Liberal arts colleges with the best starting pay best-colleges

Our ranking system considers how long it takes to pay off an educational investment, and comparative earnings of students at different programs and schools. A school that demonstrates fast payback due to very low costs may outperform a school with very high comparative earnings and high costs. This list ignores how fast the educational investment is paid back, and focuses entirely on the average earnings of students. Note that highest earner rankings do not take into account state wage averages.

Find out more about our college ranking system.

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Net cost: The median annual cost of all students that receive any aid. This does not refer to the “sticker price”, the price listed by the college.

Earnings: The median earnings of all bachelor-level students 10 years after enrollment. This includes both students that do and do not graduate, across all majors.

Payback: The amount of time in years it takes to pay off the median net cost by the median earnings. For this calculation, the median earning of high school graduates (in the school’s home state) are deducted from the median earnings.

Degree premium: The difference between the school’s median earnings and the median earnings for all schools in the same state. This is called “Vs. state average” in school profiles below.

Ranking: The payback rate is divided by the degree premium (set as a percentage), the lower the number the higher the rank. (i.e. payback=1, degree premium 20% higher than state school median: 1/120% = .883.

Net cost
Earnings
Payback
Degree premium
Rankings
Ranking methodology
#2 in Liberal Arts

Harvey Mudd College

Claremont, California

Admission rate: 18%

Grad rate: 93%

Net cost: $32,727

Payback: 2.0 Years

Earnings: $108,988

Vs. state average: + $58,309

Economic score: 0.92

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#15 in Liberal Arts

Bucknell University

Lewisburg, Pennsylvania

Admission rate: 38%

Grad rate: 89%

Net cost: $42,502

Payback: 2.8 Years

Earnings: $88,154

Vs. state average: + $34,576

Economic score: 1.68

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#1 in Liberal Arts

Claremont McKenna College

Claremont, California

Admission rate: 14%

Grad rate: 94%

Net cost: $22,161

Payback: 1.5 Years

Earnings: $86,571

Vs. state average: + $35,892

Economic score: 0.87

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#3 in Liberal Arts

Washington and Lee University

Lexington, Virginia

Admission rate: 25%

Grad rate: 96%

Net cost: $22,615

Payback: 1.9 Years

Earnings: $86,020

Vs. state average: + $43,036

Economic score: 0.94

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#8 in Liberal Arts

Lafayette College

Easton, Pennsylvania

Admission rate: 36%

Grad rate: 87%

Net cost: $32,551

Payback: 2.2 Years

Earnings: $84,939

Vs. state average: + $31,361

Economic score: 1.40

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#31 in Liberal Arts

College of the Holy Cross

Worcester, Massachusetts

Admission rate: 38%

Grad rate: 92%

Net cost: $37,292

Payback: 2.6 Years

Earnings: $84,653

Vs. state average: + $16,895

Economic score: 2.11

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#20 in Liberal Arts

Colgate University

Hamilton, New York

Admission rate: 28%

Grad rate: 90%

Net cost: $25,834

Payback: 2.5 Years

Earnings: $76,267

Vs. state average: + $20,577

Economic score: 1.83

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#12 in Liberal Arts

Hamilton College

Clinton, New York

Admission rate: 19%

Grad rate: 93%

Net cost: $25,440

Payback: 2.1 Years

Earnings: $74,340

Vs. state average: + $18,650

Economic score: 1.54

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#11 in Liberal Arts

Swarthmore College

Swarthmore, Pennsylvania

Admission rate: 10%

Grad rate: 95%

Net cost: $19,184

Payback: 2.1 Years

Earnings: $72,637

Vs. state average: + $19,059

Economic score: 1.53

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#26 in Liberal Arts

Franklin and Marshall College

Lancaster, Pennsylvania

Admission rate: 37%

Grad rate: 83%

Net cost: $30,281

Payback: 2.6 Years

Earnings: $72,227

Vs. state average: + $18,649

Economic score: 1.96

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#5 in Liberal Arts

Virginia Military Institute

Lexington, Virginia

Admission rate: 60%

Grad rate: 78%

Net cost: $17,804

Payback: 1.9 Years

Earnings: $71,910

Vs. state average: + $28,926

Economic score: 1.16

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#22 in Liberal Arts

Barnard College

New York, New York

Admission rate: 14%

Grad rate: 93%

Net cost: $28,204

Payback: 2.4 Years

Earnings: $71,678

Vs. state average: + $15,988

Economic score: 1.87

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#4 in Liberal Arts

Davidson College

Davidson, North Carolina

Admission rate: 20%

Grad rate: 91%

Net cost: $19,115

Payback: 2.0 Years

Earnings: $71,671

Vs. state average: + $29,600

Economic score: 1.15

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#17 in Liberal Arts

Williams College

Williamstown, Massachusetts

Admission rate: 16%

Grad rate: 96%

Net cost: $19,480

Payback: 1.8 Years

Earnings: $71,608

Vs. state average: + $3,850

Economic score: 1.71

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#14 in Liberal Arts

Amherst College

Amherst, Massachusetts

Admission rate: 12%

Grad rate: 93%

Net cost: $18,524

Payback: 1.7 Years

Earnings: $71,567

Vs. state average: + $3,809

Economic score: 1.64

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#71 in Liberal Arts

Connecticut College

New London, Connecticut

Admission rate: 38%

Grad rate: 80%

Net cost: $32,626

Payback: 2.9 Years

Earnings: $71,239

Vs. state average: + $1,679

Economic score: 2.87

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#7 in Liberal Arts

Colby College

Waterville, Maine

Admission rate: 11%

Grad rate: 91%

Net cost: $17,777

Payback: 1.9 Years

Earnings: $71,127

Vs. state average: + $23,861

Economic score: 1.25

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#42 in Liberal Arts

Union College

Schenectady, New York

Admission rate: 42%

Grad rate: 87%

Net cost: $34,779

Payback: 3.0 Years

Earnings: $71,055

Vs. state average: + $15,365

Economic score: 2.35

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#30 in Liberal Arts

Dickinson College

Carlisle, Pennsylvania

Admission rate: 52%

Grad rate: 85%

Net cost: $29,452

Payback: 2.7 Years

Earnings: $69,562

Vs. state average: + $15,984

Economic score: 2.09

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#21 in Liberal Arts

University of Richmond

University of Richmond, Virginia

Admission rate: 31%

Grad rate: 83%

Net cost: $25,838

Payback: 3.0 Years

Earnings: $69,310

Vs. state average: + $26,326

Economic score: 1.84

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