The ROI of Ivy League Universities

10 Minute Read

Many people choose an Ivy League University for the life-changing experience and to receive a first-rate education. However, the attendance cost is an important factor to consider for many. Some may purely choose an Ivy League school based on their current finances or the possibility of what it could do for their future salary prospects. 

To help students get the most from their money, A-List Education has researched and calculated the Return on Investment (ROI) of all eight private universities.  

We first looked at the average tuition and living costs for undergraduates across four years — the usual length of bachelor’s degree programs in the United States. We then found the average starting salary for graduates of each Ivy League university and their predicted income over four years — incorporating the average 3% pay rise in the USA[1]

Continue reading to find out which place each Ivy League University ranked based on their ROI: 

Ivy League ROI visuals-9

8) Yale University: -4.59% ROI 

Situated in New Haven, Connecticut, Yale is the third oldest University in the United States[2], but in our research, Yale ranks eighth on our list. From political figures such as George W. Bush and Hillary Clinton to acting royalty like Meryl Streep and Jodie Foster[3], Yale has many notable alumni with impressive careers, but does this reflect in the University’s ROI stats? 

Yale’s estimated yearly attendance cost stands at $87,705[4], and $350,820 across four years. With top industries of Yale graduate employees being in financial services, education, technology, consulting, and healthcare, we discovered a median starting salary across all graduates is $80,000[5] and $334,690 across four years (with a 3% raise each year). Therefore, these figures result in a total of -4.59% in ROI. 

It is important to mention that 17.9% of post-grads plan to continue their education[5], which will cause many starting salaries from Yale alumni to increase. Although Yale has the lowest ROI on our rankings, the median base salary soars to $175,000 when looking at finance careers[6] — the most popular employment industry among Yale graduates. 


7) University of Pennsylvania: -0.14% ROI 

Based in Philadelphia, the University of Pennsylvania is known for its values in diversity[7] — they take pride in seeking talented students, faculty and staff with diverse backgrounds. With a 96% graduation rate and a 6% acceptance rate[8], the university holds high prestige. 

Some of the most popular majors at Pennsylvania are business management, marketing and social sciences[9]. However, the university has many notable and successful alumni across a wide spectrum of industries, such as businessman and investor Elon Musk and singer-songwriter and pianist John Legend[10] 

We found the yearly attendance cost for this private university totalled $89,028[11], and a four-year cost of $356,112. A high-earning position popular with alumni is in software development, which can earn graduates a median starting salary of around $125,000! However, the overall median starting salary for Penn graduates is $85,000[12] ($355,608 across four years with a 3% yearly raise) placing this Ivy League school in seventh place with an ROI of -0.14%. 


6) Columbia University: 1.32% ROI 

Columbia University in the City of New York is the fifth oldest institution of higher education in the United States[13], and after research, has ranked sixth on our list. Many Columbia scientists and scholars have played a pivotal role in scientific breakthroughs, such as the brain-computer interface[14] 

Columbia's most popular majors are computer science, economics, political science and government[15]. The university also has some very notable alumni, such as political and historical figures Barack Obama and Alexander Hamilton and well-known novelists and poet Jack Kerouac[16]. 

The university’s estimated yearly attendance cost is $89,587[17] and $358,348 across the academic four years. An average starting salary of $86,793[18] and $363,109 across four years of employment gives Columbia a 1.32% ROI. 

With consulting being one of the most popular jobs for Columbia graduates, this could see them earn much more, with a median base salary of $175,000[19]. 

5) Brown University 1.66% ROI 

Brown University is located in Providence, Rhode Island, and is known for its strong science programs[20], especially in medicine, math, and computer sciences. Brown has an acceptance rate of 5%[21], which shows how competitive the university is, and like the other Ivy Leagues listed, Brown has many successful alumni with impressive careers in many different fields.  

Some of the most notable alumni include former Vogue Editor-at-Large Andre Leon Talley, the Harry Potter actress Emma Watson, and United States Secretary of the Treasury Janet Yellen[22]. 

Attending Brown is estimated to cost $87,648 per year[23] and $350,592 across a four-year program. With an average starting salary calculated at $85,200[24], and $356,445 over four years this places Brown in fifth place with an ROI of 1.66%. 

However, Brown graduates who go into the most sought-after industry, computer science, could earn an average salary of $141,100[25]! 

4) Cornell University: 2.15% ROI 

Cornell University is located in Ithaca, New York, and is renowned for its research initiatives[26] in areas like genomics, cancer biology, and regenerative medicine. With its first-rate education, there is a 7% acceptance rate at Cornell[27], and like Yale, many graduates have gone on to have accomplished careers in many different fields.  

Some of the university’s most notable alumni members include former Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States Ruth Bader Ginsburg and famed mechanical engineer Bill Nye[28]. 

Cornell’s estimated yearly attendance costs a total of $88,150[29] and across four years, $352,600. As the average starting salary is calculated at $86,100[24] (amounting to $360,210 over four years), Cornell ranks in fourth place with a 2.15% ROI. 

One of the most popular jobs for Cornell graduates who attended The Nolan School of Hotel Administration is investment banking, which can lead to an average base salary of $109,565[30]. 


3) Princeton University: 7.53% ROI 

Situated in Princeton, New Jersey, Princeton University is the fourth oldest university in the United States[31]. Princeton is renowned for its acclaimed research[32], with connections to more than 40 Nobel laureates, 17 winners of the National Medal of Science and five recipients of the National Humanities Medal. So, it’s no wonder it has a 6% acceptance rate[33]! 

Like the other Ivy Leagues, Princeton has many notable alumni with profound careers, such as Executive Chairman of Amazon, Jeff Bezos, and former First Lady Michelle Obama[34]. The university has also famously produced two US presidents and three active US Supreme Court justices. 

Princeton’s estimated yearly attendance cost is $86,700[35] and $346,800 across four years. In comparison, we discovered the average graduate salary was $89,144[36] and $372,945 across four years these figures place Princeton third with an ROI of 7.53%. 

The top employment industry among graduates was business, with finance jobs being the most popular within this field[37], which can earn an average expected income of $176,500!

Princeton is recognised for having one of the most generous financial aid programs in the US — the university is one of few that applies the same financial aid policy to international students. 

2) Dartmouth College: 9.52% ROI 

Situated in Hanover, New Hampshire, Dartmouth College is known for its rural landscape and having lower student enrollment[38] to allow for more intimate class sizes. The university is also known for its liberal arts education, with over 40 departments and programs in the Faculty of Arts and Science[39]. 

Dartmouth has a plethora of prominent notable alumni, including 170 members of the United States Congress[40] and numerous Olympic medalists[41]! Other well-known alumni include author and cartoonist Dr. Suess (Theodor Seuss Geisel)[42] and television producer and screenwriter Shonda Rhimes[43]  

The university’s estimated yearly attendance cost is $87,793[44] and across the academic four years, $351,172. With an average starting salary estimated at $89,000[24] and $384,611 within four years of employment, Dartmouth ranks in second place with a 9.52% ROI.

However, the median base annual salary for graduates of the university’s business school, TUCK (officially named The Amos Tuck School of Business Administration at Dartmouth College) reaches a whopping $175,000, with a median sign-on bonus of $30,000[45]! 


1) Harvard University: 9.67% ROI 

Harvard, located in Cambridge, Massachusetts, has placed first in our rankings of the best ROI for Ivy League Universities! Harvard is the oldest institution of higher education in the United States[46] and is widely regarded as the most prestigious Ivy League university.  
Harvard has a 3% acceptance rate[47] and boasts a world-renowned faculty[48] of Nobel laureates and Pulitzer Prize-winning authors — it is an extremely selective institution!  

The esteemed alumni from Harvard include eight U.S. Presidents, 158 Nobel laureates, 62 living billionaires[49] and the current U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice, John G. Roberts, Jr[50]. However, some of the most recognisable and notable alumni include the co-founder of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg, literary icon T. S. Eliot, and Hollywood actor Natalie Portman[51] 

The latest yearly attendance cost predictions for Harvard total $87,450[52] — amounting to $349,800 across a four-year course. With an average starting salary of $91,700 for Harvard graduates[24] and $383,639 over four years, it amounts to an ROI of 9.67%.  

A report found that the most sought-after industries for Harvard graduates were finance, consulting and technology. Research also revealed that 41% of graduates will earn at least $110,000[53], meaning many are likely to earn even more than the median starting salary! 


Financial Aid for Ivy League Universities 

Starting at an Ivy League University can be an exciting but daunting time for many international students, and financially it can be overwhelming. Luckily all eight Ivy League universities are committed to being financially accessible to students, offering comprehensive financial aid packages. 

Financial aid at the Ivy League schools are most often need-based, which is offered based on a student’s financial need, rather than merit. However, the available range is generous, with many schools offering a zero-parent contribution for families of a certain income.

For example, students from families with an income of less than $85,000 can attend Harvard University for free[54]. Additionally, Dartmouth College offer a scholarship covering at least the cost of tuition for families making under $125,000[55].

The number of students offered financial support is also reassuring with 62% of Princeton University undergraduates receiving financial aid for the Class of 2025. Many Ivy League schools also offer financial aid to international students[56].

You can find more information on the financial aid available at the Ivy League universities here. 

The ROI of each university can vary, and there is huge potential to increase the number depending on the chosen profession and performance at the school. However, regardless of the ROI, all Ivy League universities are excellent options for students looking to expand their knowledge and experience to prepare themselves for careers in a wide range of industries. 



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[39] “Undergraduate Arts & Sciences | Dartmouth,” Dartmouth.

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[41] “Dartmouth Olympians,” Dartmouth Sports.

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[52] “How Aid Works,” Harvard College.

[53] “The Harvard Crimson | Class of 2023 By the Numbers,” The Harvard Crimson.

[54] “Affordability,” Harvard College.

[55] “How Aid Works,” Dartmouth Admissions. 

[56] “Financial Aid by the Numbers | Princeton Admission,” Princeton University.