2. Princeton University. Princeton, New Jersey. ROI Rating: 98
3. MIT. Cambridge, Massachusetts. ROI Rating: 98
6. Harvey Mudd. Claremont, California. ROI Rating: 98
7. Dartmouth. Hanover, NH. ROI Rating: 97
10. Harvard. Cambridge, Massachusetts. ROI Rating: 96

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11. Vanderbilt. Nashville, Tennessee. ROI Rating: 95
14. University of California, Berkeley. Berkeley, California. ROI Rating: 95
16. Columbia. New York, New York. ROI Rating: 94
17. Rice. Houston, Texas. ROI Rating: 94
20. Duke. Durham, North Carolina. ROI Rating: 94

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Which colleges have the best return on investment, worth the cost that can top $200,000 over four years without financial aid? The Princeton Review tackles that question in its latest edition — its fourth — of “Colleges that Pay You Back: The 200 Schools That Give You the Best Bang for Your Tuition Buck” and highlights the real costs of college.

(Related: 13 Public Colleges With the Best ROI: Princeton Review)

The guide rates the ROIs of schools based on more than 40 factors, including the cost of attendance, availability of financial aid — both need- and merit-based — academic standing and median starting and mid-career salaries for graduates. Surveys of students, alumni and the institutions themselves are used to gather the data. PayScale.com provides the starting and mid-career salaries of graduates based on data they collect from alumni.

Students are asked to rate their school’s career services, opportunities for internships and experiential learning and the strength of the alumni network. Alumni are asked about whether their work makes the world a better place.

The 200 colleges in this reoport “offer stellar academics, generous aid awards to students with need and/or merit and provide all of their undergrads with career services from day one plus a lifetime of alumni connections,” said Robert Franek, the report’s lead author and editor-in-chief of The Princeton Review.

We highlight the schools that placed in the top 20 for ROI ratings from The Princeton Review and include some pertinent data that can help high school seniors and their families when considering college application choices.

Seventeen are nonprofit private colleges; three are public institutions. Many have need-blind admission policies, meaning that do not consider the need for financial aid when choosing which students to accept, and several don’t expect any contributions from families with annual incomes under about $60,000 or $65,000. Others limit contributions when family income is about double that amount. Some offer only need-based aid; others offer both need-based and merit-based aid. The $200,000-plus sticker price for many of these top undergraduate program is not necessarily what students and their families pay.

Duke fans cheering basketball team. (Photo: AP)

20. Duke University

Durham, North Carolina

ROI Rating: 94

Cost of tuition, room and board, fees: $68,208

Average undergrad need-based financial aid: $44,725

35% of undergrads borrow to pay for school

Average cumulative debt: $19,104

86% graduate in 4 years; 95% graduate in 6 years

Starting median salary: $65,300

Mid-career median salary: $134,400

Families with incomes under $60,000 are not required to make a parental contribution and the school offers capped loans for eligible families with incomes above $100,000.

 

19. Brown University

Providence, Rhode Island

ROI Rating: 94

Cost of tuition, room and board, fees: $67,439

Average undergrad need-based financial aid: $44,105

37% of undergrads borrow to pay for school

Average cumulative debt: $23,810

84% graduate in 4 years; 96% graduate in 6 years

Starting median salary: $63,000

Mid-career median salary: $132,000

About 94% of needy students receive need-based scholarships or grants.

Rice University campus in Houston.

18. Wabash College

Crawfordsville, Indiana

ROI Rating: 94

Cost of tuition, room and board, fees: $62,100

Average undergrad need-based financial aid: $25,192

% undergrads who borrow to pay for school: N/A

64% graduate in 4 years; 71% graduate in 6 years

Starting median salary: $58,900

Mid-career median salary: $124,400

The school offers several kinds of scholarships plus fine arts and alumni awards, which  range from $60,000 to full tuition over four years, plus merit-based scholarships.

 

17. Rice University

Houston, Texas

ROI Rating: 94

Cost of tuition, room and board, fees: $57,668

Average undergrad need-based financial aid: $36,772

27% of undergrads borrow to pay for school

Average cumulative debt: $22,497

83% graduate in 4 years; 93% graduate in 6 years

Starting median salary: $65,700

Mid-career median salary: $130,200

The university offers several numerous merit-based scholarships and all applicants are automatically considered.

Columbia University Campus.

16. Columbia University

New York, New York

ROI Rating: 94

Cost of tuition, room and board, fees: $70,826

Average undergrad need-based financial aid: $50,733

25% of undergrads borrow to pay for school

Average cumulative debt: $23,463

96% graduate in 6 years; 4-year rate N/A

Starting median salary: $66,000

Mid-career median salary: $124,700

 

15. Georgia Institute of Technology

Atlanta, Georgia

ROI Rating: 95

Cost of tuition, room and board, fees: $25,852 for in-state; $46,044 out-of-state

Average undergrad need-based financial aid: $11,070

39% of undergrads borrow to pay for school

Average cumulative debt: $32,169

41% graduate in 4 years; 86% graduate in 6 years

Starting median salary: $68,100

Mid-career median salary: $128,700

The Georgia Institute of Technology is a public institution that provides numerous need-based and merit-based scholarship s and grants. Its Center for Career Discovery and Development helps place students in competitive jobs.

Sather Gate on the University of California Berkeley campus. (Photos: AP)

14. University of California, Berkeley

Berkeley, California

ROI Rating: 95

Cost of tuition, room and board, fees: $29,551 in-state; $56,233

Average undergrad need-based aid: $19,087

37% of undergrads borrow to pay for school

Average cumulative debt: $18,789

76% graduate in 4 years; 92% graduate in 6 years

Starting median salary: $65,400

Mid-career median salary: $130,100

This public institution offers several scholarship programs and award amounts are often based on financial need.

 

13. University of Virginia

Charlottesville, Virginia

ROI Rating: 95

Cost of tuition, room and board, fees: $26,576 in-state; $56,723 out-of-state

Average undergrad need-based financial aid: $20,980

33% undergrads borrow to pay for school

Average cumulative debt: $24,598

88% graduate in 4 years; 94% graduate in 6 years

Starting median salary: $59,500

Mid-career median salary: $118,400

UVA has one of the largest per-capita endowments of any public university. About half its undergraduates receive some financial aid and caps are set on need-based loans for middle income families.

Mr. Commodore in the doorway of Tolman Hall at Vanderbilt University.

12. Amherst College

Amherst, Massachusetts

ROI Rating: 95

Cost of tuition, room and board, fees: $68,500

Average undergrad need-based financial aid: $50,380

22% of undergrads borrow to pay for school

Average cumulative debt: $18,662

86% graduate in 4 years; 93% graduate in 6 years

Starting median salary: $60,200

Mid-career median salary: $122,800

Financial aid is delivered only through scholarships and grants, not loans that have to be repaid, Admissions are need-blind. It’s possible to graduate from Amherst with no debt.

 

11. Vanderbilt University

Nashville, Tennessee

ROI Rating: 95

Cost of tuition, room and board, fees: $63,248

Average undergrad need-based financial aid: $41,331

% undergrads who borrow to pay for school: N/A

87% graduate in 4 years; 92% graduate in 6 years

Starting median salary: $61,100

Mid-career median salary: $116,000

The university distributes more than $42 million in annual financial aid and has pledged to meet a family’s demonstrated financial need with grants, not loans.

Harvard Law School graduates. (Photo: AP)

10. Harvard College

Cambridge, Massachusetts

ROI Rating: 96

Cost of tuition, room and board, fees: $63,025

Average undergrad need-based financial aid: $48,598

% undergrads who borrow to pay for school: N/A

Average cumulative debt: $16,702

86% graduate in 4 years; 97% graduate in 6 years

Starting median salary: $71,200

Mid-career median salary: $147,500

About 90% of students who request financial aid qualify and those families receive 100% of their financial need.  The school asks that families contribute somewhere between zero and 10% of their annual income but if their income is under $65,000 they likely won’t pay a dime.

 

9. Yale University

New Haven, Connecticut

ROI Rating: 96

Cost of tuition, room and board, fees: $66,900

Average undergrad need-based financial aid: $47,960

17% of undergrads borrow to pay for school

Average cumulative debt: $15,521

88% graduate in 4 years; 97% graduate in 6 years

Starting median salary: $66,800

Mid-career median salary: $132,100

Yale spends more than $100 million annually on financial aid, has a need-blind admissions policy and guarantees to meet 100% of each applicant’s demonstrated need. The school has only need-based scholarships, no merit-based or athletic scholarships.

Dartmouth College Campus.

8. Williams College

ROI Rating: 97

Cost of tuition, room and board, fees: $67,700

Average undergrad need-based financial aid: $48,885

43% of undergrads borrow to pay for school

Average cumulative debt: $15,496

86% graduate in 4 years; 94% graduate in 6 years

Starting median salary: $62,000

Mid-career median salary: $138,400

The school’s $2.5 billion-plus endowment allows it to meet 100% of student’s demonstrated need. All financial aid is based purely on need and admissions are need-blind.

 

7. Dartmouth College

ROI Rating: 97

Cost of tuition, room and board, fees: $68,109

Average undergrad need-based financial aid: $46,770

% undergrads who borrow to pay for school: N/A

Average cumulative debt: $17,849

88% graduate in 4 years; 97% graduate in 6 years

Starting median salary: $66,300

Mid-career median salary: $140,300

Harvey Mudd College.

6. Harvey Mudd College

ROI Rating: 98

Cost of tuition, room and board, fees: $72,228

Average undergrad need-based financial aid: $39,799

% undergrads who borrow to pay for school: N/A

Average cumulative debt: N/A

85% graduate in 4 years; 93% graduate in 6 years

Starting median salary: $81,000

Mid-career median salary: $155,800

Eighty-two percent of undergraduates receive financial aid and 40% qualify for merit-based awards.

 

5. The Cooper Union

New York, New York

ROI Rating: 98

Cost of tuition, room and board, fees: $61,370

Average undergrad need-based financial aid: $15,394

% undergrads who borrow to pay for school: N/A

75% graduate in 4 years; 87% graduate in 6 years

Starting median salary: $63,900

Mid-career median salary: $124,200

Up until 2014, tuition was free at Cooper Union, supported by the college’s endowment. As of fall 2015, every admitted students receives a half-tuition scholarship, valued at $21,000 annually, and financial aid is available for remaining expenses, based on need.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

4. California Institute of Technology

Pasadena, California

ROI Rating: 98

Cost of tuition, room and board, fees: $64,704

Average undergrad need-based financial aid: $41,901

33% of undergrads borrow to pay for school

Average cumulative debt: $18,219

81% graduate in 4 years; 94% graduate in 6 years

Starting median salary: $78,800

Mid-career median salary: $142,500

Caltech has need-based admissions for all U.S. citizens and permanent residents, and its financial aid awards are designed to meet 100% of demonstrated need.

 

3. MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology)

Cambridge, Massachusetts

ROI Rating: 98

Cost of tuition, room and board, fees: $64,612

Average undergrad need-based financial aid: $41,767

72% of undergrads borrow to pay for school

Average cumulative debt: $24,954

84% graduate in 4 years; 93% graduate in 6 years

Starting median salary: $81,500

Mid-career median salary: $147,000

Sixty-two percent of undergraduates qualify for the need-based MIT Scholarship, and there are no purely merit-based scholarships. Admissions are need-blind, and 28% of undergraduates are from families with annual incomes of less than $75,000.

Princeton University Campus.

2. Princeton University

Princeton, New Jersey

ROI Rating: 98

Cost of tuition, room and board, fees: $60,090

Average undergrad need-based financial aid: $47,497

18% of undergrads borrow to pay for school

Average cumulative debt: $8,098

89% graduate in 4 years; 97% graduate in 6 years

Starting median salary: $69,800

Mid-career median salary: $147,800

Admissions are need-blind and once a student is admitted, Princeton meets 100% of that student’s financial need. About 60% of students receive financial aid, which is delivered as grants that don’t require repayment, not loans.

 

1. Stanford University

Stanford, California

ROI Rating: 99

Cost of tuition, room and board, fees: $62,541

Average undergrad need-based financial aid: $45,318

22% of undergrads borrow to pay for school

Average cumulative debt: $21,238

75% graduate in 4 years; 94% graduate in 6 years

Starting median salary: $73,300

Mid-career median salary: $140,400

Stanford maintains a wholly need-blind admission policy and all scholarships are need-based. Even families with incomes up to $125,000 and an adjusted net worth of less than $300,000 — including investments, cash, non-retirement savings, business net worth and home equity capped at 1.2 times annual income — are expected to contribute only a limited amount toward educational costs.

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