What makes a college “the best?” For the second year in a row, The Daily Beast set out to answer this question, ranking colleges and universities based on what students say are the most important factors when it comes to choosing a school.
According to an annual report from UCLA’s Higher Education Research Institute, the largest student survey of its kind, incoming college freshmen choose a school based primarily on three major factors: academic quality, the “good jobs” offered to graduates, and the cost of attendance. Sixty-four percent of these students say a school’s academic reputation was a “very important” factor in their decision. Fifty-three percent noted their college’s graduates get good jobs, and just under half cited financial concerns as a reason for attendance at a particular school. These factors are most important to students and so they make up the majority of our rankings.
Post-graduation, 82 percent of students said that being “well-off financially” was an essential objective—far exceeding the share of students who wanted to “help others,” or “become an authority in my field.”
Though money and jobs were the most important to surveyed students, they still wanted more out of their college experience. More than 40 percent of incoming freshman said that a campus visit and social activities affected their choice. And half of students said that learning about people who are different from themselves was a priority, So we’ve factored those less tangible qualities into our rankings as well.
We analyzed nearly 2,000 four-year, degree-granting colleges and universities in the U.S., using publicly available data and data collected and published by Niche, an online guide created by students that ranks thousands of colleges on everything from the intelligence of professors to attractiveness of students.
This year’s list also includes a few new data points. We used the power of LinkedIn’s first university rankings to provide extra insight into schools that launch their students into the most desirable jobs. We also expanded our measure of diversity to include out-of-state students and students with disabilities and improved our weather metric with software engineer Kelly Norton’s pleasant places analysis.
Below, the breakdown for criteria, weighting, and sources.
Quality of education (20%): Percent of applicants admitted (5%, National Center for Education Statistics); spending on instruction per full-time student (5%, NCES); student surveys on academics (5%, Niche); smartest professors (5%, Niche).
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, most scenic campus, safest campus (2% each, Niche); weather (2%, Kelly Norton’s Pleasant Places; on-campus arrests per full time student (2%, U.S. Department of Education).
Activities and clubs (5%): Student clubs and organizations (2.5%, U.S. News); best student centers (2.5%, Niche).
Nightlife (5%): Most exciting nightlife; most vibrant social scene (2.5% each, Niche).
Diversity (5%): Gender balance; percent racial majority (lower = more diverse); international undergraduates, out-of-state undergrads, students with disabilities (1% each, NCES).
Sports (5%): Best intramural sports (1.67%, Niche); number of varsity athletes and division classification (1.67% each, U.S. Department of Education).