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Considering Cost During the College Search

Considering Cost During the College Search

Costing More Than A Pretty Penny!

It's no secret that a college education is expensive. According to a study, since 1963, college tuition (including fees and other expenses) has increased by a whopping 1,640%, a staggering 2.5 times the inflation rate in that period (Fig 1).

Source: www.medium.com

Thus, expectedly college debt remains a concern among college applicants and students. Therefore, college costs tend to play an enormous role in determining which school you would eventually choose to attend. But looking at costs alone may not be ideal. A more holistic approach to this would be to consider your return on investment (ROI) on your college education and not just the stand-alone metric of tuition costs.

But first things first: You need to build a list of colleges before worrying about the costs.

Building the list of colleges

Now, we completely understand the argument that since cost is one of the biggest concerns about college (for most people at least) as a whole, it should be on the top of your mind right from the beginning. We advise you, though, to not take this into account too early on.

Why? Putting too much weight on the price tag of a school will cause you to exclude schools that may at first glance seem too expensive, even though they may be a better value in the long run. This is where the return on your investment (ROI for short) comes in. More on that later.

Financial aspect aside, you need to look at the quality of the college too. Again, beware of ruling out schools solely on this criteria alone. You should also see if the college would be right ‘fit’ for you as a person, which will help you get the most out of your college experience and enjoy these few crucial years that will most probably mould you into the adult you will be. Hence, we strongly recommend that you apply to programs that excite you or to a school that offers a campus culture that really fits your interests.


Having spoken about the meteoric rise in college fees earlier, it follows that one of the key criteria that will help you in your decision is the availability of financial assistance plans (refer to this article (https://www.asiaone.com/lifestyle/scholarships-you-should-know-about-applying-university)for local universities and the types of scholarships available) that will vastly decrease your financial outlay over the span of 4-5 years of tertiary education.

Return on Investment

Now we will discuss the concept of ROI and how to calculate it from a college education perspective.

The three most important factors that come into play here would be the length of the course you are considering, whether it is a local or an overseas degree and the type of industry you are considering going into to make a career for yourself.

Having a degree is increasingly no longer a prerequisite to go into certain companies – think Google, Apple, IBM, Facebook…while specialised fields like Engineering needs a degree in the appropriate discipline as does Accounting which might need a professional qualification like AACA to boot. So the industry you want to be in pretty much decides everything else.

For the purpose of ROI calculation, let us define ROI first: to put it simply, it is basically looking at the amount you spend on getting a degree and comparing it with the benefits you will realise from it (including projected salaries and bonuses you would receive once you are employed post-degree)

There is also an intangible aspect called VOI or value on investment which takes into account your experiences acquired in the course of the degree. Since it is tricky to put a dollar value to this, we can just consider the ROI to simplify things.

Keeping all these in mind, here is a table listing the the top 7 industries, the cost of getting a local and an overseas degree and the salaries drawn.[i]

[i] Source: blog/seedly.singapore/uni-degree-returns-on-investment and blog.seedly.sg/salary-guide-singapore – published Oct 2019.  

[i] Source: blog/seedly.singapore/uni-degree-returns-on-investment and blog.seedly.sg/salary-guide-singapore – published Oct 2019.  

Please note that the above numbers are not inflation adjusted.

For the sake of illustration, if you compare the time taken to recover your costs for an Arts degree obtained from a local (Singapore) university vs. an overseas degree (say, Australia), the table below gives the summary of this exercise:

Keeping all these in mind, here is a table listing the the top 7 industries, the cost of getting a local and an overseas degree and the salaries drawn.[i]

This will probably give you an idea of the costs involved and the time taken to recover the amount spent with the assumed starting salary levels (this is strictly for illustration purposes to help you do this exercise for other courses you are looking at and the universities you have short-listed). These numbers could be vastly different depending upon your actual salary, the length of your course, your chosen field of work and your lifestyle.Moving to the top international universities,

A List of Top 10 Colleges with the Highest Return on Investment

1.)  Stanford Graduate School of Business, University in Stanford, California 

Stanford is the highest-ranked university in the QS TopMBA.com Return on Investment Report: Full-Time MBA 2018, giving students a 10-year ROI of a jaw-dropping US$1,023,150 - more than seven times the original domestic tuition fees for the course and the only institution to crack the million-dollar ROI ceiling. Additionally, the three-month post-graduation salary average of US$140,600, is over US$60,000 higher than the average pre-MBA salary

2.)  Imperial College Business School

Imperial College offers one of the world’s most coveted MBA qualifications, and it’s not hard to see why. The 10-year ROI stands at US$870,200, almost 14 times higher than the domestic tuition fee rate. Three months after graduation, 92% of graduates had accepted job offers with a difference between their pre- and post-graduation salaries of US$48,500.

3.)  The University of Hong Kong

The University of Hong Kong is third on this list, and the only institution in Asia to make it into the top 10. The 10-year ROI stands at around US$845,350, and it’s estimated that most graduates will have paid back the tuition fees by the 27th month after graduation. Three months after finishing the course, 96% of students had accepted a job role at around US$48,000 higher than their pre-MBA salary.

4.)  The Vlerick Business School, Katholieke Universiteit Leuven

Vlerick Business School offers one of Europe’s top-ranked MBA qualifications. The 12-month course has a 10-year ROI of US$836,775, which is almost 20 times higher than the original tuition fees for domestic students. The average salary three months after graduation is US$33,000 higher than the pre-MBA salary while 86% of students had accepted a job offer at this point.

5.)  Ross School of Business, University of Michigan, US

Ross School of Business, part of the University of Michigan, is the second US-based institution in the top 10. The institution’s 20-month course offers a 10-year ROI of around US$826,300 and estimates that students will have paid back the initial cost 40 months after graduation. Three months after graduation, 92% of students had secured employment and their average post-graduation salary is US$120,000, an impressive US$57,600 higher than the average pre-MBA salary.

6.)  Tepper Business School, Carnegie Mellon University

Tepper Business School is a 21-month course based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  The average post-graduation salary is around US$117,700, around US$63,70 higher than students received before the qualification. The 10-year ROI is a huge US$816,525, over six times more than the initial cost of the course for domestic students.

7.)  The MIT Sloan School of Management, MIT

MIT is the institution which needs no introduction, regularly topping rankings around the world. The business school’s MBA is 24 months in length, and they estimate students will have paid off the initial cost of the course 48 months after graduation. The 10-year ROI stands at around US$788,950. Students can expect to bring in approximately US$58,300 more after graduation and 81% of graduates have secured a job within three months


INSEAD is one of the world’s largest business schools. Their Paris based MBA takes 10 months to complete and 84% of graduates have accepted job offers three months after graduation. The ROI averages US$768,500 and students can expect a salary of around US$103,700. This represents a figure US$46,700 higher than the average pre-course salary.

9.)  Mannheim Business School, University of Mannheim

Ninth on the list is Germany’s Mannheim. This 12-month course costs US$41,500 but within only 21 months students are estimated to pay that back. After graduation, students can expect salaries of around US$93,600, which is about US$57,900 higher than the average salary pre-qualification. The 10-year ROI of the course is US$757,000.

10.)               Goizueta Business School of Emory University

The final institution in the top 10 is Goizueta Business School of Emory University based in Atlanta, Georgia. The 22-month course has an average 10-year ROI of US$755,150 - over six times higher than the domestic tuition fees, which students are estimated to have paid off 41 months after graduation. The post-graduation salary is around US$116,200, representing a salary boost of approximately US$58,700 when compared with the pre-qualification salary.

To summarize, while considering the cost of a college, it is wise to keep the following points in mind:

1.    Whether you actually need the degree for that particular college or if another course in a comparable but less expensive college will still give you the ‘same bang for the buck’ in your chosen line of work.

2.    Whether the chosen colleges offers scholarships or grants (hyperlink to the asiaone scholarships article mentioned above).

3.    Whether you need to go in for educational loans to fund your studies

4.    Whether you need professional guidance to help your decision making

An important decision such as choosing a college can be confusing and overwhelming, even with input from well-meaning friends and family. If you need some clarity and objective guidance, do not hesitate to get in touch (hyperlink to AI contact form) with the experts at Action Impact to make a confident decision.

[i] Source: blog/seedly.singapore/uni-degree-returns-on-investment and blog.seedly.sg/salary-guide-singapore – published Oct 2019.