Our First Step

Whenever we research a degree, whether it’s the Best Online Associate of Business Administration or the Best Master of Political Science, we look for three initial criteria:

✔ Nonprofit
✔ Accredited
✔ Flexibility


At Intelligent we believe that nonprofit colleges are more likely to have the best programs. While it doesn’t guarantee a high-quality education, a nonprofit college is more likely to be focused on promoting its reputation as a research and education leader than with profit margins.


Every university is regionally accredited; its program meets quality standards set by a private nongovernmental organization.This helps guarantee that future employers — and if you choose to pursue advanced education, your future college — will respect your degree as legitimate.


We strive to surface the best programs whether available 100% online, on campus, or somewhere in between. We believe that quality education shouldn’t require compromising your life. Each of our lists focuses on programs tailored for the different needs of students.

Our Next Step

We use these three criteria to narrow down the list of potential programs. Then, we evaluate each program based on five factors:

✔ Program Strength
✔ Student Readiness
✔ Return on Investment
✔ Cost
✔ Student Engagement

Program Strength

First, we looked at how each program ranked in leading college evaluators like U.S. News and World Report. These organizations have the resources to go in-depth and create trusted assessments of each program. We created an algorithm which collects and analyzes the multiple rankings into one score to easily compare each university. This ranking score gave us insight into whether the university is considered to have a rigorous program with highly-regarded professors and coursework. Schools that consistently ranking highly across multiple agencies did particularly well here.

Student Readiness

Next, we take a look at the educational resources available to students, whether that’s online resources for online-only programs or resources like libraries and other student services for on-campus programs. Schools with more educational resources available to students score higher here.

Return on Investment

Then we looked at how easy it would be to earn back the cost of each degree program. We calculated the average weekly wages of the occupations that a particular degree leads to versus the cost of the program. We wanted to focus on programs which can be paid off quickly, so you can spend your increased wages on anything other than student debt.


We evaluate the relative total cost of each program. Based on the average cost per credit at each university, we calculate an estimated total cost of attendance. Universities that charge less than their competitors earn more points here.

To determine the cost of the program, we looked at the number of credits it would take to complete each program as well as the average cost per credit. While the average cost sometimes depends on the particular program within a university, and whether the university charges out-of-state tuition, this gave us a good figure to compare the potential return on investment for each degree.

Programs with fewer credit hours, and lower tuition-per-credit rates tended to rank higher than programs with higher tuition-per-credit rates, even if they required fewer overall credits for graduation.

Student Engagement

Next we looked at how active each program is — how many students choose, like, and complete each degree program. We looked at factors like how many students are currently enrolled, how well represented men and women are in each program, and the graduation rate of each program. This gave us a glimpse into whether each program is successful at attracting a diverse student body, and how successful each school is at helping its students graduate on time.

While this metric had a smaller role in creating our Intelligent Score than Program Strength or Return on Investment Potential, we used it to affirm that each school has an active program and is interested in making sure that you complete your degree on time.

Intelligent Scoring

Combining the Program Strength, Student Readiness, Return on Investment, Cost, and Student Engagement scores gives us our Intelligent Score for each university, on a scale from 0 to 100. Our top picks are highly-regarded, economical, and equipped with the tools needed to teach their given degree.