Best Value Colleges: Which Schools Provide Best Bang for Your Buck?

Learn which schools offer the best value for your investment

Best value colleges

Ja_inter/Getty Images 

If you're a parent helping one or more children to pay for college, the cost is likely to be a top concern.

Looking for the best value colleges may be on your to-do list if making your money stretch as far as possible is a priority. But what constitutes value? And how do you determine a school's true value, beyond the cost of attendance? Here's everything you need to know.

Determining the Best Value Colleges

Best Value Colleges for the Money
JGI/Jamie Grill/Getty Images 

Tuition, fees, room and board, and textbooks are the biggest college expenses students and parents need to be prepared for. But, the numbers alone don't necessarily define a college or university's true value. To gauge that, it's also important to consider things like:

  • Degree offerings
  • Internship and networking opportunities
  • Extracurricular activities
  • Total enrollment
  • Class size
  • Scholarship and financial aid availability
  • Job placement after graduation
  • Starting salaries for grads

The interests of your students also need to be taken into account. For example, one student might value a school that offers a specialized degree program or the potential to participate in an internship with a high-profile company, while another may place more value on smaller class sizes or a larger financial aid package.

With that in mind, this list highlights the 10 best value colleges for the money.

1. Massachusetts Institute of Technology

MIT ranks highly in value for students interested in pursuing engineering, computer sciences, and similar STEM fields. The net price on average is $21,917 annually after financial aid packages (including scholarships and grants) are factored in. That's higher than the national average of $15,523 but students get their money's worth after graduation. Six months after they graduate, they're earning a median of $94,200.

2. Princeton University

Just down the road from MIT is Princeton University, where 60 percent of students receive need-based grants. With financial aid included, the cost of attending is $13,450. After graduating, Princeton alums earn a median of $66,700 and it's a haven for students looking for a degree in public policy. Princeton's ivy-trimmed campus and small class size add to its appeal.

3. University of Pennsylvania

The University of Pennsylvania is a top-rated school for students interested in a degree in business, accounting, finance, or nursing. The average cost of attendance falls between $70,000 and $80,000, but that doesn't include financial aid. Grads have a 95 percent employment rate and 88 percent of grads feel confident about their ability to find a job after finishing their degree. Class sizes are a bit bigger here but on the upside, a larger student body means a broader scope of extracurricular activities and student organizations.

4. University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill

UNC is known far and wide for its legendary basketball team and rivalry with nearby Duke University but there's much more to appreciate. In-state students pay roughly $24,734 per year to attend before factoring in scholarships, grants, and other financial aid. Ninety-one percent of students graduate and 93 percent are employed within two years of graduation. The median salary for grads is $54,100, a little lower than some of the other schools included here, but that's balanced with rich campus life.

5. University of California-Los Angeles

UCLA in-state tuition is $13,239, with students receiving an average financial aid package of $18,769. Being a Bruin might appeal to students who are looking for a research school among the best value colleges and don't mind living in a bigger, busier city. UCLA is also academically and ethnically diverse, with over 125 majors and a student population that includes a sizable percentage of international students.

6. Brigham Young University

While Brigham Young primarily serves Mormon students, you don't need to be a member of the Church of Latter-Day Saints to attend (but you will get a discount on tuition for being a member of the LDS church). As a research school, BYU offers a broad range of major options and with 70 percent of students receiving financial aid, the cost of attendance is manageable. The total annual cost is $19,654 for LDS members and the starting median salary for grads who earn a bachelor's degree is $57,600. But, grads have long-term earning power, with the mid-career median salary rising to $114,400.

7. Boston College

Boston College is on the pricier side, with tuition totaling nearly $30,000 per semester but the average freshman receives $42,690 in need-based aid, cutting the price significantly. BC students enjoy robust campus life, with over 225 student organizations and 44 percent participate in intramural sports. Eleven percent of grads go on to careers in the STEM fields and by mid-career, they're earning a median salary of $118,900.

8. Georgia Institute of Technology

Georgia Tech is renowned for its football team but it also holds its own academically. The admissions process is competitive but the reward is a low tuition rate for those students who are accepted. In-state tuition is just $10,258 per year and the average freshman receives $7,831 in need-based aid. The return on investment is a median starting salary of $68,100, with many grads going into tech and research fields.

9. Harvard University

Harvard University is highly selective academically but surprisingly affordable, making it one of the best value colleges in the Ivy League. The median starting salary of Harvard alums is $63,100 but by mid-career, grads earning a median of $147,500. In terms of financial aid, 55 percent of students receive some type of need-based aid, bringing the steep annual tuition down to a reasonable $12,000.

10. University of Florida

The University of Florida doesn't offer much in the way of small class sizes—annual enrollment tops 35,000—but it offers top-shelf academics, competitive sports and it's not too painful on the wallet. In-state tuition is a mere $6,380, while out of state tuition approaches $30,000. But, students have numerous opportunities for scholarships and grants, not to mention an after-graduation median starting salary of $52,200.