How to Choose the Best University for a STEM Degree

Picking a college is tough – especially when you’re not sure it’ll be worth the tens of thousands of dollars you’ll likely spend on your degree. Luckily, a new tool helps you determine how much school will cost, and what your return on investment (ROI) is once you graduate (it also proves a STEM degree is the way to go).

PayScale’s new ROI tool can be used in a variety of ways. You can choose schools by state, type, major, or the kind of job you want upon graduation. You can even toggle factors such as off-campus living, financial aid, and preferred type of ROI.

For example: If you want a career in tech, and plan to live on campus while attending school, receive financial aid, and get a good annual ROI, the University of Virginia is your best bet. If you’re interested in 20-year ROI (i.e., long-term, as opposed to annual), Stanford is where you want to be. If you’re more interested in living off-campus, Wellesley moves to the top of the list.

Tech careers lead the way, too. PayScale notes 73 of the top 100 ROI options (what it calls “school-job combinations”) “include Computer and Mathematical occupations or Architecture and Engineering occupations.” If you narrow the search to majors, 95 of the top 100 schools feature a STEM degree.

The takeaway? A STEM degree is a safe bet, with a very solid ROI. More often than not, you won’t be left with mountains of debt you can’t pay off because you picked a career that just didn’t pay well. Our own Dice Salary Survey shows tech pros are paid well above average in every major metro area.

Huge, well-established universities such as Stanford and Princeton tend to dominate the list when it comes to getting a STEM degree, but there’s a silver lining for those who can’t get into those schools. Schools such as Southeastern Oklahoma State and University of Alaska Fairbanks have very good ROIs, and are only a few percentage points lower than the top picks. Even if you don’t get into your school of choice, at least you know you’ll graduate with a degree that’ll pay off short- and long-term.