We invited institutions of higher education across the U.S. to fill out a rigorous survey, numbering around 150 questions, about their operations involving current and former service members and their families. Those that identified themselves primarily as general education institutions were considered for these rankings. Those that identified as career and technical colleges were considered for Best for Vets: Career & Technical Colleges 2017.

To create the rankings, we evaluated colleges' survey responses based on what veterans have told us is important to them, as well as on our own editorial judgment. We also factored in data from the Veterans Affairs and Defense departments, as well as three Education Department sources: the IPEDS Data Center, College Scorecard data and the Cohort Default Rate Database. Broadly speaking, institutions were evaluated in five categories: university culture, academic outcomes/quality, student support, academic policies, and cost and financial aid. While the value of each section was comparable, university culture and academic outcomes/quality were worth the most in the survey, and cost and financial aid was worth the least. Many factors other than those listed in the chart were considered when developing the rankings.

2015 enrollment data are as reported by the colleges in our survey for the fall 2015 semester, except where otherwise indicated. Military enrollment figures are measured similarly and apply to service members and veterans actually tracked by a school, not just students using military-related benefits, except where otherwise indicated.

Policy agreements show which of three major military and veteran education agreements a college has signed on to: the Principles of Excellence, 8 Keys to Veterans' Success, and the most recent Defense Department Memorandum of Understanding. Whether an institution signed on to 8 Keys is based on VA data; information on other agreements was reported by schools in the survey.

Charged at or below Post-9/11 limits means an institution indicated that no Post-9/11 GI Bill recipient at the school, eligible at the 100 percent benefit level, was charged a tuition rate above what the Post-9/11 GI Bill covers during the 2015-16 academic year. Public schools must not charge out-of-state tuition rates to any student using the benefit for this to happen; private schools must not exceed the $21,084.89 cap.

Yellow Ribbon rates a college's participation in the Yellow Ribbon program, under which a school and the Veterans Affairs Department partner to partially or completely make up the difference between a school's tuition rate and the Post-9/11 GI Bill payment cap. Schools with "n/a" indicated that the Post-9/11 GI Bill fully covered their tuition costs in the 2015-16 school year, so Yellow Ribbon was not needed. Stars are awarded based on the proportion of students receiving Yellow Ribbon scholarships and the value of those awards. Best rating = 4 stars.

Charged at or below TA cap shows whether a school's tuition rates were at or below the $250-per-credit-hour limit set for most military tuition assistance in the 2015-16 school year.

Staff support rates the number of staff members an institution dedicates to veterans issues as a proportion of its military and veteran student population; the amount of time they spend on veterans issues; and the scope and frequency of military-related training for faculty, administrators and staff throughout the school.

Extracurriculars rates the number and activity level of student veteran groups at a college, as well as whether the school supports those groups financially. The ratings also consider initiatives to support military spouses and families, as well as nonacademic school events, such as service projects, Veterans Day programs and others.

Accreditation indicates a school's institutional accreditation. [R] indicates regional accreditation, which is generally the most respected type of accreditation in the academic community and usually makes it easier to transfer academic credit to another school. ACICS: Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools; DETC: Distance Education and Training Council, Accrediting Commission; HLC: The Higher Learning Commission (North Central Association of Colleges and Schools); MSCHE: Middle States Commission on Higher Education; NCCU: Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities; NEASC: New England Association of Schools and Colleges, Commission on Institutions of Higher Education; SACS: Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, Commission on Colleges; WASC: Western Association of Schools and Colleges, Senior College and University Commission; WASC-ACCJC: Western Association of Schools and Colleges, Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges

Money per student on instruction data from the Education Department shows the average amount of money spent on instruction per full-time-equivalent student.

Retention rate data shows the proportion of a school's full-time and part-time students who returned to classes in the fall 2014 semester after they started at the school in 2013. The total rate comes from Education Department data and includes only first-time freshmen, both full-time and part-time. The military rate comes from schools reporting the data in our survey and includes both freshmen and transfer students in their first semester at the school. Among all schools tracked by the Education Department, the retention rate for first-time, full-time students starting in 2013 and continuing in 2014, the most recent years for which data is available, was 80 percent at four-year schools and 61 percent at two-year schools. Part-time retention rates are typically lower.

Graduation rate data shows the proportion of a school's students who graduated within 150 percent of the expected completion time for the degrees they pursued. This measures new students starting at a four-year school in 2008 and graduating by 2014, as well as new students starting at a two-year school in 2011 and graduating by 2014. The total rate comes from Education Department data and includes only first-time, full-time students, a category into which current and former service members rarely fall. However, the rate can provide some indication of academic success for the general student population. For schools that reported the information, the number in parentheses is the transfer-out rate for the same timeframe, which, if added to the graduation rate, may give a more accurate representation of student success.

The military rate comes from schools reporting

the data in our survey and is calculated the same way, except it considers only students with military ties and is not limited to first-time, full-time students.

Among all schools tracked by the Education Department, the average graduation rate was 54 percent at four-year schools and 31 percent at two-year schools for students graduating by 2014, the most recent year for which data is available.

Default rate data, from the Education Department, indicates the percentage of students from the 2013 graduating class, the most recent data available, who defaulted on loans within two years of beginning to repay them. Among all schools tracked by the Education Department, the average default rate was 9 percent for four-year schools and 18 percent for less-than-four-year schools.