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How do you calculate the best buy among colleges? Let us count the ways

Posted by Leslie Anderson  September 18, 2013 06:13 PM

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If there's one thing everyone agrees on this college application season, it's that families are looking for affordability and value. But there, the consensus ends.

There are so many ways to compare prices, aid packages, and return on investment that even President Obama stepped in this fall to propose a new government rating system.

But it doesn't take an executive order -- or even an act of Congress -- to figure some of this out. Data crunchers have been having a field day coming up with formulas for inputting your dollars and outputting marketable degrees.

It's up to you to decide which method is best:

Graduates' salaries: Payscale, a salary-information company, ranked the starting and mid-career salaries of graduates of American colleges and universities. Here are the New England schools on Payscale's top 100 list. Another study takes an even longer view.

Average net prices: These schools are ranked using a college "score card" released by the US Department of Education in February. It considers a range of factors, from scholarships and grants to graduation rates and loan default rates.

Bang for your buck: Washington Monthly came up with a list that considers how well colleges help nonwealthy students attain marketable degrees without breaking the bank.

Use an estimator: A Wellesley College economics professor has devised a quick college cost estimator to help determine financial need. While designed for Wellesley, school officials hope it can be used elsewhere.

Check out your state school: You don't need a calculator to take advantage of lower tuition and expenses charged by the University of Massachusetts. In fact, officials say a record-high 71,988 students are expected to enroll across the system's five campuses this fall.

Leslie Anderson can be reached at leslie.anderson@globe.com.

For more news, columns, and advice on preparing for college, go to boston.com/collegebound.


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College Bound offers news and advice on preparing, applying, and ultimately heading off to college. Send your ideas and questions to Leslie.Anderson@globe.com. More »
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