Considering The ROI Of Your College Experience

Yale campus

It’s that time of year again! March is maddening (who else has a busted bracket? South Carolina? Really?), tax day is just around the corner (thanks for the extension, President Lincoln!), and of course, colleges are sending out decisions, causing students to refresh their email inboxes with the type of fervor only seen at Taylor Swift concerts.

Whether you’re a student or a parent of a student, a big, exciting decision is looming. The first major decision on a student’s path to long-term success — where they will obtain their undergraduate degree! Much more exciting than taxes.

Our recommendation is and always has been to go to the absolute best university you get accepted to — the number and quality of doors that top tier institutions will open for you is simply unparalleled. When you’re choosing between universities on the same echelon, however, the decision involves a lot of different factors for both parents and students to consider. One factor is how your personality and learning style will fit within the university while you’re there (go visit campus!), but what about after graduation? We’ve said it before, admissions committees screen applicants to determine their potential for future success, but shouldn’t you also be screening these same universities to see how well they’ve been fulfilling their promise of making that potential success a reality for their graduates?  

Your College Decision Is An Investment

The answer? Yes! You should absolutely research how graduates from colleges you are choosing among fare after graduation. Are graduates obtaining jobs and/or receiving prestigious acceptances for graduate studies? Are those that are pursuing jobs getting paid well? Has the university opened doors for their students to pursue their passions?

Think about college as an investment. You pay tuition dollars (or if you’re on a full scholarship, you’ve invested your time), and you want to get some return on that investment, some value from the college, whether it be to pay down student loans or get a jumpstart on the next phase of your studies or your career. A college’s ROI is not a straightforward calculation. There are a number of things to take into account including average tuition, graduation rates, and post-graduation earnings. Luckily, as a starting point for your research, Forbes has done a version of the calculation for you in their list of best value colleges (you can find their methodology here). Take some time to do your own research on alumni career paths, speak directly to alumni about their post graduation experiences, and learn how the university helped them get to where they are.

College ROI Has Multiple Factors

One thing you’ll likely notice as you make your way down Forbes’ list is that a number of universities in the top ranks have student bodies that disproportionately focus on STEM disciplines (think MIT, Georgia Tech, Cal Tech). What does that tell you about college ROI? That it goes beyond just the university itself into your chosen course of study. STEM has become a path in demand as job titles like “Data Scientist” become more and more prevalent, and the post-graduate pay scale has come to reflect that. The data collected by Michigan State’s Career Services and the Collegiate Employment Research Institute on starting salaries presents salary information in a number of interesting ways, however, none may be more compelling than the fact that 14 of the 15 top starting salaries go to graduates with bachelor’s degrees in STEM fields.

Does this all mean you absolutely positively have to pursue a STEM major at the highest value university? Absolutely not. This is just one methodology that analyzes one factor of the college decision process. For some, it may be the most important factor, for others, not so much. Your passion and path to success may be in Chemical Engineering, but it just as well may be in Art History. So how do you use this information? Just as another tool in your decision making toolbox. Good luck!

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