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Four of the Best & Least Expensive Colleges in the US

Over the years we’ve come to the belief that a college degree is vital for any young person who wants a better life than their parents, and in a way this has become the American Dream… for each generation to improve on the last; to enjoy a better education and a higher income than those who went before them.

It’s a nice idea, but the truth is that all colleges are not created equal. There are, of course, the exclusive (and expensive) colleges of the Ivy League, rich in history and known (perhaps inaccurately) for the virtual certainty that a degree carrying their name will lead to a successful career.

Then there are the mid-level colleges, respected but without the cache and weight of the Ivy League, and finally the lowest of the low: the community colleges and correspondence schools that offer degrees to those students who have neither the grades nor the money to go to a big name institution.

The ranking of schools may seem simple, but in fact the only metric worth paying attention to is the return on investment (ROI) they can offer. The ROI is based on the earnings statistics of past graduates, and it tells prospective students just what kind of income boost they can statistically expect their degree to offer.

Here, then, are four private colleges that may not have appeared on your radar, but should. The following are some of the most highly ranked but least expensive colleges in the US; institutions that offer an education that will give graduates the best chance of moving into a successful career, but without the overwhelming cost we’ve come to expect from higher education.

Manhattan College


This Roman Catholic Liberal Arts college based in the Bronx costs a hair under $50,000 per year before financial aid, a cost covering everything from tuition to room and board to the dorm damage deposit, and it offers the highest ROI of any college under $50,000/annum according to a 2012 PayScale report.

Students of Manhattan College can expect an average 30 year ROI (net) of a little over $800,000, which makes a degree from Manhattan a highly attractive prospect – especially when financial aid brings down the cost of tuition considerably.

Brigham Young University


As one of the least expensive private universities in the US, Brigham Young offers Utah’s Mormons a great chance to secure a good education without breaking the bank. Tuition is discounted for religious students in the Mormon stronghold of Provo, Utah, though non-Mormons can still get a good deal.

The upshot of a degree from Brigham is an ROI of $468,000 over 30 years, which is excellent considering that annual tuition begins at just $12,800.

Berea College


Berea College in Berea, Kentucky, will come as a Godsend to those who simply can’t afford the cost of any other institution. Berea has made its name as possibly the most inexpensive private college in the US with a total annual cost – before financial aid has been applied, and including tuition, accommodation and the cost of textbooks – of a rock bottom $7,646. With need-based aid, the average student pays just $2,641 per year to attend this four year college.

Forbes ranked Berea as the #7 ‘best buy’ college in 2012, falling just beneath a number of military academies (including West Point) that don’t charge tuition but expect graduates to serve in the military in return for their degree.

Harvard University


Much as it may surprise you to learn, some of the most exclusive colleges in the US offer tuition that isn’t a whole lot higher than average, and many offer financial aid packages superior to even the most generous institutions.

While Harvard accepts just a lucky 6% of the brightest applicants, if you make it to the hallowed halls of Cambridge you’ll find that, while tuition can cost $55,000 each year, when the generous need-based financial aid package has been added, the net cost of tuition is an average of just $13,267. Since Harvard graduates enjoy an average 30-year return on investment of $1,115,000, an investment in tuition over four years of just $53,000 seems like chicken feed.

There’s no getting around the fact that a college degree is expensive, and it’s only becoming more so as we cut back on financial aid and institutions raise their fees above inflation each year. However, you should take heart in the fact that even a college such as Harvard needn’t be out of reach for a student who puts in the effort to earn their place. From Berea, Kentucky to Cambridge, Massachusetts there’s ample opportunity for everyone who yearns for a brighter future. All it takes is hard work.

About the author:

Today’s guest article comes from Sani Golriz. She is a community blogger and active staff writer forĀ CollegeFocus, a website dedicated to helping students deal with the challenges of college, including housing, finance, style, health, relationships, and transferring from a community college to a four-year university.

You can follow CollegeFocus on Twitter at @CollegeFocus101 and Facebook.

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