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 data are all for the fall 2012 entering class. While the ranking calculation takes account of both the SAT and ACT scores of all entering students, the table displays the score range for whichever test was taken by most students. 

Financial resources (10 percent): Generous per-student spending indicates that a college can offer a wide variety of programs and services. U.S. News measures financial resources by using the average spending per student on instruction, research, student services and related educational expenditures in the 2011 and 2012 fiscal years. Spending on sports, dorms and hospitals doesn't count. 

Graduation rate performance (7.5 percent): This indicator of added value shows the effect of the college's programs and policies on the graduation rate of students after controlling for spending and student characteristics such as test scores and the proportion receiving Pell Grants. We measure the difference between a school's six-year graduation rate for the class that entered in 2006 and the rate we predicted for the class. 

If the actual graduation rate is higher than the predicted rate, the college is enhancing achievement. 

Alumni giving rate (5 percent): This reflects the average percentage of living alumni with bachelor's degrees who gave to their school during 2010-2011 and 2011-2012, an indirect measure of student satisfaction. 

To arrive at a school's rank, we first calculated the weighted sum of its scores. The final scores were rescaled so that the top school in each category received a value of 100, and the other schools' weighted scores were calculated as a proportion of that top score. Final scores were rounded to the nearest whole number and ranked in descending order. Schools that are tied appear in alphabetical order. 

Check out over the coming year, since we may add content to the Best Colleges pages as we obtain additional information. And as you mine these tables for insights – where your SAT or ACT scores might win you some merit aid, for example, or where you will be apt to get the most attention from professors – keep in mind that they provide a launching pad, not an easy answer. 

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