Financial Aid

10 Best Colleges Worth Every Penny

These colleges provide the greatest return on investment.

Kathryn Knight Randolph

June 15, 2022

10 Best Colleges Worth Every Penny
As graduates leave colleges saddled with debt and make monthly loan student payment after payment, they oftentimes look back at their college experience and wonder…was it worth it? Fortunately, there are ways to measure whether or not a college degree is, or was, really worth it. Payscale, a company that measures salaries across industries and locations, measures earnings from graduates over time to determine which colleges provide the best return on investment (ROI). In plain terms, they find out which colleges provide the most bang for their buck once students graduate and begin their journey in the real world.
Payscale acknowledges that there are a few factors that go into making a college a great return on investment:
  • Fields of study – schools that have majors in engineering, science and math offer a great ROI because these positions offer better salaries.
  • Financial aid – more financial aid for students means less debt for them after they graduate, which translates into a positive ROI.
  • Ivy League – the best universities in the country typically pave the way for graduates to land top-notch jobs with higher salaries.
  • With that, Payscale has identified the top 10 colleges in the country that offer the best, 20-year net return on investment for its students. Twenty years after college graduation students at these colleges and universities have some of the highest earning potential in the United States:

    1. Massachusetts Institute of Technology
    2. $1,182,000 Student ROI

    3. Harvey Mudd College
    4. $1,164,000 Student ROI

    5. United States Merchant Marine Academy
    6. $1,153,000 Student ROI

    7. United States Military Academy
    8. $1,124,000 Student ROI

    9. SUNY Maritime College
    10. $1,039,000 Student ROI

    11. United States Naval Academy
    12. $1,028,000 Student ROI

    13. Colorado School of Mines
    14. $1,017,000 Student ROI

    15. SUNY Maritime College (Out-of-State)
    16. $1,000,000 Student ROI

    17. United States Air Force Academy
    18. $970,000 Student ROI

    19. Colorado School of Mines (Out-of-State)
    20. $939,000 Student ROI
    In the full report, Payscale assessed colleges and universities across the country based on millions of people who take Payscale's salary survey each year. While return on investment is definitely worthwhile in helping to make a college decision, it shouldn't be the leading factor. There are plenty of colleges out there that offer a great return on investment that may not even be listed.

    How to Calculate the True Cost of College Attendance

    Is the college you’re interested in really worth it? You can actually find that out before you even apply. Many colleges feature a Net Price Calculator on their financial aid website. A net price calculator will ask about family financial circumstances as well as academic performance. Based on that information, they can estimate how much merit and financial aid a student will receive from them. With that information, students can know just how much they will be investing in their own education. We recommend that students utilize the net price calculator for every college they’re interested in and then compare prices. In addition to scholarships, students can also utilize financial aid to pay for college. To qualify for financial aid, students must fill out and submit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) for each year that they’re enrolled in college or graduate school. The FAFSA will enable students to qualify for grants, work study and student loans. This form will also determine how much financial aid a student receives from each school, which arrives either with or after the admission decision. The financial aid package provides the final look at what the students can expect to pay for each college to which they applied. Again, students should compare financial aid offers between colleges, and they can even negotiate better packages in order to get the best possible outcome for their first-choice school.

    Limiting Student Loan Debt

    Part of getting a great return on your investment is not sinking too much student debt into the process. With that, students can limit the amount of student loans they take out each year. First, students should start saving for college sooner rather than later. Some parents begin saving for college when their children are born. Others may not consider saving for college until their child is a senior in high school. If that’s the case, it’s ok. A dollar saved is one less dollar you’ll have to borrow in order to pay for college. Parents can open up a 529 savings account s , which offers tax and financial aid benefits. One thing to keep in mind with this account, however, is that is must be in the parents’ names. If the savings account is opened in the name of the student, it will count against them as a student asset whenever they file the FAFSA. Student assets are judged more harshly on the FAFSA than parent assets. Additionally, students should begin an aggressive search for scholarships as soon as possible. By creating a Fastweb profile, students can get a list of scholarships that they qualify for by answering a few questions about themselves. Fastweb takes the search out of the scholarship search for students by delivering scholarship opportunities directly to them. Students can update their profile on Fastweb by providing more information on who they are, what they’re involved in and where they work. The more information that students provide to Fastweb, the better we’re able to find scholarships for them. Applying for scholarships takes a lot of time and work. Students need to commit to applying for one or two scholarships per week. Remember, the more scholarships you apply for, the greater your chances of winning one. Finally, students can save for college by getting a part-time job during the school year – or during school breaks. These opportunities can provide financial assistance to pay for school as well as skills and experience that will help build your resume. Just like college is an investment in yourself, so is a part-time job.

    Finding a College with the Best Return on Investment

    Students and parents should look at colleges from all angles -- from the majors offered to campus community to financial aid to student success outcomes. Finding a college based on all these factors will provide more than a return on investment; it will guarantee a college experience that was worth every penny—both literally and figuratively.

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