The 21 best-value colleges in the US, based on what students earn in the workforce years later

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The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, pictured, is the second-best value college in the US, according to Kiplinger. ying/Shutterstock

Going to college can be a big investment these days, so getting the best value is more important than ever.

Finance publication Kiplinger looked costs and future salaries for students at colleges and universities across the US, and came up with 500 colleges that are the best value.

And it turns out that Ivy League schools aren’t necessarily dominating the list – the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, a public university, ranked above Harvard and Yale for value.

Future salary data is calculated as the median salary of workers who started at that college 10 years earlier, not considering whether they graduated or went on to graduate school. Total costs include estimated tuition, fees, room and board, and book costs. Data was sourced from the US Department of Education College Scorecard and Peterson’s Database.

Here are the top 21 colleges where students can get the best value from their college tuition dollar.


21. Grinnell College

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Grinnell College in Grinnell, Iowa. Bruce Leighty

Admittance rate: 29%

Total cost per year: $US68,546

Median salary 10 years after graduation: $US49,100


20. Carleton College

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Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota. Via Wikimedia Commons

Admittance rate: 21%

Total cost per year: $US69,697

Median salary 10 years after graduation: $US54,200


19. California Institute of Technology

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California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, California. Flickr/Dmitry Mitin

Admittance rate: 8%

Total cost per year: $US69,697

Median salary 10 years after graduation: $US85,900


18. Bowdoin College

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Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine. Flickr/ Paul Asman and Jill Lenoble

Admittance rate: 10%

Total cost per year: $US69,460

Median salary 10 years after graduation: $US65,500


17. Vassar College

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Vassar College in Dutchess County, New York. Wikimedia Commons

Admittance rate: 24%

Total cost per year: $US72,270

Median salary 10 years after graduation: $US54,600


16. Wesleyan University

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Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut. Wikimedia Commons

Admittance rate: 16%

Total cost per year: $US70,904

Median salary 10 years after graduation: $US54,700


15. Middlebury College

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Middlebury College in Middlebury, Vermont. Dogstarsail via Wikimedia Commons

Admittance rate: 17%

Total cost per year: $US70,980

Median salary 10 years after graduation: $US58,200


14. Pomona College

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Pomona College in Claremont, California. Wikimedia Commons

Admittance rate: 8%

Total cost per year: $US70,496

Median salary 10 years after graduation: $US58,100


13. Amherst College

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Amherst College in Amherst, Massachusetts. Mark Yarchoan/Shutterstock

Admittance rate: 13%

Total cost per year: $US72,166

Median salary 10 years after graduation: $US65,000


12. Harvard University

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Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Pgiam/Getty

Admittance rate: 5%

Total cost per year: $US68,580

Median salary 10 years after graduation: $US89,700


11. Hamilton College

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Hamilton College in Clinton, New York. Via Wikimedia Commons

Admittance rate: 24%

Total cost per year: $US69,490

Median salary 10 years after graduation: $US60,200


10. Massachusetts Institute of Technology

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Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Massachusetts. David Wiley/Flickr

Admittance rate: 7%

Total cost per year: $US68,142

Median salary 10 years after graduation: $US104,700


9. Haverford College

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Haverford College in Haverford, Pennsylvania. Via Wikimedia Commons

Admittance rate: 20%

Total cost per year: $US72,434

Median salary 10 years after graduation: $US60,700


8. Duke University

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Duke University in Durham, North Carolina. Chadarat Saibhut/Shutterstock

Admittance rate: 10%

Total cost per year: $US72,193

Median salary 10 years after graduation: $US84,400


7. Davidson College

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Davidson College in Davidson, North Carolina. Dacoslett/Wikimedia Commons

Admittance rate: 20%

Total cost per year: $US66,810

Median salary 10 years after graduation: $US58,900


6. Washington and Lee University

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Washington and Lee University in Lexington City, Virginia. Shutterstock

Admittance rate: 22%

Total cost per year: $US68,330

Median salary 10 years after graduation: $US76,100


5. Princeton University

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Princeton University in Princeton, New Jersey. Jay Yuan/Shutterstock

Admittance rate: 6%

Total cost per year: $US63,800

Median salary 10 years after graduation: $US74,700


4. Yale University

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Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut. AP Photo/Beth J. Harpaz

Admittance rate: 7%

Total cost per year: $US70,570

Median salary 10 years after graduation: $US83,200


3. Swarthmore College

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Swarthmore College in Swarthmore, Pennsylvania. Wikimedia Commons

Admittance rate: 11%

Total cost per year: $US69,661

Median salary 10 years after graduation: $US56,700


2. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

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University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. ying/Shutterstock

Admittance rate: 24%

Total cost per year: $US47,307

Median salary 10 years after graduation: $US55,600


1. Thomas Aquinas College

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Thomas Aquinas College in Santa Paula, California. Wikimedia Commons

Admittance rate: 72%

Total cost per year: $US34,450

Median salary 10 years after graduation: $US42,100