How U.S. News Calculated the 2014 Best Colleges Rankings

Here’s how you can make the most of the key college statistics.

Use the Best Colleges rankings along with your intuition and personal preferences to help choose the best school for you.
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The value of those footnoted SAT and ACT scores reported by the school was reduced in the Best Colleges ranking model. This practice is not new; since the 1997 rankings, we have discounted the value of such schools' reported scores in the ranking model, since the effect of leaving students out could be that lower scores are omitted. 

If a school told U.S. News that it included all students with scores in the reported SAT and ACT scores, then those scores were counted fully in the rankings and were not footnoted. 

Unranked Schools 

Schools are Unranked and listed separately by category if they have indicated that they don't use 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 SAT or ACT test scores in admissions decisions. 

We also did not rank a few highly specialized schools in arts, business and engineering. 

Data Sources 

Most of the data come from the colleges. This year, 91 percent of the 1,376 ranked colleges and universities we surveyed returned their statistical information during our spring and summer 2013 data collection. 

A ranked college is defined as those colleges in the National Universities, National Liberal Arts Colleges, Regional Universities and Regional Colleges categories that are numerically ranked or listed as Rank Not Published. There are an additional 141 colleges in those categories that are listed as Unranked.

In total, U.S. News has collected data on nearly 1,800 colleges and all their data is on usnews.com, but only 1,376 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 admissions test scores, acceptance rates and graduation and retention rates). 

Estimates, which are not displayed by U.S. News, may be used in the ranking calculation when schools fail to report particular data points that are not available from other sources. 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 2013 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. 

Ranking Model Indicators 

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, graduation rate performance and, for National Universities and National Liberal Arts Colleges only, high school counselor ratings of colleges

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): 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.