Choosing the best college for you is not easy. Along with location, class sizes and campus life, you’ll want to consider whether a college is a good value for you and your financial situation.

The definition of the “best value” college is different for everyone. The colleges profiled below are the ones that have the highest percentage of student aid and 10-year median salaries. Still, the best value school for you could be an in-state school or public university. Use the list below as a springboard to compare college costs, perks and drawbacks.

Factors to consider when evaluating ‘best value’

When evaluating what a “best value” college looks like, we considered the graduation rate, the average annual net cost of a school after receiving federal financial aid, the 10-year median earnings of graduates and the percentage of students who receive all forms of financial aid.

These metrics show the school’s general affordability and how quickly you could pay off your degree. While the universities listed here may be more expensive upfront, their value comes with the opportunities you could receive after graduating. See our methodology below to learn more about how we determined our rankings.

Best value colleges in 2023

  • Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering: Best value specialty college
  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology: Best value STEM college
  • University of California, Davis: Best value public college
  • Georgia Institute of Technology: Best value research college
  • Brigham Young University: Best value private college
  • Harvard University: Best value Ivy League college

Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering: Best value specialty college

Also known as Olin College, Olin College of Engineering is an undergraduate institution geared specifically towards students pursuing an engineering-related career. As stated on its website, the school is a leader in transforming the field. “We are transforming the definition of what engineering is, how engineering is taught, and what an engineer looks like.”

Average annual cost $21,474
Public/private Private
Acceptance rate 18%
Graduation rate 95%
10-year median earnings $116,968
Average amount of grant or scholarship aid for undergraduates $40,311
Percentage of undergraduates who receive need-based financial aid 100%

Key benefits

  • Mental health services: Online-sponsored counseling is available to currently enrolled students. The sessions have no out-of-pocket charges, and the counselors listed on the website are all fully licensed providers.
  • Stellar reputation: Olin College is ranked No.3 in the nation among undergraduate engineering programs and has been for eight consecutive years.
  • Student culture: The students are a reportedly close-knit community and are highly motivated to achieve academically.

Key drawbacks

  • Competitive acceptance rate: Olin holds an extremely competitive 18 percent acceptance rate. In comparison, the national average acceptance rate at four-year colleges in the U.S. is 66 percent.
  • Engineering-specific: As the name suggests, engineering-related fields of study are the only programs the school offers.
  • Smaller student body: Depending on your preferences, the smaller student body could be a downside, especially if large-scale athletics is non-negotiable. According to IPEDS, 310 students were enrolled for the 2019-2020 academic year, which is considerably smaller than most higher education institutions.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology: Best value STEM college

MIT is a world-renowned institution with a curriculum focused on arts and sciences. With a quirky campus culture and a stellar reputation, MIT is worth considering for undergraduate and graduate students — particularly those seeking a degree in engineering or the sciences.

Average annual cost $5,084
Public/private Private
Acceptance rate 4%
Graduation rate 96%
10-year median earnings $124,213
Average amount of grant or scholarship aid for undergraduates $53,162
Percentage of undergraduates who receive need-based financial aid 75%

Key benefits

  • Freshman first-semester grading system: Grading for incoming students’ first semester is pass/no record, then transitions to A, B, C or no record grading for the second semester. This is to ensure that every freshman has a smooth transition into collegiate life and the heavy-duty workload that comes with attending MIT. Regular A through F grading begins in year two.
  • Research opportunities: At MIT, you can access many top-notch research programs, like the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP). This program allows students of all grade levels, even freshmen, to participate in cutting-edge research in subjects of their choice.
  • Unique campus and dorm experience: MIT is known for its interesting architecture. Plus, every dorm’s design is unique, and certain dorms are host to various MIT subcultures — meaning you can choose a dorm that best fits your interests and personality.

Key drawbacks

  • High tuition: While MIT offers significant financial aid packages, its tuition is higher than most colleges. The potential to get into six-figure debt is possible at this school, so keep that in mind and weigh it with the possible financial aid you could receive.
  • Intense workload: Many alumni report an extremely intense workload at MIT, so staying organized is critical. Having a good sense of work-life balance is also important to take care of yourself in an intense academic environment.

University of California – Davis: Best value public college

The University of California at Davis, also known as UC Davis, is a public institution in Northern California. The school is well-known nationally for many majors, like veterinary medicine and agriculture. Its campus is also set in idyllic Sacramento, which has been referred to as one of the most bikeable cities in the country.

Average annual cost $14,920
Public/private Public
Acceptance rate 49%
Graduation rate 89%
10-year median earnings $74,305
Average amount of grant or scholarship aid for undergraduates $18,546
Percentage of undergraduates who receive need-based financial aid 74%

Key benefits

  • Location: The campus is in Davis, a large attraction for many students. The town is known for its walkability and college-town feel. Plus, the surrounding areas have multiple regional attractions for those who enjoy being outside.
  • National credibility: UC Davis is ranked first in the nation for agriculture and veterinary medicine, as well as ranking first in the nation for diversity, inclusiveness and internalization.
  • Unique fields of study: The school offers unique majors for every area of academic interest, with some even ranking as the best in the nation. Most majors also offer graduate programs for those interested in continuing their education.

Key drawbacks

  • Commonly reported theft: Many students who live both on and off-campus attend the school specifically for bikeability. It’s common for students to report stolen bikes both on and near campus, so students need to often keep an eye on their belongings.
  • Competitive fields of study: Given that some of its majors are nationally ranked, they can have an intense workload and are known to be academically competitive with challenges in enrollment as well.
  • Expensive location: Davis is an expensive community for housing and may not be the ideal situation for a college student on a budget.

Georgia Institute of Technology – Main Campus: Best value research college

Also referred to as Georgia Tech, this institution offers over 130 technologically-focused majors and minors. Known for its rich history, the website claims that the school’s opening initiated the transformation “of the agrarian South to an industrial economy.”

Average annual cost $14,820
Public/private Public Research University
Acceptance rate 16%
Graduation rate 90%
10-year median earnings $96,375
Average amount of grant or scholarship aid for undergraduates $13,020
Percentage of undergraduates who receive need-based financial aid 73%

Key benefits

  • Nationally ranked: Tech is currently a top-ranked research university committed to “improving the human condition through advanced science and technology.”
  • Top-notch research: As one of the top technical institutions in the nation, students will have access to cutting-edge research, academic resources and faculty.

Key drawbacks

  • Competitive programs: Georgia Tech is a competitive school, so students need solid organizational skills and a good work ethic to keep up with the heavy workload.
  • Lack of student extracurriculars: Many students report that the campus lacks the social resources that many colleges offer. Given that the school’s culture is academically-driven, extroverted students may need extra effort to seek out social events and activities.

Brigham Young University: Best value private college

Brigham Young University (BYU) is a non-profit, private 4-year institution closely associated with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. However, students don’t have to be members of the religion to join; students with any faith background, or none at all, are welcome to apply and attend the school.

Members of the church, referred to as Latter Day Saints, are given benefits at the school, like reduced tuition costs. Church members who attend full-time are given a nearly $3,000 tuition discount per academic semester. Many on-campus regulations are affiliated with the Church, including the prohibited consumption of alcohol, coffee, tea and tobacco products.

Average annual cost $13,522
Public/private Private
Acceptance rate 59%
Graduation rate 85%
10-year median earnings $74,630
Average amount of grant or scholarship aid for undergraduates $5,764
Percentage of undergraduates who receive need-based financial aid 71%

Key benefits

  • Campus culture: Students often rave about the culture of kindness on-campus and how it positively impacts their learning environment.
  • Low costs: For a private college, BYU’s tuition charges are remarkably low for students’ education quality. It’s often listed on “Best Colleges” lists for its comparably low price tag.
  • Wide range of programs: The school boasts nearly 200 undergraduate and graduate academic programs, catering to a wide range of interests and fields of study.

Key drawbacks.

  • Church-specific benefits: While every student, regardless of religious affiliation, is welcome to attend, non-Latter Day Saints must also uphold the school’s church-based regulations and aren’t eligible for the tuition discounts members receive.
  • Student housing: BYU’s on-and-off-campus housing is often under scrutiny. The most common complaints include a high cost of living for generally low-quality facilities.

Harvard: Best value Ivy League college

Harvard is known as one of the most prestigious institutions in the world. Attending this school means participating in hundreds of years of tradition and culture. While expensive and competitive, the potential career opportunities that could lie ahead after graduation are expansive.

Average annual cost $13,259
Public/private Private
Acceptance rate 4%
Graduation rate 98%
10-year median earnings $95,114
Average amount of grant or scholarship aid for undergraduates $57,877
Percentage of undergraduates who receive need-based financial aid 72%

Key benefits

  • Academic opportunities: As a liberal arts college, Harvard has a wide variety of majors — everything from Computer Science to Slavic Languages and Literature. Harvard students don’t announce their concentrations until sophomore year, so you have time to explore various interests.
  • Large on-campus library: Harvard boasts the largest private library system in the world. With more than 17 million volumes in Harvard’s combined collections, everything you need to know will be at your fingertips.
  • Tradition and prestige: Since it’s considered one of the most prestigious universities in the world — one of eight Ivy League schools — Harvard could be a boost on your resume as you consider your future occupation.

Key drawbacks

  • Competitive atmosphere: As an Ivy League school with notable alumni like Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Harvard’s academics are top-notch, but they can also be intense.
  • Expensive tuition: Harvard is one of the most expensive schools in the nation. While Harvard does offer financial aid, many students will still come away from their time with student loan debt.
  • Harsh winters: Harvard is located in Cambridge, Massachusetts, meaning the campus sees an average of 50 inches of snowfall a year. If you prefer warmer weather, you may want to consider a school in a different climate.

Final considerations

While cost versus earnings potential is the main factor we looked at in the above rankings, do the math before committing to any institution. Many schools can leave you with thousands of dollars in debt without aid, so weighing your options carefully, considering your financial aid package and how much you would need to take out in student loans is important.

Cost isn’t the only factor you’ll want to consider. Also, think about whether the school has a good reputation for your desired degree program and whether it meets your personal preferences. A few things to consider are class sizes, location, athletics, student organizations and campus life. If a specific aspect of the college experience is important to you, make that a priority when looking at schools. You want to enjoy your time on campus while getting a well-rounded education that will qualify you for your desired career.

Next steps

While researching schools, stay on top of FAFSA deadlines to ensure you get the maximum potential aid. You may also want to research grants and scholarships, both those associated with the school and those from outside organizations. Student loans are available from various private lenders if you need additional aid.


To find the best value colleges in the U.S., Bankrate evaluated four key areas: the graduation rate of the school, the average annual cost, the students’ 10-year median earnings and the percentage of undergraduate students who received need-based aid.

Graduation rate

To be considered, each school had to have at least an 80 percent graduation rate per the College Scorecard’s database to make the initial cut.

We narrowed down the rest of the colleges as per our other three value indicators, ensuring that each school has an average rate of over 80 percent. However, most schools that made our final list have a much higher graduation rate.

Average annual cost

We used College Scorecard’s data to gather the average annual cost per student, which refers to the average amount that in-state, undergraduate students are responsible for after receiving federal financial aid.

To determine what a ‘best value’ school is, we funneled down the schools that cost, on average, less than $20,000 per academic year. Once we had a list of around 70 schools, we considered the average 10-year median earnings to conduct a full scope of the school’s long-term value in relation to its annual costs.

10-year median earnings

Each school’s 10-year net median earnings was gathered from College Scoreboard and estimates what a first-time, full-time in-state (if applicable) student will make 10 years after attending the university, regardless of graduation status. The 10-year median earnings are a good approximation of the long-term value you’ll receive from attending the university.

Typically, schools with higher earnings lead to students graduating with higher-paying salaries in competitive fields as compared to schools with lower annual earnings.

To determine a decent 10-year median salary, we narrowed down a list of over 70 schools (based on the graduation rate and average annual cost) to the top 20 schools with the highest median earnings.

We then ranked our official best-value colleges list by gathering the percentage of students who receive need-based financial aid for the remaining 20 schools.

Average amount of undergraduate students who receive need-based aid

Using the National Center for Education Statistics, we gathered the percentage of first-time undergraduate students who received any student financial aid. This percentage includes students who received grants of any kind, scholarships and both federal and private student loans.

We applied this data to the remaining 20 schools to meet our criteria as a best-value college. Finally, we compared each school’s aid percentages as a final value indicator and listed the six schools with the highest financial aid averages.