The 11 Best Value Colleges

Some Colleges Give You More for Your Money

Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah
Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah. Ken Lund / Flickr

The best value colleges and universities represent a broad range of schools, for "value" is going to have different meaning for different students. In broad terms, a school's value is the measure of what you get for your money. The actual measure of value, however, is complicated and needs to take numerous measures into account.

A school's cost, for example, is just a small piece of the equation, and cost is not a straight-forward measure of value. Some public universities have low tuition, but they may be lacking in financial aid resources. An extremely expensive university such as Harvard, however, can afford to meet 100% of every student's financial need without students relying on loans. For a student from a family with modest income, an Ivy League school is likely to be less expensive than the local community college.

When considering "value," an applicant should also look at a school's outcomes. Do most students persist and graduate on time? Do most students find meaningful jobs soon after graduation? What are the average salaries of applicants? Some of the schools below made this list because their alumni have the highest early- and mid-career salaries in the country, but those numbers also require a footnote: high average salaries tend to be in STEM fields, so it is to be expected that top engineering schools like MIT and Harvey Mudd are going to do well on this front.

The schools below are listed alphabetically since any numerical ranking would be problematic. The actual "value" of a school is going to vary depending on an applicant's area of study, family income, and future goals.

01
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Brigham Young University

Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah
Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah. Ken Lund / Flickr

Brigham Young University frequently ranks highly among best value colleges because the school's tuition and living expenses are remarkably low for a selective private university. The overall cost is lower than most regional public universities, but the school has a high graduation rate and it provides excellent opportunities for undergraduate research. The university also has strong athletic programs—the Cougars compete in the NCAA Division I West Coast Conference.

Located in Provo, Utah, BYU is not for everyone because of its affiliation with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. One need not be Mormon to attend BYU, but the majority of students are, and many do missionary work during their time in college.

Nearly all students who get into BYU have SAT or ACT scores that are above average (see the BYU admissions profile), and about two-thirds of applicants get in.

The Value of BYU by the Numbers
Total On-Campus Cost  $19,594
Students Receiving Grant Aid  50%
Average Grant Award $5,164
Average Net Cost for Grant Recipients $13,340 
Average Early-Career Pay $59,900 
Average Mid-Career Pay  $113,500 
Cost data from the National Center for Education Statistics; Salary data from Payscale.com
02
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CUNY Baruch College

Baruch College

cleverclever / Flickr /  CC BY 2.0

The City University of New York system was built on the idea of access. Over a quarter of a million students attend the various CUNY campuses, and tuition is low for both in-state and out-of-state students. Room and board in New York City is never cheap, but many CUNY students commute and are able to get a high quality education at a bargain price.

Baruch College in Midtown Manhattan is one of the most selective CUNY campuses with an acceptance rate of just 43%. Applicants are going to need above-average grades and standardized test scores to be admitted as you can see in the Baruch admissions profile. Business fields are extremely popular at Baruch, and nearly three-quarters of all students major in fields such as accounting, finance, marketing, and management.

The Value of Baruch College by the Numbers
Total On-Campus Cost (In-State) $33,798
Total On-Campus Cost (Out-of-State) $41,748
Students Receiving Grant Aid  74%
Average Grant Award $9,657
Average Net Cost for Grant Recipients $3,931 
Average Early-Career Pay $59,200 
Average Mid-Career Pay  $111,000 
Cost data from the National Center for Education Statistics; Salary data from Payscale.com
03
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Georgia Tech

Georgia Tech
Georgia Tech. Hector Alejandro / Flickr

If you're an in-state applicant who qualifies for financial aid and you're interested in a STEM field, you'll have a hard time finding a better value than Georgie Tech. Located in the heart of Atlanta, the institute ranks among the nation's best public universities and best engineering schools. But a Georgia Tech experience is about much more than research and lab work (although the school excels on those fronts). The school has a popular and lively athletic program with the Yellow Jackets competing in the NCAA Division I Atlantic Coast Conference.

Admission to Georgia Tech is highly selective with an acceptance rate of just 21%, and you're going to want an SAT math score above 700 to be competitive. The school's most popular programs include business administration, computer science, bioengineering, and mechanical engineering.

The Value of Georgia Tech by the Numbers
Total On-Campus Cost (In-State) $29,802
Total On-Campus Cost (Out-of-State) $50,914
Students Receiving Grant Aid  66%
Average Grant Award $13,116
Average Net Cost for Grant Recipients $15,883 
Average Early-Career Pay $74,500 
Average Mid-Career Pay  $137,300 
Cost data from the National Center for Education Statistics; Salary data from Payscale.com
04
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Harvard University

Harvard University

rabbit75_ist / iStock / Getty Images 

It may seem strange to have one of the nation's most expensive universities on a list of best value colleges, but the price tag means very little at Harvard University. With an endowment over $40 billion, Harvard has more money in the bank than any other school in the world.

That kind of money and prestige can create value for students in many ways. For one, all students will have their financial need met, and students from modest-income families will essentially attend for free. Students will also graduate without debt, for financial aid does not include loans. Deep pockets also mean that Harvard can hire preeminent writers and researchers who create valuable professional networks for students. Finally, a large endowment allows Harvard to invest in excellent research facilities and support a 7 to 1 student to faculty ratio.

Harvard's strong international reputation, however, does mean that the university is incredibly selective. Less than 5% of applicants have been accepted in recent years, and successful applicants tend to have standardized test scores in the top 1%, rigorous high school coursework with "A" averages, and impressive accomplishments on the extracurricular front.

The Value of Harvard University by the Numbers
Total On-Campus Cost  $75,891
Students Receiving Grant Aid  57%
Average Grant Award $55,455
Average Net Cost for Grant Recipients $18,030 
Average Early-Career Pay $76,400 
Average Mid-Career Pay  $147,700 
Cost data from the National Center for Education Statistics; Salary data from Payscale.com
05
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Harvey Mudd College

Entrance to Harvey Mudd College
Entrance to Harvey Mudd College. Imagine / Wikimedia Commons

Harvey Mudd College is one of several schools on this list with a STEM focus. The college differs significantly from MIT and Georgia Tech in that it is small with just 900 students, and it has an entirely undergraduate focus. If you're a future engineer or scientist but want an intimate undergraduate experience like a liberal arts college, Harvey Mudd could be an excellent choice.

One more perk of attending Harvey Mudd is that it is a member of the Claremont Colleges, a consortium of five undergraduate and two graduate institutions. Students at Harvey Mudd can easily cross-register and participate in activities at Claremont McKenna College, Pitzer College, Pomona College, and Scripps College. The schools are all located in Claremont, California, about 35 miles from Los Angeles.

Admission to Harvey Mudd is highly selective with a 14% acceptance rate and combined SAT scores that tend to be above 1500 (the middle 50% of SAT Math scores range between 780 and 800). If you can get in, the school's outcomes are impressive. Harvey Mudd has higher average alumni salaries than any other school in the country, and the retention and graduation rates are also impressive.

The Value of Harvey Mudd College by the Numbers
Total On-Campus Cost  $79,539
Students Receiving Grant Aid  70%
Average Grant Award $37,542
Average Net Cost for Grant Recipients $39,411 
Average Early-Career Pay $91,400 
Average Mid-Career Pay  $162,500 
Cost data from the National Center for Education Statistics; Salary data from Payscale.com
06
of 11

MIT

Killian Court and the Great Dome at MIT
Killian Court and the Great Dome at MIT.

andymw91 / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

 

MIT ranks second only to Harvey Mudd when it comes to alumni salaries, but the institute often ranks first among the nation's (and the world's) engineering schools, and it is frequently ranked at or near the top of the world's best universities. Like many other private institutions on this list, MIT's overall price tag is quite high, but the school's generous financial aid and strong salary outlook make it a clear best value school.

Located in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the MIT campus stretches along the Charles River with stunning views of the Boston skyline. The school has a remarkably 3 to 1 student to faculty ratio, and undergraduates will find numerous opportunities to conduct paid research with faculty members and graduate students through UROP, the Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program. Computer science, mechanical engineering, aerospace engineering, and bioengineering are all popular with undergrads and ranked among the very top programs in the world.

Not surprisingly, admission to MIT is extremely selective with an acceptance rate of just 7%. Near perfect SAT and ACT scores are common for successful applicants, and the school is also looking for students who are creative, quirky, and kind.

The Value of MIT by the Numbers
Total On-Campus Cost  $72,462
Students Receiving Grant Aid  60%
Average Grant Award $49,775
Average Net Cost for Grant Recipients $20,465 
Average Early-Career Pay $88,300 
Average Mid-Career Pay  $158,100 
Cost data from the National Center for Education Statistics; Salary data from Payscale.com
07
of 11

Rice University

Lovett Hall at Rice University, Houston, Texas, USA
Witold Skrypczak / Getty Images

Like other schools on this list, Rice University delivers generous financial aid combined with impressive alumni salaries. The university's strong STEM programs are certainly a contributing factor to those high salaries, but Rice is a comprehensive university with plenty of strengths in the arts, humanities, and social sciences. The school also has an NCAA Division I athletic program that competes in Conference USA.

Located on a 300-acre campus in Houston, Texas, Rice is well known for it's residential college system modeled after schools such as Oxford and Yale. Every student is a member of one of Rice's 11 residential colleges, and through their college, students build friendships and relationships with their peers and professors. Students have lots of opportunity to interact with the faculty thanks to the school's 6 to 1 student to faculty ratio.

Admission to Rice is remarkably selective. SAT and ACT scores tend to be in the top percentile, and only 9% of applicants receive acceptance letters.

The Value of Rice University by the Numbers
Total On-Campus Cost  $69,557
Students Receiving Grant Aid  58%
Average Grant Award $44,815
Average Net Cost for Grant Recipients $20,335 
Average Early-Career Pay $72,400 
Average Mid-Career Pay  $134,100 
Cost data from the National Center for Education Statistics; Salary data from Payscale.com
08
of 11

Stanford University

Hoover Tower, Stanford University - Palo Alto, CA
jejim / Getty Images

Stanford University ranks right up there with Harvard as far as selectivity goes with only 4% of applicants getting in. And with a $29 billion endowment, it has plenty of funds to help students with financial need. Alumni salaries are a little higher than Harvard's, most likely because of Stanford's strong and popular programs in engineering and computer science. Its location in the Silicon Valley helps the university foster research, internship, and employment opportunities for students.

The university occupies an impressive 8,180-acre campus with nearly 700 buildings, and its strengths span the sciences, social sciences, arts, and humanities. Stanford consistently ranks among the nation's very top universities, top engineering schools, top medical schools, top law schools, and more. Academics are supported by a 5 to 1 student to faculty ratio.

The Value of Stanford University by the Numbers
Total On-Campus Cost  $78,218
Students Receiving Grant Aid  56%
Average Grant Award $54,808
Average Net Cost for Grant Recipients $16,779 
Average Early-Career Pay $81,800 
Average Mid-Career Pay  $147,100 
Cost data from the National Center for Education Statistics; Salary data from Payscale.com
09
of 11

United States Merchant Marine Academy

U.S. Merchant Marine Academy Graduation
U.S. Merchant Marine Academy Graduation.

Kevin Kane / WireImage / Getty Images 

In their own unique ways, each of the five United States Military Academies could qualify as best value schools. The reason is simple: students get a rigorous education and excellent job skills for almost no financial cost. That said, there is a cost: all graduates are required to serve the country for at least five years upon graduation. Military life isn't for everyone, but for the student who wants to serve and get an excellent college education, a military academy can make a lot of sense.

The United States Merchant Marine Academy provides greater flexibility upon graduation than other military academies. Students train in transportation and shipping, and upon graduation they can work in the U.S. maritime industry, or they can choose active duty in one of the armed forces.

The application process is going to be different than any other school on this list. Applicants need a nomination from a member of Congress and a fitness assessment along with the usual essay, standardized test scores, and high school transcript. Only about 25% of applicants are admitted, and they tend to have grades and standardized test scores that are well above average.

The Value of USMMA by the Numbers
Total On-Campus Cost  $5,095
Students Receiving Grant Aid  20%
Average Grant Award $4,458
Average Net Cost for Grant Recipients $4,617 
Average Early-Career Pay $84,300 
Average Mid-Career Pay  $138,500 
Cost data from the National Center for Education Statistics; Salary data from Payscale.com
10
of 11

University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill

Old well with snow
Piriya Photography / Getty Images

The University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill consistently ranks among the nation's top public universities, and for in-state applicants, the overall cost is considerably lower than other top public schools such as the University of Michigan and UCLA. The lower salaries are largely a reflection of the fact that only 19% of UNC Chapel Hill students are in STEM fields (compared to 80% at Georgia Tech). Business, communication studies, kinesiology, and psychology are all large, popular majors at Chapel Hill. The school is also part of North Carolina's "Research Triangle" with Duke University and North Carolina State University.

Along with strong academic programs, UNC-Chapel Hill has legendary athletic teams that frequently appear in national championships. The Tar Heels compete in the NCAA Division I Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC).

On the admissions front, UNC-Chapel Hill has an acceptance rate of 23%, and successful applicants are going to need grades and standardized test scores that are significantly above average. The bar is generally higher for out-of-state applicants than it is for North Carolina residents.

The Value of UNC Chapel Hill by the Numbers
Total On-Campus Cost (In-State) $24,546
Total On-Campus Cost (Out-of-State) $51,725
Students Receiving Grant Aid  44%
Average Grant Award $16,394
Average Net Cost for Grant Recipients $10,085 
Average Early-Career Pay $56,600 
Average Mid-Career Pay  $99,900 
Cost data from the National Center for Education Statistics; Salary data from Payscale.com
11
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University of Texas Austin

University of Texas at Austin
University of Texas at Austin.

Robert Glusic / Corbis / Getty Images

Like UNC-Chapel Hill, the University of Texas at Austin is a top-ranked public university with lower tuition than many of its peer institutions. Whether you're majoring in petroleum engineering, political science, or biology, UT Austin has a top-ranked program. With over 50,000 students, the university isn't a good choice for a student looking for an intimate college experience, but UT Austin is hard to beat for the depth and breadth of its academic offerings. It has the added perk of NCAA Division I athletic teams that compete in the Big 12 Conference.

Admission to UT Austin is selective with a 32% acceptance rate, and the bar is particularly high for out-of-state applicants since strong students for Texas have guaranteed admission if they meet specific criteria. 89% of all students are from Texas.

The Value of the University of Texas by the Numbers
Total On-Campus Cost (In-State) $28,928
Total On-Campus Cost (Out-of-State) $57,512
Students Receiving Grant Aid  46%
Average Grant Award $10,724
Average Net Cost for Grant Recipients $15,502 
Average Early-Career Pay $62,100 
Average Mid-Career Pay  $115,600 
Cost data from the National Center for Education Statistics; Salary data from Payscale.com
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Grove, Allen. "The 11 Best Value Colleges." ThoughtCo, May. 3, 2021, thoughtco.com/best-value-colleges-5181547. Grove, Allen. (2021, May 3). The 11 Best Value Colleges. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/best-value-colleges-5181547 Grove, Allen. "The 11 Best Value Colleges." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/best-value-colleges-5181547 (accessed May 8, 2021).