Best Colleges Methodology

Our Best Colleges rankings are based on data published by the U.S. Department of Education in November 2019. Schools are ranked in descending order of their graduates' median net monthly income. Net monthly income is calculated by subtracting graduates' median monthly debt payment from their median monthly earnings. These data are provided by College Scorecard.

To be considered for our Best Colleges rankings, schools needed to have a reported median salary and a reported median debt, as well as unsuppressed sample sizes for those data points. For all schools, we manually researched their degree programs to confirm the existence of degrees before ranking them. If a school had a salary reported but no existing degree program, it was excluded from the list. Additionally, if a program's median salary, median debt, count, or earnings count were "privacy suppressed" by the Department of Education, the school was not eligible to be ranked.

To be considered for our Best Online Colleges program rankings, schools need to meet the aforementioned criteria and offer at least one fully online social work degree at the level of the ranking list.

Fully Online Status

Schools with programs that require some on-campus coursework were still considered for online rankings if the amount of in-person work required was limited to two weeks or less. This allows students to retain their current employment or other personal responsibilities.

Data Sources

Program data including available degrees and details about program coursework were collected from official school websites, reflecting data for the 2019-2020 school year. These data were collected in April of 2020.

Median monthly salary and median monthly debt payment were collected from the U.S. Department of Education via the College Scorecard website. These data were published in November 2019 and reflect median debt and median salary for graduates one year out of college for the graduating classes of 2016 and 2017 (the latest data available).

Programmatic accreditation and profit status of schools were collected from official websites of the accreditation agencies or from the National Center for Education Statistics. The NCES is the primary governmental entity for gathering and presenting data related to education. NCES data are updated annually. The NCES does not release data into downloadable formats until they have been approved, so the most current available data will not be for the most recent academic year.