11 Top Colleges That Give You More Bang for Your Buck Than the Ivy League

ByCheng Dai

For high school seniors around the country, March and April are when most colleges release their admissions decisions and students get to decide where to spend the next few years of their lives. Many students dream of attending a prestigious name-brand university in the hopes that it will help them land a good job out of college. However with college tuition rising and becoming more unaffordable, choosing a school to attend nowadays is more complicated than before. Students are beginning to wonder if name-brand universities are really worth the money and student loan debt.

A recent list released by Payscale can provide some help in solving this dilemma. Payscale evaluated the 20-year financial return of a bachelor's degree from hundreds of institutions around the country. Colleges were measured based on how much graduates spent getting a degree and how much graduates earn.

Here are the top 11 schools, ranked by the value of a degree over 20 years. Not one of them is in the Ivy League.

1. Harvey Mudd College — $980,900

Cost of a degree (2013): $229,500

Its value over 20 years: $980,900

Annual return on investment: 8.8%

Graduation rate: 88%

2. California Institute of Technology (Caltech) — $837,600

Cost of a degree: $220,400

Its value over 20 years: $837,600

Annual return on investment: 8.3%

Graduation rate: 92%

3. Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) — $831,100

Cost of a degree: $223,400

Its value over 20 years: $831,100

Annual return on investment: 8.2%

Graduation rate: 93%

4. Stanford University — $789,500

Cost of a degree: $236,300

Its value over 20 years: $789,500

Annual return on investment: 7.8%

Graduation rate: 95%

5. Colorado School of Mines — $783,400

Cost of a degree: $114,200

Its value over 20 years: $783,400

Annual return on investment: 11%

Graduation rate: 67%

If you're an out-of-state student at Colorado School of Mines you'll have to pay more, but the school still provides one of the highest returns on this list: $719,000 over 20 years.

6. Georgia Institute of Technology — $755,600

Cost of a degree: $92,250

Its value over 20 years: $755,600

Annual return on investment: 11.9%

Graduation rate: 79%

Even if you're an out-of-state student at Georgia Institute of Technology, the school still provides one of the highest returns on your degree: $669,300 over 20 years.

7. Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology — $736,200

Cost of a degree: $217,400

Its value over 20 years: $736,200

Annual return on investment: 7.8%

Graduation rate: 76%

8. Polytechnic Institute of New York University — $724,500

Cost of a degree: $223,900

Its value over 20 years: $724,500

Annual return on investment: 7.7%

Graduation rate: 62%

9. Stevens Institute of Technology — $722,400

Cost of a degree: $250,900

Its value over 20 years: $722,400

Annual return on investment: 7.2%

Graduation rate: 78%

10. Babson College — $716,700

Cost of a degree: $226,100

Its value over 20 years: $716,700

Annual return on investment: 7.6%

Graduation rate: 90%

11. Massachusetts Maritime Academy — $702,100

Cost of a degree: $96,560

Its value over 20 years: $702,100

Annual return on investment: 11.3%

Graduation rate: 61%

In a way, these 11 schools all share one similarity: They all focus on science, engineering and business. Recent data from the Wall Street Journal show that bachelor's degree graduates of engineering and business majors have the highest salaries. This Payscale list thus suggests that over time, these degrees do pay off in terms of investment. 

There are of course more specific reasons that potentially explain why graduates of these schools are so financially successful. Most of these schools invest heavily in their undergraduate students, providing them with outside-the-classroom opportunities. Harvey Mudd College and Stanford University set aside $3 million and $4 million, respectively, to fund undergraduate research. At Caltech, 75% of Caltech students participate in undergraduate research. Colorado School of Mines provides students with a very specialized academic curriculum. MIT, Georgia Institute of Technology and Stevens Institute of Technology offer undergraduate research programs throughout the year while NYU-Poly and RHIT students can get paid to perform research over the summer. 

While this list contains some big-name schools such as MIT, Stanford and Caltech, the presence of smaller, lesser-known schools reveals that brand-name colleges like those in the Ivy Leagues are not always the best places to invest one's money.

Of course, this isn't to say you shouldn't go to Harvard, only that if you look at it like an investor, alternate choices look much more attractive.