Methodology: A+ Schools for B Students

+ More

To judge the level of quality at each of the schools, we examined two variables: the school's U.S News & World Report 2009 edition ranking and the average freshman retention rate. Because we believe the U.S. News rankings are a gauge of excellence, national universities and liberal arts colleges had to be in the top two thirds of their categories in the 2009 edition of America's Best Colleges. Master's universities and baccalaureate colleges had to be in the top half of the U.S.News & World Report 2009 edition ranking to be eligible for the list.

The average freshman retention rate (the percentage of first-year freshmen who returned for their sophomore year) was also calculated for first-year classes entering between 2003 and 2006; schools that made the cut bring at least 75 percent of their freshmen back the next fall. This value can be an important indicator of student satisfaction. In addition to being a top-quality school, colleges had to admit a meaningful proportion of non-A students. That determination was made by using fall 2007 admissions data that were based on the Critical Reading and Math portions of the SAT or Composite ACT scores and high school class standing. Whether the SAT or ACT was used in making these calculations depended on which score was submitted most often at that school for fall 2007 admissions. The rest of the specific screening criteria used to create the final list of over 300 schools:

• SAT 75th percentile less than or equal to 1350

• SAT 25th percentile greater than or equal to 980

• ACT 75th percentile less than or equal to 30

• ACT 25th percentile greater than or equal to 20

• Proportion of freshmen from the top 10 percent of their high school class less than or equal to 50 percent (for National Universities and Liberal Arts only)

• Proportion of freshmen from the top 25 percent of their high school class less than or equal to 80 percent

• Proportion of freshmen from the top 25 percent of their high school class greater than or equal to 40 percent

• Freshman retention rate greater than or equal to 75 percent