Learn More About How We Rank Our Computer Science Programs

Curious about how we create our rankings? Find out more about our unique ranking methodology for computer science degrees and the data we use.
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As a prospective student, it's your job to find the right school. As researchers, it's our job to provide clear, concise information about them. 

Learners need reliable, up-to-date data to select the right computer science programs. Our unique ranking methodology for computer science degrees draws on the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) as our primary data source. This federal agency collects, analyzes, and publishes research about educational institutions.

In each of the rankings featured on ComputerScience.org, we analyze program data according to four primary ranking factors: academics, affordability, reputation, and program availability. To rank well, schools should feature robust faculty, high graduation and retention rates, generous financial aid packages, and a high ROI for emerging computer science professionals. 

When evaluating online-only or online-specific programs, we also consider the percentage of online students enrolled at the school and in the relevant computer science program. We also tweak our methodology when creating our bootcamp rankings to consider the length and popularity of the programs.

Schools cannot pay for a spot in our rankings, which keeps our rankings free of bias. While our site does include advertising partners, we do not consider those relationships when compiling our lists.

About the Data We Use

Our computer science program ranking data comes from NCES and its Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS). NCES is an independent, nonpartisan data source from the U.S. Department of Education that offers accurate, accessible education statistics. 

NCES maintains rigorous statistical standards and a thorough peer review process. The organization also has a diversity and inclusion policy to help assure that its data remains free of racial, cultural, gender, and regional biases.

IPEDS is a series of interrelated survey responses from postsecondary institutions across the U.S. IPEDS' survey components include graduation rates, outcome measures, and student financial aid. 

IPEDS data does not rely on schools' desire to participate in the survey. Because NCES is a federal agency, it can require mandatory reporting from every college or university that receives federal financial assistance. As a result, the data is comprehensive and correct — schools that do not provide enough IPEDS data become excluded from our list.

Readers sometimes ask if we simply rebrand our old rankings every new year. No — we typically update our rankings annually. With each update, we revisit the entire ranking process and recalibrate using the most recent data available.

As of November 2022, IPEDS has released only a portion of its updated school data for 2021. Our rankings on this site use the most current data available at the time of publication.

Our Methodology for Ranking Computer Science Programs

We begin ranking computer science programs by selecting factors related to return on investment (ROI). We then assess their impact on different degrees, modalities, and student priorities.

Our rankings consider academic performance, affordability, reputation, and availability through documented NCES and IPEDS statistics. Online program rankings reflect both full-time and part-time enrollees.

The following charts illustrate our primary online and on-campus program ranking methodology.

How to Rank Computer Science Schools: Our Ranking Factors

The best programs offer accessible, affordable education that can help students choose the program that best aligns with their personal and professional goals. 

Along with student engagement, we want to know if schools can deliver their programs effectively and add value to learners' lives after graduation. At ComputerScience.org, we account for academic performance subfactors like class size, retention and graduation rates, and the number of programs available.

By combining these factors and weighing them appropriately, we can provide accurate information about which schools offer strong education at an affordable price. Our rankings offer computer science students the insights to make informed choices about where to attend. 

In addition to the weighted ranking factors above, we also consider several subfactors during the ranking process. We determine a school's affordability by comparing financial aid rates, alumni loan default rates, and aid received to average enrollment costs.

Subfactors for Academics

  • Retention Rate: This figure measures the percentage of students who either re-enrolled or successfully completed their program.
    To measure retention rates, schools compare the number of students who enrolled at the beginning of the fall semester with the number who enrolled in the previous fall semester. A higher-than-average retention rate suggests a high-quality, high-performing program that supports student success. Measuring from fall 2020 to fall 2021, the average retention rate was 80.6% for full-time students at four-year schools, representing a slight drop from previous years.
  • Graduation Rate: This rate refers to the percentage of students who graduate within 150% of the expected time. For example, a bachelor's degree typically takes four years, so an on-time graduate would need to finish their degree within six years. 
    To determine the graduation rate, IPEDS divides the total number of graduates within 150% of normal time by the cohort of students who entered the program in the same year. The equation accounts for transfer-out students.In 2021, the graduation rate for undergraduate students who enrolled in a bachelor's program in the fall of 2014 was 64.5%.
  • Robust Faculty: To determine the strength of the faculty, we look at the program's number of full-time faculty and the year they began serving at the institution. Longevity in this category typically indicates a strong body of instructors and researchers.We also look at the student-to-faculty ratio for the most recent year. IPEDS determines this ratio by dividing the number of full-time students by the number of full-time staff. They add one-third of the part-time students and part-time faculty members to complete the equation. A smaller ratio usually signals a faculty that can devote more time to instruction and student support.

Subfactors for Affordability

  • Price for Students With Grants or Scholarships: Sticker price alone typically does not offer a good measure of affordability, as some schools offset high tuition fees with generous financial aid packages. To determine the price of education for students with grants or scholarships, we look at the average net price for these students in a given year. IPEDS determines average net price by subtracting the average amount of grant and scholarship aid from the sum of published tuition and other expenses. In 2020, the average net price for first-time, full-time undergraduate students attending 4-year institutions was $28,100 at private nonprofit institutions, $23,200 at private for-profit institutions, and $14,200 at public institutions.
  • Students Getting Financial Aid: The term "financial aid" refers to all monies provided to help cover student expenses. This funding may come from scholarships, assistantships, employer aid, fellowships, tuition waivers, federal work-study, public or private loans, or gifts from friends and relatives. It does not include loans to parents.IPEDS reports that in the 2020-2021 school year, 85.2% of undergraduate students at four-year colleges received financial aid. The average amount awarded in the same school year was $14,080. These numbers vary according to whether the school is public or private and maintains nonprofit or for-profit status.
  • Students Getting Federal Aid: Federal aid refers to an entire array of financial resources from the U.S. government. These include grants, subsidized student loans, federal work-study, and aid to veterans and military members. In the 2020-21 school year, 32.1% of students received Pell grants, and 30.2% received federal student loans. Using data from 5,573 institutions, IPEDS reported that the average amount of a student loan was $6,598 in 2020-2021.
  • Post-Graduation Student Debt: To determine post-graduation student debt for the colleges on our list, we use two specific data points: average loan default rate and median debt for students who complete their degrees on time. 

In fiscal year 2018 — the latest year with available data — 7.3% of student loan borrowers had defaulted on repayment by the end of the third year in which repayment was due. In the same year, the average student loan debt for people graduating with a bachelor's degree was $26,100 at public schools, $29,000 at private nonprofit schools, and $35,700 at private for-profit schools. 

Subfactors for Reputation

  • Percent of Applicants Admitted: To find the percent of applicants admitted, IPEDS divides the number of students who receive a letter of admission from a college by the number of first-time, degree-or-certificate-seeking applicants. Generally, highly selective institutions feature a low percentage of applicants admitted. In the fall of 2021, 60.2% of applicants to postsecondary institutions were granted admission to enroll. About 22% of these enrolled. The discrepancy between these two numbers exists in part because many students receive admission to multiple schools but enroll in just one.
  • Admissions Yield: A college's admissions yield is the percentage of applicants who accepted an admissions offer. It reveals the number of applicants who chose to attend that particular school. For example, if a college had 10,000 applicants and accepted 2,500, its acceptance rate would be 25%.
    According to IPEDS, 40% of people ages 18-24 were enrolled in a two-year or four-year college in 2020. According to data from the National Association for College Admission Counseling, the average yield rate for fall 2017 stood at 33.7%.
  • Return on Investment: While the academic return on a college education may be immeasurable, we can certainly quantify salary increases for graduates. According to a 2019 report from Georgetown University, two-year colleges offer the highest ROI in the short term, while four-year college graduates have a higher long-term ROI. Similarly, public colleges have a higher short-term ROI, but private colleges show a higher ROI in the long term. In 2020, the NCES estimated average earnings by level of educational attainment — $36,600 for those who graduate high school, $59,600 for those with a bachelor's degree, and $69,700 for those with a master's degree.

Subfactors for Program Availability and Online Flexibility

  • Percent of Online Students Enrolled: We measure this factor by dividing the number of students taking at least one online course by the total number of students enrolled. NCES reports that in 2021, 59% of postsecondary students were enrolled in at least one online course. Note that we consider this subfactor only for online-specific degrees.
  • Percent of Relevant Degree Level Offered: Colleges and universities offer degrees at different levels. Rankings should include which level of degrees the school provides and a percentage breakdown of their offerings. NCES reports that in 2019-20, colleges awarded 1,018,233 associate degrees, 2,038,431 bachelor's degrees, 843,449 bachelor's degrees, and 190,178 doctorates. 

Bootcamps Methodology

All bootcamp programs featured on ComputerScience.org must fit within certain criteria:

  • Be based in the United States
  • Offer at least one bootcamp a minimum of 4 weeks in length
  • If self-paced, require at least 10 hours of work a week
  • If part-time, require at least 15 hours of work a week

Once vetted, we group programs by popularity. We feature the top 10 most popular programs, according to search volume, in alphabetical order. Then, we list the remaining qualifying programs in alphabetical order.

Subject-Specific Bootcamps

Additional Criteria:

  • Offers at least one bootcamp focused on that subject

Location-Specific Bootcamps

Additional Criteria:

  • Offer at least one bootcamp located in that area

Payment-Specific Bootcamps

Additional Criteria:

  • Offer at least one bootcamp that can be paid for using that payment option

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