final scores were rescaled: The top school in each category was assigned a value of 100, and the other schools' weighted scores were calculated as a proportion of that top score. Final scores for each ranked school were rounded to the nearest whole number and ranked in descending order. Schools that receive the same rank are tied and are listed in alphabetical order.
Data sources: Most of the data come from the colleges—and U.S. News takes pains to ensure their accuracy. We obtained missing data from sources such as the American Association of University Professors, the National Collegiate Athletic Association, the Council for Aid to Education, and the U.S. Department of Education's National Center for Education Statistics. Data that did not come from this year's survey are footnoted. Estimates, which are never published by U.S. News, may be used when schools fail to report particular data points. Missing data are reported as N/A in the ranking tables.
Why is a school unranked? U.S. News believes that because these schools are unable to report key educational characteristics or because they have certain other characteristics, it would be unfair to try to compare them statistically with the other schools that are part of the rankings.
We have created a group of unranked HBCU schools that we have listed alphabetically in a separate table. An HBCU was unranked if it met any of the criteria described below.
Those institutions that have indicated that they don't use the SAT or ACT in admission decisions for first-time, first-year, degree-seeking applicants are not ranked. Other types of schools have been unranked in previous years and continue to be unranked this year. They include schools with total enrollment of fewer than 200 students; schools where a vast proportion of students are nontraditional; colleges that don't accept first-year students, sometimes called upper-division schools; private universities that are for-profit; and a few specialized schools in arts, business, or engineering.
How to use the rankings: Just how can rankings help you identify colleges and universities that are right for you? Certainly, the college experience consists of a host of intangibles that cannot be reduced to mere numbers. But for families, the U.S. News rankings provide an excellent starting point because they offer the opportunity to judge the relative quality of institutions based on widely accepted indicators of excellence. You can compare different schools' numbers at a glance, and looking at unfamiliar schools that are ranked near schools you know can be a good way to broaden your search.