With college tuition costs inching upward year after year after year, finding a school that gives you the most bang for your buck --- meaning, quality education at a relatively affordable rate --- is more important than ever. Private nonprofit schools, like the innumerable liberal arts colleges that have exploded in attendance over the last 30 years as well as old guard places like Ivy League universities, are the most expensive in terms of tuition. Public colleges, while cheaper, have seen their tuition increase at a comparable rate to private colleges. According to the National Center of Educational Statistics (NCES), in inflation-adjusted dollars, public four-year tuition rose from $8,798 in 1985-86 to $20,050 in 2017-18; over the same period, private four-year tuition rose from $21,042 to $43,139. In other words, both more than doubled.
In order to help you find the best value college, we conducted a study analyzing the colleges that give you the most bang for your buck. The methodology was based on using the list of schools in The Princeton Review's Best 386 Colleges and evaluating them in terms of their in-state and out-of-state annual tuition costs, acceptance rate, four-year and six-year graduation rates, and academic quality. The result is a varied list of top-quality colleges in regards to their education that are affordable at the same time.
20 Best Colleges for Your Money in 2021
Below you'll find a table with a breakdown of the top-20 best colleges and universities in which you get the most bang for your buck. Read on to find out the 20 best colleges for your money in 2021.
|College||Acceptance Rate||Approx. annual Tuition: In-state||Approx. annual Tuition: Out-of-state||6-Year Graduation Rate||Academic Score: 60-99|
|College of the Ozarks||16%||$0||$0||72%||82|
|Florida State University||36%||$6,516||$21,683||83%||82|
|Truman State University||63%||$7,975||$15,335||72%||82|
|North Carolina State University||45%||$6,535||$26,654||82%||82|
|San Diego State University||34%||$7,720||$19,600||75%||78|
|Brigham Young University||67%||$11,940||$11,940||83%||85|
|William & Mary||38%||$17,434||$40,089||91%||92|
|Georgia Institute of Technology||21%||$10,258||$31,370||87%||83|
|University of Central Florida||44%||$5,954||$20,980||73%||75|
|James Madison University||75%||$7,250||$24,150||83%||80|
|University of California, Los Angeles||12%||$13,239||$42,993||90%||82|
|The College of New Jersey||49%||$16,942||$28,921||86%||82|
1. College of the Ozarks
College of the Ozarks is located in Point Lookout, Missouri, and ranks as one of the more unique colleges in the U.S. College of the Ozarks charges no tuition for full-time students because it operates on its student work program as well as donations. The college is competitive to get into, with an acceptance rate of 16%. The six-year graduation rate is also above average at 72% versus a national average of 62%, according to the NCES.
2. Berea College
Like the College of the Ozarks, Berea College charges no tuition because it operates a work-study program, requiring students to work at least 10 hours a week in campus and service jobs. Located in Berea, Kentucky, this college has an acceptance rate, 38%, that's on part with quality state colleges, such as San Diego State University or Florida State University. The Princeton Review gives Berea College a strong academic score (86 out 99). The school has always been a stand-out institution, being the first college in the southern U.S. to be coeducational and racially integrated.
3. Florida State University
Home of the Seminoles, Florida State University boasts affordable in-state and out-of-state tuition rates and strong graduation rates. In-state annual tuition costs $6,516, while out-of-state is $21,683, for an average of $14,100. With an acceptance rate of 36%, Florida State is a bit more selective than University of Central Florida (44%), but not as much as the University of Miami (27%). With a six-year graduation rate of 83%, Florida State's rate is far better than the national average of 62%. In its ranking of best national universities overall, U.S. News named Florida State the 58th best.
4. State University of New York at Binghamton
Also simply known as Binghamton University, this college is one of the four university centers of the State University of New York (SUNY) system. Binghamton University has six schools spread over 930 acres in upstate New York, including top-ranked nursing, business and engineering schools. The university's four-year graduation rate (73%) and six-year graduation rate (82%) are much better than the national average. With an annual in-state tuition of $7,070 and an out-of-state tuition of $24,660, Binghamton University definitely offers some of the best education for your money.
5. Baruch College
Part of the City University of New York (CUNY) system, Bernard M. Baruch College offers undergraduate, masters and Ph.D. programs, and is quite affordable, both for New York residents and out-of-state applicants. At $3,465 per semester for New York residents, annual tuition for in-state students works out to $about 6,930. For out-of-state residents, tuition is calculated on a per credit basis; assuming a full load of 12 credits, out-of-state students pay about $14,880 a year in tuition. On top of that, its six-year graduation rate (69%) is better than the national average.
6. Truman State University
Named in honor of President Harry S. Truman and located in his home state of Missouri, Truman State University is one of the state's top liberal arts and science universities and, according to the Princeton Review, the only highly selective public institution in the state. The school counts among its notable alumni General John "Black Jack" Pershing, actress Jenna Fischer of "The Office", and countless politicians and civil leaders. Tuition is affordable, costing $7,975 a year for in-state students and $15,335 a year for out-of-state students. Its six-year graduation rate is also 10 points higher than the national average. In terms of academics, Princeton Review gave it a score of 82 out of 99.
7. State University of New York at Geneseo
Commonly called SUNY Geneseo or even just Geneseo, this college is one of the top-ranked schools of the SUNY higher education system. Located in upstate New York near the Finger Lakes, Geneseo is highly-regarded as a public institution, with its undergraduate teaching being ranked the fourth-best in the country by U.S. News. Geneseo's tuition is very affordable, costing in-state students $7,070 per year and out-of-state students $16,980 per year. Both its four-year graduation rate (72%) and six-year graduation rate (81%) are better than the average for U.S. colleges overall.
8. State University of New York at Purchase
Usually just called Purchase College, this school is a leading liberal arts college in the SUNY system, offering a range of degrees, including Bachelor of Arts (BA), Bachelor of Science (BS), Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA), Bachelor of Music (MusB), Master of Arts (MA), Master of Fine Arts(MFA), and Master of Music(MM). Purchase College also offers affordable tuition rates for both in-state ($7,070 a year) and out-of-state ($16,980) students. The Princeton Review gives Purchase a solid academic score of 80 out of 99 and return on investment rating of 87 out of 99. Plus, according to Payscale, the starting median salary for those who graduated with at least a Bachelor's degree is $51,000, which is better than average.
9. North Carolina State University
North Carolina State University (NCSU) is one of three schools that makes up the Research Triangle of North Carolina, the others being Duke University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. A major public research school, North Carolina State comes with affordable tuition for both in-state and out-of-state residents; assuming a class load of 12 credit hours, tuition costs $6,535 annually for in-state students and $26,654 for out-of-state ones. NC State sports a six-year graduation rate that's 20% higher than the national average, 82% versus 62%, respectively. Employment prospects and compensation are solid for North Carolina State graduates, boasting a starting median salary pf $60,200 and mid-career median salary of $113,200, according to PayScale.
10. San Diego State University
One of the nation's top public schools, San Diego State University is a preeminent research university, securing hundreds of millions of dollars in both public and private funding every year for research activity. This school is part of the 23-member California State University and competes in NCAA Division I sports as the SDSU Aztecs. San Diego State is a bit more selective than the majority of public schools, with an acceptance rate of 34%, according to The Princeton Review. Whether you're a California resident or not, tuition at SDSU is affordable. In-state residents pay $7,720 a year in tuition while out-of-state pay $19,600.
11. Brigham Young University
Founded and owned by The Church of the Latter-day Saints, Brigham Young University (BYU) is located in Provo, Utah, with two satellite campuses in Jerusalem and Salt Lake City. BYU is a college of incredible value, with in-state and out-of-state tuition costing $11,940 annually. Its six-year graduation rate of 83% is substantially above the national average. The BYU Cougars compete in the West Coast Conference of the NCAA Division I, alongside schools like the University of San Diego, Pepperdine and Gonzaga, to name a few.
12. William & Mary
William & Mary is fittingly located in Williamsburg, Virginia, the home of colonial Williamsburg and Busch Gardens theme park. Founded in 1693, this public research university is the second-oldest institution of higher education in the country, after only Harvard University. Always a top-ranked college by a multitude of publications, William & Mary is a more selective school than most, with an acceptance rate of 38%. The selectivity is related to the high quality of the education, with graduation rates being particularly stellar: A four-year graduation rate of 85% and six-year of 91%. Naturally, this comes at a price of $17,434 in tuition for in-state residents and $40,089 for out-of-state, averaging out to $28,762; this certainly better than the average private four-year college tuition of $43,139, according to the NCES.
13. Georgia Institute of Technology
Based in Atlanta, the Georgia Institute of Technology, or Georgia Tech, is a highly-ranked public research university and institute of technology, listed as the 35th best university in the country overall by U.S. News. According to the 2020 Times Higher Education rankings, Georgia Tech came in as the 9th best for engineering and 16th for computer science in the world. With an approximate acceptance rate of 21%, Georgia Tech is definitely on the more selective side. And its six-year graduation rate of 87%education costs out-of-state residents $31,370 a year in tuition and in-state ones $10,258, which is s bargain compared to private schools of similar quality. Georgia Tech alumni range from CEOs of Wal-Mart and AT&T to comedian Jeff Foxworthy, although he left before graduating.
14. University of Central Florida
Located near Orlando, the University of Central Florida (UCF) is the largest college in the state. Despite its size and being public, the school is still selective, with an acceptance rate of 44%. UCF's six-year graduation rate is 74%, much better than the national average of 62%. For Florida residents and nonresidents, tuition at UCF is affordable. In-state residents pay $5,954 a year in tuition and out-of-state ones pay $20,980.
15. Brooklyn College
Another member of the CUNY school system, Brooklyn College has an acceptance rate of 45% and affordable tuition, costing New York residents only $6,930 a year and approximately $14,880 a year for out-of-state, assuming they take 12 credits. Brooklyn College boasts many notable alumni, including Senator Bernie Sanders, attorney Alan Dershowitz, actors James Franco and F. Murray Abraham --- who's also served as a faculty member --- as well many other politicians and CEOs.
16. James Madison University
James Madison University (JMU) is located in Harrisonburg, Virginia, in the western part of the state. The university has multiple colleges, including the College of Arts and Letters, Business, Education, Visual and Performing, among others. U.S. News ranked JMU as the third-best college in the southern U.S. overall and the second-best public college, behind only the Military College of South Carolina, also known as The Citadel. The six-year graduation rate at JMU, 83%, is far better than the national rate of 62%. You get a lot of value with this school, with in-state tuition costing $7,250 a year and out-of-state tuition $24,150 a year.
17. University of California, Los Angeles
With its main campus in Westwood, Los Angeles, the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) is one of the premier public research universities in the country. It's far more selective in its undergraduate admissions than most public schools, having an acceptance rate of 12%, according to The Princeton Review. Graduation rates are especially high, with a four-year rate of 77% and a six-year rate of 90%. UCLA is often referred to as a "Public Ivy" and is a perennial frontrunner in various "best college" rankings. For such high-quality education, UCLA tuition is pricier than most public schools, but even its out-of-state tuition is better than what many private schools of lesser quality ask for. Out-of-state residents pay $42,993 annually in tuition while in-state residents pay $13,239.
18. The College of New Jersey
Located in Ewing, New Jersey, the College of New Jersey (TCNJ) is one of the country's best public colleges and comes with a comparatively cheap price tag. U.S. News ranked TCNJ as the No. 1 public school in the northeast. It boasts a high four-year graduation rate (76%) and six-year graduation rate (86%). At the same time, it costs $16,942 for in-state residents and $28,291 for out-of-state residents a year in tuition, which is much cheaper than countless private schools offering the same quality of education as TCNJ. According to PayScale, the median salary of TCNJ graduates in their early career is $62,100 and $109,400 in mid-career.
19. Hunter College
Hunter College is another constituent member of the CUNY college system and is thus located in New York City. This college is organized into four schools, the School of Arts and Sciences, School of Education, School of the Health Professions and School of Social Work. Tuition is very affordable at Hunter College, with in-state resident students paying $6,930 a year and out-of-state paying $18,600. Its acceptance rate, according to The Princeton Review, is 35%, putting it on the more selective side.
20. Hillsdale College
Hillsdale College is a particularly interesting school because it does not rely on federal government financial support, with all of its funding coming from private sources in addition to student tuition. Located in southern, central Michigan, Hillsdale College is a private college, but one whose price tag --- $28,170 a year in tuition --- is far better than the overall average for private schools, which is $43,139 for a typical four-year. Graduation rates are especially good, with 79% of students graduating in four years and 87% in six. And The Princeton Review gives it stellar marks for education quality, with an academic score of 92 out of 99.