How to Make that College Degree Worth It?




The cost-effectiveness of universities has long been a hot topic. College tuitions can be as high as $60,000 - $70,000 (that is, not including other fees and expenses). Likewise, starting salaries after graduation and the time it takes to earn back that tuition are some of the most concerning issues for many.


The question everyone wants to know: how can we, in the most cost-friendly way, get the most out of college?


Top 5 Most Expensive Public Universities in the US


Top 5 Most Expensive Private Universities in the US


When it comes to the ROI (Return-On-Investment) of going to college, there are plenty of sources to check out. For example, Payscale, a well-known compensation software and data company in the US, ranks the Best Universities For a Bachelor’s Degree in 2021. Refer to the chart below.


The Best Universities For a Bachelor’s Degree from Payscale


Most of the 10 universities on the chart are Ivy League schools. The list also includes military academies and Harvey Mudd College, a top liberal arts college. These universities are academically rigorous, and its graduates receive high starting salaries after graduation, making them dream schools for many. However, their acceptance rates are extremely low, and are unfortunately out of reach for the vast majority of applicants.


Money magazine also provides its own ranking of the best value U.S. universities. This list is based on data from the U.S. Department of Education, and was just recently released in mid-May this year.


The Top 10 Best Colleges in America, Ranked by Value from Money Magazine


There are more public universities on Money magazine’s list. These universities have relatively lower tuition fees. Note that the proportions of students receiving financial aid scholarships are also quite high.


Two University of California campuses appear on the list: UC Irvine and UC Davis, ranked ninth and tenth, respectively. Another campus, University of California - San Diego, UCSD, is ranked 13th, but neither of the two leading UC campuses, UCLA and UC Berkeley, are seen on this list.


Interestingly enough, although the two lists from Payscale and Money Magazine are both very cost conscious, there is not a single common school in their Top 10 lists. Payscale’s list is dominated by private universities, while Money has more public universities. Why is that?


The two sources actually use very different ranking methods:


Payscale's results are based on data collected from a sample of 3.5 million U.S. college graduates. The ranking is solely based on "mid-career (10 years+) income." The method itself is quick and simple, and it provides a quick overview of the income levels of graduates from various colleges and universities.


Money magazine's ranking method is a bit more complicated, considering a number of factors, including:


Quality of Education (30% of weighting), which was calculated using:


Graduation rate, peer quality, instructor access, financial troubles, and Pell grant recipient outcomes.


Affordability (weighted 40%), which was calculated using:


Tuitions and fees, living expenses, book fees, commuting costs, etc., students' family income (divided into three income brackets), student debt, and ability-to-repay.


Outcomes (weighted 30%), which was calculated using:


Earnings 10 years after college entry, graduates’ earnings adjusted for majors, percentage of students who have not found a job one year after graduation, percentage of students who graduate within six years and earn more than a high school degree, economic mobility index, and return on investment.


Evidently, Money magazine's rankings considers more complex factors such as students debt, income, and the quality of education received. Even the income gap between different majors is accounted for.


So, how should you choose the most cost-effective university that best fits you? What should you consider in the selection process? What are some common mistakes to avoid?

The lists explained above provide a lot of insights, but after all, rankings are based on mechanical quantifications that cannot predict the diverse, subjective experience of going to college as an aspiring student. In reality, when we assists students and families in finding cost-friendly schools, we always start with understanding the individual student and their family’s needs and goals. At Enlighteens, our goal is to provide the most personalized assistance possible in the school selection process and the overall planning and application process.


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