Our Ranking Methodology

Last Updated: January 2021

We use a specialized, student-oriented methodology at SocialWorkDegreeGuide.com to create our rankings. Our objective approach focuses on academic quality, affordability, school reputation, and program appeal to provide social work students with useful data points and information.

Our rankings focus on each school's overall merit by weighing certain factors and subfactors. We pull our data from national databases and incorporate our findings into our team's unique formula. Prospective students can review our methodology below.

As part of our process, we focus on important and relevant information for social work students searching for their ideal programs. We understand that no methodology is perfect, but we aim to provide learners with a holistic view of the available programs. Our rankings remain data-driven and free of editorial influence.

About the Data We Use

SocialWorkDegreeGuide.com uses the most current datasets from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). As part of the Institute of Education Sciences, NCES conducts research to evaluate the status of education in the U.S. across colleges, universities, and technical or vocational schools.

NCES is a primary information source for higher education in the country, conducting detailed surveys and research projects to collect and report useful data points.

Our quality assurance team evaluates all schools included in the datasets. We do not include schools missing a significant amount of data, which allows us to ensure that our calculations remain as accurate and reliable as possible. We pulled all of our information in December 2020 to create the most relevant, up-to-date rankings.

How We Calculate Our Rankings

General Rankings


Affordability Rankings


Best Value Rankings


A Look Into Our Ranking Factors

School rankings focus on specific factors in the program evaluation process. When we assess schools, we focus on factors like affordability, quality, and reputation. Within our weighted calculation, we use data and subfactors, such as net price, graduation rates, and student-to-faculty ratio. We focus on concepts pertaining to social work students to ensure they receive a solid, holistic understanding of the available opportunities.

The following section allows readers to take an in-depth look at the factors and subfactors we consider when compiling our research and data, resulting in our unique, student-focused methodology.

Subfactors for Quality

Graduation Rate:
Colleges and universities that boast higher graduation rates foster successful student learning environments and yield higher student satisfaction rates. Schools with high graduation rates often provide more access to tools and resources for enrollees.

Full-Time Retention Rate:
This figure considers the number of students enrolled full-time in a particular program who remain enrolled full-time throughout the program. Schools with higher retention rates for full-time students demonstrate significant levels of student success.

Student-to-Faculty Ratio:
Typically, schools with lower student-to-faculty ratios and classroom sizes provide a more individualized learning environment, making enrollees' learning experience more unique.

Subfactors for Affordability

Average Net Price:
The average net price indicates how much students typically pay for their college education, minus scholarships and grants. Students enrolled full-time earning a bachelor's degree at a public school pay $13,500 on average, while students enrolled full-time at a private school pay $27,000 on average.

Loan Default Rate:
This rate indicates the number of graduates that can't make the payments on their student loans. Schools that report low loan default rates typically indicate that graduates can find lucrative employment opportunities after graduation, allowing them to repay their loans.

Grant and Scholarship Aid Awarded:
The U.S. Department of Education offers need-based financial assistance for students who cannot afford to pay full tuition rates. Assistance includes grants, scholarships, and work-study. These funds may broaden the pool of schools for students to consider. Understanding these awards can also help applicants determine the amount of loan debt remaining after graduation.

Median Debt for Students:
This figure represents how much students owe after financial aid and out-of-pocket payments. Students can take subsidized or unsubsidized loans. While these loans differ, they both accrue interest at some point, which raises the cost of what degree-seekers must repay. Over 42.3 million citizens owe about $36,520 in student loan debt on average.

Subfactors for Reputation

Enrollment Rate:
This figure measures how many students are enrolled at a particular college or university. These rates often feature figures for undergraduate and graduate students. Schools that feature higher enrollment rates indicate an in-demand institution with greater levels of student satisfaction.

Admission Rate:
This figure measures the rate at which colleges accept students' applications to enroll. Examining the admission rate of a school can help students save time and money spent on applications by determining the institution's competitiveness.

Average Earnings of Students Working*:
Colleges and universities often list how much graduates earn on average after completing their degree. Students can use this information to determine the viability of the programs offered at their school. Students may want to look for program-specific data, as earning potential varies by vocation.

Subfactors for Program Selection

Percent of Degrees Offered at Ranking Degree Level:
The percent of degrees offered at ranking degree level lets students know how many programs they can choose from. This becomes particularly important if a student does not know what they want to study. Students with undeclared majors focus on general education requirements, but schools with limited degree options may not offer what the student ends up wanting to study.

Percent of Students Enrolled in Online [Degree Level] Programs**:
Colleges and universities continue to increase the availability of online learning. Potential distance learners should consider the percentage of students enrolled in online programs to help select their ideal program. For instance, this information can reveal average online class sizes, which may affect the learning environment or class structure.

Overall Online Enrollment**:
Overall online enrollment at a school indicates how many students choose to earn their degree at a distance, regardless of their focus. Observing this information may help prospective enrollees examine the quality of the online environment offered at their school.

*Only factored into affordable and best-value rankings and weighted more heavily for best-value rankings
**Only factored into online-specific rankings