The 25 Best Colleges Based on Graduates’ Career Outcomes

College student studying
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There are as many reasons for choosing a college as there are students. Social life, convenience, location, cost, academic programs and scholarships all play a role. But with so many careers requiring specialized education, especially in technical fields, it’s important for students to ponder life after graduation.

Personal-finance site WalletHub recently examined more than 1,000 higher-education institutions in the U.S. across 33 key measures. The site then ranked the schools by overall appeal as well as in such categories as cost and financing, campus safety and student selectivity.

An especially interesting ranking listed the schools according to how they rank for graduates’ career outcomes. The career-outcome ranking is based on numerous factors, including:

  • The ratio of starting salary for graduates to the cost of their education
  • The share of graduates offered full-time employment within six months
  • Graduates’ earnings
  • Graduates’ debt levels and ability to repay what they owe.

To no one’s surprise, schools with a technical bent as well as prestigious universities with well-respected names filled much of the list. Here’s a look at the top schools according to WalletHub’s career-outcomes ranking.

Clarkson University

Clarkson University

Clarkson University is in Potsdam, New York. The school boasts that its graduates are taught to succeed. Among alumni, 1 in 5 already lead as CEO, senior executive or owner of a company, the school reports on its site.

One of those CEOs, 1986 graduate Kevin Neumaier, runs SWIFT Rails, which has designed a new transit solution featuring on-demand pods that run on rails far above traffic congestion.

Michigan Technological University

Michigan Technological University

Don’t confuse Michigan Tech with the sprawling University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. Michigan Tech is located in the city of Houghton.

Michigan Tech students are staying up-to-date on crucial developments: Seven of them recently traveled to Spain to present research at a global conference on climate change.

Columbia University

Columbia University library
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Columbia University, an Ivy League school in New York City, has a storied past: Alumni include Alexander Hamilton, Warren Buffett and several former U.S. presidents.

But the school is also looking to the future, recently partnering with Alexandria Real Estate Equities Inc. to open Alexandria LaunchLabs at Columbia. The new venture offers working space, support and access to funding for life-science startup companies.

Santa Clara University

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Santa Clara University, near San Francisco, is smack in the heart of Silicon Valley.

And, recently, Santa Clara hosted a 12-hour Second Chances and Empathy Hackathon, where students and other participants worked on projects to help people who are legally entitled to clear their criminal records fully re-integrate into society.

Case Western Reserve University

Case Western Reserve University

Case Western Reserve University, in Cleveland, is seeking to improve the health of those living in its region.

Researchers from the school are leading a group of 11 organizations in a $2.75 million initiative that’s using new technologies to help people in Northeast Ohio’s underserved communities evaluate whether they need to be screened for lung cancer.

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

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“Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute” is a mouthful, but you may know this research university located in Troy, New York, as RPI.

In addition to its student population of close to 8,000, the campus has a special resident: RPI recently unveiled the most powerful supercomputer in New York, AiMOS. It’s also the most powerful supercomputer housed at any private university.

Missouri University of Science & Technology

Missouri S&T

Located in Rolla, Missouri, halfway between St. Louis and Springfield, Missouri University of Science and Technology is looking ahead.

Researchers at its Center for Intelligent Infrastructure are working to help cities of the future use robotics and other technology to help build and repair infrastructure, from bridges to power plants.

Villanova University

Villanova University

Villanova University, known to many for its storied basketball program, is a private Catholic research university in Villanova, Pennsylvania. It’s looking to level the playing field for women in engineering.

Recently, the Henry Luce Foundation’s Clare Boothe Luce Program, a national leader in promoting women in STEM, awarded the college more than $236,000 in support of 18 undergraduate research awards for women.

Lehigh University

Lehigh University
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Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, is a private research university established in 1865.

Its College of Business is seeking to prepare students for the real world of work, creating a new Department of Decision and Technology Analytics — fittingly abbreviated as DATA. The new department offers courses of study in supply chain management and business information systems.

Princeton University

Princeton University
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Famed Princeton University is a private, Ivy League research university in Princeton, New Jersey.

While it’s definitely not cheap, you might be surprised to learn that Princeton tops the list of colleges that give students the best return on their money, according to LendEDU’s 2019 College Risk-Reward Indicator Study.

The study examined how much debt students at a given college have upon graduation versus how much money those students earn early in their careers. Princeton topped the rest.

University of Pennsylvania

Fisher Fine Arts Library, University of Pennsylvania
Daderot / Wikimedia

Don’t be fooled by the name, which sounds like a public state university. The University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, known to many as “Penn,” is a prestigious, private Ivy League research university.

And although there are no coral reefs on campus, members of Penn’s biology department are working to discover how the oceans’ corals can withstand the effects of climate change.

Milwaukee School of Engineering

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Milwaukee School of Engineering, a university in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, doesn’t forget about its recent graduates. Alumni who’ve graduated within the last three years can retake any undergraduate course they took at the school — at no cost, on an audit basis.

Alums aren’t graded, so this is purely for them to buff up their knowledge in a certain area.

Stanford University

Stanford University
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Prestigious Stanford University, a private research university in Stanford, California, is notoriously tough to get into. A 2019 ranking by academic review site Niche.com of the hardest colleges to get into placed it second only to Harvard University, noting that both schools accept only around 5% of applicants.

But get in, and get through, and your bank account will thank you. The 2019 College Salary Report, from PayScale, which reveals the U.S. colleges with the highest-paid graduates, put Stanford at No. 7. The median midcareer salary of a graduate with a bachelor’s degree from Stanford is $145,200, with an early-career median salary of $79,000.

Yale University

Yale University
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Distinguished Yale University is in New Haven, Connecticut. It is one of the oldest colleges in the nation, and its 1701 founding makes it even older than the United States itself.

It’s neither cheap nor easy to be accepted at Yale, but if you can make the grade, there’s some good news. Yale says it is one of the most affordable colleges in the U.S. for families making less than $200,000 annually, and the school offers scholarship grants and on-campus work opportunities.

According to Yale’s official site, families that earn less than $65,000 per year are not expected to make a financial contribution.

Kettering University

Kettering University
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Kettering University, a private university in Flint, Michigan, has gone by a variety of other names, including the General Motors Institute, thanks to financial support from the giant car company.

Although its name may not trip off the tongue like Harvard or Yale, Kettering is in some fine company. The 2020 “Best Colleges” edition of U.S. News & World Report ranked the school 13th in the nation for its undergraduate engineering programs.

Duke University

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Well-known Duke University is in Durham, North Carolina. Computer science is its most popular major, followed by economics and public policy.

Duke is working to help get new medicines to market. In December, the university announced it has partnered with the health care investment firm Deerfield Management Co. to create a major translational research collaboration. Four Points Innovation, owned by Deerfield affiliates, will support Duke research and development projects to accelerate Duke’s preclinical development of new drugs for improved quality of life and cures for disease, the university said in a press release.

Harvey Mudd College

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Harvey Mudd College is a private science and engineering college in Claremont, California, named for mining engineer Harvey Seeley Mudd.

If you dream of a healthy bank account after graduation, this might be your school. Harvey Mudd College holds an impressive honor: It topped the 2019 College Salary Report, prepared by PayScale, which reveals the U.S. colleges with the highest-paid graduates.

Carnegie Mellon University

Carnegie Mellon University
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Carnegie Mellon University is based in Pittsburgh. Its double name comes from a 1967 merger between the Carnegie Institute of Technology and the Mellon Institute.

Carnegie Mellon was ranked 18th in the 2019 College Salary Report. The report, prepared by PayScale, reveals the U.S. colleges with the highest-paid graduates.

Bentley University

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Founded in 1917 as the Bentley School of Accounting and Finance, the school now known as Bentley University is a private university focused on business and located in Waltham, Massachusetts.

Bentley students tend to make it to graduation day, even if they’re busy athletes. The latest NCAA Division II Academic Success Rate report revealed that Bentley has for a third straight year achieved the highest rate in the nation — 99% — of student-athletes who graduate within six years of enrollment.

Harvard University

Harvard University
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Harvard? Never heard of it! All kidding aside, the private Ivy League research university in Cambridge, Massachusetts, is perhaps the most famous university in the U.S.

It’s not easy to become a Harvard student, and, unsurprisingly, Harvard comes in No. 1 in a 2019 ranking by Niche.com of colleges that are toughest to get into. Only 5% of those who apply are accepted.

Georgetown University

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Georgetown University, in Washington, D.C., is the oldest Catholic and Jesuit institution of higher education in the United States.

And if a diplomatic career is your dream, the picturesque school in our nation’s capital might be your destination. Niche.com recently ranked it America’s No. 1 college for international-relations students.

Stevens Institute of Technology

Stevens Institute of Technology

Stevens Institute of Technology, named after an early American family of inventors, is a private research university in Hoboken, New Jersey.

In December 2019, the college opened the Gateway Academic Center, a $68 million teaching and research facility. It includes a center for health care innovation, a lab focusing on health and artificial intelligence and a prototype object fabrication lab.

Georgia Institute of Technology

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The school you may know better as Georgia Tech is really called the Georgia Institute of Technology, a public research university and institute of technology in Atlanta.

Older Georgians have a special benefit at Georgia Tech. The University System of Georgia sponsors a program that opens Georgia Tech’s graduate-level courses tuition-free to seniors. Students must be able to prove that they are least 62 years of age, a resident of Georgia and legally in the United States.

California Institute of Technology

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The California Institute of Technology, better known to many as Caltech, is in Pasadena, California.

The school’s graduates and staff have earned plenty of honors, and a very long list of Caltech faculty and alumni have received a National Medal of Science. The school’s website notes it currently has seven Nobel Laureates in residence.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

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Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the noted research university in the city of Cambridge, is better known to many as MIT.

MIT isn’t an easy school to get into — it accepts only 7% of applicants. However, students who can make the grade end up doing well financially.

MIT came in second in PayScale’s 2019 College Salary Report of U.S. colleges with the highest-paid graduates. That report says MIT grads earn a median $86,300 early in their careers and a median $155,200 in midcareer.

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