Top Colleges For Your Tuition Buck

By Katie Adams | July 27, 2009 AAA

Wouldn't it be nice to know that all the money you're sinking into sky-high tuition would pay off with a good future salary? Now there's a way to figure out what kind of payoff your higher education investment is likely to reap. (Spending a few thousand dollars could help you earn millions more. Check out Invest In Yourself With A College Education.)

Payscale's 2009 College Salary Report outlines median starting salaries and median mid-career salaries for college grads nationwide. Compare that number to your tuition outlay and you can decide if you're paying for a big name or a better salary.

Note: Unless otherwise noted, tuition costs listed are for out-of-state residents, as reported by Sallie Mae.

Midwestern Schools
There are great schools to choose from in the Midwest and some surprising deals to find. For example, you could shell out $25,823 per year to attend Drake University in Iowa and they'll probably earn a mid-career median salary of $90,100. Or you could steer him or her toward the less expensive Iowa State University.

Iowa State will only set you back $17,455 but still likely earn a mid-career median salary of $85,300. That's a tuition savings of $33,472 over a four-year degree program for a very comparable salary. Review a few more good "buys" to be found in the Midwest.

State School Annual Tuition Median Starting Salary Median Mid-Career Salary
IL Northwestern University $38,851 $49,800 $91,200
University Illinois Urbana-Champaign $27,507 $53,900 $99,700
MO Missouri University of Science & Technology $29,511 $57,300 $95,200
Washington University of St. Louis $38,263 $51,500 $90,400
OH Kenyon College $41,308 $39,800 $90,300
University of Dayton $27,693 $45,600 $87,700


Southern Schools
A four-year undergrad degree at Emory University in Georgia will cost $35,832 each year and result in a median mid-career salary for a grad of $94,300. However Georgia Institute of Technology will set you back just about $8,000 less at $25,366 annually and Georgia Institute of Technology graduates earn a mid-career median salary of $105,000 - nearly $11,000 more. (Living on campus can have many benefits, but they come at a price. Read College Dorms: Good Value Or Ripoff?)

Here are a few other regional options:

State School Annual Tuition Median Starting Salary Median Mid-Career Salary
VA Virginia Tech $19,860 $52,900 $97,400
University of Virginia $31,488 $52,200 $97,200
TX Southern Methodist University $31,108 $48,600 $96,900
Texas A&M University $15,101 $51,100 $95,000
D.C. George Washington University (GWU) $42,694 $48,200 $97,300
George Mason University (GMU)* $11,238 $49,300 $85,700
* GMU is located in Fairfax, Virginia only 17 miles from GWU


Northeastern Schools
The Northeast region has the highest concentration of colleges and universities that produce top-dollar mid-career salaries, but those schools are also by far the most expensive of any region. There are some relative "deals" to be found. (Keep an eye out for careers in demand. Check out 10 Careers With Great Job Prospects.)

For example, if you have your eye on Boston University, be aware that you'll pay $40,071 in tuition and the mid-career median salary for grads is $90,100. However, for just $18,111 in tuition annually for an education at University of Massachusetts (UMass) Lowell you could earn almost exactly the same mid-career median salary of $90,000 - that's a difference of $21,960 per year, or a four-year tuition savings of $87,840!

State School Annual Tuition Median Starting Salary Median Mid-Career Salary
MA Boston University $40,071 $48,800 $90,100
University of Massachusetts - Lowell $18,111 $47,900 $90,000
NY Syracuse University $34,014 $46,200 $86,200
SUNY Albany $12,978 $45,100 $88,900

Western Schools (non-Californian schools)
If you want to head west, you don't have to mortgage your future to earn a higher than average mid-career salary. For example, it costs out of state residents $37,887 yearly in tuition to attend Colorado College in Colorado Springs and they'll likely earn a mid-career median salary of $90,200.

Or you could head north on I-25 and attend the University of Colorado-Denver instead. Tuition there will run you $17,980 annually but graduates are likely to earn a starting salary of $44,500 (higher than Colorado College grads) and bring in a very competitive mid-career median salary of $86,200.

Over the course of four years you would save over $80,000 in tuition expenses and would earn roughly the same amount as his Colorado College peers. Check out some other regional college choices.

State School Annual Tuition Median Starting Salary Median Mid-Career Salary
WA Seattle University $29,871 $45,900 $87,300
Washington State University $18,768 $45,600 $86,600
UT Westminster College (Salt Lake, UT) $24,734 $43,000 $76,100
University of Utah $15,796 $45,000 $85,700
OR Reed College $40,124 $37,800 $79,900
University of Oregon $21,078 $42,100 $76,200

California
California offers surf, sand, mountains and your choice of college majors. But just like the wide variety of terrain and climates statewide, there is a wide variety of college tuition costs and mid-career median salaries for grads. (Overwhelmed by increasing tuition costs? The U.S. government can help. Check out Investing In Your Child's Education.)

For example you could plunk down $38,221 annually in tuition at Occidental and likely realize a mid-career median salary of $95,700, or you could save $33,384 ($8,346 annually for 4 years) by going to to UCLA instead and they're likely to make both a higher starting and mid-career median salary ($112,000)!

State School Annual Tuition Median Starting Salary Median Mid-Career Salary
CA Occidental College $38,221 $45,300 $95,700
University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) $29,875 $57,100 $112,000
Pomona College $37,331 $50,500 $97,500
San Jose State University (SJSU) $12,350 $53,400 $96,300

Post-secondary education is a huge expense to undertake. Having an idea of the salary you will earn upon graduating and in the years after can help ensure you get the most bang for your buck when it comes to tuition. (Find out what to do when your kid is ready for higher education but you aren't. Read Preparing Parents' Pockets For College Tuition.)

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