The 100+ Top Colleges and Universities

By john harrison

This list of the 100+ top colleges and universities was created by the government from data collected from students with federal loans, i.e., that is to say most, but not all university students today. Unlike other “best college” lists that you may have seen, this list is based on hard facts, no opinions, no prejudice, and the order of the schools was determined by how much their graduates make 10 years after graduation. Rather than a Value Added Tax, it is in a special sense a Value Added Assessment of a college education.

As many commentators are now discovering, many colleges are simply a bad choice from a purely economic perspective. Even a quick review of the governments data shows that there are a lot of colleges whose graduates earn less than a high school graduate on average earns. While that does not mean that a college education was necessarily a “bad choice” even for these students, since a poet for example rarely earns as much as high school graduate, it does mandate a look at the economics of higher education. As this government report shows, at most universities, that often shocking tuition sticker price, is simply a lie.

Other than Harvard, Georgetown and Stanford, in that order, these top universities generally fall into one or more of four categories. Most of the truly top universities specialize in training their students: 1. to become an entrepreneur (Babson College); 2. to work in a health or medical related field (MCPHS University); 3. to work in a science/engineering field (MIT); 4. or, they are technical schools preparing their graduates for very specific jobs. (U. S. Merchant Marine Academy)

Many of these top universities are still very small schools, some with few of the trappings of a classic American College experience. They may not have a football team at all, much less be an NCAA Division 1 powerhouse, but they are earning powerhouses for their graduates.

And finally, many of these universities have names that you may never have heard of before. They are not just small, in some cases, they are also obscure and very small. However, their graduates make money, sometimes lots of money, and in many cases these universities charge much less than the national average tuition. Yes, there are real bargains out there if you look, and sometimes more important, if your student fits into a specific category, college can be free or almost free. All of the service academies are excellent schools and they are all free of monetary charge. At the U. S. Merchant Marine Academy, tuition is only $4,275 but it ranks 4th in 10 year earnings just after #3, MIT. That is not shabby at all.

The total cost of a college degree can be staggering, but so can the reward be for a graduate of the top schools. However, like buying a car, or worse a cell phone plan, determining the real cost vs. sticker price of a college education is difficult if not impossible for the average person. One thing is clear almost immediately from this data, price, or tuition, is almost entirely irrelevant to getting a good education for a career in a lucrative field.

Equally clear, if you can get into Harvard, Georgetown, or Stanford—go. The return on your investment will be repaid many times over in future earnings no matter what tuition you actually pay. In any event according to the government, the average tuition actually paid at Harvard is only $14,049, making it at Number 7 in 10 year earnings one of the bargains of the century.

Like the low average tuition at many state schools, Georgia Tech at $11,053, these average tuitions in the list must be examined closely. If you are in-state, the tuition even at a famous world class university can be almost reasonable. While UCLA’s average tuition is $13,723, its in state rate is even less and this is truly a great university.

However, if you are out of state, the tuition at that state university can be as expensive as at any private university. In fact many state schools are using the higher tuition paid by out of state students to make up for cuts in state funding. A few out of state student paying two or even three times the tuition paid by an in-state student can mean a lot of extra money for the school.

Harvard like most of the Ivies (i.e., Princeton, $8,413) grants considerable tuition assistance to many of its students, thus they have a low average tuition. A full ride scholarship or two can really bring the tuition average down. At Number 57 on the list, Washington University in St. Louis, the tuition is $33,484, but the average tuition at number 56, University of California—Berkeley, is less than half that at $13,769. Ten years out, a Berkeley graduate can expect to earn $400 a year more than a graduate from Washington University in St. Louis even though they will have paid $80,000 less in tuition to get their degree.

Tuition expense then is relative. Many, particularly those students in demand for some reason, can and do actually bargain with schools on the net tuition that they will have to pay. While some colleges will deny it, they often offer more financial aid to first year students in order to get them in the door and then raise the tuition, or lower the assistance later. The University of Dayton, so far alone among institutions of higher learning, has forsworn the practice. The important point is that you have the most economic leverage to negotiate about tuition before you enroll. Use it.

Given that the total cost of a college education can easily amount to $250,000 or more for a single student, it is only reasonable to ask what are you going to get for all of this money? Look at the list and see what others have gotten. It surprised me, and I think it will surprise you as well.

So, first you need to choose a university; then you need to get in; and you really need to graduate. Finally, you need to pay for it.

The chance of getting in to one of these universities varies across the board as well. Unless you are an extraordinary student, or rich, or famous, or come from a powerful family, getting into Harvard or Georgetown likely will remain a dream. However, many of the other schools on this list are much easier to get into. Particularly many of the higher priced universities listed are becoming easier to get into as the pool of college applicants shrinks. A realistic student will be able to pick a school that fits their academic profile, SATs, grades, class rank, their bank account and their educational objective.

A final consideration on graduation rates, graduation rates are more important, and are much more varied among even academically similar universities than is generally realized. At Harvard and Georgetown, pretty much, if you can get in, you will almost certainly graduate. The universities that are most selective are also the ones that do the best job at getting their students to graduate. Most are well into the 90 percentile. Whether this is because the are very good at selecting students that will thrive at their kind of school, or they are actually good at educating them is irrelevant, that ever so valuable degree is more likely to be obtained there than any place else.

While you can get just as good an education and earning potential at a school with a low graduation rate, in fact the low graduation rate may be there in order to protect academic standards, it has to be harder to graduate in such an environment, but many prospective students ignore this risk. Ask about the graduation rate.

It should be noted that the list shows what graduates of these schools have earned 10 years after graduation, but not what people are studying today? Are they related? Harvard, Georgetown, Stanford and many more schools have been around for a long time and have very consistent records of success, some of the universities on the list are newer. Some specialize in lower income occupational fields like teaching rather than training doctors or nurses. All of these factors influence the data collected.

In addition, there are very few universities at the top of earnings, only 14 have graduates averaging above $80,000 per year 10 years out; there are many more in the middle and some very respected institutions at the bottom. Part of this can be explained by the occupation choices of the universities’ students and by the economic environment near these universities where the graduates found jobs.

Importantly though, many of those in the middle earning tiers are surprisingly affordable and some are relatively easy to get into as well. Look around the list and be surprised.

Good Luck.

# Name Location Tuition       % that Grad-uates       Annual pay 10 years out
1 MCPHS University (formerly, Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences) Boston, MA $34,345 73% $116,400
2 Albany College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences Albany, NY $29,600 71% $110,600
3 MIT Cambridge, MA $21,816 93% $91,600
4 U. S. Merchant Marine Academy Kings Point, NY $4,275 75% $89,000
5 St. Paul’s School of Nursing-Queens Rego Park, NY $29,587 79% $88,700
6 St. Paul’s School of Nursing Staten Island, NY $21,937 71% $88,200
7 Harvard University Cambridge, MA $14,049 97% $87,200
8 University of the Sciences Philadelphia, PA $25,883 73% $85,800
9 Babson College Wellesley, MA $28,057 90% $85,500
10 Georgetown University Washington, DC $27,801 93% $83,300
11 Stevens Institute of Technology Hoboken, NJ $30,808 78% $82,800
12 Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute Troy, NY $32,986 85% $81,700
13 California Maritime Academy Vallejo, CA $16,974 58% $81,100
14 Stanford University Stanford, CA $15,713 95% $80,900
15 Massachusetts Maritime Academy Buzzards Bay, MA $16,546 64% $79,500
16 Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology Terre Haute, IN $33,087 75% $78,900
17 Harvey Mudd College Claremont, CA $24,311 90% $78,600
18 University of Pennsylvania Philadelphia, PA $22,948 96% $78,200
19 Washington & Lee University Lexington, VA $23,916 90% $77,600
19 Worcester Polytechnic Institute Worcester, MA $33,483 82% $77,600
20 SUNY Maritime College Throggs Neck, NY $17,815 48% $77,300
21 Lehigh University Bethlehem, PA $29,418 87% $76,800
22 Duke University Durham, NC $28,058 94% $76,700
23 Princeton, University Princeton, NJ $8,413 96% $75,100
24 Bentley, University Waltham, MA $29,886 86% $74,900
24 Kettering University Flint, MI $30,683 59% $74,900
25 Maine Maritime Academy Castine, ME $19,687 76% $74,700
25 Colorado School of Mines Golden, CO $24,980 68% $74,700
26 California Institute of Technology Pasadena, CA $25,667 93% $74,000
26 Georgia Institute of Technology Atlanta, GA $11,053 81% $74,000
27 University of Colorado Denver Denver, CO $13,954 43% $73,800
28 Villanova University Villanova, PA $33,371 89% $73,700
29 Polytechnic Institute of New York Brooklyn, NY $26,141 60% $73,500
30 Columbia University in the City of New York New York, NY $22,672 94% $72,900
31 Carnegie Mellon University Pittsburgh, PA $33,386 87% $72,000
32 Cornell, University Ithaca, NY $26,484 93% $70,900
33 Lafayette College Easton, PA $30,804 90% $69,800
34 University of Notre Dame Notre Dame, IN $27,845 95% $69,400
35 Johns Hopkins University Baltimore, MD $26,596 92% $69,200
36 Fairfield, University Fairfield, CT $35,212 81% $69,000
37 Bucknell University Lewisburg, PA $33,419 91% $68,800
38 Clarkson University Potsdam, NY $25,431 71% $68,400
39 Illinois Institute of Technology Chicago, IL $18,984 65% $68,200
40 Tufts University Medford, MA $29,271 92% $67,800
41 Santa Clara University Santa Clara, CA $34,956 85% $67,700
42 Dartmouth College Hanover, NH $29,587 95% $67,100
43 Boston College Boston, MA $33,070 92% $67,000
43 Case Western Reserve University Cleveland, OH $25,341 79% $67,000
44 University of the Pacific Stockton, CA $30,318 57% $66,400
45 University of Southern California Los Angeles, CA $28,352 91% $66,100
46 Yale University New Haven, CT $16,743 97% $66,000
47 Milwaukee School of Engineering Milwaukee, WI $21,336 56% $65,700
48 Missouri University of Science and Technology Rolla, Mo $21,336 64% $65,500
49 New Jersey Institute of Technology Newark, NJ $17,467 56% $65,300
50 George Washington University Washington, DC $30,206 80% $64,500
51 Northwestern University Evanston, IL $28,544 94% $64,100
52 College of the Holy Cross Worcester, MA $32,118 92% $63,700
53 Claremont McKenna College Claremont, CA $22,957 92% $63,600
53 Manhattan College Riverdale, NY $25,584 74% $63,600
54 Charles R Drew University of Medicine and Science Los Angeles, CA $22,741 62% $63,000
55 University of Chicago Chicago, IL $25,335 92% $62,800
56 University of California- Berkeley Berkeley, CA $13,769 91% $62,700
57 Washington University in St. Louis St. Louis, MO $33,484 94% $62,300
58 Loyola University Maryland Baltimore, MD $36,046 84% $62,100
59 Bryant University Smithfield, RI $32,984 81% $61,900
60 Union College Schenectady, NY $32,533 86% $61,800
61 Colgate University Hamilton, NY $17,711 90% $61,500
62 Pepperdine University Malibu, CA $24,446 81% $61,400
63 Drexel University Philadephia, PA $33,742 67% $61,100
64 Wake Forest University Winston Salem, NC $34,139 87% $61,000
64 University of San Francisco San Francisco, CA $31,915 68% $61,000
65 Vanderbilt University Nashville, TN $17,340 92% $60,900
65 California Polytechnic State University-San Luis Obispo San Luis Obispo, CA $17,112 71% $60,900
65 Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University-Daytona Beach Daytona Beach, FL $34,497 58% $60,900
65 Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University-Prescott Prescott, AZ $35,470 57% $60,900
65 Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University-Worldwide Daytona Beach, FL $17,890 50% $60,900
66 University of Richmond Richmond, VA $24,505 84% $60,800
66 Boston University Boston, MA $34,603 84% $60,800
67 Northeastern University Boston, MA $31,500 81% $60,100
67 Michigan Technological University Houghton, MI $14,446 65% $60,100
68 Rice University Houston, TX $16,730 92% $59,900
69 Brown University Providence, RI $25,005 95% $59,700
70 University of California-San Diego La Jolla, CA $14,421 86% $59,600
70 Providence College Providence, RI $34,841 86% $59,600
71 University of California-Los Angeles Los Angeles, CA $13,723 91% $59,200
72 University of Maryland-College Park College Park, MD $16,299 83% $59,100
73 St Joseph’s College of Nursing at St Joseph’s Hospital Health Center Syracuse, NY $16,769 68% $59,000
73 Emory University Atlanta, GA $28,463 89% $59,000
73 Saint Mary’s College of California Moraga, CA $33,876 65% 59,000
74 Capitol College Laurel, MD $19,406 36% $58,900
75 Brandeis University Waltham, MA $29,578 90% $58,800
75 New York University New York, NY $37,971 84% $58,800
75 Stonehill College Easton, MA $30,743 83% $58,800
76 University of Virginia-Main Campus Charlottesville, VA $17,149 93% $58,600
77 Davidson College Davidson, NC $19,143 92% $58,500
77 Saint Joseph’s University Philadelphia, PA $32,823 79% $58,500
77 Crouse Hospital College of Nursing Syracuse, NY $12,223 49% $58,500
78 SUNY at Binghamton Vestal, NY $16,541 80% $58,400
78 Pace University-New York New York, NY $24,961 53% $58,400
79 Williams College Williamstown, MA $20,935 96% $58,100
80 University of Baltimore Baltimore, MD $16,780 38% $58,000
81 University of Michigan-Ann Arbor Ann Arbor, MI $16,287 90% $57,900
81 Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University Blacksburg, VA $19,993 83% $57,900
82 Creighton University Omaha, NE $26,521 75% $57,800
83 Mount Carmel College of Nursing Columbus, OH $22,871 63% $57,700
84 Molloy College Rockville Centre, NY $22,986 64% $57,500
85 Barnard College New York, NY $26,487 90% $57,400
85 Brigham Young University-Provo Provo, UT $13,070 78% $57,400
86 Hamilton College Clinton, NY $19,961 92% $57,300
87 Kettering College Kettering, OH $17,483 60% $57,200
88 University of California-Davis Davis, CA $15,054 81% $57,100
89 George Mason University Fairfax, VA $18,305 66% $57,000
90 Rochester Institute of Technology Rochester, NY $25,155 63% $56,900
91 Amherst College Amherst, MA $19,449 95% $56,800
91 The College of New Jersey Ewing, NJ $21,976 86% $56,800
92 Wellesley College Wellesley, MA $21,930 92% $56,700
92 Laboure College Milton, MA $28,130 33% $56,700
93 University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Champaign, IL $18,798 84% $56,600
93 Syracuse University Syracuse, NY $28,912 81% $56,600
93 Virginia Military Institute Lexington, VA $17,802 74% $56,600
94 College of William and Mary Williamsburg, VA $24,377 90% $56,400
94 Quinnipiac University Hamden, CT $35,159 76% $56,400
95 University of San Diego San Diego, CA $31,593 75% $56,300
96 Trinity College Hartford, CT $26,419 85% $56,100
97 University of Scranton Scranton, PA $32,228 83% $56,000
97 Muhlenberg College Allentown, PA $29,528 86% $56,000
98 American University Washington, DC $33,437 78% $55,900
99 Saint Johns University Collegeville, MN $22,866 78% $55,900
100 University of California-Irvine Irvine, CA $11,944 86% $55,800

See even more schools at:


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