Intelligent Spending: Best and Worst Colleges for Tuition ROI

Oh, college, why have you become so expensive, complicated and important all at once? In today's highly competitive job market, a college degree can really improve your chances of landing a job that pays well. But, not just any degree will do. It turns out that you must pick the right (perhaps very expensive) school to maximize your post-college earnings.

Every year, PayScale releases a list of nearly 1,000 American colleges, ranked by their return on a typical graduate's investment of college costs: our college tuition ROI package. Since the total cost of college is now zooming up over $200,000 at more and more schools, we're hoping that this information helps you improve your chances of earning all your money back, plus some.

Since we want the numbers to mean something real, we've accounted for a lot of factors and made calculating college tuition ROI more complicated than deriving Avogadro's number or figuring out the past perfect of "go" in Spanish. For all of the details, see our methodology page.

The basic idea is that we tell you the difference between stopping your education at a high school diploma or going on to pay for a college education (with financial aid or without) – classes, books, housing and all – and not working for the four to six years it takes you to graduate. We base all of these numbers on tuition, graduation rate and other information provided by the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), then add in what we know about each school's typical alumni earnings in a lifetime.

College ROI Winners and Losers

You'd think that going to the lowest cost school would be the smartest plan. Not so fast. If you look at our rankings by 30-year (career lifetime) earnings, you'll see that pricey private schools that produce lots of engineers dominate the rankings. Those are the schools to attend if maximum financial gain is your goal. Of course, you still need to make a smart degree choice. If you attend Harvard but major in art, you're probably not going to see the typical $1 million+ 30-year net ROI that other Harvard grads can expect.

See our infographics on the top five and bottom five schools and then check out our full list to search for your school of choice.

Best Schools for College Tuition ROI

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See full infographic.

Worst Schools for College Tuition ROI

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See full infographic.


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