How We Rank Our Accounting Programs

Explore the methodology behind our comprehensive rankings of the best accounting programs in the country, including the subfactors we weigh.
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To provide comprehensive, reliable rankings of accounting programs, we use a methodology unique to the specific needs of this website and its audience.

In each of the rankings featured on, we consider key factors that make programs the best: academics, affordability, reputation, and program availability.

These rankings are free of outside influence, and based solely on reliably sourced data from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), a federal agency tasked with collecting, analyzing, and publishing education stats in the U.S.

Schools cannot pay for a higher spot in our rankings; their programs earn features based on the data we collect, and how they stack up in our ranking factors. Although our site features advertising partners, we do not consider those relationships when compiling rankings.

On this page, we explore the subfactors in our rankings and how they weigh into our overall scores. We break down:

Learn more about our ranking methodology for the best accounting programs available in the U.S.

About the Data We Use to Rank Accounting Schools

To create our accounting rankings, we rely on the most current information reliable sources have available. We pull data from NCES, a federal agency that collects, analyzes, sorts, and publishes educational data and statistics from schools around the country.

Housed within the U.S. Department of Education (ED), the NCES annually updates statistical information, as congressionally mandated.

We get that data through the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), which is managed by NCES.

IPEDS examines trends and tendencies in NCES data, including enrollment numbers, tuition rates, faculty and staff employment, and degree conferral rates.

We use this IPEDS data in our rankings to help students make the best choice for their accounting degree. Our quality assurance team verifies that schools without adequate data are not included on our website.

We often update our rankings annually, or sometimes more frequently if IPEDS releases new data. This means we may update our rankings for programs several times per year.

When we update rankings, all new data from IPEDS is run through our rankings algorithms to create a list of the top accounting schools. Students can count on our data to stay current, accurate, and aimed at helping them find the best learning options.

As of Dec. 2, 2022, IPEDS has released data for the 2021-2022 school year. Our rankings on this site use the most current data available, instead of the most finalized, at the time of publication. Both types of data sets undergo all NCES quality control procedures.

A Breakdown of Our Accounting Rankings Methodology

When creating our rankings, we understand the importance of using the right methodology to assess accounting degrees. For our rankings, we consider what makes a program the best: academics, affordability, reputation, and program availability.

To create the rankings, we weigh each of these factors based on importance for that specific degree type. Explore the charts below to see how we weigh each factor.

Subfactors to Our Accounting Ranking System

At, we are committed to helping current and prospective students find pathways to success, offering helpful career guidance, and acting as a source of truth for learners.

We take the reliability of our rankings seriously, considering a variety of key factors — and their subfactors — that matter most to students.

This information helps prospective accounting students make informed choices about the best program to meet your academic and career goals, while staying within your budget and providing the support you need to thrive.

We consider all of these factors together to compile comprehensive, accurate rankings that students can trust.

Subfactors for Academics

  • Retention Rate: A school's retention rate indicates the amount of students who remain enrolled between each fall semester. This number also includes students enrolled in the fall that graduate by the following fall semester.

    A high retention rate often acts as a positive indicator for a school's student satisfaction and success.

    In 2021, the average full-time retention rate for postsecondary institutions was 75.6%. A retention rate that meets or exceeds this average signals a school's commitment to students thriving academically.

  • Graduation Rate: Graduation rate measures the number of students who complete their degrees within 150% of the standard completion time. This number includes the students who graduate within six years of beginning a bachelor's degree, and within four years of beginning an associate degree.

    IPEDS graduation rate data includes full-time, first-time degree and certificate-seeking students that started and finished at the same institution.

    For the cohort of students that began in 2015, their average graduation rate across the institutions in the U.S. was 64.5% as measured in 2021.

  • Robust Faculty: Smaller class sizes often lend to more one-on-one faculty attention for students, which can help students thrive academically. We consider the proportion of full-time faculty along with the student-to-faculty ratio at each school.

    Schools with more qualified, full-time faculty often provide smaller learning cohorts and more access to support. In 2020, 56.2% of faculty at U.S. degree-granting institutions were full-time, and the average full-time student to full-time faculty ratio across these institutions that year was 14.8-1.

Subfactors for Affordability

  • Price for Students With Grants or Scholarships: The overall price to earn a degree is likely one of the most critical factors students consider when choosing a program.

    Even with financial aid options, pursuing a degree can rack up costs quickly, so we weigh a school's overall costs into what makes a program the best.

    In the 2020-2021 academic school year, the average overall cost for students awarded any financial aid or grants was $20,395 for a public, four-year institution, and $43,758 for a private, nonprofit four-year institution.

  • Students Getting Financial Aid: The majority of undergraduate students pursuing degrees receive some form of financial aid. In the 2020-2021 academic year, 85.2% of full-time students received financial aid.

    When we measure the amount of students receiving aid at a school, we consider all forms of aid -- including federal and private loans, grants, scholarships, work-study, tuition waivers, and assistantships.

    We also consider the average amount of aid each student receives at a school. In the 2020-2021 academic year, students at public four-year institutions received an average of $7,813.

  • Students Getting Federal Aid: Students enrolled at accredited institutions often qualify for some form of federal aid. This includes federal loans and need-based grants, and work-study funds.

    We look at the percentage of students at each school that receive federal aid, and the average amount of federal aid awarded per student.

    In the 2020-2021 academic year, 30.2% of undergraduate students at U.S. institutions received some form of federal aid, with an average federal loan amount of $6,593.

  • Post-Graduation Student Debt: On average, students graduating with a bachelor's degree from public schools carry debt of $26,100 as of fiscal year 2018.

    Private nonprofit schools graduates had an average of $29,000 of debt while graduates of private for-profit schools carried an average debt of $35,700.

    For that same year, 7.3% of student loan borrowers defaulted on repayment by the end of the third year in which repayment was due.

Subfactors for Reputation

  • Percent of Applicants Admitted: When examining school admissions rates, a lower rate can indicate a school is more competitive and sought after. This factors into how we consider and weigh a school's reputation in our ranking.

    More applicants and fewer admissions often reflects a higher level of interest in that institution or specific program. In 2021, 60.2% of undergraduate first-time applicants earned admission to institutions in the U.S.

    According to IPEDS data, the majority of reporting institutions in 2021 admitted between 50-74.9% of applicants.

  • Admission Yield: A school with a positive reputation may show a higher admission yield from their admitted students. A school's admission yield reflects the students who earn admission and ultimately enroll in classes at that institution.

    A higher enrollment rate can indicate a school or specific programs that are especially attractive to newly admitted students, which can point toward a school having a better reputation among applicants and current students alike. In 2021, 22% of admitted undergraduate students ultimately enrolled in classes.

  • Return on Investment: Pursuing an accounting degree is a significant investment for any student. When we measure a school's return on investment (ROI), we look at the average earnings of students who enter the workfield after attending that school or program.

    This can then weigh against the school's overall cost. A school with a higher ROI would have average student earnings much higher than the average for those without a degree. In 2020, the average earnings for those with a bachelor's degree was $59,600.

Subfactors for Program Availability and Online Flexibility

  • Percent of Relevant Degree Level Offered: When considering overall program availability, we look at the total number of degree programs a school offers at each degree level relevant to that major.

    For instance, when ranking bachelor's degrees, we look at how many unique bachelor's programs a school offers to measure the general degree availability. A school with a wider program availability may demonstrate a stronger emphasis on supporting and providing those programs.

    In 2020, 11% of the degrees conferred at postsecondary institutions in the U.S. were in business fields, including accounting.

  • Percent of Online Students Enrolled: Students looking for the flexibility of online learning should look at a school's online enrollment. A higher online enrollment may signal a stronger interest in that school's distance education options, more resources dedicated to online learning, and potentially a higher quality level for virtually delivered coursework.

    In 2021, 59% of students at postsecondary institutions were enrolled in some form of online learning. We do not weigh this factor for rankings of on-campus programs.

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