The A-List Methodology

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Have you seen the college rankings lately? They are full of expensive and exclusive schools. Less than 10% of applicants are admitted to the top schools on most lists and tuition rates are difficult for most students and parents to stomach. That’s why we made a list of our own. Instead of highlighting elite, exclusive, expensive schools that cater to the few, we have created a revolutionary algorithm that provides a fresh, unbiased look at the concept of a college ranking list and rewards colleges and universities for factors that are most important to you. Those factors are: Academic Quality (a great education), Affordability (low tuition costs), and Accessibility (high acceptance rates).

View the most recent undergraduate rankings lists: Best Christian Colleges and Universities 2018, the Best Colleges and Universities 2014 in-state rankings list, and the Best Colleges and Universities 2014 out-of-state rankings list.

It is no secret that the top-ranked universities are hard to get into and seem to be raising tuition every year. In this economy, traditional college rankings are missing the mark by awarding universities with high tuition as top “Bang for your Buck” schools, with some “economic value” rankings listing schools like Harvard, Princeton and Yale among the top five. These schools have lower-than-average acceptance rates and only enroll a few thousand students per year. The A-Lists use a new ranking methodology to shine a spotlight on universities that otherwise might get lost in the shuffle, resulting in a lineup of colleges and universities that deliver the best academic and economic value to students, while admitting a relatively high percentage of applicants.

Deciding where to go to college is a very important decision. That’s why we have taken the most significant factors into consideration when looking at the A-Lists. We hope to answer questions like: How much will college cost me? Am I likely to be accepted where I apply? Will I get a quality education? If you stick to a school on the A-List, you will be happy with the answers to all of these questions. Read on for a breakdown of the A-List methodologies.


The A-Lists take into account the acceptance rate as a major variable in each ranking list. Additionally, some A-Lists (where applicable) may consider, as a small percentage of the overall rankings formula, the enrollment size of each school and other indicators of accessibility. This addition is to give a slight score bump to larger schools for their ability to admit and educate a large variety and numbers of students. As a general rule, most A-List schools accept a high percentage of students who apply, with some schools approaching 90-100 percent acceptance.

Affordability knows that there are two ways to look at affordability – one that ranks schools according to their in-state tuition and one that ranks schools according to their out-of-state tuition. Federal, state and institutional aid are excluded in each type since these factors vary from student to student, based on individual financial need. These lists provide a realistic look at what a typical student will pay for their education at each individual institution.

Academic Quality

One of the heaviest factors in the A-List calculation is the quality of education offered at each university or school. To assess academic standing, the calculation considers an institution’s categorization and rank published in the annual U.S. News & World Report rankings and some include the rank published in the annual Forbes rankings (lists may also consider other recognized ranking list placements). The U.S. News & World Report rankings take into account a significant number of factors and are generally considered the gold standard for college rankings emphasizing academic quality and reputation. The Forbes rankings are also highly credible and give a different perspective to academic quality than U.S. News & World Report with their focus being on “output over input” and ROI of a school.

Additional A-List methodologies as they pertain to specific A-Lists:

Undergraduate Nursing Rankings only

The A-List: Top Nursing School Rankings are based on each school’s overall A-List score as well as their NCLEX-RN pass rate. The A-List score validates that the school achieves an exceptional balance of academic quality, affordability, and accessibility. The NCLEX-RN pass rate validates that those who graduate with a nursing degree are able to pass their board tests and practice as nurses. Using a custom algorithm to blend these attributes, the A-List Nursing Rankings reveal colleges and universities across the country that offer unbeatable nursing programs.

Graduate Business School National Rankings only

The A-List: Best Business School Rankings judge business schools on the standard A-List data points of academic quality, acceptance rate, and affordability. Please note that the tuition (affordability) figures are an approximation and are subject to change. They were calculated using annual tuition figures, program tuition figures (1/2) or per credit hour tuition figures; for per credit hour scenario, we assume there to be 57-60 credits per business program, which makes annual tuition around 30 credits. These tuition figures do not necessarily account for additional student or program fees. In addition, the A-list Business School Rankings include two supplemental data points which were added to more effectively rank business schools: the GMAT average of admitted full-time students to the business school, and the job placement rate of full-time students three months after graduation. A lower GMAT score average signifies that the GMAT barrier to entry into the business school is lower and adds to the school’s accessibility. Next, the job placement rate adds to the quality category as it helps create a picture of the perceived value and marketability of the business school’s graduates and the value of the school’s alumni network. Because there is an A-List sweet spot in each of these five data points, each school was given a score based on its distance to or from the sweet spot. Once scored, these five data points were given an individual weight, based off their relative importance to a potential student. This weight was then applied to the category score to give each graduate business school a final A-list score.

Graduate Business School by State Rankings only

The A-List: Best Business School Rankings by state were generated using the same data sources as the The A-List: Best Business School Rankings national list explained above. Each state list shows the nationally ranked business schools of the corresponding state, in relation to the order they appear on the national list. If the school was not ranked on the national list it will be shown in the non-ranked state listing below the state ranked schools, listed in alphabetical order.

Footnotes and Citing

As with all college ranking lists, prospective students should use them as a starting point for their college search process, and not to make a final decision. To perform our analysis for the Best Colleges and Universities in America, we gathered data on nearly 600 of the top colleges and universities in the United States. The data came from a variety of sources, including the “Integrated Post-secondary Education Data System (IPEDs)” published by the National Center for Education Statistics, U.S. News & World Report, Forbes,,,,, and individual school websites. Top Nursing Schools Rankings took the same undergraduate data from the Best Colleges and Universities in America and integrated NCLEX-RN pass rates. These rates were provided by state nursing organizations, board sites, and/or reports from individual schools on their NCLEX-RN pass rates. Business Graduate School Rankings incorporated data gathered from U.S. News & World Report,,,,, and individual school websites.

While we’ve made our best efforts to utilize the most up-to-date information, the information published and used in our rankings is subject to change and accuracy is not guaranteed. Our calculations utilize in-state tuition and out-of-state tuition, depending on which rankings list is being shown, to determine affordability. This is the case with the exception of Brigham Young University (BYU), BYU Idaho, and BYU Hawaii. Due to subsidization from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS) church members, these schools offer two tuition rates – one for LDS students and one for non-LDS students. For our calculations, we used LDS student tuition rates as a substitute for in-state tuition and non-LDS student tuition rates as a substitute for out-of-state tuition. Please submit any comments to .

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