College Rankings

The Daily Beast’s Down + Dirty Guide to Colleges Methodology

10.16.13 9:45 AM ET

College rankings are ubiquitous, confusing, and often indiscriminate. The Daily Beast’s Down + Dirty Guide to the Best Colleges aims to change that, ranking schools primarily on what students actually care about: their shot at getting a good job, and making a good living.

According to a 2012 survey of college freshmen by the Higher Education Research Institute, 88% said getting a “better job” is “very important”—above things like becoming a more “cultured person” and learning “more about things that interest me.” The desire to “make more money” hit an all-time high, with 75% saying it was very important.

When it comes to long-term, post-graduation goals, “being very well off financially” was the most popular response among those surveyed, with 81% calling it “essential,” ahead of “being an authority in my field” and “developing a meaningful philosophy of life.” Survey respondents also placed a high value on graduating in four years. And more than two-thirds of students said they chose their school based on the financial aid available and the cost.

With this in mind, we analyzed nearly 2,000 four-year, degree-granting colleges and universities in the U.S. We used publicly available data and data collected and published by College Prowler, an online guide created by students that ranks thousands of colleges on everything from the intelligence of professors to attractiveness of students.

Here’s the specific criteria we used, how we weighted each one, and the sources we consulted:

Future earnings (20%): starting (10%) and mid-career (10%) median salary of graduates (

Quality of education (20%): percent of applicants admitted (5%, National Center for Education Statistics); spending on instruction per full-time student (5%, NCES); academics as rated by students (5%, College Prowler); smartest professors (5%, College Prowler)

Affordability (20%): net price of attendance after deducting grants and scholarship aid (NCES)

On-time graduation (10%): percentage of students who graduate within four years (NCES)

Campus quality (10%): best school dining, off-campus dining, campus housing, most scenic campus, health and safety grade, safest campus (1.25% each, College Prowler); on-campus arrests per full time student (1.25%, U.S. Department of Education); weather (1.25%, Sperling's BestPlaces comfort index)

Activities and clubs (5%): student clubs and organizations  (2.5%, U.S. News); best student centers (2.5%, College Prowler)

Nightlife (5%): most exciting nightlife, most vibrant social scene (2.5% each, College Prowler)

Diversity (5%): using data from the NCES, we analyzed the populations of each school, and determined the likelihood that any two students were of different sexes, races, or national origins

Sports (5%): best intramural sports (1.67%, College Prowler); number of varsity athletes (1.67% DOE); division classification (1.67%, DOE)