The Top 10 Most Underrated Colleges in the U.S.
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There are many great schools that get passed over in most college rankings. At CollegeVine, many of the students we work with are surprised to find new schools to add to their lists that offer better financial aid and job outcomes than they might have thought.
Through working with over 6,000 students at this point, we’ve found about 10 schools that are consistently underrated, but which students and parents shouldn’t discount.
How we put this list together:
The traditional college rankings do a decent job of ranking the best universities, but because of how these formulas are constructed, there are some serious factors that get left out. When we look to advise families on colleges that are underrated, our primary focus is on outcomes — more specifically financial outcomes like starting salary and ROI, as well as qualitative outcomes like job placements.
We took into consideration the following criteria:
- Cost of attendance and generosity of financial aid & scholarships
- One and five-year ROI after graduation
- Financial performance of specific majors
- Qualitative data on career outcomes like job placements and grad school progression.
The top ten most underrated schools are:
1. San Jose State University
San Jose State is chronically underrated by most families and guidance counselors. Because of its location in the heart of Silicon Valley, students pursuing STEM have really good outcomes (thanks to the job market in the Bay Area).
US News ranks San Jose State outside of its top 300 colleges, but for most STEM majors (computer science, statistics/data science, electrical engineering, etc.) San Jose State is comfortably in the Top 40 when it comes to return on investment based on CollegeVine’s analysis.
2. University of Houston
This is another school that has strong STEM outcomes, particularly in more “physical-world” subjects like petroleum engineering, chemical engineering, and other hard sciences. In particular, US News ranks Houston as the #171 college in the country, but the strength of the Houston job market and the excellent merit scholarships put its ROI comfortably in the Top 40 for such programs.
In particular, Houston offers substantial scholarships to National Merit scholars and very strong scholarships to any students with Top 20% class rankings and 1250+ on the new SAT, or 26+ on the ACT.
3. SUNY Binghamton
SUNY Binghamton’s success (ranked #80 by US News) is primarily driven by its status as the de-facto flagship of the SUNY system. Another way of understanding SUNY and CCNY is that they are (for academically qualified students) often the “cheapest” way to get good access to the NYC job market.
4. City College of New York
City College and SUNY Binghamton (see number 3) can be grouped together in that their Top 50 national ROIs in all kinds of majors are driven by recruiting from New York City. In the case of CCNY (ranked outside of the Top 300 by US News), the driver is as much location as anything.
5. George Mason University
For students aiming for a career in politics, government work, law, or even the humanities Washington D.C. is an incredibly important place to have access to. While Georgetown is in its own class, after scholarships and financial aid George Mason (#136 in the US News rankings) offers pretty comparable career outcomes to George Washington (#63), and American University (#79). It also has one of the most influential economics departments for a college not named Harvard or UChicago.
6. Worcester Polytechnic Institute
WPI really benefits from Boston’s reinvention as a modern tech industry hub in the last 20 years — in that sense it’s a parallel to San Jose State because the STEM professions are the home run ROI. The other thing that works to WPI’s benefit is that Massachusetts doesn’t have a true public Ivy as its flagship — unlike other states like California (UC Berkeley/UCLA), Michigan, or Virginia.
7. Fordham University
This is another college that benefits from its location in New York City. The standout here is majors related to the finance industry, both finance itself and related majors like economics, applied math, and computer science.
But essentially all majors related to business have strong ROI outcomes. The one thing to watch with Fordham is that it is a private university, so if a family doesn’t qualify for merit or financial aid, it’s not always a perfect match. But for families looking for a good “safety” school to pair with options like NYU or Boston College, Fordham is a great fit.
8. University of Texas at Austin
UT Austin is already highly ranked by US News (49 in the 2019 rankings), but the perception gap is really between UT Austin and UCLA, UNC-Chapel Hill, the University of Virginia, and the University of Michigan. UT Austin offers better financial outcomes and ROI than all of those colleges thanks to its relative affordability, aggressive scholarships, and the roaring job market in Austin, Dallas, and Houston (cities where UT Austin is just behind Top 15 school Rice in terms of recruiting importance).
UT Austin is already pretty highly ranked, but it has a credible argument for being the second or third highest ranked public university in the US behind UC Berkeley, and (potentially) Georgia Tech on the basis of outcomes.
9. Babson College
Babson College ranks in the Top 10 for starting salaries and ROI according to CollegeVine’s data for career outcomes in a variety of business-related majors such as accounting and entrepreneurship. In fact, for students specifically interested in studying business as an undergraduate, Babson delivers student outcomes on par with Ivy League universities while being unranked by US News (and in the 20s and 30s for various business majors).
Moreover, Babson offers strong financial aid and excellent merit scholarships, which students that are academically qualified for the Ivy League would be strong contenders for. And Babson is located in the sizzling Boston job market.
The other standout (more of a qualitative selling point) is Babson’s excellent student entrepreneurship DNA, which shows up in a requirement for all students to start and run a business (along with classmates) while on campus.
10. Wellesley College
Wellesley is similar to Babson in that it offers Ivy League comparable outcomes for students in a particular demographic. The difference, of course, is that in Wellesley’s case, the demographic in question is women.
For women aiming for top-tier universities, Wellesley offers outcomes on par with or even superior to those of many Ivy League colleges due in particular to the strength of the Boston job market and the degree to which firms looking to access diverse pools of talent recruit specifically at Wellesley. Wellesley also has disproportionately strong outcomes for the humanities and social sciences, which is relatively rare to see amongst the schools on this list.
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