Schools are unranked and listed separately by category if they have indicated that they don't use the SAT or ACT test scores in admissions decisions for first-time, first-year, degree-seeking applicants. And, in a few cases, schools are unranked if too few respondents to the peer assessment survey gave them a rating.
Other reasons institutions are not ranked include: a total enrollment of fewer than 200 students, a large proportion of nontraditional students, and no first-year students (as is the situation at so-called upper-division schools).
As a result of these eligibility standards, many of the for-profit institutions have been grouped with the Unranked schools; their bachelor's degree candidates are largely nontraditional students in degree completion programs, for example, or they don't use the SAT or ACT test scores in admissions decisions. We also did not rank a few highly specialized schools in arts, business, and engineering.
Most of the data come from the colleges. This year, 92 percent of the 1,391 ranked colleges and universities we surveyed returned their statistical information during our spring and summer 2012 data collection. It should be noted that in total, U.S. News has collected data on more than 1,800 colleges and all their data is on usnews.com, but only about 1,400 are included in the actual numerical rankings described in this methodology.
We obtained missing data from a number of sources, including the American Association of University Professors (faculty salaries), the National Collegiate Athletic Association (graduation rates), the Council for Aid to Education (alumni giving rates), and the U.S. Department of Education's National Center for Education Statistics (information on financial resources, faculty, SAT and ACT admission test scores, acceptance rates, and graduation and retention rates).
Estimates, which are never displayed by U.S. News, may be used in the ranking calculation when schools fail to report particular data points. Missing data are reported as N/A in the ranking tables.
For colleges that were eligible to be ranked but refused to fill out the U.S. News statistical survey in the 2012 data collection, we have made extensive use of the statistical data those institutions were required to report to the NCES on such factors as SAT and ACT scores, acceptance rates, and faculty and retention rates. These schools are footnoted as nonresponders.
The indicators we use to capture academic quality fall into a number of categories: assessment by administrators at peer institutions, retention of students, faculty resources, student selectivity, financial resources, alumni giving, and—for National Universities and National Liberal Arts Colleges—high school counselor ratings of colleges and "graduation rate performance."
The indicators include input measures that reflect a school's student body, its faculty, and its financial resources, along with outcome measures that signal how well the institution does its job of educating students.
The measures, their weights in the ranking formula, and an explanation of each follow:
Undergraduate academic reputation (22.5 percent for National Universities and National Liberal Arts Colleges; 25 percent for Regional Universities and Regional Colleges): The U.S. News ranking formula gives significant weight to the opinions of those in a position to judge a school's undergraduate academic excellence. The academic peer assessment survey allows top academics—presidents, provosts, and deans of admissions—to account for intangibles at peer institutions such as faculty dedication to teaching.
For their views on the National Universities and the National Liberal Arts Colleges, we also surveyed a sampling of 2,213 counselors at public high schools, each of which is a gold, silver, or bronze medal winner in the most recent U.S. News rankings of Best High Schools, and 400 college counselors at the largest independent schools; the counselors represent nearly every state and the District of Columbia.