Silver as an investment

Which College Offers The “Best Bang” For Your Tuition Buck?

Is making the investment in a college education still worth it? How much debt can you expect to have after you graduate, and how much money will you make in your career?

As details, crunched the numbers from the top twenty public and top twenty private schools in the country and created a visualization to find out. The data was extracted from the U.S. Department of Education and U.S. News & World Report

We ranked each school according to the median salary someone can expect to earn ten years after enrolling. We then looked at the median student debt graduates typically carry. Focusing on median debt and median earnings makes a lot of sense – half of all students fall above these numbers, and half fall below. We then color-coded each school in a floating bar chart, making the private schools blue and the public schools yellow.

Several things immediately jump out of this visualization.

First off, private schools dominate the top half of the list while public schools by and large fall to the bottom. Graduates from private universities simply earn more money, which suggests that attending a private school pays off in the long run.


Top Five Universities by Median Salary 10 Years after Enrollment

  • Harvard – $95,500
  • MIT – $89,200
  • Stanford – $86,000
  • University of Pennsylvania – $$79,700
  • Princeton – $77,900

Something else stands out about our visualization: Harvard students take on significantly less debt compared to their peers from Ohio State. Nobody thinks Harvard is cheaper than Ohio State, right? More to the point, Harvard grads make more than twice as much money. From a financial perspective, it is by far and away the best school. In fact, the 11 universities with the lowest debt loads are all private. This suggests that many students come from wealthy families who can afford to pay the tuition without taking out loans. Perhaps this also affects their career outcomes.

Consider another way to look at the data. Suppose you want to find the best bang for your buck – you want the highest earning potential with the lowest possible debt, but you also want to avoid paying private school tuition. Where should you go?

The University of California, Berkeley offers the best opportunity. Graduates have the highest earning potential of all public schools at $60,800 with the lowest debt burden of $14,200.

There’s a lot that goes into picking the right school. You have to decide how much debt you are comfortable carrying, and ask yourself if the future earning potential is worth it. The most important factor you should consider, however, is how much you are willing to pay for the life-defining experiences that come with a college degree.