11 Colleges With the Best Return on Investment

Let’s be real. College is expensive.

The average price of a private school education is $33,480 USD… a year.

That’s $133,920 USD for four years.

Just think of all of the things you could buy with $133,920 USD:

A car.

A house.

133,920 hamburgers from McDonalds.

44,640 slices of pizza.

Even buy a private island.

I'm starting to think going to college is a waste of money.

I mean, Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg and Richard Branson never graduated college and they seem to be doing pretty well for themselves.

(For the record, Jobs owned Apple, Zuckerberg owns Facebook and Branson owns Virgin andan island.)

But, unless you’re a unicorn (like one of the 3 men above), a college education is actually extremely valuable.

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, people with a high school diploma make about $464 USD less a week than those with a bachelor's degree.

That’s about $24,128 USD less a year!

People with a college degree are also more likely to get a job and have a better chance of moving up in their industry.

Alright, college is starting to look more and more valuable, don't you think?

Yet, not all college educations are created equally.

This is where Return On Investment (ROI) comes in.

ROI is usually calculated based on three things:

  1. Net price
  2. Potential debt a.k.a. financial aid available
  3. Potential earnings

These three categories can give you a good understanding of whether or not you will make back your tuition and then some.

Your ROI highly depends on your major and what your school specializes in. Engineering schools have a much higher ROI than liberal arts, religious or music schools.

Let's take a look at some of the numbers.

Bonus: Because numbers can get boring, our list also features a few interesting and fun facts about each school!

1. California Institute of Technology(CalTech): Pasadena, California 

Best US Colleges - Caltech

Located 15 miles away from the hustle and bustle of Los Angeles, CalTech is its own little oasis in Southern California. With only 250 students per year, you are bound to have an immersive experience while developing close relationships with your world-class professors. So, if you’re looking for a hands on STEM degree with a small school vibe, CalTech is the place for you.

  • Admissions Rate: 8%
  • Type of School: Private
  • Undergraduate Population: 979
  • QS World Ranking: 5
  • Average Cost for 4 Years: $240,000 USD
  • Financial Aid: About 60% of students receive some type of aid. CalTech meets 100% of families demonstrated needs
  • Average Starting Salary: $68,400 USD
  • 20- Year Net ROI Without Financial Aid: $864,000 USD
  • 20-Year Net ROI With Financial Aid: $993,000 USD
  • Most Popular Jobs: About 60% of CalTech’s graduates go on to graduate school immediately after graduation. The rest find research or engineering positions.
  • Fun Fact:  CalTech may be known for its incredible scientists and researchers but the university is also a Hollywood star! The campus was featured in several well-known TV shows and movies, including Legally BlondeThe X-FilesEntourageThe West WingMission: Impossible and, most fittingly, The Big Bang Theory.

2. Massachusetts Institute of Technology(MIT): Cambridge, Massachusetts 

Best US Colleges - MIT

Only the hardest working and smartest students have the opportunity to go to MIT, but a degree is almost guaranteed to land you a great, high paying job. MIT has excellent relationships with top employers and the school hosts multiple career fairs throughout the year that will expose you to the best companies around the world. If you thrive in an extremely competitive atmosphere and aren’t afraid of brutal winters, your money will be well spent at here.

  • Admissions Rate: 7.9%
  • Type of School: Private
  • Undergraduate Population: 4,524
  • QS World Ranking: 1
  • Average Cost for 4 Years: $240,000 USD
  • Financial Aid: 91% of students receive some type of aid in the form of scholarships, loans and/or work-study.
  • Average Starting Salary: $76,184 USD
  • 20- Year Net ROI Without Financial Aid: $959,000
  • 20-Year Net ROI With Financial Aid: $1,106,000 USD
  • Top Industries: Computer Technology, Financial Services, Consulting, Engineering and Energy.
  • Fun Fact:  In 1958, Oliver Smoot and his MIT fraternity brothers decided to measure the Harvard Bridge using - wait for it - Oliver Smoot. These measurements were marked on the bridge, and police still use the markings to determine the location of a car accident. In case you were wondering, the bridge is 364.4 Smoots + 1 ear long.

3. Harvey Mudd College(HMC): Claremont, California

Best US Colleges - Harvey Mudd

A member of the Five College Consortium, HMC has the advantages of both a small liberal arts college and a large university. Although it specializes in technology and engineering, you will definitely feel as though you are getting a liberal arts education because of the collaborative environment the school fosters. Unlike most STEM heavy colleges, you will not find a competitive atmosphere at HMC. In fact, your classmates will actually want to see you succeed! The college's extensive financial aid and world class education is proven to be well worth your time and money.

  • Admissions Rate: 12.9%
  • Type of School: Private
  • Undergraduate Population: 815
  • QS World Ranking: N/A
  • Average Cost for 4 Years: $260,000 USD
  • Financial Aid: 75% of students receive some type of aid. HMC meets 100% of families demonstrated needs.
  • Average Starting Salary: $73,300 USD
  • 20- Year Net ROI Without Financial Aid: $920,000 USD
  • 20-Year Net ROI With Financial Aid: $1,084,000 USD
  • Most Popular Jobs: Software Engineer, Software Developer, Engineer, Data Scientist and Assistant Scientist,
  • Fun Fact: HMC throws some good parties throughout the year; however, one of their most infamous parties is the Wild Wild West Party. In the week leading up to the event, everyone eats as many peanuts as they can and throws the shells on the floor, which ultimately create the stompin’ cool dance floor. Compete with your friends to see who can eat the most peanuts over the week!


4. SUNY – Maritime College(Maritime College): Bronx, New York 

Best US Colleges - SUNY Maritime

Maritime College is the oldest and largest maritime university in the US. While it is a rigorous military school (i’m talking waking up early, on-ship duties and uniforms), the school will prepare you well for whatever career you choose. You don't even have to serve in the military after graduation!

The school places 100% of its students in primarily high paying jobs within 3 months of graduating. You’ll start seeing a return on your investment faster than you would at most other colleges and you’ll probably be able to buy your first car before all of your friends do! Sounds like a win-win situation to me.

  • Admissions Rate: 68%
  • Type of School: Public
  • Undergraduate Population: 1,676
  • QS World Ranking: N/A
  • Average Cost for 4 Years: $92,300 USD in-state; $126,000 USD out-of-state
  • Financial Aid: 80% of students receive some type of aid.
  • Average Starting Salary: $62,000 USD
  • 20- Year Net ROI Without Financial Aid: $895,000 USD
  • 20-Year Net ROI With Financial Aid: $919,000 USD
  • Top Industries: Consulting, Maritime Administration, Maritime Law and Ship Surveying.
  • Fun Fact: Before graduation, you must spend a at least one summer at sea working aboard a school ship that travels around the world. So basically, you have to go on a cruise to get your degree. Sweet.

5. Stanford University: Stanford, California 

Often referred to as the “Ivy of the West Coast,” Stanford has it all. Great weather, phenomenal academics and extremely competitive sports. Located right near Silicon Valley, it’s really hard not to get bit by the tech bug and want to stay in Northern California forever. Luckily, most of the jobs in tech are really high paying so you will start reaping the benefits of your education very quickly.

  • Admissions Rate: 4.8%
  • Type of School: Private
  • Undergraduate Population: 7,061
  • QS World Ranking: 2
  • Average Cost for 4 Years: $247,000 USD
  • Financial Aid: 70% of students receive some type of aid based on need, athletic ability and academic achievements. In addition, if your family makes less than $125,000 USD a year, your parents will not need to contribute anything towards your tuition and if they make less than $65,000 USD, Stanford will cover your tuition and your room and board fees.
  • Average Starting Salary: $68,012 USD
  • 20- Year Net ROI Without Financial Aid: $761,000 USD
  • 20-Year Net ROI With Financial Aid: $931,000 USD
  • Top Industries: Business/Finance/ Consulting/Retail, Health/Biotech/Pharmaceuticals, Computer/IT and Public Policy/Service/International Affairs.
  • Fun Fact: In the 2008 Olympics, Stanford won more gold medals than any other US university. Talk about beauty, brains and ROI.

6. Colorado School of Mines (Mines): Golden, Colorado 

Best US Colleges - Colorado School of Mines

Want to ski, be an engineer and have a job right after college, guess what? You just found your dream school. Although Mines may not have the same worldwide name recognition as other universities, it is often one of the top three engineering schools in the country. With the Rocky Mountains as your daily backdrop, all of the hard work you’ll have to do won’t seem so bad.

  • Admissions Rate: 38%
  • Type of School: Public
  • Undergraduate Population: 4,608
  • QS World Ranking: N/A
  • Average Cost for 4 Years: $123,000 USD in-state, $181,000 USD out-of-state
  • Financial Aid: 85% of students receive some type of aid.
  • Average Starting Salary: $63,400 USD
  • 20- Year Net ROI Without Financial Aid: $883,000 USD
  • 20-Year Net ROI With Financial Aid: $920,000 USD
  • Most Popular Jobs: Mechanical Engineer, Applications Engineer, Electrical Engineer and Project Engineer.
  • Fun Fact: You’ll definitely need a way to take a break from all of your work and intense studying, luckily Golden is home to Coors Brewery, the world’s largest single site brewery. Drink responsibly.

7. Georgia Institute of Technology (GT): Atlanta, Georgia 

Best US Colleges - Georgia Institute of Technology

As a student at GT, you’re bound to adopt the motto “work hard, play hard.” With Atlanta as your playground and GT as your academic home, you’ll truly get the best of both worlds. The school has a strong co-op program that allows you to take an optional 5th year to get paid, real world experience in your field every other semester. Often times, these co-ops lead to a more job offers and a higher starting salary. Plus, you’ll have a ton of experience by the time you graduate.

  • Admissions Rate: 25%
  • Type of School: Public
  • Undergraduate Population: 15,142
  • QS World Ranking: 71
  • Average Cost for 4 Years: $96,200 USD
  • Financial Aid: 71% of students receive some type of aid, both need and merit based.
  • Average Starting Salary: $67,667 USD
  • 20- Year Net ROI Without Financial Aid: $824,000 USD
  • 20-Year Net ROI With Financial Aid: $866,000 USD
  • Most Popular Jobs: Electrical Engineer, Software Engineer, Software Programmer and Project Engineer.
  • Fun Fact: GT’s mascot is a yellow jacket and at football games there is a giant yellow jacket that does push-ups after every touchdown. Strange, but true.

8. Princeton University: Princeton, New Jersey

Best US Colleges - Princeton

Unlike most other Ivy Leagues, Princeton’s main focus is on its undergraduates. In fact, it has almost twice as many undergraduates as it does graduates! If you want to be taught by actual professors instead of teacher’s assistants then you’ll love Princeton. The classic architecture, need-blind financial aid and high job placement rate also doesn't hurt.

Curious about Princeton? Watch the video below to learn if Princeton is the right uni for you!


  • Admissions Rate: 6.5%
  • Type of School: Private
  • Undergraduate Population: 5,402
  • QS World Ranking: 11
  • Average Cost for 4 Years: $231,000 USD
  • Financial Aid: 60% of students receive some type of aid. If you apply for aid and your family makes $140,000 USD or less a year, you typically have to pay no tuition.
  • Average Starting Salary: $60,000 USD
  • 20- Year Net ROI Without Financial Aid: $764,000 USD
  • 20-Year Net ROI With Financial Aid: $918,000 USD
  • Top Industries: Professional, Scientific and Technical Services, Finance and Insurance.
  • Fun Fact: Princeton is home to the third largest university chapel in the world.

9. Carnegie Mellon University (CMU): Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 

Best US Colleges - Carnegie Mellon University

If you can embrace bad weather, challenging classes and nerdy students, then you’ll love CMU. In fact, most people love CMU. Your classmates will inspire you and your classes will push you to your academic limits but all of your hard work will pay off. It will be worth it, promise.

  • Admissions Rate: 13.7%
  • Type of School: Private
  • Undergraduate Population: 6,454
  • QS World Ranking: 58
  • Average Cost for 4 Years: $251,000 USD
  • Financial Aid: 50% of students receive need-based financial aid.
  • Average Starting Salary: $62,300 USD
  • 20- Year Net ROI Without Financial Aid: $678,000 USD
  • 20-Year Net ROI With Financial Aid: $791,000 USD
  • Most Popular Jobs: Software Engineer, Management Consultant, Information Technology Consultant, Programmer and Software Developer.
  • Fun Fact: Apparently, there is a large network of underground tunnels that connect all of the buildings on campus, which is great news if you hate walking through snow storms. However, you’ll need to find the tunnels first. Good luck.

10. University of California Berkeley(Cal): Berkeley, California 

Best US Colleges - University of California Berkeley

Cal is awesome...as long as you are self motivated. The school reaps all of the benefits of a large, top ranked, public university - it's diverse, has fantastic sports and great academics - but it also has some negative side effects as it can be difficult to get the classes you need and you might not get as much attention from your professors. Don’t freak out though, if you reach out to your professors, they will be more than happy to talk to you. As for getting the classes you need, cross your fingers and eventually you’ll get them.

  • Admissions Rate: 17.5%
  • Type of School: Public
  • Undergraduate Population: 27,496
  • QS World Ranking: 28
  • Average Cost for 4 Years: $136,000 USD
  • Financial Aid: 66% of students receive some financial aid. If your family makes $80,000 USD or less a year, you will pay no tuition due to a multitude of grants and scholarships.
  • Average Starting Salary: $59,700 USD
  • 20- Year Net ROI Without Financial Aid: $732,000 USD
  • 20-Year Net ROI With Financial Aid: $800,000 USD
  • Most Popular Jobs: Software Engineer, Management Consultant, Data Analyst and Product Manager.
  • Fun Fact: Legend has it, if you roll down the 4.0 hill at the beginning of each semester, you’ll get straight As! Sounds easy enough.

11. Babson College: Babson Park, Massachusetts:

Best US Colleges-babson-college

Babson has a long history of fostering an entrepreneurial mindset in its students, which is why Princeton Review has ranked it #1 in the country for entrepreneurship for the past 20 years. The small student body allows you to make close connections with your classmates and work with them to solve real-world problems. There are multiple classes you can take to help you start and run your own business from the ground up and plenty of classmates who are willing to help. Once your business gets off the ground, you’re on the road to a great ROI.

  • Admissions Rate: 23.6%
  • Type of School: Private
  • Undergraduate Population: 2,141
  • QS World Ranking: N/A
  • Average Cost for 4 Years: $246,000 USD
  • Financial Aid: 50% of students receive some financial aid and Babson meets about 97% of all families’ demonstrated needs.
  • Average Starting Salary: $59,700 USD
  • 20- Year Net ROI Without Financial Aid: $726,000 USD
  • 20-Year Net ROI With Financial Aid: $858,000 USD
  • Top Employers: PricewaterhouseCoopers, Bank of America, EY, Staples, and EMC.
  • Fun Fact: As a freshman, you are required to take a Foundations of Management and Entrepreneurship course, where you will create a business with a budget of only $3000 USD. By the end of freshman year, you will have started your own business. Who knows, it may be the next Uber!

Final Thoughts:

As colleges get more and more expensive, ROI becomes more important.

Although a college’s ROI probably won’t be the only factor you use to pick colleges to apply to, you should definitely consider it when making your final decision.

Take your time to calculate your actual costs based on your family’s income, your financial aid package and your potential earnings based on your school and your major.

Most schools even have online calculators to make this process way easier.

I promise your bank account will thank you later.

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