PayScale Shows Harvey Mudd Offers Best ROI

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Deciding which college to attend is arguably one of the biggest decisions students will face in their professional lives. It may not seem like it at first, but choosing the right college can make or break a career. PayScale did a study on the biggest colleges and universities in the U.S. to determine which offer the best return on investment (ROI).


Student loan debt has now surpassed $1 trillion just in the U.S. alone, highlighting how serious of a decision this really is. After all, the job a student gets after college will determine how quickly (and in some cases if at all) a student can repay all those student loans.

How PayScale determined each college’s ROI

In determining the return on investment each college offers, researchers with PayScale polled college-educated workers. For each school, the average sample size of alumni is 315 student profiles. The scale is based on 20-year net ROI for on-campus costs. They calculated it both with and without financial aid.

Researchers weighed the costs of attending the colleges with the amount of money students were able to make after they graduated.

The best overall colleges for ROI

PayScale reports that the colleges with the top return on investment, not counting financial aid, are Harvey Mudd College, the California Institute of Technology and the Stevens Institute of Technology. If including financial aid, Stanford is in third place, pushing Stevens into fourth place.

Unsurprisingly, engineering schools were at the top of the list, with the first four schools all offering engineering and seven of the top ten being engineering schools. Students who majored in engineering, business, math or computer science or those who worked in business and finance or computer and math positions had the best chance to have a 20-year net ROI greater than $1 million.

According to PayScale, the average 20-year net ROI for engineering schools is $677,500. That compares to for-profit, liberal arts, religious, art, and music and design schools with an average ROI of less than $250,000. Ivy League schools came in second behind engineering schools with an ROI of $649,900. Alumni of Ivy League schools also tended to have student loan debt that was lower than the average when they graduated, and their 20-year net ROI tended to be higher than the 75h percentile.

Schools by classification

The report indicates that “party schools,” a classification defined by the Princeton Review, had an ROI on average of $354,400, compared to the “sober school” ROI of $336,000.

When looking at 20-year annualized ROI percentages, state schools were at the top of the list because they cost significantly less than private schools. PayScale reported that 37 of the top 40 schools had four-year on-campus costs of less than $100,000. The only exception was private school Brigham Young University, which came in second place on overall annualized ROI.

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