Money Magazine rewards 34 colleges with 5-star ranking, prioritizing ROI and graduation rates

The states with the most 5-star colleges are California (7), Massachusetts (5), Illinois (3) and New York (3).

Money Magazine has revamped its college ranking system into a star-tier list, and with it, it has named 34 colleges and universities to its five-star category.

Money, an American personal finance website that writes about mortgages, loans, credit, investing and more, revamped its list due to the changing needs of lower- and middle-class Americans looking for the best investment based on what they personally value amid higher education’s inflated price tag.

“Everybody’s interested in the ROI on their education because college education is very expensive,” said Sue Harbour, associate dean and executive director of the career center at the University of California, Berkeley, one of the 5-star schools, according to Money. “People want to know: Is it worth my time and my money?”

Jenny Nagaoka, deputy director of the UChicago Consortium on School Research, adds that the difference between a number one ranked school and a number five is null if the latter’s academic fit, social fit, college outcomes and affordability are better tailored for a specific student.

Thus, Money focuses on creating a “best college” ranking that highlights a mix of small liberal arts colleges and big-brand universities rather than regurgitating the handful of prestigious institutions that applicants and their families are already well-aware of. For example, while endowment-rich MIT and Stanford University are highly ranked (as expected) due to their ability to discount student tuition deeply, smaller schools such as Elmhurst University and St. Olaf College also rank highly due to their exceptional graduation rates and grant rewards.

More from UB: Why a number of schools are opting to freeze tuition next year

Ranking Methodology

Institutions had to have at least 500 undergraduates enrolled, sufficient data that allows for analysis, be financially sturdy and boast a graduation rate at or above the median for its institutional category to be considered for the ranking. As a result, 736 colleges were considered.

Money analyzed these institutions across 26 data points, then organized them into three categories. Note that affordability held the most substantial sway over the editors’ college ranking, aligning with their mission to present applicants with institutions that will least likely break the bank.

  • Quality of education (weighed 30%): graduation rates, Pell Grant recipient outcomes, peer quality, student-to-faculty ratio, etc.
  • Affordability (weighed 40%): degree net price, debt, ability to repay debt, etc.
  • Student outcomes (weighed 30%): earnings 10 years after college, economic mobility, ROI, etc.

List of 5-star schools

The 5-star list is undersigned in alphabetical order. Money does not grant any of these colleges a leg-up over the other. It instead asks students to analyze these schools based on their best fit for them and choose accordingly.

The states with the most 5-star colleges are California (7), Massachusetts (5), Illinois (3) and New York (3).

College Acceptance rate Est. full price 2023-24 Est. rice with avg. grant Graduation Rate
Amherst College (Mass.) 9% $83,900 $20,200 95%
Berea College (Ky.) 33% $57,000 $3,600 70%
Brown University (R.I.) 6% $86,500 $26,800 95%
California Institute of Technology 4% $83,800 $32,300 94%
California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo 33% $31,100 $22,200 83%
Columbia University (N.Y.) 4% $86,500 $13,300 93%
Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art (N.Y.) 15% $72,000 $22,300 91%
Cornell University (N.Y.) 9% $84,100 $26,000 95%
Dartmouth University (N.H.) 6% $85,400 $25,800 94%
Duke University (N.C.) 6% $83,700 $29,300 94%
Georgetown University (D.C.) 12% $85,400 $24,700 95%
Georgia Institute of Technology 16% $31,200 $18,600 89%
Harvard University (Mass.) 4% $81,800 $14,900 97%
Massachusetts Institute of Technology 4% $80,700 $33,200
Massachusetts Maritime Academy 90% $31,300 $20,800 79%
Northwestern University (Ill.) 7% $87,900 $32,200 94%
Princeton University (N.J.) 4% $82,300 $22,400 98%
Rice University (Texas) 9% $75,200 $19,900 92%
Stanford University (Calif.) 4% $82,700 $15,400 $15,400
University of California, Berkeley 14% $43,500 $18,900 93%
University of California, Irvine 29% $38,000 $12,500 86%
University of California, Los Angeles 11% $38,000 $14,400 92%
University of California, San Diego 34% $37,900 $16,800 88%
The University of Chicago (Ill.) 6% $88,200 $36,200 95%
University of Florida 30% $22,500 $10,500
University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign 60% $33,200 $15,300 86%
University of Michigan 20% $33,800 $20,600 93%
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill 20% $26,000 $12,300 90%
The University of Notre Dame (Ind.) 15% $82,100 $32,700 96%
University of Pennsylvania 6% $87,300 $15,600
University of Virginia
$38,100 $21,900 94%
University of Wisconsin-Madison 60% $28,700 $14,500 87%
Williams College (Mass.) 9% $81,800 $15,500 95%
Yale University (Conn.) 5% $86,100 $22,100 97%


Alcino Donadel
Alcino Donadel
Alcino Donadel is a UB staff writer and Florida Gator alumnus. A graduate in journalism and communications, his beats have ranged from Gainesville's city development, music scene, and regional little league sports divisions. He has triple citizenship from the U.S., Ecuador, and Brazil.

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