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Top Colleges by Major – Methodology

In order to identify top colleges for each major, we relied on six equally weighted variables, namely those for major emphasis, major share, institutional selectivity, class size and student-to-faculty ratio, peer assessment, and graduate earnings.

Major Emphasis

Indicates the number of students at an institution studying a specific major. If a high percentage of students at a particular college are studying a major, it is likely that the major attracts a relatively large portion of the institution’s resources. To measure major emphasis, we relied on data collected by the National Center for Education Statistics as reported by The Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS).

Major Share

If a college enrolls a relatively high percentage of all students in the United States studying a particular major, it is likely that the college has been identified by prospective students, employers, and other stakeholders as a leader in that subject area. Though this assumption may result in bias against smaller institutions or programs, it is important to account for the fact that larger programs often have the ability to attract more tuition revenue, meet fixed costs, and reinvest the major’s offerings. To measure major share, we relied on data collected by the National Center for Education Statistics as reported by IPEDS.

Institutional Selectivity

Though selectivity is not a perfect proxy for college or major/program quality, it is highly correlated with student ability/achievement and institutional expenditures per student, which both contribute significantly to the undergraduate learning experience. We looked to a college’s freshman admission rate and average SAT/ACT score (as reported by each institution’s Common Data Set (CDS) report) to measure selectivity.

Class Size and Student-to-Faculty Ratio

Research consistently shows that class size as well as student–faculty interaction and collaboration leads to better learning and career-related outcomes. We collected data for these indicators from the US Department of Education and institutional CDS forms.

Peer Assessment

To derive a peer assessment score, we relied on questionnaires distributed to both college admission experts (including school counselors and independent education consultants) and higher education administrators, and then compared responses with “strong programs” data published by U.S. News & World Report, Niche, and other reputable sources that rank colleges within a specific discipline (e.g. CSRankings.org for Computer Science, The Hollywood Reporter for Film, Foreign Policy for International Relations, etc.). Alone, peer assessment surveys are subject to a fair amount of bias. However, when evaluated in sum and considered along with more objective data—such as that examining major emphasis and class size—they can provide more complete and corroborative insight into the strength of a particular program/major.

Graduate Earnings

To measure graduate earnings, we relied on salary data provided by College Score Card, PayScale, and the Equality of Opportunity Project, all of which indicate both early-career and mid-career wages of students by college. We analyzed both early-career and mid-career wages because the former is typically an indicator of how employers perceive the quality of a particular major/program, while the latter indicates how well a major/ program may have prepared students for work. In addition, when able, we used data indicating graduate earnings by field of study, as doing so provides a more accurate measure of the relationship between a specific academic program and graduate earnings. For example, PayScale provides salary data for a student attending Boston University and majoring in engineering, which is different from salary data for students attending Boston University and majoring in business.

After collecting data, for most fields, we normalized and subsequently summed values across the above six indicators. Institutions earning a relatively high value were included in our lists. For areas of study without a predominance of institutions offering majors (e.g. game design, financial engineering, etc.), we relied primarily on variables for institutional selectivity, peer assessment, graduate earnings, and class size, and also totaled the institution’s number of faculty and course offerings in the area.

**Given that ranking majors/programs (and colleges) is a statistically dubious endeavor and one that fails to emphasize the importance of fit, we chose to publish top colleges (for each major) alphabetically, rather than in rank order.