A-plus Schools for B Students Methodology

For these schools, we looked at their Best Colleges ranks and average freshman retention rates.

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To judge the level of quality at each of the schools on the A-plus Schools for B Students list, we first examined two variables: the school's performance in the 2014 edition of the U.S. News Best Colleges rankings and the average freshman retention rate. 

Because we believe the U.S. News rankings are a gauge of excellence, National Universities, National Liberal Arts Colleges, Regional Universities and Regional Colleges all had to be ranked in the top three-fourths of their 2014 Best Colleges ranking categories to be eligible for the list of A-plus Schools for B Students. This is a change from the 2013 edition of Best Colleges, when schools had to be in or slightly below the top half of their ranking category to be eligible for the A-plus 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 fall 2008 and fall 2011 and returning the following fall; schools that made the cut had to bring an average of 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 2012 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 the fall 2012 entering class admissions decisions. 

The rest of the specific screening criteria, noted below – which apply to all schools in all ranking categories unless stated otherwise – were used to create the 2014 edition of the A-plus Schools for B Students list, featuring slightly more than 325 schools. 

• SAT 75th percentile score less than or equal to 1,350 (based on Critical Reading and Math)

• SAT 25th percentile score greater than or equal to 980 (based on Critical Reading and Math)

• ACT Composite 75th percentile score less than or equal to 30

• ACT Composite 25th percentile score 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 National Liberal Arts Colleges 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

• Average freshman retention rate greater than or equal to 75 percent 

Note: The fall 2012 acceptance rate and the selectivity rating were not used in the U.S. News calculations to determine the 2014 edition of the A-plus Schools for B Students list. 

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