We crunched the numbers including your college investment (net college price + not earning full-time high school graduate income for 4 years) and college financial return (post-graduate income 2 years after graduation) to arrive at this year’s 2022 Best Value College Rankings, which are based on how long in years it takes for you to have a positive return on your college investment. Learn more about our methodology.
We compared the 10 largest State Colleges to the 10 Largest Private Colleges in the country and found that on average, it takes 6.7 years for a student to start receiving a positive return on their college investment at State Colleges vs. 8.1 years for a student to start receiving a positive return on your college investment at private colleges. State school helps you break even faster!
Ivy League Schools may have the highest tuition and costs for students, but on average, a student takes just 3.6 years to receive a positive return on their college investment! That's half of the time it takes for a student at a state college or other private college not in the Ivy League so it pays to be on an Ivy-covered campus.
While the lists of top 20 Party Schools and Sober Schools from Princeton Review are always popular, a student at one of the top 20 Party Colleges takes 9.0 years to start receiving a positive return on their college investment compared to 11.1 years for a student at a Sober College to start receiving a positive return on their college investment. In conclusion, it pays to party?!
We compared the Top 20 Engineering Colleges in the country (that had the highest percentages of students graduating with engineering degrees) to the Top 20 Liberal Arts Colleges in the country (that had the highest percentages of students graduating with non-engineering degrees).
A college education can be extremely important for personal, emotional, and social growth and those aspects should not be discounted. At the same time, colleges can cost significant time and money, so it’s important to understand the financial return you may receive to help you decide on a university. We want you to have all facts you need to decide on your future.
College Sticker Price vs. College Net Price
While you may have seen college sticker prices talked about in media, the true cost of college can be hard to figure out. Many colleges provide varying levels of financial aid to large portions of their students, so only a certain portion of students ever end up paying the full “sticker price” you see listed on some websites. A more accurate number that we use is average “net price” that takes into account tuition and fees minus any scholarships, grants, or other tax benefits a student receives on average at each college.
Breaking Even On Your College Investment and Why It Signifies College Value
Up until you graduate from college, your “college investment” will be negative as you will be paying more than you earn. You have to pay tuition and fees, while also missing out on full-time income that you could earn over four years of college. The best value colleges will help you recoup that investment in just a few years after graduating and that exact moment is called the break even point. Other colleges may take much longer in years for you to recoup those tuition dollars and lost wages.
Chris & Nikhil started SmarterCollege a few years ago when they got into grad school and realized that they could save money by negotiating for lower interest rates using the power of group buying.
Since then, they’ve spent their time researching student loans and university costs to help the community of 50,000 SmarterCollege members save money on higher education. The SmarterCollege team has brought that same mission to these rankings to help students and families make the best decision when it comes to their college investment and understanding the value each college will provide.
Here’s a breakdown of our main variables as well as their sources.
How much money you are projected to earn two years after graduation is based on the average or median of what a graduate of that college is making 6 years from the date they enter school. The number only takes into account income of those employed full-time, and excludes incomes of those who are enrolled in post-secondary education. Our data also only takes into account those who applied for federal financial aid.
Data source: U.S. Treasury and U.S. Department of Education
How much money you are projected to earn working full-time without a college education is based on 2019 data from the US Census Bureau. The “State” option for baseline income comparison is based on the average reported income for individuals 22-30 years old working full-time whose highest completed degree was high school and who work in the same state as the location for the college/university. This option helps take into account different salaries and costs in all 50 states so you can see what income you might receive working in New York without attending a university in the state (such as SUNY, NYU, etc.). The “National” option for baseline income comparison is based on the median reported income for individuals across the country 25-34 years old whose higest completed degree was high school.
Data Source: U.S. Census
As designated by the Department of Education’s “control of institution” classification. Common for-profit institutions include University of Phoenix and Grand Canyon University. Most well known universities such as Yale and Harvard are non-profit.
Data Source: U.S. Department of Education