The 20 Best Colleges for a Return on Your Investment

Male student with textbooks in one hand, a piggybank in the other.
Photo by Elnur / Shutterstock.com

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.

Disclosure: The information you read here is always objective. However, we sometimes receive compensation when you click links within our stories.

Read Next
15 of the Fastest-Growing Jobs Today
15 of the Fastest-Growing Jobs Today

Times are tough, but these career fields are thriving.

10 Things That Really Are Free on Amazon
10 Things That Really Are Free on Amazon

These freebies are available to anyone — no Prime membership necessary.

12 Ways to Never Pay Full Price for Anything
12 Ways to Never Pay Full Price for Anything

Stop paying retail prices. Here are plenty of ways around that.

14 Products That Keep Foods Fresh Longer
14 Products That Keep Foods Fresh Longer

We’ve rounded up innovative Amazon purchases to lengthen the life of your favorite foods and beverages.

10 Mistakes That Cost You Money at Warehouse Stores
10 Mistakes That Cost You Money at Warehouse Stores

Wholesale clubs might have great deals, but these mistakes will cost you.

View this page without ads

Help us produce more money-saving articles and videos by subscribing to a membership.

Get Started

Most Popular
7 Kirkland Signature Items to Avoid at Costco
7 Kirkland Signature Items to Avoid at Costco

Even if it seems you save a bundle buying Costco’s Kirkland Signature brand products, they may not be the bargain they appear to be.

How to Buy Gas At Costco Without a Membership
How to Buy Gas At Costco Without a Membership

The warehouse club often has some of the cheapest gas in town. Here’s how you can get it as a nonmember.

10 Things to Stop Buying If You Want a Clutter-Free Home
10 Things to Stop Buying If You Want a Clutter-Free Home

If you like to keep things simple, avoid these purchases.

If You Find This Thrift Shopping, Buy It
If You Find This Thrift Shopping, Buy It

Vacuums from this brand can last a half-century, if not longer — and they’re hot on the resale market.

A Simple Way to Silence Robocalls Today
A Simple Way to Silence Robocalls Today

A few steps can keep your phone from ringing when a spammer calls.

This Company Makes the Best Tires in America
This Company Makes the Best Tires in America

Driver satisfaction with tires is at an all-time high, but one brand stands out.

Can I Switch to Spousal Social Security Benefits When My Ex Dies?
Can I Switch to Spousal Social Security Benefits When My Ex Dies?

Knowing when to claim can help you maximize benefits.

36 Things That Will Be Obsolete Soon
36 Things That Will Be Obsolete Soon

The writing is on the wall for dozens of things we have grown up with.

17 Surprising Things You Can Sell for Extra Money
17 Surprising Things You Can Sell for Extra Money

You probably don’t realize these items are worth decent cash.

8 Things You Should Always Buy on Amazon
8 Things You Should Always Buy on Amazon

The giant retailer shines when it comes to these things, from basics to hard-to-find specialty goods.

This Health Issue Can Hint at Dementia Years in Advance
This Health Issue Can Hint at Dementia Years in Advance

One type of pain is especially associated with cognitive decline.

8 Federal Income Tax Breaks for Homeowners
8 Federal Income Tax Breaks for Homeowners

Some of these deductions and credits are available to a wide swath of homeowners.

3 Ways to Get Microsoft Office for Free
3 Ways to Get Microsoft Office for Free

With a little ingenuity, you can cut Office costs to zero.

5 Ways to Get Amazon Prime for Free
5 Ways to Get Amazon Prime for Free

Hesitant to drop $119 a year on an Amazon Prime membership? Here’s how to get it for free.

5 Ways to Fill Your Pantry With Free Food
5 Ways to Fill Your Pantry With Free Food

Anyone can take advantage of these resources.

9 Things You’ll Never See at Costco Again
9 Things You’ll Never See at Costco Again

The warehouse store offers an enormous selection, but these products aren’t coming back.

10 Types of Retirement Income That Are Not Taxable
10 Types of Retirement Income That Are Not Taxable

There are lots of things Uncle Sam can’t touch — so long as you play by the rules.

6 Reasons You Should Stop Hiding Cash at Home
6 Reasons You Should Stop Hiding Cash at Home

Stashing money around the house is anything but harmless.

These 5 States Are the Most Expensive Places to Retire
These 5 States Are the Most Expensive Places to Retire

If you expect to have modest retirement income, you may want to avoid spending your golden years here.

View More Articles

View this page without ads

Help us produce more money-saving articles and videos by subscribing to a membership.

Get Started

Add a Comment

Our Policy: We welcome relevant and respectful comments in order to foster healthy and informative discussions. All other comments may be removed. Comments with links are automatically held for moderation.