4 Colleges Churning Out the Highest-Paid Graduates

Obtaining a college degree these days is an absolute must, and high college costs -- as well as soaring student debt loads -- make finding a good-paying job after graduation more important than ever.

Is it fair to rank colleges with the earnings of its graduates top of mind? In more recent times, the answer to that question is most often, "Yes." While most would agree that a college education should contribute to a well-rounded individual, the post-college lives of many working adults would be much easier if they could choose a college or university with the knowledge that they would easily find well-compensated employment upon graduation.

Even the Obama administration, in its quest to make college more affordable to the masses, is proposing to rank colleges by determinants such as graduation rates and graduate earnings.

With this in mind, here are four of the top U.S. colleges ranked by Payscale for the amount of money graduates earn when they first start out, as well as during their prime working years.

1. Harvey Mudd College
A small, private school located in Claremont, Calif., Harvey Mudd College has an undergraduate population of fewer than 800. Despite its heavy tilt toward degrees in engineering, mathematics, and science, the school's percentage of female enrollees stands at 42%. Much of that gender diversity is due to President Maria Klawe, who has worked since 2006 to bring more women into the sciences at Harvey Mudd. This year, the freshman class is 52% female, a first for the college.

Graduates starting their working lives with approximately two years of experience can expect to earn $73,300 annually, which will bloom into a yearly salary of $143,000 by mid-career -- or, about 10 years into the employee's work life.

Payscale also awarded Harvey Mudd first place for having the best return on investment of nearly 1,500 U.S. colleges and universities.

2. United States Naval Academy at Annapolis
Unlike Harvey Mudd, the student body at USNA is predominately male, who make up 79% of the approximate 4,535 enrollees. The price is right -- the tuition is zero, since the Navy picks up the tab in exchange for active service -- but only 6.8% of applicants are accepted.

Starting salaries are great, at $77,100 per year, but top out at $131,000 at mid-career, lower than Harvey Mudd's graduates. USNA wasn't ranked for ROI, since there are no tuition costs.

3. and 4. California Institute of Technology/Stevens Institute of Technology
Third place was a tie, with Caltech on the West Coast, and Stevens, located in Hoboken, N.J., representing the Northeast. Both schools produce graduates that achieve mid-level career salaries of $124,000 annually, but differ slightly in beginning yearly wages: Caltech's graduates make $68,400, while Stevens' earn slightly less at $64,900.

The percentage of degrees awarded at these two schools is highest for engineering -- 67% for Stevens and 44% for Caltech  -- which may account for the fact that both schools have an overwhelmingly male student presence on campus.

Caltech merits the No. 2 spot for ROI, while Stevens sits at No. 9.

Of course, not everyone is interested in an engineering or science degree, or wants to attend a military academy. The Payscale list has no shortage of varied institutions of higher learning that offer very respectable starting and mid-career wages, however, so it's easy to find a good fit. As usual, performing due diligence is key to making any type of informed decision, and is particularly vital when the choice could affect the rest of your working life.

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  • Report this Comment On November 03, 2013, at 10:39 AM, puravidacr10 wrote:

    Here in Costa Rica if a student proves to be exceptionally brilliant and has written recommendations from his/her teachers and submission of school grades the country will pay for the student's college courses if they maintain their excellence.

  • Report this Comment On November 03, 2013, at 1:37 PM, Slipswitch wrote:

    They are all great colleges, but a big part of the reason they put out top paid graduates is that they are all strong engineering colleges, and are in areas with a high cost of living. For example, Stevens is near New York City and produces engineers, which are one of the higher paid professions. Colleges like Rutgers or Columbia have a bigger liberal arts component, which does not typically produce graduates who are paid as much. But you may get an engineering degree from Columbia that will pay as much as the same degree from Stevens, but on average the college may not produce graduates that get paid as much.

    It may be more important to have a higher paid profession and to live in an expensive area than to go to a top college.

    For a good ROI go to a cheaper state college, or better yet, start at a community college, then transfer to a four year college, or if your family income is not too high and your grades are good enough, go to a school with a big endowment, which means they be more likely to give you a bigger aid package.

  • Report this Comment On November 03, 2013, at 3:10 PM, matthew1932 wrote:

    Slipswitch's comments are right on and I agree with them completely. The nature of the degree has a lot more bearing on income than the school, even though the school also makes a difference.

    And the idea of starting with a community college is excellent, not only much more cost effective, but if you work at it you can get just about as much out of a junior college as from the first two years at Name Brand University. There are some social and other intangibles you might benefit from at the four year school but you can make up for that as an upper classman.

  • Report this Comment On November 03, 2013, at 6:15 PM, DaveStew wrote:

    I agree with the story and everyone's comments. I would like to know where the author got her information. I tried to find this type of information on the school I chose for my MBA. Finding this information would have been nice. Please share where to find this information.

  • Report this Comment On November 04, 2013, at 12:54 AM, seniormomentnw wrote:

    Sorry, folks, but I have to disagree here. The previous replies suggest that any engineering degree will result in the best salaries. These schools are much more rigorous than the average engineering schools, and the preparation their graduates receive is just plain better, thus making their grads more attractive for the best positions. Also, these schools are rather selective. Close to half of all Harvey Mudd students are National Merit Scholars. HMC recruits the cream of the crop among high school seniors, as do all of these schools. A second-tier state school graduate is not going to be viewed the same as an Annapolis, HMC, or Caltech grad. We might prefer an egalitarian view of this, but the reality of it is somewhat different.

  • Report this Comment On November 04, 2013, at 8:46 AM, Beenthere wrote:

    Slipswitch "but a big part of the reason they put out top paid graduates is that they are all strong engineering colleges, and are in areas with a high cost of living" -- This presumption is incorrect.

    I went to one of the schools listed here. I topped out at $397k at mid-career.

    First, the students come from throughout the world and upon graduation are redistributed. I and several of my former dorm mates live here in Texas, with zero state income tax being a major attraction.

    Second, yes the major is important to the first order, but there is a world of difference between a Caltech, Georgia Tech, MIT, and a Cal State Long Beach. We think differently. It is so different that we can at times recognize strangers who graduated from the same school at different times. I have personally fingered other graduates and have been fingered. If you work with us, you will come to realize we are not quite your average engineer or scientist.

    Somewhere in one of the leads to this story said, "lucky enough", but luck has nothing to do with it. The workload is incredible, 8 hours of homework 7 days a week plus classes is not for the slacker.

  • Report this Comment On November 06, 2013, at 10:34 AM, SomethingRationa wrote:

    It's not an either/or proposition for the success of these students. I can only speak on Stevens because I attended, but there is both a school culture, that attracts brilliant and driven people; as well as a glut of high paying jobs waiting for them as they graduate. Several of my classmates, though they were engineering and hard science students found lucrative positions within the financial industry. I would say that if you look across these schools it shows the value of being skillful in quantitative analysis. I would guess that a large number of graduates from all these schools, while they may be students of engineering/science have found or been offered far more lucrative ways to make a living.

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