It's a long-standing tradition for high school seniors: Before firing up the college applications, they wait with bated breath for the U.S. News & World Report rankings to come out to see if their favorite schools made the grade.
Well, it's that time of the year again — except for the first time ever, the publisher is including the median starting salary of recent grads in its description for each school, based on data provided by career site PayScale. Alumni pay was not a factor in the ranking itself, but it's an important piece of information for parents and students trying to weigh whether the ever-rising cost of tuition will be worth it.
At Princeton University, which took the top spot on the list of national universities, tuition, room and board total more than $62,000; the median starting salary is $66,700. Among liberal arts colleges, Williams College was No. 1, with total costs at nearly $68,000 and a median starting salary of $55,500.
Of course, how you value a college education may not depend solely on the expected paycheck, but knowing that figure could help sway the decision when it's a close call (and when student loans are in the future).
For instance, if your Ivy League-obsessed senior already knows she wants to be a techie, she might want to consider attending the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (No. 5), California Institute of Technology (No. 10) or even the Georgia Institute of Technology (No. 34), which boast starting salaries of $78,400, $76,900 and $65,700, respectively — all higher than Harvard, Yale, Columbia, the University of Pennsylvania, Cornell and Brown.
Of course financial aid will also play an important role in dealing with college sticker shock; thankfully, U.S. News & World Report also ranks schools by best value, based on academic quality and the average level of need-based financial aid. Again, Princeton takes the top spot: About 60% of students received need-based aid, and 100% said their need was met. The average need-based scholarship or grant award was more than $47,000.
Still unsure how to weigh whether that tuition will be worth it? Here are a couple other cost-related factors to keep in mind.
Potential College Debt. A financial aid package made up of more loans than scholarships or grants will equate to a bigger burden post-graduation — particularly if a starting salary is lower than the total amount borrowed.
How Long It Takes to Graduate. Sure, students expect to be out in four years — but that doesn't always happen. The National Center for Education Statistics estimates that 59% of undergraduates at a four-year institution actually graduate in six years. If a college's stats show a big percentage of undergrads take more than four years to get a diploma, that's additional costs you'll have to account for.
Earning Potential. Of course, what field a student enters will figure into a college or university's value. Engineering, for instance, is typically a high-earning field that requires specific skills, so it may not matter as much during the job hunt if you have a fancy degree. But if you want to be an academic, then having the pedigree may help. So before committing to a college, do some research on career sites to gauge where industry pay is going (PayScale's College Salary Report and College ROI Report are good places to start).