Top 10 “Return-On-Investment” Schools In the US

Everyone who attends college goes for one major reason: a promise of a future financial return.

The path is simple; attend college, major in a specific field, and go get a job in that major after graduation.

It’s so simple, yet it comes as no surprise that some schools have better ROIs for their students than other schools.

What do we mean by ROI?

Quite simply, return on investment, or the net income one makes in their career minus investment into the degree itself. recently announced its top 10 “ROI” schools, and the results are rather surprising.

In the top 10, none of the schools are Ivy league programs. While some are household names, others are lesser known institutions at the national scale.

However, one thing is certain: these schools consistently produce students who are making an excellent income.

Although PayScale’s list does include schools with compulsory military service, we are outlining the top 10 schools that do not require military service upon graduation.

With that said, here are the Top 10 “ROI” schools.

10. Stanford University (Palo Alto, CA)

Stanford University
Jawed, Stanford University Arches with Memorial Church in the background, CC BY-SA 4.0

The first school on the list is, unsurprisingly, one of the most renowned academics institutions in the world. For its 2020 list, US News ranked Stanford in the top 6 universities nationwide.

However, Stanford is the only top-10 university ranked school to make this list. 

Why is that?

One reason is that graduates of Stanford have unique access to the San Francisco Bay Area’s highest paying startups and companies. Just a few miles from Stanford are Facebook, Google, and other tech giants offering starting salaries in the six figures.

Additionally, Stanford is the most selective school in the country alongside Harvard, admitting only 5% of applicants. Because of this, the level of student who is at Stanford naturally is very high achieving.

The fact that 30 billionaires call themselves alumni of Stanford may also have something to do with their unusually high ROI.

NET ROI after 20 years (according to PayScale): $811,000

9. Stevens Institute of Technology (Hoboken, NJ)

Stevens Institute of Technology
Jeffrey Vock Photography. QueenCity11 at en.wikipedia, EAS Hall SIT, CC BY-SA 3.0

Stevens is something of a hidden gem; those who don’t know the school don’t realize that the quality of faculty & education is on par with many of the other great technological institutions in the US, including CalTech and Georgia Tech.

For students who are fortunate to know the school and attend, their ROI is among the highest of all in the country.

One reason this may be is that Stevens, though in New Jersey, is literally across the river from Manhattan. Due to its proximity to the financial center of America, many Stevens students are hired in top jobs after graduation in the Big Apple.

Another is the focus on high-paying careers; technology and coding, two centerpieces of the Stevens experience, are naturally among the most employable majors in today’s tech-heavy landscape. Because of this, Stevens graduates are primed for incredible monetary success after graduation.

NET ROI after 20 years: $832,000

8. California State University Maritime Academy (Vallejo, CA)

Although California Maritime is associated with the military, no service obligation exists for students graduating from this program.

This CSU schools beats out every other California public school in terms of ROI, including UCLA, UC San Diego, and UC Santa Barbara.

So why does CSU Maritime have such a strong ROI track record?

Although no service obligation exists, many students do choose to participate in the military upon graduation, meaning they are provided immediate employment opportunity within months of obtaining a degree. Perhaps this is one reason why so many military-associated programs provide the best ROIs.

Another reason is that the school has many in-state students, and so the cost of the degree is less than a prestigious private school, so the “net” ROI is naturally better.

US News ranks the school as the #2 “regional west” school in 2020.

NET ROI after 20 years: $793,000 (out-of-state)

NET ROI after 20 years: $837,000 (in-state)

7. Georgia Institute of Technology (Atlanta, GA)

Joseph Zollo, J Erskine Love Jr Manufacturing Building, CC BY 2.0

One of the most prestigious schools on our list, Georgia Institute of Technology represents the ultimate choice for both universal acclaim in a university as well as incredible career returns.

Students at Georgia Tech are exposed to the ideas of the world’s most brilliant professors. Faculty at Georgia Tech have collectively won numerous Nobel Prizes, Fulbright fellowships, Guggenheims, and more of the most acclaimed prizes in higher education.

Given the highly accomplished alumni body of Georgia Tech, it is no surprise the school is among the best in the country for net ROI. Some of the most successful alumni include David Dorman, the CEO of AT&T, Mike Duke, the CEO of Wal-Mart, David C. Garrett Jr., the CEO of Delta Air Lines, and James D. Robinson III, the former CEO of American Express.

NET ROI after 20 years: $856,000

6. Albany College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences (Albany, NY)

Matt H. Wade, Albany College of Pharmacy, CC BY-SA 3.0

In 2019, the Wall Street Journal named Albany College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences the #1 school for best financial futures.

The reason is quite simple; this school prepares students – at the highest level – for the profitable industries of healthcare and pharmaceutical science.

The median salary for 10-year graduates is an impressive $124,700 according to a 2018 report by College Score Card. This is good for second highest out of 3,871 schools that make up the database.

The school is small and selective; at any time there are approximately 1,400 total students in the program. 

With such a small student body, the student:teacher ratio is a very favorable 1:12, ensuring students get optimal 1-on-1 attention with faculty in classroom settings.

Based in Albany, NY, the school is technically part of Union University, which is a federation of seven unique schools in New York state. However, this school has its own Board and is fiscally independent.

NET ROI after 20 years: $870,000

5. California Institute of Technology (Pasadena, CA)

CalTech, Robert A. Millikan Memorial Library at Caltech, CC BY-SA 3.0

Few schools are as impressive as California Institute of Technology, located in Pasadena, CA.

One common theme we have found of the high-ROI schools on this list, particularly Stevens, Stanford, and Georgia Tech, is their proximity to major financial centers of the country. 

Because of proximity, students are naturally recruited into high-paying jobs in top paying sectors of the country.

The same story goes for CalTech; due to its proximity to Los Angeles, CalTech students frequently find themselves employed in the thriving economy of Southern California.

However, what makes CalTech special is significantly more than its location.

Students are exposed to perhaps the world’s most impressive collective faculty at any one single institution. They include 73 Nobel Laureates, 6 Turing Award winners, and four Fields medalists, which are only awarded once every four years.

The school manages significant sponsored research for its science and engineering divisions, two of the highest-ROI majors in college; in 2011, $332 million in research was sponsored at CalTech.

It is also the number #1 school to produce PhD graduates, according to a study by Pomona

NET ROI after 20 years: $887,000

4. Colorado School of Mines (Golden, CO)

Colorado School of Mines
Elisa.rolle, Colorado School of Mines, CC BY-SA 4.0

A public research university based in Golden, CO, Colorado School of Mines is consistently ranked as the very best mineral engineering school in the country according to QS rankings

It is no surprise, then, that the school’s athletic teams are known as the Orediggers.

Totaling 6,000 students, Colorado School of Mines delivers one of the highest net ROIs for students at any school in the US (Net ROI calculated by money earned in career minus cost of degree). 

This is because of the school’s naturally high focus in profitable engineering disciplines in tandem with a tuition bill for in-state students about 1/3rdof a top-tier private institution.

Accepting about 36% of applicants, Colorado School of Mines may not bas selective as, say, Harvard. However, the data is clear – it doesn’t have to be. Students at the school return more on their degree here than at any other Ivy League institution.

NET ROI after 20 years: $909,000 (in-state)

NET ROI after 20 years: $840,000 (out-of-state)

3. Harvey Mudd College (Claremont, CA)

One of the Claremont Colleges, Harvey Mudd is not only the only liberal arts college on this list, but arguably the best liberal arts college in the country.

It comes as no surprise then, given its prestige and overall selectivity, that Harvey Mudd produces some of the highest-paying graduates nationwide.

Harvey Mudd is perhaps the most distinguished liberal arts school in the country for natural sciences and engineering, which are among the most profitable and highest returning majors in the country at any school.

Located just 26 miles from CalTech, another school on this list, Harvey Mudd has a unique relationship with the school. Occasionally, “Mudders,” student of Harvey Mudd, find themselves pranking CalTech. In 1986, Harvey Mudd students stole a memorial cannon by dressing as maintenance people who needed to “clean” the cannon.

Harvey Mudd is also one of the highest-producing science PhD schools, sending more students to science PhDs second to only CalTech. As PhDs are typically paid higher than Bachelor’s degree only students, the ROI for Harvey Mudd is unusually high at close to $1,000,000.

NET ROI after 20 years: $978,000

2. SUNY Maritime College (Bronx, NY)

SUNY Maritime
Julie McCoy (Kayak Cowgirl), SUNY Maritime College from the water, CC BY-SA 4.0

We bet you didn’t guess this one.

However, this shouldn’t come as a huge surprise; military schools frequently provide students the highest ROIs as students often choose military employment immediately upon graduation.

For this list, we didn’t include schools that required compulsory military obligation; if we did, we would have also included the US Merchant Marine Academy and the US Naval Academy in the top 5.

Let’s talk about why SUNY Maritime has had such tremendous success.

The school’s focus is in improvement of work ethic, discipline, and confidence. This is achieved through their Regiment of Cadets.

Even if you join this program, you are not required to fulfill military service. Students of the program enroll for the lifestyle choice. Enrollment in a cadet service provides graduating students a foundation for a rigorous discipline that can carry them through nearly any discipline.

According to a NY Times article, SUNY Maritime graduates make on average $144,000/yr, surpassing Harvey Mudd and Princeton. 

NET ROI after 20 years: $1,003,000 (in-state)

NET ROI after 20 years: $964,000 (out-of-state)

1. Massachusetts Institute of Technology (Cambridge, MA)

MIT Campus
DrKenneth, MIT Main Campus Aerial, CC BY 3.0

Perhaps the most prestigious school in the country, MIT frequently accepts less than 8% of all applicants to the school.

Based in Cambridge, MA, one of the technology epicenters of the country, it is no surprise that students here have the highest 20 year net ROI of all schools; given the plethora of available tech jobs in both Cambridge and Boston, students from the school are frequently employed in America’s most profitable sectors immediately upon graduation.

An astonishing 93 Nobel Laureates call themselves faculty, alumni, or researchers from MIT. Additionally, the school has been home to 45 Rhodes scholars and 50 MacArthur fellows. 

The net ROI is over one million earned dollars at MIT.

NET ROI after 20 years: $1,015,000

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