Although the student debt crisis continues to capture headlines (these days, the average borrower graduates with over $37,000 in debt), it is still possible to make college a good investment.
A recent ranking of the best colleges for your money studied the educational quality, affordability and alumni success of 727 schools to find which ones offer the most bang for your buck.
Of course, not everyone can count on getting into Princeton (No. 1 on the list) or MIT (No. 6), but both private and public institutions are represented, including CUNY Bernard M Baruch College (No. 8), and my own alma mater, The College of New Jersey (No. 35).
No matter where you’re hoping to attend, here are three things to keep in mind when choosing a school.
1. THERE’S MORE TO CONSIDER THAN THE STICKER PRICE
It’s hard to imagine that a school with a yearly tuition of almost $68,000 (Princeton) could be considered the best college for your money. But before we lose you completely, it’s important to first consider the real price tag.
Students rarely pay full retail price for tuition. Just like a savvy shopper uses promo codes to knock down their total, students can receive discounts on tuition through grants and scholarships.
In the case of Princeton, while the estimated yearly tuition without aid is $67,700, the estimated price with the average grant is $19,000, a fraction of the sticker price. And the percentage of students with need who get grants is 100%. Translation: Don’t rule out a school on its sticker price alone; find out the likelihood of receiving aid and how much.
2. YOUR MAJOR MATTERS
Take it from this English major: Different majors lead to very different income trajectories. There’s nothing quite like seeing your engineering friends get salary offers of more than twice your own to make you really question your whole college experience.
Knowing the average salaries for majors you’re considering before you choose a school can help you narrow down which ones make the most sense. You don’t want to graduate with student loans greater than your starting salary. But, if you’re majoring in computer science and can expect a base salary of $70,000, then going to a more expensive school with a great computer science program may pay off.
3. ALUMNI DATA IS YOUR FRIEND
Not sure how you’ll fare at a particular school? Look into how recent grads are doing. The ranking also pulled in data for the average student loan debt at each school, plus the average grad’s salary within three years, so you can better see your own financial picture post-graduation.
If a school has a proven track record of sending grads into high-paying jobs with few student loans, this could help offset a higher tuition price.
Bottom line: The more information you have about a school, the easier it is to make the best decision for your future.