20 Best College Values in the U.S., 2019
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20 Best College Values in the U.S., 2019

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The cost of college has skyrocketed. Over the past 30 years, the average cost of tuition and fees at private four-year colleges has more than doubled, and costs for in-state students attending public colleges have tripled after adjusting for inflation, according to the College Board. For the 2018-19 academic year, the average sticker price at private nonprofit colleges, including tuition, fees, and room and board, was $48,510. The average sticker price at public colleges was $21,370 for in-state students and $37,430 for out-of-state students, according to the College Board. Most families will pay far less after financial aid awards are applied. Still, sky-high sticker prices, growing student debt and relatively flat family wages have families examining their college options more closely.

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To help you sort through your options, Kiplinger's presents an expanded version of our annual best college values list. This year, for the first time, we've named 400 schools to our best values list, plus 100 schools that narrowly missed our list but also deliver great value for your educational buck. The 20 schools featured here top our combined list, which compares private universities, private liberal arts colleges and public colleges (using out-of-state costs) to help you compare your options side by side.

All of the schools on our list meet our definition of value: a high-quality education at an affordable price. Quality always comes first. We start by examining academic measures, including the test scores of incoming freshmen, the percentage of students who return for sophomore year, and graduation rates. On the financial side, we look for schools with affordable sticker prices, generous financial aid for students who qualify, and low student debt at graduation.

These 20 schools top our combined list for their blend of academic quality and affordability.

SEE ALSO: 10 Best College Values With the Lowest Average Graduating Debt, 2019

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20 Best College Values in the U.S., 2019 | Slide 2 of 21

1. Thomas Aquinas College

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Location: Santa Paula, Calif.

Undergraduate enrollment: 370

Four-year grad rate: 73%

Total annual cost: $34,450

Avg. need-based aid: $13,585

Avg. graduating debt: $19,319

10-year salary yardstick: $42,100

This small liberal arts college, located 65 miles northwest of Los Angeles on the edge of the Los Padres National Forest, tops our combined best values list for the first time. Thomas Aquinas College racks up points on the financial side of the equation with a sticker price that's nearly 30% lower than the average for four-year private colleges and half that of many other schools on our best values list. Thomas Aquinas, which will open a second campus in Massachusetts this August, also heads our list of private liberal arts colleges, which are ranked separately from private universities to account for their different missions.

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This Catholic college has no majors, minors or electives. Instead, Thomas Aquinas combines the traditions and teachings of the Catholic Church with a “Great Books" education focused on the original works of great philosophers, historians, mathematicians, poets, scientists and theologians. Like all of the schools in our combined top 20, Thomas Aquinas meets 100% of students' demonstrated financial need, awarding need-based aid (the only kind the school offers) to 70% of students. And while nearly 90% of students report taking student loans, the average debt among those who borrow is less than $20,000.

SEE ALSO: 10 Best College Values You May Have Overlooked, 2019

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2. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

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Location: Chapel Hill, N.C.

Undergraduate enrollment: 18,862

Four-year grad rate: 84%

Total annual cost: $47,307 (out-of-state)

Avg. need-based aid: $17,607

Avg. graduating debt: $22,214

10-year salary yardstick: $55,600

A blend of high-quality academics and affordability helps the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill outstrip the competition to become the only public college in our combined top 20. This perennial winner also heads our list of in-state public college values for the 18th straight time (a clean sweep of Kiplinger's public college rankings) and claims the title for best out-of-state value in 2019. Solid academics, including a 24% admission rate, an 84% four-year graduation rate and a 13-to-1 student-faculty ratio help this public research university continue to be a sweet deal. During their time on campus, Tar Heels (a term that dates back to the state's early history producing supplies for the naval industry) can select among more than 70 majors, join any of more than 800 student organizations and choose among more than 50 intramural sports.

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UNC's annual out-of-state sticker price is more than 25% higher than the national average for out-of-state students attending four-year public colleges in 2018-19. But generous need-based financial aid awards reduce UNC's sticker price by 37% for out-of-state students who qualify. Carolina and the University of Virginia (number 51 on our combined list) are the only two public colleges in our rankings to meet 100% of students' demonstrated financial need.

SEE ALSO: What You Should Know About Getting Into a Military Service Academy

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20 Best College Values in the U.S., 2019 | Slide 4 of 21

3. Swarthmore College

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Location: Swarthmore, Pa.

Undergraduate enrollment: 1,641

Four-year grad rate: 89%

Total annual cost: $69,422

Avg. need-based aid: $48,661

Avg. graduating debt: $20,209

10-year salary yardstick: $56,700

This small liberal arts college, located on a 425-acre campus 11 miles southwest of Philadelphia, excels in our rankings for its blend of high-quality academics and robust financial aid. Swarthmore College accepts just 11% of applicants, and 86% of incoming students score 30 or higher on the ACT. Once on campus, Swatties can choose among more than 600 courses in more than 40 areas of study or selected additional courses through the school's agreement with nearby Bryn Mawr College, Haverford College and the University of Pennsylvania. Two-thirds of students will participate in undergraduate research or independent projects before graduation.

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This Quaker college also racks up points on the financial side of the equation. Ample need-based financial aid, awarded to more than half of students, cuts Swarthmore's nearly $70,000 annual sticker price down to size for those who qualify. And at Swarthmore, student loans aren't part of the financial aid equation. All financial aid is awarded in the form of scholarships and grants. The average debt of the roughly one in four students who report borrowing on their own is nearly 40% less than the national average among borrowers who attend private colleges.

SEE ALSO: Find the Best College for You

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4. Yale University

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Location: New Haven, Conn.

Undergraduate enrollment: 5,746

Four-year grad rate: 88%

Total annual cost: $70,570

Avg. need-based aid: $53,412

Avg. graduating debt: $13,050

10-year salary yardstick: $83,200

This Ivy League institution piles up points in our rankings for its stellar academics, including an impressive 88% four-year graduation rate, six-to-one student-faculty ratio and competitive 7% admission rate. Nearly 70% of accepted students choose to enroll, and 99% of freshmen return for their sophomore year. Yale University also leads the pack among private universities for the third time since Kiplinger's began ranking private colleges in 1999. Once on the school's tree-lined campus, Yalies choose among 80 majors and roughly 2,000 courses offered each year.

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Despite an annual sticker price of about $71,000, a Yale education can be surprisingly affordable. Half of students—some from families with income of $250,000 a year or more—receive need-based financial aid. Generous awards for students who qualify cut the school's annual sticker price to $17,158 (the second-lowest net price in our top 20). Like many of our top contenders, Yale doesn't include loans in financial aid awards. The school meets 100% of students' demonstrated financial need with scholarships and grants. The average debt among the 16% of students who report borrowing on their own is about $13,000.

SEE ALSO: See, Sort All 400 Best College Values

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5. Princeton University

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Location: Princeton, N.J.

Undergraduate enrollment: 5,394

Four-year grad rate: 89%

Total annual cost: $63,800

Avg. need-based aid: $51,365

Avg. graduating debt: $9,005

10-year salary yardstick: $74,700

Outstanding academics, generous financial aid and low student debt help this Ivy League institution, located about 50 miles from both Philadelphia and New York City, procure plenty of points in our rankings. Princeton University's highly-selective 6% admission rate is among the lowest on our list of 400 colleges. More than 80% of accepted students choose to enroll, and 98% of freshmen return for their sophomore year.

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An average need-based aid award of more than $51,000 cuts the school's sticker price by 81% for those who qualify. And Princeton's definition of financial need is broader than you may expect: Some of the school's nearly 60% of students who receive need-based aid come from families with an annual income of $250,000 a year or more. In 2001, Princeton was the first school to implement a no-loan policy, instead awarding all accepted students 100% of their demonstrated financial need in the form of scholarships and grants. The average debt among the roughly one in six students who borrow is among the lowest of all 400 schools on our list.

SEE ALSO: See, Sort the Top 100 Private Universities

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20 Best College Values in the U.S., 2019 | Slide 7 of 21

6. Washington and Lee University

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Location: Lexington, Va.

Undergraduate enrollment: 1,827

Four-year grad rate: 89%

Total annual cost: $68,330

Avg. need-based aid: $43,766

Avg. graduating debt: $22,651

10-year salary yardstick: $76,100

A blend of high-quality academics and abundant financial aid helps Washington and Lee University land the sixth spot on our combined best values list. At W&L, more than 40% of students qualify for need-based aid. And the average need-based aid award cuts the school's sticker price to less than $25,000 a year for students who qualify. W&L also awards merit aid to 13% of students who don't receive need-based aid, at an average of $39,088 per year in non-need-based aid for students who qualify.

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This small liberal arts college nestled between the Blue Ridge and Allegheny Mountains attracts top-notch students for its broad-based liberal arts curriculum and tight-knit community. W&L accepts 22% of students, and 90% of incoming freshmen score 30 or higher on the ACT. The school's eight-to-one student-faculty ratio generally translates into small classes. Campus life is distinguished by the school's student-run honor code, which governs student behavior and allows students to schedule their own unproctored exams, and a “speaking tradition" that encourages students and faculty to greet everyone they pass on campus.

SEE ALSO: See Our Top Picks for Public Colleges

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7. Davidson College

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Location: Davidson, N.C.

Undergraduate enrollment: 1,810

Four-year grad rate: 90%

Total annual cost: $66,819

Avg. need-based aid: $45,442

Avg. graduating debt: $22,599

10-year salary yardstick: $58,900

High-quality academics helps Davidson College, located about 20 minutes north of Charlotte, nab its spot on our 2019 list. Also aiding its success: a 90% four-year graduation rate (among the highest of all 400 schools on our list). Substantial financial aid programs help keep costs in check. More than half of students receive need-based aid. And a robust merit-aid program awards funds to 16% of students who don't qualify for need-based aid.

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Davidson College blends a classic liberal arts education with big-name athletics (expansive sports facilities are steps away from academic buildings). Many of Davidson's nearly 2,000 students are also attracted to the school's commitment to leadership and public service, as well as a campus culture that emphasizes mutual trust and respect. Unlike most schools of its size, Davidson's sports teams run with the big dogs, with 21 competing at the NCAA Division I level. And the Wildcats have something else to cheer about: In 2007, the school became the first liberal arts college to eliminate loans from financial aid packages. Among the 29% of students who borrow, the average debt is about $10,000 less than the national average.

SEE ALSO: See Our Top Picks for Liberal Arts Colleges

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8. Duke University

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Location: Durham, N.C.

Undergraduate enrollment: 6,692

Four-year grad rate: 88%

Total annual cost: $72,193

Avg. need-based aid: $47,556

Avg. graduating debt: $23,819

10-year salary yardstick: $84,400

Duke University lands the eighth spot on our combined best values rankings for its strong academics, including a competitive 10% admission rate, high test scores among incoming freshmen (84% score 30 or higher on the ACT) and a six-to-one student-faculty ratio, which ensures that students get plenty of face time with professors. Half of undergraduates complete research projects with faculty members.

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On the financial side, Duke's average need-based aid award cuts the school's sticker price by 66%. Like all schools in our top 20, Duke meets 100% of students' demonstrated financial need, awarding need-based aid to more than 40% of students. The school also offers non-need-based aid awards averaging more than $68,000 to about 4% of students who don't receive need-based aid.

SEE ALSO: How to Interpret a College Financial Aid Letter

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9. Haverford College

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Location: Haverford, Pa.

Undergraduate enrollment: 1,296

Four-year grad rate: 87%

Total annual cost: $72,434

Avg. need-based aid: $48,895

Avg. graduating debt: $15,000

10-year salary yardstick: $60,700

This small liberal arts college, located on a 216-acre campus eight miles west of Philadelphia, attracts outstanding students. More than 70% of students score 700 or higher on the critical reading portion of the SAT, and more than two-thirds score top marks on the math portion. Before graduation, every student will complete a senior thesis, and many will have their work published. Every bit of life on Haverford's campus—from the unattended belongings in common areas to the un-proctored, self-scheduled final exams—reflects the school's student-run honor code and Quaker tradition, both of which emphasize trust and mutual respect. And because Haverford is one of four schools in the Quaker Consortium, students can take classes at nearby Swarthmore College (number 3 on our combined list) and Bryn Mawr College (number 54). If a class is not offered by one of those three schools, students can take a 20-minute train ride to Philadelphia to take the class at the University of Pennsylvania (number 39).

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Despite sporting the highest sticker price in our combined top 20, this small liberal arts college earns big points on the financial side of the equation, too. Like all of the schools near the top of our list, Haverford College meets 100% of students' demonstrated financial need. Loans aren't included in the financial aid packages of students whose families earn less than $60,000 a year. And for families who earn more, the loan portion of the school's financial aid award tops out at $3,000 a year. For indebted graduates who select less-lucrative careers, Haverford offers a debt-relief program that provides funds for those who have trouble making payments.

SEE ALSO: 25 Best College Majors for a Lucrative Career

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10. Massachusetts Institute of Technology

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Location: Cambridge, Mass.

Undergraduate enrollment: 4,547

Four-year grad rate: 85%

Total annual cost: $68,142

Avg. need-based aid: $45,570

Avg. graduating debt: $20,048

10-year salary yardstick: $104,700

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology stands out for its highly selective 7% admission rate, 99% freshman retention rate and three-to-one student-faculty ratio (tied with the California Institute of Technology for lowest of all 400 colleges on our list). Once enrolled, students can select among 54 majors and 58 minors and can join any of more than 500 student organizations. MIT's 166-acre campus sits across the Charles River from Boston's Black Bay, offering students easy access to Boston for internship and job opportunities.

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Generous financial aid awards also help MIT do well in our rankings. Nearly 60% of students receive need-based aid, and the average annual award cuts the school's sticker price by 67%. About 30% of students report borrowing, and the average debt among those who do is about $12,500 less than the national average for private school borrowers.

SEE ALSO: 15 Worst College Majors for a Lucrative Career

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11. Hamilton College

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Location: Clinton, N.Y.

Undergraduate enrollment: 1,897

Four-year grad rate: 90%

Total annual cost: $69,490

Avg. need-based aid: $42,968

Avg. graduating debt: $19,281

10-year salary yardstick: $60,200

Strong academics and robust financial aid awards help Hamilton College—a small liberal arts college named for the founding father celebrated in the Broadway musical—secure its spot on our 2019 list. More than 80% of incoming freshmen report scoring 30 or higher on the ACT. The school's 90% four-year graduation rate is among the highest of all 400 schools on our list. Many of the school's nearly 2,000 students are attracted to Hamilton for its flexible liberal arts curriculum and close-knit community. The school's open curriculum sets few degree requirements beyond those for a student's major, but the school's nine-to-one student-faculty ratio means students will get plenty of opportunities to interact with their professors. During their free time, students can visit Cafe Opus for coffee and a mango brie panini, participate in any of the more than 200 student clubs and organizations, or take a walk in the Root Glen, the school's 7.5-acre wooded garden.

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Like many of the private colleges on our list, Hamilton posts an annual sticker price of nearly $70,000. The school is one of several dozen across the country to both admit students without regard to their ability to pay and meet 100% of students' demonstrated financial need. Half of students, some from families that earn $300,000 a year or more, receive need-based aid (the only kind the school offers). And to help students avoid excessive debt, Hamilton includes only federally subsidized loans in financial aid awards for domestic students. Unlike other loans, these debts come with low interest rates and favorable repayment terms, and interest doesn't accrue while a student is enrolled in school.

SEE ALSO: Best and Worst Liberal Arts Majors for Your Career

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12. Harvard University

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Location: Cambridge, Mass.

Undergraduate enrollment: 6,766

Four-year grad rate: 84%

Total annual cost: $68,580

Avg. need-based aid: $50,699

Avg. graduating debt: $15,114

10-year salary yardstick: $89,700

This Ivy League institution racks up points for its highly selective 5% admission rate (the most competitive of all 400 schools on our list) and strong test scores among incoming freshmen (87% score 700 or higher on the critical reading portion of the SAT, and 88% score top marks on the math portion). Of the students who are offered admission, 83% enroll (the highest yield in our combined top 20).

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An average need-based aid award of more than $50,000 cuts the school's annual sticker price by more than 70%. And Harvard provides financial to 54% of its students. Some come from families with an annual income of $150,000 a year or more. Families with annual income between $65,000 and $150,000 are expected to contribute between zero and 10% of their annual income; students from families who earn less than $65,000 a year pay nothing. Harvard's $39.2 billion endowment helps the school meet 100% of students' demonstrated financial need without including loans in student's financial aid awards. The average debt among the one in five students who borrow on their own is among the lowest of all 400 schools on our list.

SEE ALSO: Best College Values in New England

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13. Amherst College

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Location: Amherst, Mass.

Undergraduate enrollment: 1,836

Four-year grad rate: 90%

Total annual cost: $72,166

Avg. need-based aid: $51,841

Avg. graduating debt: $19,075

10-year salary yardstick: $65,000

Top-notch academics, including a 13% admission rate and a 90% four-year graduation rate (tied with two other schools for highest in our top 20), help this small liberal arts college solidify its spot on our combined list. Located on 1,000 acres (half of which is a wildlife sanctuary) 90 minutes west of Boston, Amherst College attracts exemplary students from across the country and around the world. Once on campus, students can select among 40 fields of study in the arts, humanities, natural sciences and social sciences. Each year, Amherst offers more than 850 academic courses. And because Amherst is part of the Five College Consortium, students can access more than 6,000 classes at Hampshire College, Mount Holyoke College (number 53 on our combined list), Smith College (number 23), and the University of Massachusetts Amherst (number 147).

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Need-based financial aid awards (the only kind Amherst offers) and the school's no-loan financial aid packages help most students avoid taking out student loans. Among the roughly 30% who report borrowing, the average debt at graduation is less than $20,000, or about 60% of the national average debt for private school borrowers. Sixty percent of students qualify to receive need-based aid, and the average need-based aid award cuts the school's annual sticker price by 72%.

SEE ALSO: Understanding the Cost of College

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14. Pomona College

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Location: Claremont, Calif.

Undergraduate enrollment: 1,703

Four-year grad rate: 89%

Total annual cost: $70,496

Avg. need-based aid: $50,069

Avg. graduating debt: $17,408

10-year salary yardstick: $58,100

Located on 140 acres about 35 miles east of Los Angeles, Pomona College racks up points in our rankings for its top-notch academics and generous financial aid awards. The school boasts a highly selective 8% admission rate, strong test scores among incoming freshmen (more than 80% score 30 points or higher on the ACT) and an eight-to-one student-faculty ratio. Once on campus, students can select among 48 majors and about 600 academic courses. Because Pomona is one of seven colleges and graduate schools in the Claremont consortium, students can also enroll in courses at nearby colleges, including Claremont McKenna College (number 59 on our combined list), Harvey Mudd College (number 47), Pitzer College (number 75) and Scripps College (number 67).

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On the financial side, substantial need-based aid awards and the school's no-loan policy help most students reach graduation day without taking out student loans. Among the 31% who report borrowing, the average debt at graduation is about $15,000 less than the national average among private school borrowers. More than half of students qualify for need-based aid, and the average award cuts the school's annual sticker price by 71%.

SEE ALSO: 15 Best Jobs You Can Get Without a College Degree

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15. Middlebury College

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Location: Middlebury, Vermont

Undergraduate enrollment: 2,560

Four-year grad rate: 86%

Total annual cost: $70,980

Avg. need-based aid: $47,439

Avg. graduating debt: $19,382

10-year salary yardstick: $58,200

This classic liberal arts college in central Vermont's Champlain Valley racks up points in our rankings for its 17% admission rate, high test scores among incoming freshmen and an eight-to-one student-faculty ratio. Once on Middlebury's campus, students can select from more than 850 courses in 44 majors. Regardless of which courses they choose, much of their coursework will emphasize writing, critical thinking and expression. In their free time, students can participate in any of more than 200 student organizations, ranging from debate to recreational sports to religious groups.

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At Middlebury, 44% of students receive need-based financial aid. The average award of more than $47,000 cuts the school's sticker price to about $23,500 a year for those who qualify. Roughly half of students report borrowing, but the average debt among those who do is less than $20,000.

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16. Wesleyan University

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Location: Middletown, Conn.

Undergraduate enrollment: 2,976

Four-year grad rate: 85%

Total annual cost: $70,904

Avg. need-based aid: $47,206

Avg. graduating debt: $22,930

10-year salary yardstick: $54,700

Despite sporting an annual sticker price of nearly $71,000, Wesleyan University scores big points on the financial side of our equation. Like all schools in our top 20, Wesleyan University meets 100% of students' demonstrated financial need, awarding need-based aid to more than 40% of students. The average award of more than $47,000 cuts the school's sticker price by 67%, to $23,698.

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Located on a historic, 316-acre New England campus, Wesleyan offers more than 1,000 courses in 45 majors including biology, classical civilization, music and religion. Outside of class, there are more than 200 student organizations, ranging from martial arts and dance troupes to volunteer groups and literary magazines. To help students launch into a successful career, the school hosts more than 200 career events on campus each year.

SEE ALSO: 6 Tax Breaks for College Costs

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17. Vassar College

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Location: Poughkeepsie, N.Y.

Undergraduate enrollment: 2,353

Four-year grad rate: 85%

Total annual cost: $72,270

Avg. need-based aid: $48,194

Avg. graduating debt: $19,439

10-year salary yardstick: $54,600

Much has changed about Vassar College since 1861, when the two-building campus first opened its doors to 353 students—who paid $350 for tuition and “residence." Today, the school's campus spans more than 100 academic and residential buildings, and the roughly 2,400 students have their choice of 51 majors and more than 1,000 courses. Strong academics—including a 24% admission rate, high test scores among incoming freshmen (more than 70% score 700 or more on the critical reading section, and 63% score top marks on the math portion) and an eight-to-one student-faculty ratio—help this small liberal arts college located midway between New York City and Albany nab the 17th spot on our combined list.

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Vassar earns points on the financial side, too. More than 60% of students qualify for need-based aid, and the average need-based aid award cuts the school's sticker price to about $24,000 a year. The school meets 100% of students' demonstrated financial need while eliminating or reducing the loans in the awards for students from low-income families. The average debt of the 45% of students who report taking loans is less than $20,000.

SEE ALSO: 11 Top Sources of College Scholarships

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18. Bowdoin College

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Location: Brunswick, Maine

Undergraduate enrollment: 1,829

Four-year grad rate: 88%

Total annual cost: $69,460

Avg. need-based aid: $47,522

Avg. graduating debt: $25,482

10-year salary yardstick: $65,500

Located about three-and-a-half miles from the Atlantic Ocean and a 30-minute drive from Portland, Bowdoin College attracts high-achievers. Two-thirds of them hail from outside of New England, and many are drawn to the school's broad-based liberal arts curriculum, friendly campus culture, commitment to the environment and focus on community service. Bowdoin's selective 10% admission rate and generous need-based aid awards (given to nearly half of the students) help this small college secure its place on our combined list. Students can select among 42 academic majors, ranging from biology to computer science to history, and participate in any of the more than 100 student clubs and organizations. Students looking to explore more than the campus's footpaths and pines or the walkable downtown area nearby can get off-campus with the school's outdoors recreation club, which organizes more than 150 excursions each year.

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On the financial side, Bowdoin's average need-based aid slashes 68% off the school's sticker price for those who qualify. And at Bowdoin, whose mascot is the polar bear, students don't have to take the plunge when it comes to student loans. The school eliminated loans from its financial aid packages in 2008, replacing them with scholarships and grants. Among the 27% of students who report borrowing on their own, the average debt is about $7,000 less than the national average among private school borrowers.

SEE ALSO: Smart Ways to Manage Your Student Loans

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19. California Institute of Technology

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Location: Pasadena, Calif.

Undergraduate enrollment: 961

Four-year grad rate: 79%

Total annual cost: $69,210

Avg. need-based aid: $45,797

Avg. graduating debt: $16,777

10-year salary yardstick: $85,900

A blend of academic quality and affordability help this private college, known for its science and engineering research, earn its place at number 19 on this year's combined best values list. CalTech has a highly selective 8% admission rate, and nearly all incoming freshmen score 700 or higher on both the critical reading and math portions of the SAT. Generous need-based financial aid awards cut the school's nearly $70,000 sticker price by an average of 66% for those who qualify. The school counts 38 Nobel prize winners (and 39 prizes) among its faculty and alumni.

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CalTech's 124-acre campus sits at the foot of the San Gabriel Mountains, about 10 miles northeast of downtown Los Angeles and about 30 miles from the ocean. Students have a choice of 28 majors, and the school's three-to-one student-faculty ratio (tied with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology for the lowest of all 400 colleges on our list) allows students to work closely with faculty, often completing hands-on research before graduation.

SEE ALSO: Relief for Student Loan Borrowers

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20. Carleton College

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Location: Northfield, Minn.

Undergraduate enrollment: 2,078

Four-year grad rate: 89%

Total annual cost: $69,697

Avg. need-based aid: $40,675

Avg. graduating debt: $21,035

10-year salary yardstick: $54,200

Quality academics, including an impressive 89% four-year graduation rate and a nine-to-one student-faculty ratio, help Carleton College excel in our rankings. This small liberal arts college, located on 1,040 acres in a historic river town 40 miles south of Minneapolis, attracts students from across the country and around the world. Only about 15% of Carls are from Minnesota, about one-third are from the Midwest and about 12% come from abroad. Students can select among more than 1,000 courses in 33 majors, study in one of the largest undergraduate libraries in the country, and spend their free time participating in any of more than 200 student organizations related to the arts, athletics, activism and more.

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An average need-based aid award of nearly $41,000 cuts the school's published sticker price by nearly 60% for students who qualify. Like all of the schools in our top 20, Carleton meets 100% of students' demonstrated financial need, awarding need-based aid to more than half of its students. The school also awards non-need-based aid to roughly 11% of students who don't receive need-based aid. Nearly 80% of students work at an on-campus job, including many who are not receiving need-based aid. The average debt among the roughly one in four students who report taking loans is about $12,000 less than the national average among borrowers who attend private colleges.

SEE ALSO: Valuable Lessons on Getting, Repaying Student Loans

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