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Best Colleges for Students Who Take Loans

Best Colleges for Students Who Take Loans

By Dan Green

Growella researched college tuitions, the likelihood of students receiving scholarship and grant money, and the typical graduate job and salary to determine the true value of a college education, school-by-school.

Average Time to Pay Off Student Loans

The cost of attending a 4-year college ranges between $35,000 and $120,000, accounting for the raw costs of tuition , housing, and college textbooks.

Public schools, such as UCLA and the University of Arizona, tend toward the lower end of this range. Private schools, such as Brigham Young University and New York University lean toward the upper end.

It makes sense that public universities are less expensive to attend than comparable private ones; the costs of running public universities are subsidized by state governments using tax dollars.

Whatever’s not covered by public money is covered by tuition. Students pay for the rest.

By contrast, individual donors and corporations fund the nation’s private universities.

Contributions from alumni, corporations, and others offset the costs of operating a private college’s buildings, of paying for its faculty, and of offering student services. Tuition fees make up the difference, which can be large depending on the school.

Private schools sometimes cost three times as much to attend than a public school.

There are tax-advantaged college savings programs that can make paying for college more affordable but, if you’re among the forty-four million students who use loans to pay for school, you could be paying for your education into your 40s.

This is because it takes 21 years for a four-year college student to repay student loan debt, on average. Lifetime interest costs paid sometimes reach half of the original amount borrowed.

The payments you make on your student loans could hit your budget hard.

But, as borrowers learn, the amount of your budget eaten up by your loans is based on a lot more than “what your school costs” or “how much you borrow for college.”

Where you go to college affects your student loans.

Schools with Lowest Student Debt

To find whether a college is a good value for you, consider how much of your salary after graduation will go toward paying off your student loans.

Every dollar spent paying off student loans is dollar not used for something else.

Giving a large percentage of your paycheck to student loan lenders leaves less room in your budget for going out, for going on vacation, and for buying the stuff you want such as food, clothing, and Netflix.

Paying a lot to your loans also leaves less money for longer-term goals including saving for retirement, purchasing a home, and buying life insurance to protect the people important to you.

Rankings: Big Ten | Ivy League | ACC | American Athletic Conference | Big 12 | Mid-America Conference | Mountain West | Pac-12 | SEC | Sun Belt Conference

Rankings: Big Ten | Ivy League | ACC | American Athletic Conference | Big 12 | Mid-America Conference | Mountain West | Pac-12 | SEC | Sun Belt Conference


How Student Loans Payments Are Calculated

First, let’s refresh how student loans work.

As a student, you borrow some amount of money on one of five student loan programs; you make monthly payments on that amount either during school or after graduation; and then, after some number of years, those loans are paid off in full.

Three factors contribute to the size of your monthly student loan payment:

  1. The size of your student loans
  2. Your student loan interest rate
  3. In years, the length of your loan

The formula is the same no matter where you go to school.

Borrow $50,000 to attend University of Southern California, for example, and your payments will be the same as if you borrowed $50,000 to attend any UCLA.

Your interest rate may change based on the type of student loan that you use; and, after graduation, you can apply to refinance your student loans to a lower interest rate or lower payment, but the math works the same — you make monthly payments until you’ve paid your loan off.

This is even true if you do an income-driven repayment plan, which is a student loan that calculates monthly payments based on how much you earn at your job.

So long as you owe money, you’ll have payments due to your lender and the average student loan repayment takes 21 years.

At some schools, though, you can pay off your loans more quickly.

Mortgage Loans That Ignore Student Debt

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Which Colleges Are Rated “Best Value”

Your choice of college makes a difference in how you’ll repay your student loans. Some schools keep it easy to repay your loans quickly, while others make it more of a challenge.

How long it will take to repay your loans start with your school’s tuition costs. But, that’s your starting point only.

Before selecting a college to attend, you’ll want to know two other things besides its tuition:

  1. How much financial aid the school gives to its students
  2. The starting salary of a typical graduate of the school

These points matter because student loans payments will represent your biggest post-graduation expense. They’ll influence your household budget for the next two decades or more; and, they’ll absolutely affect how much home you can afford.

Student loans count toward your debt-to-income ratio ratio, which is one of the most three important statistics in a mortgage loan approval.

Whether you opt for a low-down payment mortgage, a no-down payment mortgage, or even a loan with twenty-percent down, the relative size of your student loan payment to your income will make a difference.

Ideally, you’ll seek a school that offers generous aid packages to students; and, that graduate a large number of students with high-paying jobs.

Schools that do both are “The Best Values In U.S. Colleges”.

1. How much financial aid will the college typically give?

Colleges make their tuition rates public. They’re posted online and visible to anyone who wants to research how much it costs to go to college.

Tuition rates, though, don’t answer the question: “What does it cost to go to college?”

The cost of a college education starts with tuition rates, but then you start subtracting the value of scholarships ; of grants ; of financial assistance and free housing; and, other bonuses that colleges sometimes give.

The true cost of a college is not its published “sticker price.”

A college’s true cost is its (Cost of Tuition) + (Cost of Room + Board) + (Cost of Textbooks) minus (Available Aid To Students).

Universities with high tuition costs that give scholarships and grants freely are often better “deals” than schools with low tuition costs that are stingy with their student aid.

Look beyond published tuition costs to find good value.

2. How much money will you earn as a college graduate?

When you interview for your first job, your major, your grades, and your experience will help you get a foot in the door. Your college plays a part, too, though.

Some colleges invest in their Career Services center and work hard to help students earn the right job with the right employer. These schools boast high placement rates for graduates — many of whom earn a great income.

Your income matters to your student loans because the more money that you earn, the smaller the percentage of your paycheck that’ll go toward your loans.

Spending less on your student loans each month leaves more money left over for things like going on vacation, putting money into retirement, and buying a new car.

Until you apply for jobs as a Junior or Senior in school, you can’t know how much you’ll earn at that first job. However, when you go to a school that invests in its students and their future, you give yourself an advantage over your peers.

Respect the power of your first job and its income potential. A big first-job income lessens the impact of student loan payments on your budget.

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Complete Rankings By College

This sortable table shows the relative value of more than 130 colleges and universities from a dozen of the largest athletic and academic conferences in the country.

RankSchoolConferenceStudent Loan Payment-to-Salary Ratio, Average
1Fresno StateMountain West20.01%
2Georgia TechACC20.02%
3WyomingMountain West20.17%
4Lousiana TechC-USA21.00%
5Iowa StateBig 1221.82%
6TroySun Belt22.36%
7HarvardIvy League22.64%
8Utah StateMountain West23.21%
9PrincetonIvy League23.47%
10Southern MissC-USA23.61%
11Mississippi StateSEC23.70%
13Lousiana-MonroeSun Belt24.06%
14South FloridaAAC24.84%
15Texas TechBig 1225.14%
16IowaBig Ten25.19%
17South AlabamaSun Belt25.42%
19PurdueBig Ten25.59%
20San Jose StateMountain West25.77%
21Texas SateSun Belt25.87%
24Virginia TechACC26.03%
25North TexasC-USA26.10%
27New Mexico StateSun Belt26.24%
29West VirginiaBig 1226.30%
31Oklahoma StateBig 1226.39%
32Arkansas StateSun Belt26.69%
33MarylandBig Ten26.72%
34IdahoSun Belt27.15%
36NC StateACC27.40%
37YaleIvy League27.45%
38MinnesotaBig Ten27.60%
39Washington StatePac-1227.65%
40Arizona StatePac-1227.69%
41OklahomaBig 1227.99%
43Central MichiganMAC28.24%
44IllinoisBig Ten28.49%
46Northern IllinoisMAC28.97%
47Florida InternationalC-USA28.98%
48Bowling GreenMAC29.09%
49Florida StateACC29.18%
50Boise StateMountain West29.21%
52Georgia SouthernSun Belt29.26%
54UPennIvy League29.58%
55Ole MissSEC29.60%
56Florida AtlanticC-USA29.65%
57RutgersBig Ten29.76%
58UNLVMountain West29.78%
59San Diego StateMountain West29.79%
60Nevada, RenoMountain West29.82%
63Old DominionC-USA30.02%
65Texas A&MSEC30.27%
67TexasBig 1230.55%
69KansasBig 1230.66%
71Lousiana-LafayetteSun Belt30.68%
72Kansas StateBig 1230.68%
73NebraskaBig Ten30.76%
77UNC CharlotteC-USA31.02%
78ColumbiaIvy League31.06%
81Ball StateMAC31.41%
82Middle TennesseeC-USA31.64%
84Appalachian StateSun Belt31.73%
85MichiganBig Ten31.80%
87Georgia StateSun Belt32.04%
88Ohio StateBig Ten32.19%
90Western MichiganMAC32.31%
91Colorado StateMountain West32.36%
93Western KentuckyC-USA32.58%
94WisconsinBig Ten32.62%
96Cal (Berkeley)Pac-1232.77%
98East CarolinaAAC32.89%
99Kent StateMAC32.99%
101Oregon StatePac-1233.01%
102Eastern MichiganMAC33.13%
104New MexicoMountain West33.87%
105Michigan StateBig Ten34.05%
106IndianaBig Ten34.06%
108CornellIvy League34.65%
109DartmouthIvy League34.82%
112Coastal CarolinaSun Belt36.09%
113Miami (OH)MAC36.13%
115South CarolinaSEC36.39%
119Boston CollegeACC37.99%
122NorthwesternBig Ten38.95%
124BaylorBig 1240.46%
126HawaiiMountain West40.72%
127Miami (FL)ACC40.86%
128BrownIvy League40.96%
129Penn StateBig Ten42.08%
130Wake ForestACC42.95%
131Southern MethodistAAC43.49%
132TCUBig 1244.43%
The value of a college depends tuition, grants, and the income you'll earn once you graduate.

The Growella “Pay Off Student Loans” Methodology

To determine what percentage of a college graduate’s income goes toward student loans each month, Growella sourced tuition rates, historical aid packages, and median salaries for each of the study’s schools.

None of our research was subjective.

It’s why this study isn’t titled “The Best U.S. Colleges For Your Money” or something similar. The word “best” implies opinion. Our results are unbiased.

This study is based on data and original research.

How we found the true tuition rates for colleges

We calculated average tuition rates using in-state and out-of-state rates as published on each school’s website, multiplied by a weighting factor that considered the percentage of students that attend each school with an in-state address as compared to out-of-state.

For schools at which tuition rates are the same for students residing in all 50 states and Washington, D.C., we did not apply the weighting adjustment.

To calculate historical aid packages, we referenced each school’s financial assistance webpage and cross-referenced it against the number of students attending the school, overall. This ratio yielded the percentage of students at the school who receive aid.

Next, we added the dollar amount of scholarships awarded to students to the dollar amount in grants awarded to students, both in the most recently reported year.

Scholarships and grants require no repayment, so this amount was divided by the number of students receiving aid at a particular college to find the average tuition reduction per student.

We then subtracted this figure from the average tuition rate to find the average 4-year tuition per student.

How we calculated the expected student loan payment

To find the expected student loan payment for a given college or university, we started with the school’s average 4-year tuition costs, the method for which can be found above.

We assumed that students would borrow their full tuition costs over four years, making no payment from their own money, including assets saved in 529 savings plan or any other similar vehicle.

Next, we assumed a student loan interest rate of five percent and a payment term of 120 months.

The five percent interest rate is neither the lowest student loan interest rate available nor the highest. Rates range from near three percent to near seven percent. There is no “average student loan interest rate” for all borrowers nationwide, so we chose a fair rate that reflects the current market without bias.

Note that many undergraduate students use Direct Subsidized Loans and Direct Unsubsidized Loans to finance their college education. Collectively, these loans are known as Stafford Loans, and their interest rate is fixed by the government.

That rate is between four and five percent, currently.

How we calculated the expected income for college graduates

To find the expected income for a college graduate, we referenced data from the U.S. Department of Education which lists the median income for a 4-year Bachelor’s Degree graduate who received student aid, ten years post-graduation.

Data is self-reported by student aid recipients and does not account for graduates who opt-out of data collection and participation.

The data from the U.S. Department of Education reaches similar conclusions to data from the private sector, including services such as Payscale. We opted for government-backed data to stay consistent with other studies on this site.

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Yes, You Can Share Our Research!

Growella conducted its “The Best U.S. Colleges For Students Who Take Loans” research to help high school students and prospective college transfer students to make better choices with their money, and their student loans options.

If you find our research to be helpful, you are welcome to share this article online with proper attribution.

Here’s how to share the Growella study, “The Best U.S. Colleges For Students Who Take Loans”:

For follow-up information and usage rights for our research, please email [email protected] We’re happy to help you do more with our data.

Written by Dan Green

Dan Green is a mortgage lending expert and the founder of Growella. Prior to Growella, Dan was a six-time, top-producing loan officer; and, ranked repeatedly among the top 1% of loan officers nationwide. Dan's home buying expertise has been in print and on TV with The Wall Street Journal, NPR, Forbes, CNBC, and others.

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