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Where you go to college can influence the path you take in life. Luckily, many of America's institutes of higher education offer a high-quality academic experience. Your choice of a university doesn't just come down to where you're accepted, but what your support structure can afford and how much debt you're willing to take on. First-rate in-state public schools work well if you're on a tight budget and offer a high return on investment, but Ivy League and adjacent colleges have big endowments that make them accessible too.

Stanford

Parents with yearly incomes below $75,000 aren't expected to pay for tuition, room, or board, and need-based scholarships assist families with incomes below $150,000. The Wall Street Journal/Times Higher Education (WSJ/THE) College Ranking places Stanford in the top 10 for best value—remarkable considering it comes in at second in the overall national rankings.

Hoover Tower at the Stanford University, Palo Alto, California, USA achinthamb / Shutterstock.com

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Purdue University

This school in West Lafayette, Indiana, has a stellar reputation and regularly scores high in best value rankings. You'll often see Purdue in top 50 rankings for best colleges in the United States. The college offers excellent programs in various disciplines but is particularly lauded for its engineering program. The alumni list is impressive and includes Neil Armstrong, a man who literally reached for the stars.

Classic Architecture Cary Quadrangle Purdue University Student Dormitory Building Purdue9394 / Getty Images

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Berea College

Berea College in Kentucky scored the top best value spot in the 2019 WSJ/THE College Rankings. This private liberal-arts college ranks in the top 150 schools and students work on campus but don't pay tuition. Yup, you read right. The college makes higher education affordable for low-income students, and most students don't have to take out loans of any kind. Berea has a 33% acceptance rate and a 63% graduation rate.

Picture of the fountain on a fall day. IMCBerea College / Wikipedia

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University of Michigan, Ann Arbor

The University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, tops Money.com's list of best value colleges. More than half of the student body receives grants. The college has a 92% graduation rate, and early career earnings are as high as $75,840. Elsewhere in Michigan, the Michigan Technological University offers plenty of scholarships whether you live in-state or are from out of state or abroad. The university's 3.3% loan default rate is worth noting too.

The Campus of the University of Michigan Law School in Ann Arbor is also known as "The Law Quad" or "The Law Quadrangle". On the Campus students live in dorm rooms of a facility known as the "Lawyers Club". tiny-al / Getty Images

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Harvard University

A globally famous East Coast school, Harvard's numerous endowments and high fees enable it to offer substantial financial aid; if your household income is below $75,000, you won't have to contribute fees to the college. The university covers 20% of students in this way, and your application is need-blind.

harvard university TriggerPhoto / Getty Images

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Princeton University

This New Jersey-based college is world-renowned and has a similar policy to Harvard, so don't knock these exclusive Ivy Leagues off your list. Where there's demonstrated financial need, Princeton offers grants to domestic and international students that cover every significant cost. The cutoff increased from $65,000 to $100,000 for Fall 2023. And university reports indicate that aid programs meant 83% of recent seniors graduated without debt.

Princeton University, a private Ivy League research university in New Jersey EQRoy / Shutterstock.com

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University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

You'll get bang for your buck at Chapel Hill, a college regarded as a Public Ivy. The school takes the number 2 spot on Money.com's best value rankings. The price for the year with the average grant is approximately $10,600, which is $8,200 less than the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, the ranking leader. And the Carolina Covenant stipulates that students from families that earn less than double the federal poverty level should graduate debt-free.

Aerial shot of UNC Campus Ryan Herron / Getty Images

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University of Washington, Seattle

The University of Wahington is known for its STEM research. It was in the Top 5 in the (WSJ/THE) Best Value College Rankings in 2022 and has a 56% acceptance rate. Its overall ranking is 45, which is outstanding, and the estimated cost for a year with a college grant is $10,200.

On the open campus of the Univ. of Washington in spring blossom time with many enjoying nature davelogan / Getty Images

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University of Virginia

With a 24% acceptance rate, the University of Virginia in Charlottesville is selective, just like the other Top 3 schools on Money.com's best value ranking. But it's a little more expensive, with a $20,100 price tag after deducting the average grant. UVA is a Public Ivy with a UNESCO-protected campus.

The Afternoon sun on the Lawn at the University of Virginia campus an iconic and historic university. garytog / Getty Images

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CUNY Bernard M Baruch College

This college in New York City has a diverse student body—ethnic minorities comprise 68% of students, and 36% of students are first-generation children of immigrants. More than 80% of the students come from low-income households and leave without debt. The Wall Street Journal College Rankings placed it second for the best value in 2022 and 234 in the overall rankings.

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University of Florida

This college in Gainesville is one of the best public universities in the country and has a proud sporting history. In terms of value, the college is up there. A year of tuition costs around $10,600 after the average grant is factored in, and 85% of students receive no-strings-attached funds, which is striking.

University of Florida Campus Historic District: Century Tower and University Auditorium, Gainesville, Florida. irinka-s / Getty Images

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University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Urbana Champaign cracks Money.com's Top 10 list for best value. For starters, this college has the second largest library in the country after Harvard. And the estimated cost for a year, inclusive of potential grants, is $14,300. Early career earnings are promising; depending on the field, students can expect to make about $71,540.

University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign (UIUC), Foellinger Auditorium, view from main quad

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University of California

Between UC and California State University's various campuses, the Golden State has good-value universities just about everywhere you look. UCLA is in the WSJ/THE Top 10 for best value and is an admirable number 27 in the overall rankings. And UC Irvine and UC Davis are in Money.com's Top 10.

aerial view of campus of University of California in Los Angeles, with smoggy cityscape of Los Angeles, California in the background dszc / Getty Images

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Missouri University of Science and Technology

This school provides merit-based scholarships for those with exemplary academic performance who do well on standardized tests. These scholarships extend to international students. The college has a 79% acceptance rate, 84% of students receive grants, and early career earnings are high at $80,290.

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Honorable mentions

The United States is packed to the rafters with excellent colleges that offer value for money—it's why so many international students flock to our shores every year. Do your research to find the university that best fits your lifestyle and field because value can be subjective and nuanced. Here are just five more colleges (because we don't want to overwhelm you) that are value contenders for your consideration:

  • Georgia Institute of Technology
  • The University of Texas at Austin
  • University of Wisconsin, Madison
  • MIT
  • Yale

"Tech Tower" at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta Rob Hainer / Shutterstock.com

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