Private Colleges with the Best Return on Investment

by TBS Staff

Updated June 15, 2021

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When most people think private college, the dollar signs start filling their heads. However, just because a college or university is private does not mean it can't be an excellent higher education value. A private college that opens doors to a notable graduate school or to a renowned company may, in fact, provide a greater return for one's education dollar. We're here to make that research easier.

What follows is the undergraduate private colleges with the best ROI. As with the public colleges, the emphasis for return on investment is for student/family yearly incomes of $48,000 or less. Colleges listed here are private, nonprofit, and grant bachelor's degrees.

Accredited Online Colleges

Accredited Private Colleges with the Best Return on Investment

  1. Stanford University
    Location

    Stanford, CA

    Including joint majors, Stanford University offers its undergraduates over 70 bachelor's degree programs to choose from. Some of the more unique majors available include archaeology, biomedical computation, international relations, product design, symbolic systems, and theater and performance studies. The most popular programs (by enrollment) are biology, computer science, engineering, human biology, and science, technology, and society.

    Still referred to by some as the "Harvard of the West," Stanford, in many ways, actually surpasses America's most-famous school. For instance, Forbes currently ranks this West Coast stalwart as the top college/university in the country (ranking weighted toward student outcomes). The new ranking created by the Wall Street Journal and Times Higher Education---which largely focuses on academic quality and student success after graduation---also puts Stanford at Number 1 in the U.S. Washington Monthly, meanwhile, gives this research university a trio of top spots with its measure of how much this school contributes to the public good.

    • Max net price: $4,879
    • In-state tuition (+mandatory fees): $46,320
    • Out-of-state tuition (+mandatory fees): $46,320
    • Graduation rate: 94%
    • Early-career pay: $70,800
    • Mid-career pay: $127,000
    • # applications: 42,497
    • % admitted: 5%
    • # students: 16,980
    • # undergrads: 7,000
    • % retention (full-time): 98%
    • Campus housing: yes
    • Institutional accreditation: Western Association of Schools and Colleges, Senior College and University Commission
  2. Massachusetts Institute of Technology
    Location

    Cambridge, MA

    Undergrads at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) can select from around 50 bachelor's degree programs (including joint majors). This includes such interesting choices as anthropology; brain and cognitive sciences; business analytics; comparative media studies; Earth, atmospheric, and planetary sciences; and humanities and engineering. The program classifications that award the most degrees include bioengineering and biomedical engineering, computer science, general mathematics, general physics, and mechanical engineering.

    MIT's strengths reach across several categories, but include academic quality, research, social impact, student outcomes, and value. The school is second on U.S. News & World Report's global universities list (which focuses mainly on reputation and research). The Wall Street Journal/Times Higher Education, meanwhile, ranks MIT the second-best school in the country. The Brookings Institution's 2015 value-added rankings go one better and place MIT at Number 1 in the U.S. (based on its total scores in regards to earnings power, loan repayment rate, and mid-career salary).

    • Max net price: $6,697
    • In-state tuition (+mandatory fees): $46,704
    • Out-of-state tuition (+mandatory fees): $46,704
    • Graduation rate: 92%
    • Early-career pay: $78,300
    • Mid-career pay: $134,000
    • # applications: 18,306
    • % admitted: 8%
    • # students: 11,331
    • # undergrads: 4,527
    • % retention (full-time): 98%
    • Campus housing: yes
    • Institutional accreditation: New England Association of Schools and Colleges, Commission on Institutions of Higher Education
  3. Princeton University
    Location

    Princeton, NJ

    Princeton University offers around three-dozen bachelor's degree programs. Among the majors available for study (what Princeton refers to as concentrations) are such foundational choices as architecture; astrophysical sciences; ecology and evolutionary biology; neuroscience; operations research and financial engineering; and sociology. The most-popular program classifications (by degrees awarded) are general computer engineering, general economics, general history, general psychology, and general public policy analysis.

    From academic quality, to return on investment, to value, Princeton continues to be one of the best universities---if not the best---in the country. In fact, U.S. News & World Report (USNWR) puts this Ivy League icon at Number 1 among all American national universities. USNWR also has Princeton at No.1 for undergraduate teaching and No.2 for best value. Forbes's ranking differs slightly and places the school at No.3 among the nation's top colleges. Kiplinger's Personal Finance, meanwhile, ranks Princeton as the best value among private universities and third-best among all colleges.

    • Max net price: $4,006
    • In-state tuition (+mandatory fees): $43,450
    • Out-of-state tuition (+mandatory fees): $43,450
    • Graduation rate: 97%
    • Early-career pay: $65,700
    • Mid-career pay: $131,000
    • # applications: 27,290
    • % admitted: 7%
    • # students: 8,138
    • # undergrads: 5,402
    • % retention (full-time): 98%
    • Campus housing: yes
    • Institutional accreditation: Middle States Commission on Higher Education
  4. Harvard University
    Location

    Cambridge, MA

    Harvard University provides its undergrads with a choice of about 50 bachelor's degree programs. Some of the more-interesting majors (which Harvard calls concentrations) include biomedical engineering; environmental science and public policy; folklore and mythology; human developmental and regenerative biology; theater, dance, and media; and women, gender, and sexuality studies. The most-popular program classifications (by degrees awarded) are computer science, experimental psychology, general economics, general political science and government, and general social sciences.

    By many accounts, Harvard is still the most-famous and most-respected university in the U.S. and quite possibly the world. This is borne out by Times Higher Education's 2016 "World Reputation Rankings," where Harvard is Number 1 by a wide margin. However, this granddaddy of American schools is about far more than just its stellar reputation. It provides academic quality, ROI, social impact, student outcomes, and value that are among the best in the country. This includes U.S. News & World Report ranking Harvard at Number 2 overall among all national universities, and No.1 for best value.

    • Max net price: $3,866
    • In-state tuition (+mandatory fees): $45,278
    • Out-of-state tuition (+mandatory fees): $45,278
    • Graduation rate: 98%
    • Early-career pay: $65,200
    • Mid-career pay: $123,000
    • # applications: 37,307
    • % admitted: 6%
    • # students: 29,652
    • # undergrads: 10,255
    • % retention (full-time): 98%
    • Campus housing: yes
    • Institutional accreditation: New England Association of Schools and Colleges, Commission on Institutions of Higher Education
  5. Brigham Young University–Provo
    Location

    Provo, UT

    Including areas of emphasis, Brigham Young University (BYU) provides its undergrads with almost 180 bachelor's degree programs. Within this extensive offering are such diverse options as genetics, genomics, and biotechnology; geography--geospatial intelligence; illustration; music composition; physiology and developmental biology; and wildlife and wildlands conservation. BYU's most-popular programs (by enrollment) are elementary education, English, exercise science, management, psychology, and public health.

    While BYU is strong academically, where this school really shines is in the areas of ROI, social impact, student engagement, and value. For example, Forbes ranks this research university as the second-best value in the country. BYU is also second in the engagement category of the Wall Street Journal/Times Higher Education's college rankings. This category includes such aspects as student-faculty interaction and whether the knowledge a student gains has real-world applications. Meanwhile, Washington Monthly ranks BYU 19th for contribution to the public good, including sixth in the social mobility category.

    • Max net price: $10,391
    • In-state tuition (+mandatory fees): $5,150
    • Out-of-state tuition (+mandatory fees): $5,150
    • Graduation rate: 80%
    • Early-career pay: $52,300
    • Mid-career pay: $93,500
    • # applications: 13,376
    • % admitted: 48%
    • # students: 33,469
    • # undergrads: 30,221
    • % retention (full-time): 86%
    • Campus housing: yes
    • Institutional accreditation: Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities
  6. University of Pennsylvania
    Location

    Philadelphia, PA

    Undergrads at the University of Pennsylvania (Penn or UPenn) can choose from more than 90 bachelor's degree programs. Some of the unique majors available (known at Penn as concentrations) include actuarial science; biological basis of behavior; digital media design; logic, information, and computation; networked and social systems engineering; and social impact and responsibility. The program classifications that award the most degrees are general biology/biological sciences, general economics, general finance, other communication and media studies, and registered nursing/registered nurse.

    Although Penn's vaunted business programs normally take most of the limelight, there is much more to this Ivy League university---which Benjamin Franklin helped found---than the Wharton School. In fact, Penn scores very high on a number of rankings that examine academic quality, ROI, social impact, student outcomes, and value. U.S. News & World Report, for one, ranks it at Number 8 overall among national universities, No.3 for veterans, and No.11 for value. The Wall Street Journal/Times Higher Education (WSJ/ THE) rankings put Penn at No.4 overall, including No.8 for resources, No.9 for outcomes, and No.13 for engagement.

    • Max net price: $7,636
    • In-state tuition (+mandatory fees): $49,536
    • Out-of-state tuition (+mandatory fees): $49,536
    • Graduation rate: 95%
    • Early-career pay: $62,200
    • Mid-career pay: $124,000
    • # applications: 37,268
    • % admitted: 10%
    • # students: 24,876
    • # undergrads: 11,588
    • % retention (full-time): 98%
    • Campus housing: yes
    • Institutional accreditation: Middle States Commission on Higher Education
  7. Rice University
    Location

    Houston, TX

    Rice University offers over 50 bachelor's degree programs. Among the wide range of subjects available are ancient Mediterranean civilizations, astronomy, computational and applied mathematics, music theory, sport management, and visual and dramatic arts. The most-popular program classifications (by degrees awarded) are biochemistry, chemical engineering, general computer and information sciences, general psychology, and kinesiology and exercise science.

    The biggest strengths Rice provides its students are in the areas of academic quality, return on investment (ROI), student outcomes, and value. U.S. News & World Report ranks it Number 15 overall among national universities, No.5 for undergraduate teaching, No.6 for veterans, and No.14 for value. The Princeton Review's "Top 50--Colleges That Pay You Back" ranking lists Rice as the ninth-best school by that measure in the country. The Brookings Institution's 2015 "Beyond College Rankings" report, meanwhile, has Rice in the Top 15 for the total effect it has on/value it adds to a student's future.

    • Max net price: $6,468
    • In-state tuition (+mandatory fees): $42,253
    • Out-of-state tuition (+mandatory fees): $42,253
    • Graduation rate: 91%
    • Early-career pay: $62,300
    • Mid-career pay: $113,000
    • # applications: 17,951
    • % admitted: 16%
    • # students: 6,719
    • # undergrads: 3,910
    • % retention (full-time): 97%
    • Campus housing: yes
    • Institutional accreditation: Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, Commission on Colleges
  8. Brigham Young University–Idaho
    Location

    Rexburg, ID

    Brigham Young University-Idaho (BYU--Idaho or BYUI) provides over 80 bachelor's degree programs. A few of the more intriguing choices available include automotive engineering technology, apparel entrepreneurship, biostatistics, occupational safety and health, recreation management, and web design and development. Some of the most-popular program classifications (by degrees awarded) are exercise physiology, general business administration and management, public health education and promotion, registered nursing/registered nurse, and speech communication and rhetoric.

    Although affordability is its main calling card, BYU--Idaho does also provide students with academic quality, return on investment, social impact, and value that are among the best in its class. A good example of this is Washington Monthly placing the school 10th in its "Best Bang for the Buck--West" ranking. The magazine also ranked BYU--Idaho 20th among national bachelor's universities on its public good ranking (including fifth in the social mobility category). As to academic quality, U.S. News & World Report puts BYUI at 10th among regional colleges in the West.

    • Max net price: $6,153
    • In-state tuition (+mandatory fees): $3,830
    • Out-of-state tuition (+mandatory fees): $3,830
    • Graduation rate: 61%
    • Early-career pay: $49,200
    • Mid-career pay: $70,900
    • # applications: 6,805
    • % admitted: 100%
    • # students: 43,803
    • # undergrads: 43,803
    • % retention (full-time): 68%
    • Campus housing: yes
    • Institutional accreditation: Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities
  9. Yale University
    Location

    New Haven, CT

    Including the majors that have two degree types available, Yale University provides over 90 bachelor's degree programs. Some of the interesting and/or unique areas of study available include American studies; astrophysics; ethnicity, race, and migration; film and media studies; geology and natural resources; and history of science, medicine, and public health. The program classifications in which students most often get their bachelor's degrees are cell/cellular and molecular biology, general economics, general history, general political science and government, and general psychology.

    While Yale continues to have a stellar reputation both in the U.S. and around the world, this Ivy League icon offers its students much more than just its famous name. Academically, U.S. News & World Report ranks it Number 3 overall among national universities, as well as No.3 for undergraduate teaching and No.3 for value. The WSJ/THE college rankings put Yale at No.5 overall, including No.1 for student outcomes. Additionally, The Princeton Review's "Top 50--Colleges That Pay You Back" ranking lists this research university as seventh best in the country for ROI.

    • Max net price: $6,287
    • In-state tuition (+mandatory fees): $47,600
    • Out-of-state tuition (+mandatory fees): $47,600
    • Graduation rate: 97%
    • Early-career pay: $60,800
    • Mid-career pay: $102,000
    • # applications: 30,236
    • % admitted: 7%
    • # students: 12,385
    • # undergrads: 5,532
    • % retention (full-time): 99%
    • Campus housing: yes
    • Institutional accreditation: New England Association of Schools and Colleges, Commission on Institutions of Higher Education
  10. Brown University
    Location

    Providence, RI

    Undergrads at Brown University can chose from almost 80 bachelor's degree programs. Among the wide range of choices available are such majors (known as concentrations) as business, entrepreneurship, and organizations; cognitive neuroscience; contemplative studies; ethnic studies; modern culture and media; and social analysis and research. The most-popular program classifications (by degrees awarded) are computer science, general applied mathematics, general biology/biological sciences, general economics, and neuroscience.

    In some ways, Brown may be the hidden gem among Ivy League schools. This research university is not only strong academically and diversity-wise, it also provides students with excellent outcomes, ROI, teaching, and value. For instance, in Forbes's ranking of top U.S. colleges (based largely on student debt, satisfaction, and post-graduate success), Brown is eighth overall. In U.S. News & World Report's ranking of national universities, Brown is 14th overall, as well as fourth in undergraduate teaching and 10th in value. Its suitability for low-income students is seen in The New York Times' 2015 college access rankings, where Brown is 22nd overall.

    • Max net price: $7,129
    • In-state tuition (+mandatory fees): $49,346
    • Out-of-state tuition (+mandatory fees): $49,346
    • Graduation rate: 96%
    • Early-career pay: $58,600
    • Mid-career pay: $116,000
    • # applications: 30,396
    • % admitted: 9%
    • # students: 9,458
    • # undergrads: 6,652
    • % retention (full-time): 98%
    • Campus housing: yes
    • Institutional accreditation: New England Association of Schools and Colleges, Commission on Institutions of Higher Education

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