Last month, the Princeton Review released their annual college rankings, listing off the nation’s biggest party schools, best college towns and nicest dorms. And while you may be thinking about those factors as you shop for schools, maybe it’s worthwhile to look ahead: PayScale.com recently released an interesting report of college graduate salary statistics. Is your dream school worth the price of tuition?
The Salary Potential reports on PayScale are based on an employee survey and lists two different statistics for each ranked college: median mid-career salary (from full-time employees with at least ten years of experience) and median starting salary (from full-time employees with five years of career experience or less).
Believe it or not, the college with the highest median starting salary is not Harvard, Princeton or Yale but Loma Linda University, a small Seventh Day Adventist health sciences school in California. Loma Linda is followed by MIT, then Harvey Mudd, and the only Ivy League school in the Top 10 is Princeton at #7. Harvard, last year’s #1 National University according to US News and World Reports, ranks #15 in starting salary at $60,000. The lesson here? Rankings aren’t everything. Being a solid job candidate is about more than flashing the fancy name on your diploma, especially if you’re comparing good schools with good schools. The difference between Yale and Bucknell, in this case, is negligible (based on starting salaries, it’s actually $100 to Bucknell’s advantage).
Another common assumption is that big sticker price means big value. Maybe that’s true in some cases, but if “big value” to you looks like a fat paycheck after college, this is not one of those cases. George Washington University had the highest cost of attendance (tuition plus room and board) for the 2008-2009 school year at $50,312. Despite being the most expensive college last year, PayScale reports that the median starting salary for GWU graduates is $48,200, not even ranking in the top 100. Subtracting the average undergraduate financial package, a four-year GWU education costs on average $52,240, plus on average $31,299 in loan debt–in other words, an overall investment of over $83,000. The lesson here? Paying more does not always mean getting more, at least in terms of salary.
Of course, there are plenty of other factors that come into play between your alma mater and your salary. First of all, college is about much more than how much money you make in the end. You can’t put a price on the life experience, personal growth and challenges to your learning that college brings, or on your morale during the four or five years you’re there. But when it comes to working toward that career, you can also consider these factors:
- How can you gain valuable experience during your college years?
- How will you take advantage of your connections, including your alumni network?
- What colleges will best prepare you for the particular career you plan to pursue? (PayScale has a limited ranking for that)
- Do you plan to go on to graduate school? PayScale’s survey didn’t include anyone with graduate degrees, and furthering your education can also give a big boost to your paycheck.
You’ve heard it over and over again: college is an investment. Not only does this mean that the hefty cost of college has countless benefits that can come back to you, but it also means that it’s up to you to weigh your options.