FAQ: 2014 Best Value Schools Rankings

Find answers to common questions regarding financial aid and the Best Value Schools.

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1. What are "Best Value Schools"?

These are schools that are above average academically and cost considerably less than many other schools when the financial aid that they dispense, in the form of need-based grants and scholarships, is taken into account.

[See the U.S. News rankings of Best Value Schools.]

2. How are the Best Values rankings determined?

These rankings are based on three variables: the ratio of quality to the "discount price," the percentage of all undergraduates receiving need-based scholarships or grants and the average discount from the school's sticker price.

We considered only universities and colleges that finished in, or near, the top half of their categories in the 2014 edition of the U.S. News Best Colleges rankings. U.S. News believes that the best values are found among colleges that are above average academically. 

See more details about the methodology for the Best Value Schools.

3. What does "discount price" mean?

It's the amount a student and his or her family actually paid after receiving scholarships or grants based on financial need in the 2012-2013 academic year. The scholarships or grants are the money that is free to the student or his or her family – money that they don't have to pay back or earn through work. That means that need-based loans and work-study are not considered part of the average need-based grant since they are not free.

[See an infographic of the top Best Value Schools.]

4. Why does U.S. News base the Best Values rankings on out-of-state tuition for public colleges?

The rankings assume that the best value for many students is a top public college in their own state, which means that they would be eligible for in-state tuition that tends to be lower. We assume that the Best Values rankings are being used by out-of-state students who are looking for the best values outside of their own state; thus, we use out-of-state tuition and the related need-based financial aid that go to out-of-state students to compare public colleges with private colleges in the Best Values rankings. 

5. Where does the school's 2012-2013 academic year tuition, room and board, expenses and other financial aid data used in the Best Values rankings come from?

They were supplied to U.S. News by each school in the spring and summer of 2013.

6. How can I negotiate a better financial aid package?

Many schools are willing to reconsider their first offer, especially for a student they really want. Most say they reconsider only if presented with new information, so you will want to contact the financial aid office if you can come up with ways your financial situation has meaningfully changed since filling out the financial aid forms.

Your family's financial situation may have changed significantly – your father or mother might have been laid off, or your grandmother may have become ill and your parents are contributing to her care, for example.

A more direct approach is to ask one school to meet or beat the offer of another. Some schools invite students to notify them if they have received better packages from other schools.

Whatever their rationale for seeking increased aid, families should avoid using the word "negotiate" in their discussions. The term irks many college aid officers: Even though aid officers negotiate regularly, use of the term directly contradicts their ability to assert that they don't.

[Visit our paying for college guide to find out more.]

7. What's the best way to find out about scholarships?

There are dozens of books in the library and sites on the Web devoted exclusively to scholarships not based on financial need (including The Scholarship Coach blog on usnews.com). They will tell you how much money is available, who qualifies and how to apply. It is generally considered a waste of money to pay a scholarship search service to uncover information that you can find yourself with a little digging.

Searching for a college? Get our complete rankings of Best Colleges.