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College Factual Best Graduate Schools Ranking Methodology

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Best Graduate Schools Ranking Methodology

Master’s and Doctorate Degree Rankings

Each year, College Factual publishes its Best Master's Degrees and Best Doctorate Degrees rankings to help degree-seekers identify the graduate schools that offer the best programs in their field of study.

Quality Badge

We include several outcomes-focused factors in our rankings because we think it is important to consider how well graduate schools do in preparing their students for life after completing their degree. We also look at the student body make-up and things that signal how much emphasis the school places on educational resources. A more complete list of our ranking factors is given below.

When developing our rankings, we take a bottoms-up approach by first calculating factors at the major and degree level and then rolling that information up to the college level. This way, schools that offer a stellar experience in certain majors will not have their ranking dragged down if the institution as a whole does not perform well. Likewise, our rankings take into account that a school may have a good overall ranking yet certain graduate degree programs may not be as robust as those programs at other schools.

Graduate School Ranking Factors

Over 50 individual factors are analyzed when computing our rankings for various majors and degree levels. After calculating these factors, they are normalized and weighted. Once that is done, they are placed into one of six categories that are, again, weighted by importance. This allows us to compute a final score that represents the quality of a school when compared to other colleges and universities.

Below, we list the factors that are combined into the quality ranking for every graduate school, major, and degree level in order of importance. When developing the overall graduate school ranking, we roll up the scores by degree program weighted by the number of graduations in each program.

Post-Graduation Wages

We think it is important to consider the average early-career salaries of graduate students after they complete their degree. Thus, we look at post-graduation wages for each school, degree level, and degree program as compared to other colleges and universities offering the same program to determine this factor.

Educational Resources & Success

This measure looks at things such as the average time to graduate, the number of full-time-equivalent (FTE) students per instructor, and the average faculty salary adjusted by the cost of living. In addition, we take the following into account: deviation from expected graduation rate and the diversity of faculty.

We also consider education-related expenditures and how much focus is spent on a specific degree program by calculating the percentage of students at the school who graduate in that program at each degree level. For instance, if a higher percentage of the master’s degree graduations for a specific year are in one particular field of study, we estimate that more of a school’s educational resources are spent on that program.

Basically, we’re assessing how much of the school’s resources are spent on a particular degree program in addition to how well the school supports students who are trying to obtain that degree.

Post-Graduation Debt

We also look at the post-graduation debt load of graduate students broken down by degree program and level compared to those students in similar programs at other schools. More points are awarded to those schools that produce students with less debt.

We do this because more student debt can be a sign that students are spending more time in a program than necessary. Also, high student debt can be a major burden on students after graduation when they are trying to pay back their loans.

While higher student debt isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it can be crippling when coupled with low average post-graduation salaries. Thus, we also look at the student loan default rate three years after graduation and how much progress a student has made paying back their loans seven years after graduation.

Program Demand

Another factor we consider is the demand for a certain degree program at a school. That is, we looked at how many students graduate with a particular degree at a school when compared to all other colleges and universities that offer that degree program and level. Along with this, we consider the percentage of students who accept an offer of admission to the school.

Online Options

Now, more than ever, graduate students are looking for schools that offer some form of online learning.

This factor has a lower weight in our calculations, but we still feel it is important to acknowledge those schools, degree programs, and degree levels that recognize the importance of online learning and give their students this option.

Student Body

This factor measures the caliber and diversity of the student body for a particular school, degree program, and degree level. Diversity is important in today’s global world. Students who are exposed to different cultures and ways of thinking have the chance to learn more ways to approach problems and make decisions. We also take student academic excellence - as measured by things like standardized test scores - into account when determining this factor.

Although this is also a lower-weighted factor, schools and degree programs that are more diverse and have a higher student caliber receive a higher score in this category.

Data Sources

All of the data included in this ranking comes from official sources within the U.S. Department of Education (DOE):

  • The core of our college data comes from the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) from the Institute of Education Sciences (IES) National Center for Education Statistics (NCES).
  • List of majors are based on the Classification of Instructional Programs (CIP) from the National Center of Education Statistics (NCES).
  • Pay, employment and loan data taken from the College Scorecard, which collects much of this data from the U.S. Treasury and the National Student Loan Data System (NSLDS).

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