10 Top Colleges That Offer the Biggest Bang for Your Buck

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When I was in high school, my teachers told me to search for colleges by size, location, and SAT score requirements. No one ever said anything about return on investment (ROI).

But college is one of the most expensive things you’ll pay for — make sure you’re getting enough bang for your buck.

Why should you care about ROI?

These days, college is more expensive than ever. According to College Board, the average yearly cost of tuition and fees at a private college is $32,410. In-state residents pay $9,410 at public universities, and out-of-state students pay $23,890.

That’s a hefty price tag, and most of us take out student loans to pay for it. After graduating, we need to start paying those loans back.

To make smart financial decisions, think of those loans as an investment. You’re investing in your education now to open up opportunities and get a fulfilling job in the future.

10 best value colleges in the U.S.

What choices can you make to see the best return on your investment? One could be to choose a college with a high ROI.

According to Payscale’s 2016 College ROI Report, these schools rank highest for the best ROI colleges. Drawing on 962 schools, Payscale compared the total cost of attendance (including tuition, fees, room and board, books, and supplies) with graduates’ net ROI after 20 years.

1. California Institute of Technology (CalTech)

The full cost of attendance over four years at CalTech is $230,000, but the 20-year net ROI is $973,000. CalTech is ranked #12 nationally by US News.

In the class of 2020, students scored an average between a 2240 and 2340 on the SAT, and 99 percent graduated in the top 10 percent of their high school classes.

2. Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)

Four years at MIT costs $232,000, and graduates had a 20-year net ROI of $972,000. The college ranks #7 in the country, so most students who get in have top SAT scores and grades.

3. Harvey Mudd College

Four years at Harvey Mudd comes with a price tag of $249,000, and graduates have a net ROI of $945,000. This California college is ranked 21st nationwide.

4. SUNY Maritime College (for both in-state and out-of-state students)

SUNY Maritime is the highest-ranked state school on the list. It’s one of six maritime universities in the U.S. and has 11 undergraduate majors, including engineering, humanities, science, and global business and transportation.

The full cost of attendance is $89,000 for New York residents and $126,000 for out-of-state students. Graduates end up with a 20-year net ROI between $908,000 and $945,000.

5. Stanford University

Stanford is one of the priciest colleges on the list with a four-year cost averaging $240,000. Its graduates net an ROI of $854,000 after 20 years. Its undergraduate admission rate is extremely competitive, at only 4.8 percent.

6. Colorado School of Mines (for in-state students)

The Colorado School of Mines is an engineering school that focuses on geosciences. On average, applicants have an SAT score of 1320. The full cost of four years is $118,000 with a 20-year ROI of $846,000.

7. Georgia Institute of Technology (for in-state students)

For residents of Georgia, four years at the Georgia Institute of Technology costs $91,500. Over 20 years, their net ROI is $833,000. From its applicant pool, the college admits 26 percent.

8. Princeton University

This competitive Ivy League school admits just 6.5 percent of applicants. It has a four-year price tag of $224,000 and a 20-year net ROI of $820,000.

9. Carnegie Mellon University

Carnegie Mellon has the highest price tag on this list, ringing in at $243,000. Graduates go on to net an $811,000 ROI after 20 years.

10. University of California, Berkeley

Finally, UC Berkeley costs $133,000 for California residents, who go on to have a net ROI of $806,000. The school is ranked 20th nationally, and it has a variety of undergraduate and graduate programs.

Unsurprisingly, several of these best value colleges have strong science, technology, engineering, and math offerings, but some liberal arts schools made the top 10, as well.

It’s important to note that not everyone pays the full price of attendance. Most schools offer financial aid and scholarships to reduce the cost. College ROI is a useful metric, but the data may not apply to your specific financial situation.

Does college ROI really matter?

If you’re investing thousands of dollars and four years of your life into college, then you should definitely consider your possible return on investment.

These best value colleges set students up for success in their later careers, but they’re not the only schools that give students a solid return on investment.

There are lots of colleges that will give you a great education and help you achieve your goals. To some extent, a college degree is what you make of it. You should use these years to learn new things, pursue your passions, and set professional goals.

You should also develop marketable skills that will help you land a job after graduation. That way, you’ll be able to pay back your student loans once the grace period ends.

For more on choosing a field of study that pays, check out these seven college majors with the highest return on investment.

How to find the best value colleges for you

There are lots of factors to think about when choosing a college, including size, location, SAT scores, grades, majors, and financial aid. Given the high cost of tuition, return on investment should also join that list.

Thinking about college ROI early will also help you get a job you want. According to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, 45 percent of recent college graduates are underemployed. That means almost half of recent grads hold jobs that don’t require a Bachelor’s degree at all.

Why invest in a college degree if you can’t use it? While economic forces are out of your control, you can choose where you apply to college and what major you pursue.

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Published in Big Money Decisions, Student Loans