The 20 Best Colleges for a Return on Your Investment

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Male student with textbooks in one hand, a piggybank in the other.
Elnur /

Aim high if you or a child hopes to attend a college that offers a great return on investment. These types of colleges tend to have high admission standards if not also high sticker prices, judging by the 2018 edition of Princeton Review’s “Colleges That Pay You Back.”

This book details the 200 colleges with the highest ROI ratings for 2018 based on the Princeton Review’s analysis of some 40 factors. Private schools dominate, accounting for 135 of the 200 colleges. Ivy League schools dominate the top spots, with six of the eight Ivy League schools making the top 20.

The fourth annual edition of “Colleges That Pay You Back” was released this week. Its retail price is $22.99, but it's available for much less on Amazon — $15.17 as of Thursday morning.

The 200 schools featured in the 2018 edition have three things in common, according to the Princeton Review:

  • Stellar academics
  • Affordable cost — either via a comparatively low sticker price or generous financial aid (or both!)
  • Strong career prospects for graduates

The company’s “ROI rating” is based on academic and financial factors. The latter include everything from how much it costs to attend a school after accounting for financial aid to how much money graduates go on to earn.

Among the 200 schools that made the cut this year, the average amount of need-based student aid they grant is $26,800. The median starting salary of their graduates is $55,700 — which nearly doubles to $108,700 by mid-career.

The Princeton Review explains:

“Students who attend these schools don’t have to mortgage their futures to pay for their degrees — and we believe they will graduate with great career prospects.”

Stanford University, a private school, sits in the No. 1 spot this year. It’s not an Ivy League school, though it’s followed by one, Princeton University.

Stanford is also highly selective — accepting only 5 percent of applicants, according to the Princeton Review.

Its sticker price is high, too, by the university’s own admission: about $69,000 for one academic year for undergraduates, when all expenses are included. Few students pay the full price, however, Stanford says. If you’re curious about what it would actually cost you to attend, check out the school’s net price calculator.

All of the top 20 schools in the 2018 edition of “Colleges That Pay You Back” are:

  1. Stanford University, Stanford, California
  2. Princeton University, Princeton, New Jersey
  3. Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge
  4. California Institute of Technology, Pasadena
  5. The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art, New York City
  6. Harvey Mudd College, Claremont, California
  7. Dartmouth College, Hanover, New Hampshire
  8. Williams College, Williamstown, Massachusetts
  9. Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut
  10. Harvard College, Cambridge, Massachusetts
  11. Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tennessee
  12. Amherst College, Amherst, Massachusetts
  13. University of Virginia, Charlottesville
  14. University of California-Berkeley
  15. Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta
  16. Columbia University, New York City
  17. Rice University, Houston
  18. Wabash College, Crawfordsville, Indiana
  19. Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island
  20. Duke University, Durham, North Carolina

Some of these schools have been recognized before for producing high-earning graduates.

For example, PayScale’s 2016-2017 College Salary Report listed MIT, Harvey Mudd, Princeton and Stanford among the top five schools in the nation for salary potential. Their graduates are earning anywhere from $127,000 to $134,000 by mid-career, according to that report.

Also in recent years, Wealth X identified Harvard and Stanford as having the most billionaires among their alumni.

So, what’s your take on colleges that pay you back? Share your thoughts below or over on our Facebook page.

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