How does your college stack up on Salary Score?

GradReports unveils a new metric to help determine its Best Colleges rankings for students who are seeking an edge in ROI that compares institutions in several categories.
By: | April 6, 2021
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Return on investment – not merely the stature or the specific programs offered by an institution – is continuing to catch the eyes of prospective students. They want to know that the college or university they choose ultimately will pay off financially after they graduate.

GradReports gives both students, and colleges interested in knowing where they too stand, an opportunity to see the likely median salaries for a variety of majors based on alumni within each field and a new Salary Score value to compare schools.

For example, a bachelor’s degree from Georgetown University in accounting has huge value as students only accumulate an average debt of $15,000 while earning more than $83,000 in salary. Georgetown is No. 1 in the category and far outpaces most institutions when it comes to overall value.

Data like this can be key in the decision-making process especially during this time, when job losses and budget concerns have intersected with the COVID-19 pandemic, and as future assurances become front-of-mind for families.

“This past year has created an atmosphere of enormous financial strain and uncertainty,” said Sung Rhee, CEO of Optimal, a higher education researcher and publisher that conducts the GradReports rankings. “Now more than ever, students and their families are in need of data that demonstrates earnings outcomes, giving them the ability to plan for the future and also feel confident in their decisions.”

The new Salary Score metric looks at more than 4.6 million college grads, 2,200 colleges and universities, and 334 majors culled through U.S. Department of Education reporting. The score is  determined by calculating alumni’s first-year earnings and then compared against other schools in charting the Best Colleges at associate, bachelor’s and master’s levels.

Harvard rates No. 1 overall (with a Salary Score of 99.54 out of 100) and ranks first on several other lists, including best bachelor’s degrees overall and those in fields of computer science, sociology and public administration.

But it’s not always Harvard, MIT and Yale that appear at the top of the charts – although, no surprise, they do appear 1-2-3 in the overall rankings. There are those such as Santa Clara University and the Dominican University of California that have forged their way into the top 10, along with Stanford and prestigious Ivy League schools Penn and Dartmouth.

“Quite a few surprising, lesser-known colleges appear high on our rankings as well, illustrating that it’s not always the most recognized, exclusive or expensive schools that will deliver the best financial outcome,” Rhee said. “And that’s an important message we want our rankings to convey: that traditional expectations do not always match reality.”

The top schools and their majors

Although focused heavily on giving students a window into the outcomes of attending certain institutions over others, GradReports does give colleges and universities an indication as to how competitive their programs are. Because the reports are weighted on alumni within each of the fields, the findings are not just blanket results for alumni but specifically target each major.

It’s annual Best Colleges reports offer insight into the value of specific programs, as well.

One of the hottest fields is computer science. Both Brown University ($141,000) and Carnegie Mellon ($138,900) outpace Harvard, Stanford, Harvey Mudd College and MIT when it comes to delivering the best median salary. Mainstays Cornell, UC Berkeley and Penn also sit within the top 10 but so does Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology in Terre Haute, IN. All of the schools likely will deliver more than $100,000 to students who pursue a career in that major.

Nursing is also popular as are most healthcare-related fields, a byproduct partly of the pandemic. Seven California universities are in the top 10 including four that top the list – Sonoma State, Cal State East Bay, Cal State Sacramento and Samuel Merritt University – all delivering more than $100,000 in salaries. Two New York institutions – Mercy College and SUNY Downstate Medical Center – also are in the top 10.

In the business category, the University of Michigan ranks No. 1 ($76,900), followed by Carnegie-Mellon, UC Berkeley, Emory University and the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill. A couple of surprises to outsiders and some students who may be considering a variety of options are these – Stevens Institute of Technology in New Jersey at No. 5 and Golden Gate University in San Francisco at No. 9.

The rankings are helpful for both students and colleges to assess the individual value of majors compared with others. For example, while the hottest majors tend to draw six-figure salaries, those who pursue psychology and public relations should expect salaries at just over $44,000 when attending the top universities, in this case Tufts and Syracuse, respectively.

The Salary Scores list takes it a step further, actually comparing rankings from one university to others in several overall categories:

State: Southern Methodist, Rice University and the University of Texas-Austin are among the top 3 in Texas. Northwestern University, the University of Chicago and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign are 1-2-3 in Illinois. GradReports contains information for all 50 states.

Best graduate schools: MIT tops the list, followed by Stanford, UC-Berkeley, Cornell and St. Mary’s College of California.

Best associate’s degrees: City College of California, Napa Valley College, Santa Rose Junior College, Indiana Wesleyan and Thomas Edison State University are the best at ensuring top salaries upon graduation.

Best online colleges: GradReports includes a variety of specific degree categories including business – Golden Gate, Northeastern University and Colorado State University Global highlight the top three.

Rounding out the top 20 in this year’s overall Salary Score rankings are Boston College, Barnard College in New York, Amherst College, Princeton University, Bentley College, Elon University, Trinity College in Connecticut, Colgate University, Columbia University and the online Thomas Edison State University in New Jersey.