Colleges With the Best Return on Investment (ROI)

Alums from these colleges make the most money after graduation – even when you factor in their tuition costs.

By Ashley Henshaw | April 21, 2014

California Institute of Technology is home to NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

With tuition fees rising, more students are considering their return on investment (ROI) when it comes to the costs of higher education. If you’re shelling out the big bucks for a degree, it certainly softens the blow if you can count on high earnings once you graduate. Payscale’s 2013 College Education ROI Rankings weigh the cost of earning a bachelor’s degree against long-term earnings. The results show what alums can expect to earn cumulatively over the 30 years following their graduation, minus tuition costs (based on data from 2012). See which colleges came out on top when it comes to their ROI.

Harvey Mudd College

Four-Year Cost: $221,700
30-Year Net ROI: $2,113,000

It’s worth noting that most students at the top colleges in the Payscale’s College Education ROI Rankings earn degrees in science and engineering fields.

Harvey Mudd College is a private liberal arts college in Claremont, California. This small, selective school offers nine majors, all of which focus on math, science and/or engineering. With just under 800 students enrolled and 99 percent of students living on campus, HMC is a tight-knit community that offers plenty of hands-on projects and networking opportunities. The college’s renowned Clinic Program helps juniors and seniors prepare for their future career. Despite the high price tag for tuition at HMC, graduates tend to earn high salaries that allow them to repay any student loans at a reasonable rate.

California Institute of Technology

Four-Year Cost: $213,000
30-Year Net ROI: $1,991,000

California Institute of Technology is a research-focused, private university located in Pasadena, California, that offers degree programs in biology, chemistry, engineering and astronomy. Students are strongly encouraged to take part in various research projects, many of which involve well-known organizations like the Huntington Library and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. With fewer than 1,000 students enrolled and a 3:1 student-faculty ratio, there are plenty of opportunities to get involved with these types of projects and solicit personalized guidance from professors. Over 30 Nobel Laureates have graduated from Caltech, which is no surprise considering the type of students who are admitted to this highly selective, academically rigorous university.

Polytechnic Institute of New York University

Four-Year Cost: $214,300
30-Year Net ROI: $1,622,000

Also known as NYU-Poly, this private research university located in downtown Brooklyn was founded over 150 years ago, making it the second-oldest school of engineering and technology in the U.S. Rated fourth in the nation for ethnic and racial diversity, NYU-Poly has around 1,700 students that hail from all over the country and the world. Though tuition is expensive, over 89 percent of full-time undergraduates receive financial aid and the average NYU-Poly graduate earns a median annual starting salary of $62,400.

Polytechnic Institute of New York is located in the heart of New York City.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Four-Year Cost: $215,700
30-Year Net ROI: $1,606,000

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge is widely considered to be one of the world’s top universities. Despite its sizeable tuition costs, the vast majority of students receive financial aid and about one in five undergraduates comes from a family earning less than $47,000 per year. Despite the university’s focus on math and science, MIT continues to place importance on a well-rounded education that includes plenty of opportunities to take classes or join student organizations dealing with the arts and humanities.

SUNY Maritime College

Four-Year Cost: $90,530
30-Year Net ROI: $1,586,000

Located in the Bronx, SUNY Maritime College is the only public institution included in the top five colleges on Payscale’s College Education ROI Rankings. It also has the distinction of being the only college in the top ten to fall below $100,000 for the total four-year cost of earning a degree. Students at this unique college are military cadets who learn about the maritime industry during their Summer Sea Term on the school’s training ship, which travels around the world. On campus, cadets have a structured environment that involves rigorous academic challenges and physical training. With degrees offered in areas like maritime engineering, naval architecture and marine environmental science, this college places a strong emphasis on hands-on experience and has a nearly 100 percent job placement rate after graduation.

Located in the Bronx, SUNY Maritime College is the oldest institution of its kind.

Additional ROI Rankings

It’s worth noting that most students at the top colleges in the Payscale’s College Education ROI Rankings earn degrees in science and engineering fields. If you’re not interested in this type of career path, the rankings can still be of use to you. Payscale allows you to search its ROI rankings results by major. For instance, Harvard University and the University of Pennsylvania are the top ROI schools for English and humanities majors. Meanwhile, the University of California at Berkeley and Stanford University are the top ROI schools for computer science majors.

In addition to searching by major, students can also search for the best college ROI according to region, school type and gender. Check out these statistics to help you decide which college is the best for you financially.

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