General information on ranking

Name of the ranking (in English) Forbes America’s Top Colleges
Name of the ranking (in original) Forbes America’s Top Colleges
Scope of the ranking general ranking
Website of the ranking
First year of publication 2008
Most recent year of publication 2022
Date of last update 2023-05-23
Publication frequency annual
Ranking organization Forbes Media LLC.
Methodology website


Two data points from the College Scorecard and two from PayScale are used. From the College Scorecard, salary figures from 6 and 10 years after enrollment are included. From PayScale, early and mid-career earnings are included (which span the 1-4 years and 10 years after graduation respectively).

DEBT (15%)

From the College Scorecard, the average federal student loan debt per borrower was multiplied by the percentage of students who had taken out federal student loans. College Scorecard data for five-year loan repayment rates was also used. Both of these variables were weighed at 7.5%, for a total of 15%.


Third Way provided the Price-to-Earnings Premium for each institution, which measures how long it takes students to pay their college costs. It does this by dividing the total net price of obtaining a college degree by the post-enrollment earnings boost that students get compared to the typical salary of a high school graduate in their state according to Census data. This gets at the true financial ROI of a college education. The general premium was weighted at 10%, and a separate premium for low-income graduates at 5%, for a total of 15%. 


While a four-year college education remains the gold standard, it does not reflect the large number of students who need more time for personal and financial reasons. Rather than only accounting for first-time, full-time students, this year the completion outcomes of part-time and transfer students were incorporated as well. IPEDS’s data on six-year completion rates were used as well, with 10% slated for all students and 5% for students who received Pell Grants. The Pell graduation rates with the proportion of Pell students at each institution were also indexed, giving an advantage to schools that both enroll and graduate those from low- and moderate-income backgrounds.


To assess the leadership and entrepreneurship of their graduates, it is compiled how many listmakers each school produced on the Forbes 30 Under 30, Forbes 400, Richest Self-Made Women and Most Powerful Women lists. Individuals in public service were also considered, including members of the Presidential cabinet, Supreme Court, Congress and sitting governors. Finally, the list included winners of the MacArthur Fellowship, Nobel Prize, Breakthrough Prize, Lasker Prize, Fields Prize, Academy Awards, Oscars, Tony’s, NAACP Awards, Guggenheim Fellowship, major sport all-stars, Presidential Medals and Pulitzer Prizes.


To account for student satisfaction, IPEDS’s three-year average full-time student retention rate is used, which measures the percentage of students who choose to stay after their freshman year.


Two measures, equally weighted at 5%, are used. The number of graduates of each college who have gone on to win Fulbright, Truman, Goldwater, Rhodes, Gates and Cambridge scholarships over the last four years is compiled. The second measure uses data from the federal government’s National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics (NCSES) to compile the total number of undergraduates who went on to earn Ph.D.s over the last three years.

Additional information

  • Main target groups: students and parents, higher education institutions, employers
  • Level of comparison: institutional: 498
  • Major dimensions covered: employability, reputation, research, teaching
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