Can you smell it? The scent of pumpkin spice, football … and college applications.
It’s the time of year when high school seniors are deciding where they want to go to school. As usual, U.S. News has timed the release of its annual college rankings to coincide.
But one thing stands out in the U.S. News college rankings for 2018: an even heavier emphasis on cost and return on investment (ROI).
Here’s why those factors matter — and how the info can help you choose the best school.
Should you consider U.S. News college rankings?
The U.S. News college rankings reveal information behind factors you can consider when choosing schools to apply to or attend. The publication uses those same factors to rate schools across the U.S.
That said, don’t just consider a school’s reputation or ranking when picking a college to attend. Instead, use the rankings from U.S. News as a one-stop shop for information about colleges that interest you.
In its listings, U.S. News reveals pretty much everything that matters, from class size to majors to graduation rates, and tuition costs.
The rankings also reveal the median starting salary of graduates. This information can be an indicator of how much you could earn after graduation.
Why U.S. News emphasizes financial value
To calculate its rankings, U.S. News assessed 1,800 colleges on up to 15 different factors, including graduation and retention rates, academic reputation, faculty resources, student selectivity, financial resources, graduation rate performance, and alumni giving.
Graduation and retention rate were among the most heavily weighted. Brian Kelly, editor and chief content officer of U.S. News, explained in a press release why these factors were emphasized:
“Colleges that saddle students with debt but do little to support them through graduation are contributing to a vicious cycle — without that valuable degree, students will have a difficult time landing well-paying jobs and repaying their loans, which puts them in a precarious financial situation early on in their careers.”
As more students and parents emphasize ROI when choosing colleges, U.S. News is revealing more about the financial value of schools. For the first time this year, the college rankings include Payscale data about the median starting salary of each school’s alumni.
For example, here are the top five universities and their accompanying salaries:
- Princeton University: $66,700
- Harvard University: $63,100
- University of Chicago: $54,400
- Yale University: $60,200
- Columbia University: $62,200
Given that the average (not median) salary for someone coming out of college is $49,785, according to a Korn Ferry analysis, it appears graduates from these top colleges might have a leg up in the job market.
Although the salary data didn’t factor into the rankings, it’s important to note if you’re concerned about how you’ll afford to pay back student loans after graduation.
Choosing a college while considering future earnings
We agree that it’s vital you don’t gloss over your earnings potential.
Here’s why: Last year’s average college graduate had $37,172 in loans, which means they could be paying $400 per month for the next decade.
Unless that sounds appealing, you need to consider the ROI of colleges you’re considering. Here are two ways to get started.
1. Look at the college’s ROI
Figure out how your college tuition is going to pay off. How quickly will you be able to pay back your student debt?
To help you determine that, you can take a look at U.S. News’ list of best value colleges, which highlights schools with excellent academic quality compared to cost of attendance.
You can also check The Economist’s list of value universities, which measures how much graduates earn compared to how much they could’ve earned at another school.
Using this data, compare your cost of attendance to the salary you could earn after graduation.
2. Pick a strong major
More than one-third of adults regret their college major. When considering only adults between the ages of 30 and 40 who earn less than $40,000, that number jumps to 44 percent.
As much as you might love a particular subject, consider whether it makes sense going into debt over it. Will it help you find a job after graduation?
If you need some guidance, you might want to consider majors with the highest ROI.
Along with most everything else that happens in fall, choosing a college is exciting. Just make sure you’re listening to your brain — and not only your heart (or some rankings).
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