The 10 colleges and universities that are the best value

Magazine ranks colleges on quality and affordability

Kiplinger recently released its annual list of colleges and universities with the best value, ranking private universities, private liberal arts colleges, and public colleges based on academic quality and affordability. 

To compile the list, Kiplinger takes into account the following criteria:

  • Price tags;
  • Admission rates;
  • Student-faculty ratios;
  • Student debt at graduation;
  • Four-year graduation rates;
  • Financial aid for students who qualify; and
  • Future earnings data for graduates who enrolled 10 years prior.

To contextualize the list, Kiplinger notes this year's average sticker prices for a private college or university and for an out-of-state student at public college, which the College Board reports at $45,370 and $35,370, respectively.

The top 10 value schools on Kiplinger's list are mostly private colleges, which the site chalks up to their high graduation rates in combination with their generous financial aid—which often surpasses that of public institutions, according to Kiplinger's research.  

And it looks like today's students are making choices based on value

Kiplinger's top ten value colleges and their winning stats are:

1. Swarthmore College

  • Location: Swarthmore, Pa.
  • Undergraduate enrollment: 1,586
  • Four-year graduation rate: 87%
  • Total annual cost: $64,840
  • Average need-based aid: $44,256
  • Average graduating debt: $18,262
  • 10-year salary yardstick: $48,500

2. Davidson College

  • Location: Davidson, N.C.
  • Undergraduate enrollment: 1,784
  • Four-year graduation rate: 90%
  • Total annual cost: $62,923
  • Average need-based aid: $40,140
  • Average graduating debt: $19,929
  • 10-year salary yardstick: $51,800

3. Princeton University

  • Location: Princeton, N.J.
  • Undergraduate enrollment: 5,402
  • Four-year graduation rate: 90%
  • Total annual cost: $61,140
  • Average need-based aid: $44,890
  • Average graduating debt: $8,577
  • 10-year salary yardstick: $77,900 

4. Duke University

  • Location: Durham, N.C.
  • Undergraduate enrollment: 6,639
  • Four-year graduation rate: 86%
  • Total annual cost: $66,963
  • Average need-based aid: $44,725
  • Average graduating debt: $19,104
  • 10-year salary yardstick: $76,700

5. Washington and Lee University 

  • Location: Lexington, Va.
  • Undergraduate enrollment: 1,854
  • Four-year graduation rate: 88%
  • Total annual cost: $61,447
  • Average need-based aid: $42,322
  • Average graduating debt: $21,683
  • 10-year salary yardstick: $72,900

6. Harvard University 

  • Location: Cambridge, Mass.
  • Undergraduate enrollment: 6,699
  • Four-year graduation rate: 86%
  • Total annual cost: $64,565
  • Average need-based aid: $46,409
  • Average graduating debt: $16,723
  • 10-year salary yardstick: $95,500

7. Thomas Aquinas College

  • Location: Santa Paula, Calif.
  • Undergraduate enrollment: 377
  • Four-year graduation rate: 81%
  • Total annual cost: $32,500
  • Average need-based aid: $14,977
  • Average graduating debt: $16,901
  • 10-year salary yardstick: $30,200

8. Vanderbilt University

  • Location: Nashville, Tenn.
  • Undergraduate enrollment: 6,883
  • Four-year graduation rate: 87%
  • Total annual cost: $62,598
  • Average need-based aid: $40,267
  • Average graduating debt: $21,506
  • 10-year salary yardstick: $60,700

9. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill 

  • Location: Chapel Hill, N.C.
  • Undergraduate enrollment: 18,415
  • Four-year graduation rate: 82%
  • Total annual cost: $46,576
  • Average need-based aid: $17,244
  • Average graduating debt: $20,127
  • 10-year salary yardstick: $51,000

10. Wellesley College

  • Wellesley, Mass.
  • Undergraduate enrollment: 2,355
  • Four-year graduation rate: 86%
  • Total annual cost: $65,016
  • Average need-based aid: $44,218
  • Average graduating debt: $12,455
  • 10-year salary yardstick: $56,500

(Pitsker, Kiplinger, accessed 12/19).

Don't see your school's name on the list? Don't worry—as we've mentioned before, rankings aren't everything


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