It’s no secret that earning a master of business administration (MBA) will cost you plenty. But did you know some business schools could give you a bigger bang for your buck than others?

In the U.S., higher education costs have far outpaced the rate of inflation. These days, most business schools charge $50,000 or more in tuition and fees per year – and some private business schools charge even more. Because full-time MBA programs generally require a two-year commitment, business school students often rack up between $100,000 and $200,000 worth of debt and expenses as they earn their MBA. (For more on this, see Is Higher Education Still a Good Investment?)

On the bright side, graduates of two-year, full-time MBA programs generally recoup their investment within a few years after graduation, according to a report by the Graduate Management Admission Council. Only three years after they receive their MBA, these grads earn a median cumulative base salary of $348,000.

However, graduates of certain business schools enjoy a higher return on investment (ROI) than others, according to extensive research by online lender SoFi. The lender recently released a ranking of the Top 10 MBA programs by salary-to-debt ratio. SoFi created this list based on verified salary and debt from more than 60,000 graduates who applied to refinance their student loans with the lender.

A One-of-a-Kind MBA Program Ranking

There are quite a few lists that rank MBA programs based on academic performance statistics and self-reported salary information. However, SoFi’s salary-to-debt ratio list is unique in that it rates programs based on which schools offer the highest return on investment for MBA grads.

SoFi also released a list of Top 20 MBA programs by highest salary, the results of which were fairly predictable. The usual suspects appear on this highest salary list, including Columbia University, Harvard and Yale.

Yet things get really interesting with SoFi’s list of Top 10 MBA programs by salary-to-debt ratio. This ranking features much less prominent schools, such as Brigham Young University, the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the University of Kansas. Because MBA programs at these lesser known schools cost a fraction of the elite schools, students graduate with less debt – yet the majority still go on to earn six-figure salaries.

Here is SoFi’s full salary-to-debt ratio list:

Top MBA programs by salary-to-debt ratio

Business School                                                                    Average Salary    Average Debt    Salary-to-Debt Ratio

1. Brigham Young University                                                    $109,383              $54,704                 2.0

2. Villanova University                                                              $120,241              $61,872                 1.9

3. Stanford University                                                               $160,916              $86,942                 1.9

4. University of Wisconsin – Madison                                       $109,954              $59,864                 1.8

5. University of Kansas                                                             $  92,592              $51,082                 1.8

6. North Carolina State University (Jenkins)                             $  88,664              $49,265                 1.8

7. Lake Forrest Graduate School of Management                    $127,947              $71,757                 1.8

8. Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University                $115,768              $66,207                 1.7

9. San Diego State University                                                   $  89,087              $51,748                 1.7

10. San Francisco State University                                           $  94,687              $55,168                 1.7                          

Source: SoFi

The only school that appears on both SoFi’s highest salary list and its best salary-to-debt list is Stanford University.

SoFi also released a list of the worst MBA programs by salary-to-debt ratio, featuring 10 business schools, including Ashford University, Devry University and Point Park University. Many graduates of these programs end up earning an average salary that is less than their outstanding debt.

The Bottom Line

No matter how you compute it, business school is a pricey venture. However, some MBA programs pay off more than others. That’s because they offer a higher return on your investment in the long run. Before you cough up big bucks to attend an elite business school, consider the salary-to-debt ratio of the program’s graduates. Depending on your situation, a less prominent school may be the way to go. (You may also want to read The Real Cost of an MBA.)

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