The A-List Frequently Asked Questions

College Degree Finder

  1. How is the A-List different from other “Bang for your Buck” lists?

    Generally speaking, there are two types of “bang for your buck” lists. One is where the list assumes that the student is from a low-income family and therefore qualifies for the most generous financial aid packages. Such lists often give the top spot to a school like Harvard since students with the most need are given generous financial aid packages. The problem is these schools are extremely difficult to get into. And even if admitted, most students are not poor enough to qualify for the most generous aid awards. The second type of “Bang for your Buck” list is one that looks only at tuition. These lists often include the U.S. military academies at the top. These schools have stellar academics, and have free tuition. Unfortunately, they are also very low acceptance rates.

  2. Do all schools on the A-list offer full degree programs?

    Most of the schools on the A-List are large, prominent institutions that include a comprehensive selection of degree programs.

  3. Does the A-List take scholarships or financial aid into consideration?

    No. A student’s ability to qualify for a scholarship or financial aid is more dependent on the student’s accomplishments and financial status than it is which school he or she attends. For this reason we decided to eliminate financial aid from the affordability portion of our rankings calculation. Focusing only on tuition gives a solid apples-to-apples comparison between the schools themselves and gives students with average financial means and academic accomplishments a more accurate picture of what each school will cost to attend.

  4. Does the A-List consider both in-state and out-of-state tuition?

    There are two versions of the A-List – one that uses in-state tuition and one that uses out-of-state to calculate rankings. We provide a list for each so comparisons against tuition are easy to make.

  5. Most of the A-List schools have an above average acceptance rate, is that a good thing?

    Often the quality of a school is tied to a low acceptance rate. The rationale for this is obvious – lots of students want to attend a great school and the school can be picky about who it accepts, resulting in an “elite” status and a really talented student body. But there are only thousands of such spots, and millions of prospective college students. The A-List is designed to expose schools with the unique combination of strong academics and high acceptance rates – a combination that is definitely a good thing.

  6. There are a lot of A-List schools located in the west highly ranked? Why is that?

    We had no geographic bias when we ran our calculations, and we were surprised at how well schools in the West and Midwest did in our rankings. Schools in the West are simply more affordable and easier to get into than schools in other regions.

  7. Why are there so few East Coast schools?

    While many of the top academic schools in the country are in the East, they tend to be more expensive and have lower admissions rates.

  8. The A-List considers academic quality, but how?

    We typically base academic quality on two factors: the school’s categorization in the U.S. News & World Report’s Best Colleges rankings and the school’s rank within each category. The 2014 Best Colleges and Universities and the 2014 Top Business Schools ranking lists include quality scores from Forbes in their quality metric.

  9. What factors go into the Best Colleges and Universities 2014 A-List and how are they weighed?

    Academic quality is the most important factor, with a weight of 40 percent. This is derived from the school’s category and rank in a combination of both the U.S. News & World Report and Forbes undergraduate rankings. The next highest factor is affordability, comprising 28 percent of the calculation. Affordability is based on tuition; remember there is an in-state tuition version of the list and an out-of-state tuition version. Next, acceptance rate comprises 27 percent of a schools rating. Finally, enrollment and a few other factors that affect enrollment, are 5 percent of the school’s score. In addition to the weighting described above, the A-List calculation has additional mathematical adjustments that reward schools for meeting certain thresholds of excellence within each evaluation factor.

  10. Harvard is always ranked on other “top” lists, why isn’t it on the A-List?

    The A-List calculation rewarded Harvard for its stellar academic reputation, but punished it for its high tuition and very low acceptance rate. In the end, it just didn’t score enough points to make the final cut.

  11. How is enrollment considered?

    Enrollment and a few other factors that affect enrollment are an important, yet small aspect of the A-List formula; this score comprises 5 percent of the overall calculation.

View the most recent undergraduate rankings lists: Best Colleges and Universities 2014 in-state rankings list and the Best Colleges and Universities 2014 out-of-state rankings list.