10 colleges with the best return on investment

Looking for a college that will give you a good return on your investment? You can't do better than Stanford University, according to Princeton Review, publisher of the annually updated book "Colleges that Pay You Back."

Though Stanford's sticker price is a mind-numbing $63,996 for tuition, books, fees, room and board, the university provides an average of $45,318 in need-based aid to undergraduates, bringing the real cost down to a more manageable $18,678 annually. The average Stanford grad has less than $22,000 in debt at graduation. 

But what gives Stanford a great return on your college investment -- in addition to a superior education and rich experiential learning options -- is that the average graduate earns a median salary of $73,300 to start and some $140,400 by mid-career. 

"Students and parents are focused now more than ever on college costs and making sure that they aren't overwhelmed with debt," said Robert Franek, editor at Princeton Review and one of the co-authors of the book. "There are schools that are doing an outstanding job of making sure they address that concern and giving a lot of aid in the process."

Editors at Princeton Review looked at 40 different data points -- from student and parent reviews to alumni involvement, graduation rates and a graduate's career trajectory -- at more than 650 public and private colleges nationwide. The book features the 200 with the highest return on investment. 

"These schools were bona fide standouts," said Franek. "They offer stellar academics, generous aid awards and provide all of their undergrads with career services and a lifetime of alumni connections."

All of the top 10 colleges on the list are private, but their net cost of attendance was often lower than the cost of a comparable state university, thanks to generous grant-based aid packages. 

"Never let the sticker cost scare you," Franek added.

The other top 10: 

Princeton University, ranked second, has a $66,645 annual price tag. But the school gives the average freshman nearly $50,000 in scholarships. The school's aid program is so generous, that only 18 percent of Princeton's graduates have debt at graduation, and among those, the average debt is a mere $8,908.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology, doesn't provide as much aid. However, MIT grads' starting median salaries are among the highest in the country, at $81,500. That makes the median debt at graduation of $24,954 easily manageable.

California Institute of Technology, at No. 4, has an all-in cost of $66,027, but it provides the average freshman with $44,074 in scholarships and grants. Grads' starting median salary: $78,800.

The Cooper Union for Advancement of Science and Art rounds out the top five. The school, which traditionally provided free education to all qualified applicants, hit its own financial crisis in 2014 and now charges tuition and fees that are comparable to the rest of these private colleges. However, aid packages remain generous, leaving the average graduate with less than $22,000 of debt. 

The rest of the top 10: 

  • Harvey Mudd College in Claremont, California
  • Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire
  • Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts
  • Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut
  • Harvard College in Cambridge, Massachusetts

Notably, Princeton Review also created subsets for colleges with the best internships, the best alumni networks, the best financial aid and the best career placement. You can find all the rankings at Princeton Review