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  • Colleges That Pay You Back Methodology

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    The schools that made our Colleges That Pay You Back 2015 book and list all share three exceptional features:

    • stellar academics
    • affordable cost—either via a comparatively low sticker price or generous financial aid (or both!)
    • strong career prospects for graduates


    Students who attend these schools don't have to mortgage their futures to pay for their degrees– and we believe they will graduate with great career propsects.

    We chose our Colleges That Pay You Back for 2015 based on data we collected from fall 2013 through fall 2014 via our institutional and student surveys and from PayScale.com on alumni career and salary statistics Broadly speaking, we weighted more than 40 data points covering academics, costs, financial aid, debt, grad rates, and career/salary data.

    Return-on-Education (ROE) Rating

    To improve upon our previous Best Value Colleges list, we incorporated PayScale.com data collected through April 2014 from alumni surveys covering starting and mid-career salaries, career satisfaction, and career social impact.

    Our new Return-on-Education (ROE) rating also draws on the following information we’ve collected and analyzed:

    Academic Rating

    To tally this rating, we analyze data the schools report to us about their academic selectivity and admissions, plus opinion data we collect from students reporting on the education they are receiving at their schools. The admissions statistics shed light on how difficult it is to gain acceptance: they include average SAT/ACT scores and high school GPA of enrolled freshmen as well as other datapoints. The student data reveals how students at the school rate their professors' teaching skills as well as how accessible the professors are outside of class.

    Financial Aid Rating

    This rating is a based on a combination of school-reported data and student opinion. Schools report the amount of need-based aid they give students. Students report how happy they are with their award packages. Very few students, it seems, are ever totally elated about their financial aid packages and the services (or lack thereof) that offices of financial aid provide. Nevertheless, students at some schools are a lot happier than students at other schools.

    College Costs

    We start with the sticker price of each college (often referred to as "cost of attendance" which includes tuition, required fees and room and board), and subtract the average gift aid (scholarships and grants) awarded to students. We don't subtract work-study or student loans, since those are costs that students ultimately have to bear. Next, we take all of this data and stir it up in an algorithm that measures the best bang for your buck: excellent academics, great financial aid and/or low cost of attendance. Simply put, it means value.

    Additional details about our college ratings can be found here.

    Out of the 650 schools we considered on this project, the 200 we chose as our Colleges That Pay You Back 2015 are, in our opinion truly the most exceptional in the nation at delivering great academics, affordable cost, and great career foundations. We strongly recommend and salute the colleges we present here for all that they do to help their students with need afford to attend them while delivering an amazing college experience that's worth every penny.