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2022 Best Colleges by Salary Score Methodology

College is a significant investment, and we believe students deserve to have the salary data they need to make informed decisions about their education. That's why we created Salary Score, a ranking system that makes it easy to compare schools based on alumni salaries by major. 

We hope our rankings will be a helpful starting point for students researching education options and allow them to consider potential earning power after graduation alongside other factors when choosing a college.


To be considered for OnlineU's rankings list, a school needs to have sufficient earnings data from College Scorecard to calculate Salary Score. Schools also must have accreditation and offer at least 10 programs with unique CIP codes at the bachelor's level or 8 at the master's level.

About the Data

Salary Score and Calculations

Salary Scores represent alumni salaries after graduation within specific programs and degree levels. This rankings system — proprietary to Optimal — allows readers to compare real-world salary outcomes for the alumni of their desired majors across universities. Armed with this data, prospective students can gauge which specific program might offer the highest financial outcome for graduates.

Each college’s Salary Score is based on a comparison of median alumni salaries across the same programs at all schools. For example, this means that median salaries for nursing programs at one college is compared only to nursing program salaries at other colleges, not to computer science salaries or history salaries. Because of this, schools with more graduates in STEM fields, which tend to lead to higher salaries, won't automatically top our lists. Instead, the rankings reflect colleges whose program offerings outperform the same programs at other schools.

Data Sources

Salary Scores are calculated using earnings data for median earnings in the year after graduation and graduate count sourced from the U.S. Department of Education’s College Scorecard Field of Study data released in March 2022. Data is for students who graduated in 2017 and 2018, with earnings measured in 2018 and 2019, respectively, and inflation-adjusted to 2020 dollars.

To calculate a school’s overall Salary Score by level, we compared alumni earnings for each individual program to the same programs at schools across the country. In this way, a degree program at one school was evaluated against the same degree program across all schools.

Data Limitations

Like any data set, the data used for our rankings has some limitations and shortcomings. The earnings data used in our Salary Score is based on alumni in their first year after graduation. This does not take into account alumni's potential for growing their income as their careers develop, and only includes the earnings of students who received federal financial aid.

To protect student privacy, College Scorecard suppresses student count and earnings data that could be personally identifiable. This impacts the data coverage and accuracy for some programs. More information can be found in College Scorecard’s data documentation.