Low Graduate ROI compared to peer institutions

First off, congratulations to all who got accepted to the class of 2025! As much as I’d love to see UChicago skyrocket in all sorts of college rankings, prestige in the general public, and popularity among high schoolers, one thing that bothers me as a prospective parent is how low the school’s ROI is compared to its peer institutions (Ivy+) and it seems like a topic that few on this board had ever bothered discussing.

On the payscale college rankings, Uchicago is ranked 222nd in the college ROI report and 72nd in salary. (You can google for the link)

The lowest-ranked ivy, Dartmouth, is ranked #56 with a $668,000 20-year ROI, while Chicago has a 20 year ROI of $436,000, ranked #226, worse than Northwestern, Washington University in St. Louis, Vanderbilt, Rice, Emory, Notre Dame, Berkeley, Georgetown, UCLA or just about every “T20”. For UChicago, this figure seems embarrassingly low for an institution of its caliber.

Top schools on the US News ranking:

MIT #2 $1,123,000
Caltech #11 $919,000
Princeton #15 $879,000
Stanford #18 $840,000
Harvard #19 $821,000
Penn #30 $774,000
Yale #31 $749,000
Columbia #32 $741,000
Duke #60 $659,000

Cornell #44 $701,000
Brown #52 $672,000
Dartmouth #56 $668,000
Johns Hopkins #82 $600,000
Northwestern #174 $481,000
Chicago #226 $436,000

I know there’s a lot of criticism on the Payscale rankings and I personally agree that the self-reporting mechanism is quite inaccurate, but in a more authoritative Georgetown ROI study (also publicly available), the results are about the same. Chicago is ranked #1080 (!) for a 10-year ROI, #151 for a 15-year ROI, #92 for a 20-year ROI, #72 for a 30-year ROI, and #70 for a 40-year ROI of $1,420,000, about the same as George Washington, Lafayette, and Bucknell. The only school we have a decisive advantage over in all metrics is Brown.

Rankings for schools Chicago considers as peers:

Early Career (10-year):
MIT #20 $311,000
Stanford #21 $307,000
Harvard #37 $286,000
Princeton #100 $242,000
Penn #135 $222,000
Yale #145 $218,000
Columbia #175 $208,000
Caltech #205 $200,000
Duke #411 $173,000

Northwestern #579 $162,000
Cornell #623 $160,000
Dartmouth #1016 $146,000
Chicago #1080 $144,000
Johns Hopkins #1338 $136,000
Brown #2094 $112,000

MIT #3 $724,000
Stanford #5 $677,000
Harvard #9 $640,000
Penn #23 $561,000
Yale #33 $546,000
Caltech #34 $539,000
Columbia #36 $537,000
Princeton #36 $537,000
Duke #48 $505,000

Cornell #71 $465,000
Dartmouth #85 $444,000
Northwestern #103 $434,000
Johns Hopkins #118 $425,000
Chicago #151 $412,000
Brown #240 $378,000

Mid Career (20-year):
MIT #4 $1,098,000
Stanford #5 $1,013,000
Harvard #8 $960,000
Penn #16 $868,000
Caltech #19 $846,000
Yale #20 $843,000
Columbia #25 $834,000
Duke #32 $807,000
Princeton #36 $803,000

Cornell #51 $740,000
Dartmouth #58 $713,000
Johns Hopkins #68 $687,000
Northwestern #75 $681,000
Chicago #92 $656,000
Brown #126 $619,000

Late Career (40-year):
MIT #4 $2,273,000
Stanford #5 $2,068,000
Harvard #8 $1,967,000
Penn #16 $1,832,000
Caltech #18 $1,810,000
Yale #21 $1,777,000
Columbia #22 $1,769,000
Duke #24 $1,754,000
Princeton #33 $1,642,000

Cornell #36 $1,607,000
Dartmouth #40 $1,561,000
Johns Hopkins #50 $1,508,000
Northwestern #61 $1,455,000
Chicago #70 $1,420,000
Brown #83 $1,377,000

Why does Chicago rank so low compared to its peer institutions in undergraduate earnings-based rankings? I’d expect this figure to be a lot higher since it’s a historically well-respected institution and lots of famous people have passed through the venerated halls of its Hyde Park campus. I’ve also noticed a dearth of recent UChicago college alumni in prominent and publicly visible positions (government, business, law, tech, media, and entertainment) compared to the ivies after doing a thorough Wikipedia search. I don’t think this is a coincidence anyhow. Any particular thoughts on this? I think this merits a good discussion on this forum.

Interesting analysis, I agree Georgetown ROI data is far better than payscale (not sure if payscale is good for anything).

A number of the schools with higher ROIs than UChicago have engineering majors (which Chicago only added a few years ago). Engineering majors tend to have relatively higher starting salaries from the start, which can have an outsized impact on ROI. Aside from that, I’m not sure what else could explain the data. Looking forward to hearing other hypotheses.

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I think part of it may have to do with cost of living/salaries. The midwest is much more affordable than the Northeast and the West Coast so salaries tend to be a bit lower (although IMO, the quality of life is much better).

I think the other part may be that Chicago doesn’t have a true engineering department/program. Schools with strong engineering programs tend to have higher salaries, especially for new grads than schools that don’t. For example, in IN, Rose Hullman has a higher ROI than Notre Dame.

Personally if you are concerned about ROI, I would look at the career potential/prospects for your child’s major vs the overall school.


Don’t much of the ROI figures have to do with what grads of these schools do after graduation? I’m guessing that perhaps not quite as many U Chicago grads go into investment banking as grads of other schools do.


These are interesting figures, and I applaud the OP for putting them out there for query and discussion.

As an older alum I always like to see demonstrations of Chicago as the outlier it once was and in part still is. Yes, those figures can be explained by the lack historically of an engineering program, the lack of a large pre-professional cadre in the student body, the lack of any effort at career counselling, the lack of a smooth conveyor-belt into the arms of the East Coast Establishment - and no doubt a general lack of interest in practical matters and a correlative inclination to continue in graduate work and ultimately enter the professoriate. The figures, which are not even that old, show how those ancient orientations of Chicago students have continued long after the time that R.M. Hutchins, in an address of the Class of '35, in his typically over the top rhetorical mode put it this way: “I am not worried about your economic future… I am worried about your morals. Time will corrupt you. Your friends, your wives and husbands, your business and professional associates will corrupt you; your social, political and financial ambitions will corrupt you.” Words spoken at the height of the Depression!

The vision of Hutchins was powerful, still lingered with dilutions in the sixties, and I suspect lingers today. It was the magnet for many a talented and idealistic kid. However, the College also always had kids who were focussed on success in conventional terms and did in fact become highly successful in those terms. If one could select out these atypical kids at Chicago and compare them on the ROI scale with their more typical counterparts at the peer schools I expect the statistical differences would disappear. That would be apples to apples. The fact that there are relatively larger numbers of such kids at Chicago these days, what with the long waning of the Hutchins ethos, the larger numbers in preprofessional and business-friendly majors and the one Engineering program, the career guidance from the very beginning, the helping hands of better-connected alums from a school with growing name recognition - all this suggests to me that the ROI statistics for the College as a whole will likely narrow with those of the peer schools. I have mixed feelings about this.


whats the denominator for the ROI? Does it factor in scholarships to discount the cost of attendance?

If so, that may also be a reason, since schools like H and Y have so much money they would be able to reduce the average cost of attendance more than UChicago would (at least in the past)

This is a good data point and may be one of the reasons why new majors like Business Econ have been created, to cater to those who would like to earn big bucks. The school always had CS as far as I can remember but it had a more theoretical than applied bent to it. Perhaps 15 years from now when we look at these financial success metrics that the gap would have narrowed… but to another poster’s point, there would always be a large enough contingent at UChicago that wants to do the academic track or non-banking-consulting-tech track

ROI might be more appropriately calculated by conditioning on family income (thus Net COA) and major. When I compare UChicago to a set of peer schools that way, I find that at least for my daughter, the ROI is actually in the middle of the pack. YMMV, of course, depending on your own parameters.

This Forbes article suggests favorable economic outcomes for UChicago grads. Readers may find the vaguely referenced methodology unsatisfying, however:

Thank you - the problem with this article is that it mentions no methodology whatsoever, so I don’t know how the outcome is measured here.

That said, do you see UChicago as having a slight disadvantage relative to other peer schools when it comes to recruiting? Having lived in the tristate and DMV areas my whole life and worked in finance, a lot of the people I’ve come to interact with did their undergrad at Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Columbia, Penn (a lot of Wharton), Dartmouth, Duke, Georgetown, etc., among the middle or senior management. Chicago alums are, on the other hand, few and far between. I also went to an ivy in the early 90s so most of the people I come to interact with were of my age cohort. It seems to me that graduates from those schools could fairly easily land top jobs in the industry (think Hedge Funds, Private Equity, trading, VC) straight out of college without a graduate degree. Alumni networks and school prestige play an outsized role in recruiting and these “hooks” help an applicant land a desired job or internship when all other factors are equal. My impression is that while these institutions have nourished a campus-to-finance pipeline, Chicago, as some older alumni who graduated in the 70s and 80s claimed on this forum, didn’t bother with alumni outreach or try build these valuable networks until very recently. How will that legacy affect on-campus recruiting for the students?

Good point. The Georgetown ROI analysis (https://cew.georgetown.edu/cew-reports/collegeroi/ gets both numerator and denominator (salary/earnings and average net price) from College Scorecard https://collegescorecard.ed.gov/

U Chicago’s average net price ($26K), while relatively low in the big picture (similar to NU and Penn), is quite a bit higher than Harvard ($16K), Yale ($19K), Stanford ($12K), MIT ($18K), Princeton ($10K), Rice ($21K).

Interesting. I’ll just list the figures for reference: School name - average annual cost (with FA) - salary after completion

Harvard $16k $26k-129k
Yale $19k $31k-122k
Princeton $10k $34k-103k
Columbia $23k $29k-103k
Penn $25k $24k-245k (!)
Brown $32k $28k-154k
Dartmouth $31k $33k-113k
Cornell $30k $25k-122k

Stanford $12k $24k-136k
MIT $18k $36k-128k
University of Chicago $26k $24k-91k
Duke $23k $21k-107k
Johns Hopkins $31k $15k-109k
Northwestern $25k $20k-98k

Looks like Chicago by far has the lowest maximum salary of 91k and the range of salaries is also the narrowest, according to the College Scorecard.

My impression is that most student “legacies” (my own two included) are the children of grad students rather than the College. The College had only 4,000 enrollees by 2000 and that was a significant increase from just a decade earlier. It’s been growing every year ever since. Higher numbers and a significantly improved undergraduate experience over prior generations will obviously help with alumnae engagement going forward, but so will the university’s now significantly stepped-up efforts to keep them engaged in the first place. The recently-closed capital campaign made an enormous push to contact every alum and they did reach an unprecedented number, although the standard wasn’t historically all that high. The Ivies are far ahead on on this one and have been for decades and decades. However, UChicago continues to make progress. I tend to agree with the other posters who point out that choice of career and location are driving those ROI numbers. I’m guessing that, like many other things about the College, you’ll see those numbers change over the next few years.

My own 2 cents, which I’ve mentioned on this forum before but it probably bears repeating: I graduated from Booth in the early 90’s and back then there was zero problem landing a top finance or consulting job in NYC or equivalent. The alumnae network populating the top investment banks and other financial institutions was pretty remarkable in those days and it’s only expanded since that time (in terms of finance opportunities and geography). Booth had critical numbers of top finance hopefuls from all over the country - and the world - who were drawn to the program, educated in the “Chicago-Style” and turned out to be hired. In turn, they came back to campus to recruit more Booth students. I believe the same thing is happening at the College level; of course, those kids are also enormously helped by the reputation of UChicago in general and the economics and finance program in particular. So I’d be very surprised if, given the larger number of top-performing/“top-job” hopefuls that the College is now graduating, that they can’t find meaningful employment that meets their professional goals. Another example: the university’s trustees (many of whom are successful alums) also take a proactive interest in providing crucial networking and entree opportunities to the top positions, and that might not be something that university trustees generally do. Finally, many of those opportunities to access alums and other partners can be found right at the Career Office via Metcalfs, treks, Careers-In programs and other terrific resources. My D just secured her after-college plans with the help not only of the Careers-In director for her profession but also a UChicago liaison (alum) from the organization she was applying to, who served as a mentor and advisor during each step of the application process. With help like that, it’s no surprise that my D received an offer.

This shouldn’t be surprising. All of these ROI rankings track pretty closely the percent of graduates in the engineering field, a career that offers relatively quick returns. Traditionally, the Chicago undergraduate college has more closely resembled an LAC than most of its R1 university peers.

Yes, salary without consideration of major distribution is near useless. Colleges with a large portion of grads in high paying fields tend to have high average salaries. Colleges with a small portion of grads in high paying fields tend to have lower average salaries. The CollegeScore card database controls for major and based on federal tax records, rather self reported. However, there are also limitations with this database, particularly with sample size.

A comparison of new grad median earnings using Chicago’s majors for which sample size is largest is below, as reported in CollegeScorecard. For Ivies, it is the median across all 8 schools. Some individual schools vary significantly from this median. Note that median earnings are all over the map for different majors, so the distribution of majors in critical in the overall average for the school. A school with a lot of CS and Economics majors is expected to have higher earlier career salary than one with few CS/Engineering/Economics and instead a larger portion humanities. This also has implications on ROI. ROI is likely to follow student (characteristics, goals, FA situation, …) and major, far more so than at which college a particular student attends.

In this limited sample, Chicago seems to do have a higher median than Ivies in its most popular major – Economics, and lag a little behind Ivies in CS+Math.

Largest Sample Size Majors
Computer Science – $91k at Chicago, $110k at Ivies
Economics – $84.5k at Chicago, $74k at Ivies
Mathematics – $73k at Chicago, $82k at Ivies
Political Science – $52k at Chicago, $50k at Ivies
Public Policy – $52k at Chicago, ??? at Ivies
English – $34k at Chicago, $36k at Ivies
Biology – $25k at Chicago, $36k at Ivies

Among majors with a sample size of at least 30 kids, the highest and lowest overall were:


  1. Computer Science – $91k
  2. Economics – $84.5k
  3. Statistics — ~$80k (large variation by year)


  1. Biology – $25k
  2. Philosophy – $31k
  3. Anthropology $33.5k
    *Theater ~$16k (very small sample)

Yeah, I don’t trust this one bit.

I prefer to treat the selection of a college as a utility maximization problem instead of a ROI maximization one.


And… use your own individual cost of attendance since the need based aid from other schools may not necessarily mean anything to many individual cases

That said, do you see UChicago as having a slight disadvantage relative to other peer schools when it comes to recruiting? Having lived in the tristate and DMV areas my whole life and worked in finance, a lot of the people I’ve come to interact with did their undergrad at Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Columbia, Penn (a lot of Wharton), Dartmouth, Duke, Georgetown, etc., among the middle or senior management. Chicago alums are, on the other hand, few and far between.

My D is graduating next June and will be starting at a major investment bank. She perhaps had to hustle more than HYP grads to find the opportunities, but UChicago is on the recruitment circuit for just about every bank, and the UChicago alumni at these banks were very helpful.

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