Top 100 Colleges in America
Our top 100 college rankings report for 2018 includes the 4-year colleges and universities in America that provide students the best overall experience and ROI. Ranking metrics include student satisfaction, debt, graduation rate and post-graduate success.
Top 100 Most Affordable Universities - Top 100 Most Affordable Colleges - Top 100 Highest Acceptance - Top 100 Lowest Acceptance - Top Colleges by Major
|Rank||School Name||Graduation Rate1||Default Rate2||Mid-Career Salary3||Net Price (4-year)4||20-year ROI5|
New Haven, CT
|Massachusetts Institute of Technology|
|University of Pennsylvania|
|University of Notre Dame|
Notre Dame, IN
New York, NY
|Claremont McKenna College|
|University of Chicago|
|Washington and Lee University|
|California Institute of Technology|
|University of California, Berkeley|
|University of Virginia|
|University of California, Los Angeles|
Los Angeles, CA
|College of William & Mary|
|University of Michigan, Ann Arbor|
Ann Arbor, MI
New York, NY
|Johns Hopkins University|
|University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill|
Chapel Hill, NC
Walla Walla, WA
| Hamilton College|
| Reed College|
| College of the Holy Cross|
|Washington University in St. Louis|
St. Louis, MO
|51||Carnegie Mellon University|
|52||Harvey Mudd College|
|53||Franklin and Marshall College|
|54||Wake Forest University|
Winston Salem, NC
|55||University of Rochester|
Colorado Springs, CO
|57||University of Southern California|
Los Angeles, CA
St Paul, MN
|60||University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign|
|61||University of Wisconsin, Madison|
|66||University of Washington|
|67||New York University|
New York, NY
|70||University Texas, Austin|
|71||University of Florida|
|72||Sewanee-University of the South|
|73||Santa Clara University|
Santa Clara, CA
Saratoga Springs, NY
|76||Georgia Institute of Technology|
New London, CT
|80||University of Maryland, College Park|
College Park, MD
Los Angeles, CA
|82||Mount Holyoke College|
South Hadley, MA
|86||University of Richmond|
San Antonio, TX
|88||University of Georgia|
|89||University of California, Santa Barbara|
Santa Barbara, CA
|90||Brigham Young University|
|91||University of California-Davis|
|92||St. John's University|
|93||Saint Olaf College|
|94||Colorado School of the Mines|
|96||Case Western Reserve University|
|98||Southern Methodist University|
|99||University of Minnesota-Twin Cities|
(1) Represents the graduation rate of full-time students who began their studies as first-time degree or certificate seeking students.
(2) Default rate is the % of student borrowers who enter repayment of loans in one year and default prior to the end of the next.
(3) Represents the median salary for alumni with 10+ years of full-time work experience, as reported by payscale.com.
(4) Average net price generated by subtracting grant or scholarship aid from total cost of attendance as reported by the National Center for Education Statistics.Total cost of attendance includes tuition, supplies (including books), and average cost of room and board.
(5) Return on investment (ROI) is generated using the formula (gain+principal/principal)^(1/years)-1. For a more indepth explanation, see the section below "Calculating ROI".
- Top 100 Most Affordable Universities
- Top 100 Most Affordable Colleges
- Top 100 Highest Acceptance
- Top 100 Lowest Acceptance
- Top Colleges by Major
At the end of the day, going to college and earning a degree isn't about prestige, diversity, scholarly publications, social mobility or even reputation–it's about ROI. It's about what students are going to receive from their college experience and education based on what they're required to invest. That's right, invest. College is an investment in the future. Our top colleges rankings include those "traditional" four-year colleges and universities that provide students the biggest return on their investment. Where other popular ranking publication focus on various selectivity metrics such as SAT scores, admission rates, or even "contribution to the public good" (ie., Washington Monthly, Princeton Review, etc.), we focus strictly on those metrics that have a direct correlation with ROI.
Our Top 100 Colleges rankings report is generated using the following five metrics:
- Post-Graduate Success (35%)
- Student Satisfaction (25%)
- Student Debt (25%)
- Graduation Rate (10%)
- Academic Success (5%)
Whatever your motivation for attending college, if you can't find a good job after you graduate or aren't able to advance in your chosen career path, then your investment of time, money and resources in your college education is greatly depreciated. We believe that first and foremost the value of a college education should be evaluated based on the post-graduate career success of the students and the alumni it produces. As such, our rankings are weighted heavily on metrics we've believe to be the most accurate indicators of post-graduate success. The metrics we evaluate in calculating post-graduate success include: (1) Early and mid-career salary, (2) Net price of a 4-year undergraduate education and (3) whether or not a institution appears on the America's Leaders List produced by the Center for College Affordability and Productivity.
Early and mid-career salary figures used in our calculations are based on surveys produced by payscale.com–a leader in employment, salary and compensation data. The "Early Career Salary" reflects the average salary for school alumni for years 1-5 following graduation from college. The "Mid Career Salary" reflects the average salary for school alumi with 10+ years of full-time work experience following graduation from college. Both figures are used in our calculation of ROI and overall college rankings. For sake of space, only mid-career salary figures are displayed in the rankings above.
Cost of education is an essential element of our college ranking calculation with respect to post-graduate success. Without cost, an absolute measure of ROI, or relative value, cannot be ascertained. The cost figure we use to calculate ROI, and determine relative value, is based on the "Net Price" of college attendance reported by each individual school in surveys published by the National Center for Education Statistics. Net price, as defined by the National Center for Education Statistics, is the total cost of attendence minus the average amount of financial aid, where total cost includes the cost of tuition, books and supplies, average room and board costs, fees and other expenses, and financial aid includes federal, state and local government grants, and scholarship aid. We calculate 4-year Net Price by multiplying the annual "Net Price" figure reported by the National Center for Education Statistics by 4–the average time required to graduate from a "traditional" undergraduate college program.
A few highly publicized college ranking reports rely heavily on the America's Leaders List in their calculation college rankings with respect to post-graduate success. While we also rely on the America's Leaders List in our calculation of college rankings, we place much less weight on this list than other publications such as Forbes. We feel that relying too heavily on this list, as a determination of post-graduate success, biases rankings in favor of colleges that have produced a few exemplary students. We do not believe this list accurately reflects the post-graduate success of an entire student body at any one institution.
Student satisfaction is measured as a function of three variables: (1) Student "happiness" as reported by Ratemyprofessor.com (based on student surveys), (2) actual freshman-to-sophmore student retention rates and (3) predicted freshman-to-sophmore retention rates, as reported by the National Center for Education Statistics. The student "happiness" score published by Ratemyprofessor.com offers a rough indication of how much students enjoy their education experience at a specific institution. I does not however, in our opinion, reflect the sentiment of most students, as survey size and scope is limited. For this reason, it is not weighted heavily in our calculation of student statisfaction. We feel that together, actual and predicted freshman-to-sophmore retention rates are a much better indication of how satisfied students are with the quality of education they're receiving. That is, students attending schools with high levels of student retention are more satisfied with their education than students attending schools with lower levels of student retention. Student retention is assigned more weight in our calculation of overall student statisfaction.
According to the Institute for College Access & Success, as of 2017, 65% of college students graduated with student debt. In 2017, seniors graduated from college with an average student debt of $28,650 – a 24% increase from 2008. This trend has been particularly troublesome among students graduating from for-profit colleges, where the average debt was $39,900 in 2016, a 26% increase from 2008. Student debt is becoming a problem of catastrophic proportion and it is a key component in our calculation of college rankings.
In our calculation of college rankings we evaluate two aspects of student debt: (1) default rates and (2) debt load. Together, these metrics (1) indicate the relatively affordability of attending an institution and (2) the ability of graduates to pay off their student debt after graduation. The inability to qualify for jobs and salaries required to payback student debt, is one indicator that students paid a price higher than the value of the education they received. If nothing more, when comparing one college to another, these metrics offer a very good indicator of relative value.
While not weighted as heavily as other ranking metrics, graduation rate is still an important component of our college ranking calculations. A low graduation rate can be a reflection of many things: lacking educational offering, low level of student support, an unclear communication of expections, or simply the college overselling its offering to new students. However, graduation rates may also simply be a reflection of varying educational offerings and programs – which vary from school to school.
The graduation rates we use in our calculations are provided by the National Center for Education Statistics. They reflect those students who (1) began college as full-time students seeking either a degree or certificate and (2) finished their program within 150% of the "normal time" required for completion of that program on a national basis – in most cases four years.
One of the pit falls of using graduation rate as a factor in generating college rankings is that it's difficult to determine what a "normal time" is for completing a degree. For example, it may take only four-years to complete a full-time undergraduate bachelor's degree at the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) where the focus is purely academic, but because students at Northeastern are required to spend time on "co-ops" or extracurricular learning activities, it takes them subtantially longer to complete a similar "four year" bachelor degree. This doesn't mean that the educational offering at UCLA is substantially better than that provided at Northeastern. In this case, the difference in graduation rate is simply a reflection of two different educational programs. The same holds true for another college, Brigham Young University (BYU). In terms of ROI and other post-graduation metrics, BYU is an exceptional school. However, if you were to base their ranking heavily on the accepted definition of graduation rate (which some ranking reports do), they'd be at the bottom of the pack. Almost all male students at BYU leave to serve a 2-year religious mission after their freshmen year. So does BYU have a lower calibur educational offering? Well, they have the No.1 ranked accounting program in the United. They also have one of the best finance programs in the nation and due to their international missionary program they offer one of the best foreign language programs in the world. In a uniformly perfect world, graduation rate would be a better metric for assessing relative value, but higher education doesn't operate in a uniformly perfect world.
It would seem like academic success should be an important metric when it comes to calculating a college's relative rank – and it is. But the fact is, academic success, when compared to other metrics, really isn't the best measure of value, if ROI is at the core of your ranking methodology. The grades a student earned, and awards received, will mean little a few years after graduation when college is a thing of the past.
Our academic success metric rewards schools who have a relatively high number of students – compared with other schools – who (1) win prestigious awards and/or (2) go on to earn a graduate (Phd) or professional degree (JD, MBA, PsyD, etc.) after completing their undergraduate education.
As part of our Top 100 Colleges in America rankings we calculate and present an estimated Annualized Return on Investment (ARI) over a 20-year period for each college using the following commonly accepted ARI formula:
- Principal - reflects the Net Price of college attendance, as previously defined and reported by the National Center for Education Statistics, multiplied by 4–the average number of years required to complete an undergraduate degree
- Gain - calculated by taking the sum of the early career salaries (years 1-5), estimated salaries for years 6-10, and mid career salaries (years 11-20) and adding them to the principal, then subtracting the 20 year estimated annual earnings for those with a high school diploma* minus the 4 years of lost earnings for the time required to complete a college degree. Annual salary for workers with only a high school diploma are based on a weekly earnings figure of $688–as reported by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
- Years - 20 years
- Estimated salaries years 6-10 - based on 1.5 times annual "Early career" salary as reported for school alumni on payscale.com
While the ARI figure we present may not be 100% accurate in absolute terms, it provides a very accurate measure of relative ROI and value when comparing one institution to another.