College Selector » Methodology
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College Selector Methodology

Data used to calculate results for PayScale's College Selector tool is a combination of data collected from employees who successfully completed PayScale's salary survey and data imported from the U.S. Department of Education's Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS).

PayScale data was collected with the following parameters:

Bachelor's Only: Only employees who possess a bachelor's degree and no higher degrees are included. This means bachelor's degree graduates who go on to earn a master's degree, M.B.A., M.D., J.D., Ph.D., or other advanced degree are not included.

For some highly selective schools, graduates with degrees higher than a bachelor's degree can represent a significant fraction of all graduates.

Advanced degrees, such as MD, are not included. Also, we explicitly exclude majors that are no longer bachelor's level degrees (e.g. pharmacy).

U.S. Only: All reports are for graduates of schools from the United States who work in the United States. This sample does not include U.S. territories, such as Puerto Rico or Guam.

Full-Time, Civilian Employees Only: Only graduates who are employed full-time, not on active military duty and paid with either an hourly wage or an annual salary are included.

Self-employed, project-based, and contract employees are not included. For example, project-based graphic designers and architects, and nearly all small business owners and novelists, are not included.

Note: The alumni sample considered for the military schools (e.g., The United States Air Force Academy) only includes those who are currently in the civilian labor force and does not include alumni who are active service members.

Selection Criteria for Schools: The primary criteria for inclusion in this report are that a school offer bachelor's degrees, is located within the 50 United States, and has a substantial number of graduates who work for civilian employers in the U.S.

Schools with few bachelor's degree graduates, schools that have recently begun offering bachelor's degrees, or schools with a large percentage of graduates earning advanced degrees, may not be included due to insufficient data. In addition, a few schools were excluded due to issues in identifying the school accurately, usually because of ambiguous names or recent name changes.

Of the approximately 2,900 bachelor's degree granting schools in the U.S, the PayScale College Selector tool includes 1058 schools. These schools:

  • Include 88 percent of schools with over 5000 undergraduate enrollment
  • Include 77 percent of schools with over 2000 enrollment
  • Enroll over 80 percent of the undergraduates in bachelor's degree programs in the U.S.

The above percentages are based on enrollment data from the U.S. Department of Education's Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS).

A school's inclusion in or exclusion from the PayScale College Selector tool is not based on school quality, typical graduate earnings, selectivity, or location within the U.S.

PayScale plans to expand the number of schools in future upgrades. With more graduate salary data and analysis, we hope eventually to report on nearly all of the bachelor's degree granting institutions in the U.S.

Definitions:

Salary: Combines base annual salary or hourly wage, bonuses, profit sharing, tips, commissions, overtime, and other forms of cash earnings, as applicable.

Salary does not include equity (stock) compensation, which can be a significant portion of pay for some executive and high-tech jobs. In addition, salary does not include cash value of retirement benefits, or value of other non-cash benefits (e.g. healthcare).

Starting Employees: These are full-time employees with five years of experience or less in their career or field who hold a bachelor's degree and no higher degrees.

For the graduates in this data set, the typical (median) starting employee is 25 years old and has two years of experience.

Mid-Career Employees: These are full-time employees with at least 10 years of experience in their career or field who hold a bachelor's degree and no higher degrees.

For the graduates in this data set, the typical (median) mid-career employee is 42 years old and has 15 years of experience.

Ranking Criteria:

Earning a High Salary: Selecting this means that results will be ranked by salary potential, highest to lowest.

Making the World a Better Place: Selecting this means that results will be ranked from highest to lowest by the percentage of alumni who answered "yes" or "very much so" to the question "does your job make the world a better place?"

Academic Information: Data entered here is matched to data provided by IPEDS. IPEDS reports the 25th-75th percentile of GPA, SAT and ACT scores of each school's most recent freshman class.

Census Regions: Mapping information can be found at www.census.gov/geo/www/us_regdiv.pdf.
Note: We combined the West South Central and East South Central Regions into one and called it the Central South.

City Size: City size is based on locale codes, provided by IPEDS, which identify the geographic status of a school on an urban continuum ranging from "large city" to "rural." They are based on a school's physical address. The urban-centric locale codes introduced in this file are assigned through a methodology developed by the U.S. Census Bureau's Population Division in 2005. The urban-centric locale codes apply current geographic concepts to the original NCES locale codes used on IPEDS files through 2004.

Private School: Any school identified by IPEDS as being privately funded.

Public School: Any school identified by IPEDS as being publicly funded.

Research Universities: A school categorized by the Carnegie basic higher education classification system which can be either public or private in one of three categories:

  • RU/VH: Research Universities (very high research activity)
  • RU/H: Research Universities (high research activity)
  • DRU: Doctoral/Research Universities

Research universities are the ones that grant Ph.D.s and do at least some research.

Liberal Arts School: Any private school with a Carnegie basic classification of "BAC/A&S Baccalaureate - Arts and Sciences" and identified as private by IPEDS. These generally are non-pre-professional, undergraduate-focused institutions, and usually have smaller enrollments.
Liberal arts schools include science majors. It does not include pre-professional degrees like business, nursing, and engineering.

State School: Any school identified by IPEDS as being publicly funded.

Engineering School: Any school (public or private) which grants more than 50 percent of their undergraduate degrees in math, sciences, computer science, engineering and engineering technology majors based on data from IPEDS. The idea is to identify science, engineering and technology-focused schools.

Note that Harvey Mudd College is both liberal arts and engineering, since only one-third of its graduates are engineers (the rest are largely science and math majors), so both the Carnegie definition of Liberal Arts and this definition of Engineering are met.

Party School: One of the 20 schools on the 2012 Princeton Review "Party Schools" list.

Ivy League School: One of the eight schools in the Ivy League.

Schools for Sports Fans: Any school (public or private) with a Division 1 Football and/or Basketball team.

Art & Design Schools: An institution that awards most of their bachelor's or graduate degrees in art, music, design, architecture, or some combination of such fields, according to data from IPEDS.

Female Only: Women's colleges are colleges that identify themselves as having an institutional mission primarily related to promoting and expanding educational opportunities for women. Most institutions of higher education currently have majority female enrollments; women's colleges have predominantly female enrollments.

Historically Black: Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) are defined by The Higher Education Act of 1965 as: "...any historically black college or university that was established prior to 1964, whose principal mission was, and is, the education of black Americans, and that is accredited by a nationally recognized accrediting agency or association determined by the Secretary [of Education] to be a reliable authority as to the quality of training offered or is, according to such an agency or association, making reasonable progress toward accreditation." Federal regulations (20 USC 1061 (2)) allow for certain exceptions to the founding date.

Total Annual Expenses: Cost of attendance for full-time, first-time degree/certificate seeking undergraduate students living on campus for academic year 2008-09. It includes tuition and fees, books and supplies, on-campus room and board, and other on-campus expenses, as reported by IPEDS. In-state or out-of-state status is based on which state the user says he or she lives in.

Financial Aid: Percent of undergraduate students receiving grant aid.
Grant aid includes and grant or scholarship aid received, from the federal government, a state or local government, the institution, and other sources known by the institution

Results Data

Total Estimated Cost: Utilizing the percent of graduates who graduate in four, five, or six years (as reported by IPEDS), we calculate the average cost based on the number of years it actually takes students to graduate. This cost is calculated in three steps:

Of those who graduate, we find the percentage that graduate in four, five or six years.
We calculate the four-year, five-year, and six-year cost by summing the total cost (defined above) from 2008-2011, 2007-2011 and 2006-2011, respectively. For public schools, this is done for both in-state and out-of-state students.

Lastly, we calculate a weighted average by first multiplying the percent who graduate in four, five or six years by the four, five or six year cost respectively and then summing across these three products.
For schools where the majority of undergraduate students graduate in four, five or six years, this weighted calculation will have little to no effect on the cost reported as opposed to a straight summation of the total cost.

ROI Rank: Return On Investment (ROI) Ranking comes from our College ROI Report, which measures the total cost of attending a college against the mid-career salaries of that college's alumni. See the full methodology we use to calculate this number here.

Starting Median Salary: Half of the starting employees who are graduates of a school will earn more than this salary, while half will earn less.

Mid-Career Median Salary: Half of the mid-career employees who are graduates of a school will earn more than this salary, while half will earn less.

Confidence Interval on the Median: For all schools, the confidence interval is ±5 percent, with the following exceptions:

  • Due to large variation in the pay of graduates from elite schools (Ivy Leagues, Stanford, Caltech, etc.) the confidence interval is ±10 percent.
  • Due to smaller data sets, the confidence interval for small liberal arts schools is also ±10 percent.