We here at ClassesAndCareer.com are fond of discounting the much-hyped practice of issuing annual college rankings, as if one might need such rankings to put together their own roster of fantasy colleges. We have adamantly insisted that no rankings can tell you what college or university you should attend. We stand by the idea that college is a very personal decision, one that has to be made based on your preferences, goals, and situation.

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But, we have to admit, the new A-List from website CollegeAtlas.com has us intrigued. Why? Because it is actually made with the majority of college seekers in mind. Here’s what I mean…

College rankings are usually calculated based on how selective their admissions are—the more students they turn down, the higher the ranking. Rankings are also based on factors like ratio of faculty to students, class sizes, graduation rates, where admitted students placed in their high school classes, and SAT or ACT scores. In other words, these rankings measure exclusivity rather than academic quality.

But what about the rest 98 percent of college hopefuls who either can’t or won’t attend one of these elite schools? What about those of us who just want a quality education at a reasonable price?

That’s where CollegeAtlas’ A-List seeks to redefine college rankings. Instead of being based on the opinions of academics, student selectivity, and standardized test scores, the A-List is based on three weighted factors. These are:


CollegeAtlas takes into account the schools’ in-state tuition to determine affordability. Federal, state and institutional aid are excluded – since these factors vary from student to student, based on individual financial need. This provides a realistic look at what a typical student will pay for their education at each institution. The majority of students will pay under $10,000 for in-state tuition and under $15,000 for out-of state tuition at most A-List schools.


The A-List takes into account both the acceptance rate and enrollment size of each school. Many of the A-List schools accept over 80 percent of the students who apply, with some schools approaching 100 percent. Schools with larger student enrollments gained a small benefit from the calculation due to their ability to admit and educate large numbers of students.

Academic Quality

The factor with the highest weight in the A-List calculation is the quality of education offered at each university. To assess academic standing,the calculation considers an institution’s categorization and rank published in the annual U.S. News Best Colleges rankings. This takes into account a significant number of factors and is generally considered the gold standard for college rankings emphasizing academic quality and reputation.

According to the folks at CollegeAtlas.com, which we must acknowledge is one of our partners, this formula gets at the heart of what prospective college students really care about. They care about getting their money’s worth from their college experience. Period.

So by now, you’re probably wondering what CollegeAtlas’ rankings, if they are so different from the Ivy League-dominated rankings of U.S. News or Forbes Magazine, look like. Who makes the cut and who doesn’t? Warning: Harvard, Yale, Princeton, and Columbia are conspicuously absent from the top 25:

1. Iowa State University

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In terms of cost and value, Iowa State University is a no-brainer. For an insanely low in-state tuition ($7,726), students get reasonable class sizes and four-year graduation rates (39%). In perhaps the most important measure of Iowa State University’s quality, 86 percent freshmen stay for more. The school attracts students from over 100 different countries, and its impressive alumni list speaks for itself, including NASA astronauts, multiple U.S. Senators, renowned scientist George Washington Carver, and numerous Fortune 500 CEOs.

2. University of Utah

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It’s only right that this university, home to one of the top cancer research institutes in the world, sits atop the A-List. What makes this Utah university such a head-turner? For programs that rival any at an Ivy League institution, including several Nobel Prize-winning professors, students pay a comfortably low in-state tuition ($7,534). And those programs have been regularly ranked by other publications. Their Nursing-Midwifery and Physicians Assistant programs have regular seats in the U.S. News top ten.

3. University of Wyoming

Almost 96 percent of all applicants are accepted to this university, and the in-state tuition is low enough ($4,404) that students can keep their minds on their studies. According to RateMyProfessor.com, those studies are pretty decent, with University of Wyoming faculty pulling in a respectable 3.76 average on the professor-evaluation site.

4. Brigham Young University–Idaho

Don’t underestimate this Rexburg, Idaho school! For the low tuition rate of $3,770, students rate their professors an impressive 3.94 on RateMyProfessor.com. Also, acceptance is almost guaranteed at this school, with 99 percent of applicants receiving acceptance letters.

5. Murray State University

Tucked away in Kentucky, this university may be only ranked among regional schools, but it is delivering some serious bang for students’ bucks. In-state tuition at this school is only $6,840 but the student-to-faculty ratio is a strong 16:1 and freshmen-to-sophomore retention is an impressive 71 percent.

6. University of Oklahoma

Not all schools on the A-List are regional unknowns. The University of Oklahoma proves that you can have a big-name university (with a nationally competitive football team, to boot!) that still delivers plenty of value at affordable costs. Almost 80 percent of applicants get accepted to the university and pay only $7,341 in in-state tuition. That’s a pretty small price to pay for strong faculty scores and an 84-percent freshmen retention rate.

7. University of Iowa

This name-brand university features an affordable in-state tuition rate ($8,061) and encouraging retention figures: 85 percent of freshmen stick around for their sophomore years. Add to that the fact that they have a very healthy four-year graduation rate of 75 percent, and you have the makings of a great college investment.

8. Utah State University

Hailing from small hamlet of Logan, Utah, Utah State still manages to deliver the goods. As expected this school demands low in-state tuition ($6,183) from its students. What is surprising, however, is the 3.73 faculty rating the school commands on RateMyProfessor and the 72-percent freshmen retention rate.

9. Tennessee Technological University

Affordable in-state tuition ($7,500) and 72-percent freshmen retention send all the right signals at this Southern school. The fact that 97 percent of applicants are accepted is the cherry on top.

10. University of Missouri

This school seems to have it all: affordable in-state tuition ($9,415), high acceptance rates (81%), a freshmen retention rate (84%), and a healthy four-year graduation rate (47%).

So consider us hopeful. It’s nice to see college rankings that don’t just reward the same snooty institutions year after year, but actually speak to the value that college students are looking for.

To see the full 2013 CollegeAtlas A-List, go to CollegeAtlas.com.

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