Finding your best-fit school comes down to a number of factors, with academics, location and finances ranking pretty high on the list. With so much to consider, it can be easy to view colleges with a form of nearsightedness — that is, focusing on your time in college without thinking about your prospects after graduation. That, paired with the dramatically increasing cost of attendance at many schools, is why I urge families to seek not only their best-fit school in those three categories, but also to search for what's going to give them the best value for their money. Here are three things to consider when looking for a Best Value College.
1. Career Outcomes
Analyzing the career outcomes for any school is a good idea, but it can be especially important when determining the overall value of the education a school is able to provide. An inexpensive education looks good on paper, but if your job prospects post-graduation are low (or low-paying), that decision might end up hurting you in the long-term. A school with a higher sticker price but also a higher rate of job placement in the roles you're seeking post-college might more quickly pay off your collegiate investment.
To get a sense of where a school's students land, you can contact career services offices to see what information they have on hand. You can also perform simple searches on platforms such as LinkedIn to see what sorts of positions graduates go on to obtain. This data can be a great indication on what I call Return on Investment (ROI) — what students are getting out of the time and money they invest in a particular school's education.
2. Real Cost of College
Speaking of ROI, there are a few ways you can calculate this. At The Princeton Review, we first calculate the sticker price for the school. That sticker price includes three costs:
- Required fees
- Room and board
Next, we determine the average gift aid awarded to students. (Average gift aid is a combination of scholarships and grants the typical student receives for a given year.) What you don't want to include in this are costs you'll still ultimately have to bear, even if not immediately, including work-study and student loans. Finally, we take that number and compare it to what students in your targeted roles after college are making.
If that sounds like a lot of work (and I'm sure you've already got your plates full!), our book The Best Value Colleges contains tons of information from PayScale.com combined with our own data from schools across the country in order to make the task a little easier for you.
3. Going Beyond Cold Hard Cash
It's always nice (and usually smart!) to assign numbers to big decisions in life, including where you'll go to college. But I also urge you to think outside of cold hard cash when it comes to making your selections. Definitely use the information you research to do a realistic financial analysis of your options, but also look at what college has to offer you outside of a future career with a high salary. The experiences you'll have while you're in attendance are high on that list, as is the prospect of high job satisfaction. That is to say, a school may set you up for a job you'll absolutely love and find great fulfillment in — even if it has a lower average salary.
Information on schools with alumni who find high meaning in their jobs outside of money is also just another tidbit you'll find in our The Best Value Colleges to help make your selection easier. And if you're still at the start of your search, check out our overall college rankings to see where the schools you're eyeing stack up.