23 four-year schools with low costs that lead to high incomes

One of the biggest concerns about college that students and families have is the costs of attending—and the possible opportunities it could create for their careers. Check out 23 four-year institutions of higher education that have demonstrated both high earnings, as well as low costs for their lowest-income students.

Institution Median Earnings of Students 10 Years After Entering the School Average Net Price for Low-Income Students
Amherst College $56,800 $3,739
Bowdoin College $54,800 $6,731
Brown University $59,700 $6,104
Columbia University in the City of New York $72,900 $5,497
Dartmouth College $67,100 $7,648
Duke University $76,700 $6,280
Georgia Institute of Technology-Main Campus $74,000 $7,875
Hamilton College $57,300 $7,245
Harvard University $87,200 $3,386
Haverford College $55,600 $5,648
Massachusetts Institute of Technology $91,600 $6,733
Massachusetts Maritime Academy $79,500 $7,519
Princeton University $75,100 $5,720
Rice University $59,900 $7,960
Stanford University $80,900 $3,895
Trinity College $56,100 $7,874
University of Michigan-Ann Arbor $57,900 $7,156
University of Pennsylvania $78,200 $6,614
University of Virginia-Main Campus $58,600 $7,007
Vanderbilt University $60,900 $7,147
Washington and Lee University $77,600 $7,663
Williams College $58,100 $8,202
Yale University $66,000 $7,637

This list includes schools in the top 10 percent of predominantly four-year-degree-granting schools for 1) median positive earnings 10 years after beginning at the school and 2) low net price for students receiving federal grants or loans with a family income of $0-$48,000. Net price refers to the net price for in-state students in public institutions. Percentiles were calculated excluding cell sizes less than 30, schools with zero undergraduate degree-seeking students, schools not currently operating, and schools in territories.


  1. It would be interested to see this information stratified by taxable income. I think that would be useful information in choosing a school.

    After putting myself, and 3 children through degrees, I highly endorse working with a community college near home to complete the first two years (and “general eds,” working closely with target university to make sure these will transfer. After two undergraduate degrees (one at Georgetown and one at a state college) i feel that the general ed requirements are important areas of learning, but do not necessarily merit the tuition of finer institutions.
    My daughter, S, pursued this strategy and was accepted at universities for which she would not have qualified straight out of high school. If you look at retention rates, you can see that there are an awful lot of empty chairs by junior year, so transfer students can be a hot commodity. She recognized the importance of internships, and lacking a lot of contact on campus, took full advantage of them, making the contacts to become press secretary for presidential campaign superpac right out of school. Her maturity had increased dramatically during those two years of community college (sowing her wild seeds cheaply), and she worked with staff who had class sizes/humility to take time and help her with the writing and research skills that had not been taught in our public education system

  2. Bowdoin’s admissions are need-blind, which means they don’t look at your ability to pay when determine acceptance, they meet full financial need (which helps the middle class like us greatly, not just incomes under $48K), and have a no loan guarantee when meeting full financial need, meaning all financial need is met with grants – not loans. It doesn’t get better than that. We are a middle class family with a daughter who seized the many opportunities available at her public high school, was admitted at Bowdon, who appreciates and realizes what an amazing opportunity it is for her there every day of her precious four years.

  3. I would also like to see a scorecard for schools that give the list for other income levels. I would like to know how many students Harvard Duke Yale etc. actually have that receive that level of aid. We are in a situation where we get no aide based on our family income, but almost if not all those schools listed above are out of budget. So my children will not even apply. There is no return on investment. And it is completely irresponsible as parents that we support having our kids graduate with huge loans. So how about providing lists for affordable schools based on receiving NO aid with high starting incomes….do they exist?

    • Hi Cheryl,
      Agree with your feelings about loans and your suggestion re. a list of affordable schools.

      We’re a high middle-income family (too much for need based aid, too little to afford college!) I’d like to share our experience with my son, now a Junior at Santa Clara University.

      On paper SCU was by far the most expensive option out 7 schools he applied to but we applied anyway. In fact, we didn’t consider cost when choosing schools to apply to…he was accepted to 5 of 7 schools, private and public, and at the end of the day SCU was the least expensive option – scholarships and grants made our out of pocket cost less than our local State University. I guess the lesson for us was: you NEVER KNOW what a school is looking for and what you might get in the way of grants/scholarships.

      Good luck!

  4. The best information on this site for families and youth contemplating college are the comments. They are reflective of the real world. I will add my own opinion and request to the Department of Education that while there is a noticeable effort to improve the system, the next action MUST be that all private colleges and schools be excluded from Federal Student Aid. I’m sure the likes of excellent private Universities will howl at this one but right now there are just too many bogus schools out there that are the primary cause of the student loan crisis that we have seen just the tip of the iceberg of. In time, tighter criteria could work but first, all of those schools for which more than 50% of their income is derived from Federal student loans need to be put out of business asap. Also, predatory lenders whose sole business is student loans, ie. Salle Mae borne of old bad government are fighting to stay alive on the backs of many unsuspecting students and parents but as we have seen, the taxpayers are doing the real paying. Keep federal money in state and city colleges and universities and you’ll find the private institutions will reap the residual benefits as well.

  5. This survey is just another bit of evidence that education in the U.S. Is a business, and one that assures the continued elitism and wealth concentration. It is another pecking order perk. It is so exclusionary that it should register as a private club. Simply put, it is terrible public policy.

  6. I have heard that College Scorecard is not a ranking system. But it is also obvious that you have various categories, such as “23 four-year schools with low costs that lead to high incomes,” where some level of ranking occurs. That being said, I would like to see the full list of the top 10 percent for the four links appearing on your homepage under “Check Out These Schools.” Furthermore, I would also like to see how all colleges performed in these categories, not just the top 10 percent. But I don’t see the link on your website. Can you please provide this. Thanks.

    • Suggesting that Al Diaz and others looking for collegescorecard.ed.gov to rank schools take the time to research the history and intentions of the site when President Obama first announced its inception. The plan was, in fact, to rank schools based on cost, graduation rates, and graduate’s income; but many believed that analysis oversimplified the college experience and ran the risk of giving poor scores to degree programs that aren’t necessarily job training but no less important. In the end, the White House decided to provide data and let students and their families use as guidance for each individual. None of this excludes the usual publications, such as US NEWS and similar from the annual ratings metric.

  7. Interesting information, but most of these schools delight in rejecting almost everyone who applies for admission. They are like exclusive country clubs subsidized by the taxpayers. They pay no tax on their vast real estate holdings, or their multi-billion dollar endowments. Plus 25% to 50% of anything given to them as a gift is paid for by the government because the gift is tax deductible to the giver. Many gifts are used for self aggrandizement. Every vain rich person wants to have a college building named in their honor.

  8. As many comments show already – the lists here focus on families making less than $48k which isn’t helpful to the middle class. It’s great that these are affordable for those families, but which colleges can we – those of us making between $48k – $80k per family – afford without the additional subsidies we won’t qualify for????

    • Our D attends Yale (is in her senior year) and we are in the top portion of your stated income level. She will be graduating debt free because Yale’s financial aid is so generous. We have paid on average about $7,000 per year. So the figure on this chart is off a bit. I believe families with incomes under $60,000 pay much less, if anything. Our D already has two job offers from high-paying companies, both of which quickly jumped on her applications as a summer intern.

  9. Including loans as factor in “reducing” the cost of education is disingenuous. A loan may help a student pay for a given semester but, loans do not reduce the cost to a student, it just shifts the cost to a later date.

  10. Wow…. the schools listed on here are wonderful schools and so affordable.
    It is like T-ball where all the parents think their kids are gonna be pro. Getting into these schools is very tough. The high priced careers are in curriculum’s that are even tougher. I don’t know how useful listing these 23 as a goal is.

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