What’s a college education worth? While there’s no foolproof way to gauge degree value, certain colleges must be doing something right. Just one percent of colleges across the country have a documented million-dollar return on investment (ROI): alumni whose lifetime earnings surpass those of non-degree holders by seven figures.
The following colleges and universities represent the mere 46 private institutions that make up this Top 1%. These post-secondary juggernauts continually graduate young professionals who earn top dollar over the course of their careers.
To identify the private institutions with seven-figure returns, AC Online examined tuition rates, fees, and alumni salaries for more than 7,000 U.S. colleges and universities. Primary data sources include the Integrated Post-Secondary Education Data System (IPEDS), the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), the Carnegie Foundation, and PayScale.com – four of the most trusted names in college- and career-related data.
A private institution in Claremont, California, Harvey Mudd College holds the unique distinction of specializing in science, engineering, and mathematics-related education, yet also providing students with solid program options in the liberal arts and humanities. Harvey Mudd College was chartered in December of 1955 and first opened its doors to students in 1957.
The California Institute of Technology (Caltech), located in Pasadena, California, specializes in science and engineering research and education on a world-class level. Caltech prizes knowledge, innovation, and the individual attention its students receive through an amazing 3-to-1 students-faculty ratio.
The Polytechnic Institute of New York University is part of the NYU college system. This private institution offers both undergraduate and graduate degrees in more than 100 distinct areas. Invention and entrepreneurship shine at NYU-Poly, with help from project-focused coursework that tackles challenging, real-world issues.
Founded in 1861, The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) is a private research institution with a world-renown curriculum in science, engineering, and technology. There are 32 academic departments at MIT offering top-notch degrees at the bachelor, master, and doctorate levels. MIT’s mission involves educating students who contribute to the betterment of humankind.
With its main campus in Hoboken, New Jersey, Stevens Institute of Technology provides students with an extensive suite of nationally recognized science- and technology-related degree programs. Stevens also has a satellite campus centrally located in Washington, D.C. This private research university offers 29 different undergraduate majors, as well as more than 40 master’s and doctoral degrees options.
Located in heart of Silicon Valley, Stanford University has been a world leader in research, education, and innovation for more than a century. In addition to tremendous academic depth and breadth, Stanford boasts one of the most ethnically and culturally diverse campuses in the U.S. The university also serves as a strong magnet for both faculty and students with an eye on entrepreneurship.
Located in Terre Haute, the Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology is a private research university that specializes in technical and scientific degrees. While recognized for its undergraduate degrees in math and science, the college offers an impressive collection graduate degree options in a number of academic areas.
Establish in 1636, Harvard University remains one of the most impressive post-secondary institutions in the world. Forty-four past and present faculty members have been awarded the Nobel Prize, as have numerous alumni, including former vice president Al Gore. Harvard is comprised of 11 distinct academic units — ten faculties and the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study.
Worcester Polytechnic Institute, located in Worcester, Massachusetts, offers top-notch education with a strong balance of practice and theory. WPI not only teaches some of today’s best and brightest, but they encourage betterment through action. The university has more than 50 combined undergraduate and graduate programs delivered by world-class faculty.
With a deep Jesuit tradition, Santa Clara University offers five different schools of study, including arts and sciences, education, business, engineering, and theology. Students have a wide range of academic options from which to choose, including degrees at the bachelor, master, and doctoral levels.
Located in Hanover, New Hampshire, Dartmouth College is a private institution with a rich Ivy League tradition. Dartmouth has a number of distinct schools that make up the college, most notably its Tuck School of Business, Thayer School of Engineering, Geisel School of Medicine, and School of Graduate Studies. Dartmouth College strives to produce graduates who are global, lifelong learners.
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, or simply RPI, offers both undergraduates and graduates more than 145 degree options, most notably in architecture, science, information technology, engineering, business, and the humanities. Founded in 1824, RPI is the oldest technological university in the U.S., and boasts students from 43 different states.
Located in Williamstown, Massachusetts, Williams College boasts 35 distinct academic majors across the humanities, natural sciences, and social sciences. Williams students also have the opportunity to craft their own majors, and partake in experiential learning via off-campus and study away programs. Notable study away programs include a year-long program at Oxford University and a semester immersed in ocean and coastal studies.
Founded in1842, the University of Notre Dame is an independent Catholic institution prized for academic rigor and world-class research. The university is comprised of four undergraduate colleges: Arts and Letters, Science, Engineering, and the Mendoza College of Business. In addition to a renown graduate school, Notre Dame has an award-winning faculty, with more fellowships from the National Endowment from the Humanities than any other U.S. college since 1988.
Princeton University provides both undergraduate and graduate students with an impressive collection of degree programs in numerous disciplines. Graduate studies concentrate on social science, natural science, engineering, and the humanities. This independent, non-denominational university is the fourth oldest post-secondary institution in the U.S., and is considered one of the nine “Colonial Colleges”.
Routinely ranked #1 for entrepreneurship education, Babson College offers students a world-class business education fueled by a global and innovative curriculum. The college’s F.W. Olin Graduate School of Business focuses on real-world business problem-solving in a dynamic classroom atmosphere. Located in Babson Park, Massachusetts, the college first held classes in 1919.
For more than 113 years, Carnegie Mellon University has been a leader in bringing groundbreaking ideas to market and fostering startup business success. In addition to its main campus in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, CMU has campuses in Qatar and Silicon Valley. Carnegie Mellon routinely receives top 10 rankings for excellence in business, computer science, and robotics.
Haverford College, located just outside of Philadelphia, focuses on rigorous yet intimate academics that challenge students in smaller, more personal classroom settings. In addition to diverse liberal arts education, Haverford takes pride in its Honor Code and historic Quaker traditions.
Located in Philadelphia, the University of Pennsylvania is a world-class institution offering a tremendous suite of undergraduate and graduate degree options to a combined student body of more than 20,000. Also known simply as “Penn”, the university boasts an impressive collection of graduate schools, including the Wharton School of Business and the Perelman School of Medicine.
Manhattan College is a private institution residing in Riverdale, with great access to New York City. Founded in 1853, it offers an exceptional college education backed by Lasallian Catholic values. Manhattan has more than 60 different academic degree programs at the bachelor’s and master’s levels.
Columbia University, located in the heart of New York City, opened its doors to students in 1754. Known widely as a research institution, Columbia also welcomes an extremely diverse faculty and student body, both of which contribute to the college’s mission of high-level learning for the global good.
Duke University, home of the Blue Devils, has approximately 13,000 graduate and undergraduate students and a world-renowned faculty focused on expanding the frontiers of knowledge. Duke University has an undying commitment to applying knowledge in service to society, both at home in North Carolina and around the world. The top 5 Majors at Duke University: 1. Economics, 2. Public Policy Studies, 3. Biomedical Engineering, 4. Biology, 5. Psychology.
Founded in 1865, Lehigh is one of the nation’s top research universities. Nearly 5,000 undergraduate and 2,000 graduate students attend this beautiful college located in Pennsylvania’s scenic Lehigh Valley. Lehigh is situated in close proximity to both New York City and Philadelphia. The university offers a variety of degrees in 4 colleges: The College of Arts and Sciences, The College of Business and Economics, The College of Education and The P.C. Rossin College of Engineering and Applied Science.
Swarthmore College, from its founding in 1864, has provided students the insight, knowledge, skills, and experience to become leaders for the common good. Swarthmore College offers a rich engineering and liberal arts curriculum. Swarthmore College is private, yet open to everyone regardless of financial need. In addition, diversity is found in the student body, with students coming from around the world and all 50 states. Swarthmore offers more than 600 courses in science, engineering, humanities, and social sciences.
The Illinois Institute of Technology, commonly called Illinois Tech or IIT, is a PhD-granting research university with world-renowned degree programs in architecture, engineering, humanities, business, psychology, and law. The college was founded in 1940 and traces its roots back to the Amour Institute of Technology. IIT couples the cultural experiences of Chicago with feel of a small undergraduate college.
Embry–Riddle Aeronautical University is a private university in Arizona, specializing in aviation and aerospace higher education. Embry-Riddle teaches the science, practice, and business of aerospace and aviation. Time magazine called Embry-Riddle “The Harvard of the Sky” in 1979, given the institution’s history dating back to the early days of aviation. Embry-Riddle Worldwide serves civilians in the workforce and military personnel around the world.
Founded in 1826 in Easton Pennsylvania, Lafayette University is an academically competitive college loved by students because if offers a wide breadth of learning across the arts and humanities, natural and social sciences, and engineering. Lafayette’s endowment of over $750 million is focused almost solely on its roughly 2,400 undergraduates. The college, located 70 miles from New York City, offers B.A. degrees in 37 fields and B.S. degrees in 14 fields of study.
Brown University, located in the historic Providence, Rhode Island, was founded in 1764, and is the seventh-oldest college in the United States. As an independent, coeducational Ivy League institution, Brown University is comprised of undergraduate and graduate programs, including the School of Engineering, Alpert Medical School, Executive Master of Healthcare Leadership and the IE Brown Executive MBA. Brown has more than 70 concentrations of study for undergraduates, ranging from Egyptology to cognitive neuroscience.
Cornell University, once called “the first American university” by Frederick Rudolph, an education historian, represents a distinctive assortment of eminent scholarship and democratic ideals. On the main campus in Ithaca, New York, the approximately 20,000 students choose from among 4,000 courses in 11 undergraduate, graduate, and professional schools. Cornell is home to four National Science Foundation National Research Centers and a number of other national user facilities.
Clarkson University, the third-smallest ranked research university in the nation, and the home to over 3,000 undergraduate and graduate students, has over 50 degree programs. The university cites that 1 in 5 alums hold CEO or senior leadership positions. They also ranked in the top 20 of PayScale’s 2011 average salary report.
Founded in 1919 by a group of Flint leaders with a vision for transforming the automobile industry, Kettering University today offers 15 undergraduate degrees, 5 graduate degrees, and a variety of majors and minors that allow the university to deliver an education that couples theory and practice better than any other institution in the world. At Kettering, the faculty is dedicated to achieving the extraordinary through technological innovation, leadership and service. Through growth, global leadership, community outreach and an engaged community of stakeholders, Kettering is achieving its aspirations.
Founded in 1876, The Johns Hopkins University, or JHU, is one of the nation’s top ranked not-for-profit research universities. The university has campuses across the globe including in Maryland, Washington, D.C., China, Singapore, and Italy. The mission of the college remains unchanged since 1876 and can be expressed in a simple statement: “Knowledge for the World.”
As a Jewish-sponsored independent institution of higher and professional education, Touro College was established primarily to enrich the Jewish heritage, and to serve the larger American community. Approximately 19,000 students are enrolled in Touro College’s various schools and divisions. The college is accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, covering campuses in the New York area, as well as branch campuses and programs in Berlin, Jerusalem, Moscow, and Florida.
Rice University, located in Houston Texas, is one of the nation’s leading research universities. Rice is known for having a small student body with one of the lowest student-faculty ratios amongst top American universities. With 11 colleges and 8 schools of academic study, Rice has a wide breadth of programs. Rice competes at the NCAA Division I-A level and the college mascot is the Owl.
Washington and Lee, located in Lexington Virginia, is a small, liberal arts college located the Blue Ridge and Allegheny Mountains. This university is committed to the values of liberal education and has the purpose to develop student’s capacity to think freely. This 9th oldest higher learning institution offers 40 major and 20 minors.
Milwaukee School of Engineering, located in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, is a vibrant and caring community of students and faculty. For 110 years, the university has been committed to fostering a higher standard of academic programming and offering an applications-oriented education. Students spend an average of 600 hours in state-of-the-art laboratories learning from industry experienced professors. MSOE offers bachelor and master’s degree programs in engineering, business, mathematics and nursing, and is a private, non-profit university.
Tufts University, located in Medford, Massachusetts, was founded in 1852 by Charles Tufts, an American businessman and philanthropist. Tufts seeks quality in teaching, research, and services that support their academic enterprise. The university is organized into ten schools, including eight graduate divisions and two undergraduate schools. Tufts emphasizes active citizenship for all students and faculty, and public service in all of its disciplines.
Founded in 1859 by industrialist Peter Cooper, Cooper Union is one of the most distinguished and respected higher learning institutions in the nation. Unlike almost any other university, Cooper Union admits students based on merit and provides all students a full scholarship. Situated in the East Village of Manhattan, students can enjoy a unique neighborhood and culture.
A leading private college, Hamilton’s mission is to develop students as human beings as they are prepared to take on the everyday responsibilities of citizenship. Students enjoy classes that are tailored to individuals, with three-quarters of the classes having fewer than 20 students and a student-faculty ratio of 9:1. Hamilton boasts a student body among the best and brightest our nation offers, with 87% of accepted students ranking in the top 10% of their high school classes.
University of the Pacific boasts one of the most beautiful college campuses in the country. Pacific aims to prepare tomorrow’s leaders through “intensive academic study, experiential learning, and service to the community.” Small class sizes and dynamic environment help to fulfill Pacific’s goals as students work to achieve their own personal and professional goals. The university consistently ranks among the top 100 universities in the country.
Despite a student body of less than 2,000, Amherst is big on quality, and has been called the “best of the best” for low-income, high-talent students. With a student-faculty ratio of only 8:1, students enjoy a personalized atmosphere where their minds are engaged through group discussion and sophisticated research. Students are able to chart their own course to graduation and beyond by creating the program that fits their wants and needs. Amherst celebrates ethnic, cultural, and financial diversity by making itself accessible to any student, regardless of need.
With nearly 98% of its full-time faculty holding the highest degree in their fields, Colgate offers some of the best and brightest professors available. Undergraduate students have the opportunity to work in research facilities, as well as co-author peer-review journals and present at national conferences. As a highly selective institution, Colgate takes pride in its academic offerings and the high expectations it holds for all its students. Students broaden their horizons through Colgate’s many worldwide humanitarian projects. With small classes and a strong emphasis on close faculty-student interaction, Colgate encourages students to become thoughtful, critical thinkers and perceptive leaders.
Drexel offers research opportunities in all disciplines, resulting in more than $110 million in expenditures for sponsored projects each year. Its innovative co-op program allows students to build professional networks during their studies, which often leads to higher starting salaries than graduates from other schools. This private university is one of the nation’s largest with 25,000 students studying in its 200 degree programs. An online education program is available for students who need flexibility in their schedule.
An Augustinian Catholic university, Villanova offers students the opportunity to excel academically while helping others through various service programs. More than 10,000 students are supported by the Augustinian Institute as they strive to reach their fullest potential through a personalized educational experience. Villanova students are encouraged to engage both their intellectual and spiritual well-being through the principles of truth, unity, and love. A first-year learning community ensures the success of freshmen by building a close-knit community of students.