By Iris Stone
New England is known for being saturated with top colleges and universities, and Massachusetts is no exception. It is home to some of the oldest, most prestigious institutions of higher education in the entire country, including powerhouses like Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. But just as important, Massachusetts supports a diverse array of smaller, liberal arts colleges – hidden gems, you might say. These schools treasure uniqueness, diversity, inclusion, and creativity as essential aspects of any life-changing education. Plus, Massachusetts’ public school system holds its own amongst some of academia’s most formidable giants, providing powerful research capabilities without the painful price tag.
In order to give you the best sense of the “best value” schools in Massachusetts, we aimed to rank schools using a metric that would take into account both cost and quality. You can see the result below – a list of the 30 colleges and universities in the state that best utilize tuition dollars when educating their students.
Our Ranking Methodology:
Graduation Rate: This indicator refers to the percentage of students who complete their degree within 150% of normal time (six years for a typical four-year degree program). Schools that perform well in this area have a track record of keeping students engaged and successful for their entire time on campus. We weighted this category 30% of the total and retrieved the information from College Navigator.
Net Price: In order to make sure that cost was still a factor in the ranking, we also considered overall net price as an indicator. Taken from data on College Navigator, “net price” is an approximate value that refers to the average amount of money a student could expect to pay each year after taking into account tuition, room and board, living expenses, scholarship awards, and financial aid packages. We weighted this category 25% of the total.
Acceptance Rate: Academically challenging, popular universities tend to be more selective and thus have a lower acceptance rate. In order to pinpoint those colleges that boast rigorous academics and also receive a large number of applications, we considered acceptance rate – the percentage of students out of the total number of applicants who receive an acceptance letter. We retrieved this information from College Navigator and weighted it 30% of the total.
20-Year Net Return on Investment: Taken from information on the website PayScale, this statistic provides a picture of how much students can expect to make after they graduate from a particular college. More specifically, the figure is calculated by taking the average income an alumnus will make over his or her first 20 years after graduation and subtracting the amount paid in tuition. Schools with a high ROI tend to be better at preparing their students for the job market. We weighted this category only 15% because data was not available for all colleges considered.
After adding all the points, we gave each university a final score out of 200. The schools below have scores ranging from 95 to 188, and each has something different to offer in terms of its cost, quality, and reputation. No one college is perfect (which is why the scores vary so much) but this ranking offers you a premier selection of universities to help get you started on your search for an education in Massachusetts.
30. Bay Path University
Bay Path University stands for a “meaningful education” for young women of all races and ethnicities. The inclusive campus employs a “career focused” curriculum that aims to help its students land desirable jobs by the time they graduate. Undergraduates can major in Biotechnology, Child Psychology, Interior Design, Medical Science, Small Business Management, or any of a number of degree programs focused on skill development and practical experience. Bay Path also supports The American Women’s College – the first online accredited program exclusively for women – and the “One Day A Week College,” which offers conveniently scheduled courses for adult women at locations throughout the state.
Net Price: $18,995/yr
29. Simmons College
Located in what has been named “America’s best college town,” Simmons College offers an intimate haven on a small campus that perfectly contrasts the hustle and bustle of Boston. Simmons’ mission is to create leaders who take initiative and are proactive at seizing opportunities to get ahead. This includes a special SimmonLEADS program to empower young women and annual conferences that remind female students of founder John Simmons’ original goal: to provide women with an avenue to independence and self-led, meaningful lives. The school calendar is rife with interesting events, as well, from the yearly Simmons Soiree to the much-awaited Shark Week celebration.
Net Price: $28,840/yr
28. Emerson College
Emerson College is one of the best colleges in Massachusetts for liberal arts students who are specifically focused on communications and the arts. The small college (the student body sits below 4,000) offers a range of programs for creative and visual learners, including Visual and Media Arts, Politics and Social Advocacy, Stage and Screen Design, and Theatre Education. Emerson isn’t for everyone, but it can do wonders for students who have a clear vision of what they want in a career; notable alumni include Jay Leno, Denis Leary, Eric Hutchinson, and Bobbi Brown. The school’s location also makes it a draw for students who love the arts – passionate young learners often venture out into the city to visit museums and take in the local music scene.
Net Price: $34,427/yr
27. Massachusetts College of Art and Design
The Massachusetts College of Art and Design, or “MassArt,” has a long history of supporting art education. Not only was MassArt the first public college of art and design, but it was also the first art school to grant a degree. But this affordable Massachusetts college doesn’t just offer programs in painting and photography. Students can explore a myriad of creative degrees, from Animation and Architectural Design to Printmaking and Jewelry and Metalsmithing. On campus galleries make sure students are constantly inspired by their surroundings, and visiting arts – like Daniel Clayman and Wangechi Mutu – provide unique insight into the world of artistic expression.
Net Price: $21,798/yr
26. Framingham State University
For a traditional public education from one of the most affordable colleges in Massachusetts, consider Framingham State University. Its small class sizes and interesting course offerings draw students from throughout the state, while first-year learners enjoy a seamless tradition to college life through a number of unique freshmen initiatives. FSU also attracts a surprising number of overachievers – its honors college is nearly 300 strong! Framingham State students also benefit from impressive on-campus facilities, including the Entrepreneur Innovation Center, the Center for Inclusive Excellence, and a fully functional planetarium and multimedia STEM classroom!
Net Price: $17,047/yr
25. Fitchburg State University
Fitchburg State University’s affordable annual cost makes it one of the top cheap colleges in Massachusetts. Approximately 7,000 students can choose between more than 30 different majors in areas that combine the liberal arts with professional subjects, such as Communications Media, Geographic Science and Technology, Human Services, and Earth Systems Science. FSU also supports a lively group of extracurricular programs for students who just love to stay busy. CenterStage Arts hosts art galleries and lectures every year, while the Volunteer Center encourages FSU students to partner with local charities and fulfill their responsibility to help others.
Net Price: $12,715/yr
24. The New England Conservatory of Music
The New England Conservatory of Music is one of the premier choices for students who are serious about the study of art and music. All students earn a Bachelor of Music with a concentration in a type of instrument, such as Percussion, Brass, Strings, or Woodwinds. Students can also pursue a program in Vocal Performance, Jazz Studies, or Composition, or they can even get a degree in Music Education. When conservatory students aren’t busy practicing their music, they’re engaged in myriad other activities on campus, from writing for The Penguin newspaper to attending unique workshops like “Food and Mood” and the “Paint Bar.”
Net Price: $41,096/yr
23. Mount Holyoke College
South Hadley, MA
The founding institution of the “Seven Sisters” schools, Mount Holyoke College is a woman’s university for the modern world. Ever since the 1800s, MHC has been a place where young female learners can “develop their intellects, hone the power of their voices, and cultivate courage.” The campus may be small in stature – just 2,300 students – but its large on resources. Degree programs include everything from Africana Studies to Theatre Arts, and there are plenty of interdisciplinary options as well. Students can also create their own major by combining two or three different areas of study, forming a one-of-a-kind path that could lead to a diploma in such topics as Astrophysics, Wildlife Biology, Biomedical Ethics, or Political Art.
Net Price: $27,398/yr
22. Eastern Nazarene College
Eastern Nazarene College is a top college in Massachusetts that also happens to be one of the state’s most affordable Christian schools. ENC’s ideal location in Quincy makes it easy to access both the beach and the local transportation system, and Boston is just a short ride away. Eastern Nazarene is an especially popular choice for undergrads who want to earn an advanced degree, as the school has an excellent reputation for getting its graduates into the best grad/medical schools around. ENC also has a high caliber Honors Program that invites the school’s best scholars to take on community service projects, research, and special extracurriculars and earn a prestigious distinction on their transcript.
Net Price: $14,867/yr
21. Worcester State University
Worcester State University is another cheap Massachusetts college with a strong reputation as a top public school. Students choose WSU for the well-rounded experience it offers, from 60+ degree programs to opportunities for undergraduate research. In addition, student organizations give students the chance to step outside their comfort zone and into leadership positions as they make new friends. WSU learners can bond over their love for the environment, join the equestrian team, or start their journalism career on WSUR Radio. Worcester State is also big on leadership, and programs such as Helping Emerging Leaders Progress (HELP) and the Art of Leadership can give students an edge in the real world.
Net Price: $13,454/yr
20. University of Massachusetts Lowell
UMass Lowell is one of the biggest universities in a very small state, attracting more than 17,000 students to its diverse programs and “high energy campus.” Over the years, Lowell has earned quite a reputation for its ability to produce highly productive graduates, and its ROI of $545,000 places it within the top 60 in the nation. And like many large state schools, UMass Lowell has degree options in just about every area imaginable, from Biological Engineering and Exercise Physiology to Creative Writing and Peace and Conflict Studies. And students who are interested in research will have no trouble here – there’s even a “Co-op Scholar Program” for particularly enterprising learners.
Net Price: $15,965/yr
19. Boston University
Students who are ready to dive into the deep end and explore the great city of Boston can opt for BU, a serious operation that caters to more than 30,000 students at a time. It’s a “big pond” for learners who are committed to becoming “big fish”; with 250+ majors and minors and nearly 10,000 faculty members, BU is one of the best universities in Massachusetts for students who want it all. Journalism, Nutrition, Global Manufacturing, Anthropology…these are just a few of the many programs that can prepare students for the career of their dreams. On that note, Boston University has a graduation rate of 85% and a 20-year net ROI of $380,000, proving that it is at the top of its game when it comes to student success.
Net Price: $32,539/yr
18. Worcester Polytechnic Institute
A top Massachusetts college for science and engineering fields, Worcester Polytechnic Institute combines the appeal of STEM degree programs with the real-world practice and technological training to help its students soar. Fewer than half of applicants are accepted to WPI, but those who make the cut have plenty for which to be grateful; the vast majority of students graduates within six years and earn enough money to put the school’s ROI above $700,000! The school’s mission is not just to prepare students in topics like Aerospace, Biotechnology, and System Dynamics, but also to train students to use their smarts to benefit the greater community.
Net Price: $37,345/yr
17. Clark University
Above all, Clark University sends a message to students to “challenge convention [and] change our world.” This bold mission statement cuts right to the heart of Clark’s purpose, which is to meld passionate, open-minded students through a combination of liberal arts study and independent research. Approximately 2,200 students gather on campus each year to bond over mutual interests, whether they’re working together at the Mosakowski Institute for Public Enterprise or discussing a lecture in their Global Environmental Studies class. Clark’s net price is just above average, but it 78% graduation rate and $305,000 net ROI prove that this investment is worth it.
Net Price: $24,394/yr
16. Bentley University
Bentley University is used to earning top rankings for its programs; its Career Services, on-campus library, and internship opportunities have all been rated some of the best in the nation. Bloomberg Businessweek has also offered high praise to the business school, and Bentley’s placement rate for students seeking employment sits north of 95%. All these statistics paint a clear picture of BU as an institution that takes student success seriously, and in fact its graduation rate rockets past the average to 88%. When students aren’t diligently hitting the books, they’re probably immersing themselves in Greek life, making friends through one of 100+ student organizations, or flexing their creative muscles at the Mobile Arts Studio.
Net Price: $31,653/yr
15. Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering
The Olin College of Engineering is a “new kind of engineering college,” one that sees engineering as a creative pursuit that can be used to solve problems. Students should get used to getting their hands dirty, because Olin is all about gaining practical skills and trying them out. The curriculum is split between three main areas: Design and Entrepreneurship, Modeling and Analysis, and Systems and Control. Most students take the same classes regardless of major and can even take engineering-relevant humanities courses like Stuff of History and Engineering for Humanity. The school is incredibly hard to get into – it has a slim 12% acceptance rate – and those who are admitted perform exceptionally well, with 95% graduating on time.
Net Price: $29,979/yr
14. Smith College
Smith College is a prestigious college for “women of high ability” who are seeking an education of “uncompromising quality.” The curriculum places a premium on personal experiences and individual thought, and Smith encourages students to explore topics that ignite their passions. The women at Smith also enjoy unparalleled mentorship, from small classes with accessible professors to special study opportunities that foster one-on-one relationships with faculty. Young women can choose an academic degree in Comparative Literature or Medieval Studies, Geosciences or Biochemistry, Architecture or Dance, and everything in between.
Net Price: $25,619/yr
13. Northeastern University
Northeastern University is all about engaging with the world, whether it’s through research, study abroad, or collaboration with other institutions. NU is also one of the best Massachusetts colleges for experiential learning, which allows students to engage with one another and get hands-on experiences – on all seven continents! Students can join a co-op and work with an actual organization in their chosen field, tackle a service-learning project by serving an at-risk community, or travel the world – from India to Uganda to Honduras. Many students also participate in research – in fact so many so that the university gives out more than 100 awards each year for students who go above and beyond for their projects.
Net Price: $30,546/yr
12. University of Massachusetts Amherst
In addition to being the cornerstone of the state’s public school system, the University of Massachusetts at Amherst is also one of the largest, most respected research institutions in the country. It is without a doubt one of the best colleges in Massachusetts for students who are seeking a large-scale experience with big-city access. The school offers more than 90 different degree paths, from Animal Science and Astronomy to Natural Resources Conservation and Social Thought and Political Economy, plus plenty of interdisciplinary options and extras outside the classroom. And in the spirit of collaboration, UMass Amherst also sponsors the Five College Interchange, which gives students the flexibility to pick up credit through courses at Smith College, Mount Holyoke, Hampshire, and other premier institutions.
Net Price: $18,840/yr
11. Brandeis University
Brandeis is both a top liberal arts college and a lauded research institution, and it had dedicated itself to educating a “community of scholars” this is driven by a genuine pursuit of knowledge. The school is full of esteemed professors (including Pulitzer Prize winners, a Nobel laureate, and multiple Emmy Award winners) who are ready and willing to guide students to success. Majors and minors include Biological Physics, Creative Writing, European Cultural Studies, Language and Linguistics, and Sexuality and Queer Studies, among plenty of other options. Not only that, but students who aren’t satisfied with a preordained study area can concoct their own from scratch, combining multiple interests together and working on numerous independent projects.
Net Price: $26,367/yr
10. Massachusetts Maritime Academy
Buzzards Bay, MA
Massachusetts Maritime Academy is not like most colleges. There are plenty of other schools that offer a specialized breadth of majors – like art schools and music conservatories – but very few other universities take an approach like MMA. The school offers majors in Emergency Management, Marine Engineering, International Maritime Business, Energy Systems Engineering, and a few other related areas. It’s an ideal choice for students who are set in their desire to work with naval systems or in technical, mechanical, or management jobs related to the maritime industry. And students who make a commitment to MMA receive plenty in return; the 20-year ROI for this top Massachusetts college is nearly $700k.
Net Price: $13,246/yr
9. Williams College
There are few schools that invest in their undergraduates the way Williams College does. While many universities are busy supporting graduate-level research, WC is putting all its energy into helping undergrads transform into ambitious adults with a clear plan for success. Students can major in areas like Astrophysics, Environmental Policy, Global Studies, Materials Science Studies, and Political Economy, or design their own major. Williams is also chockfull of experiential learning initiatives; students can take a semester to teach in a K-12 school in New York, travel to Cape Town to study politics and economics, or even spend an entire semester on the coast learning about ocean life and maritime history.
Net Price: $20,315/yr
8. College of the Holy Cross
With breathtaking scenery and regal buildings of historic stature, the College of the Holy Cross provides a serene setting for a diverse group of academic scholars. The school claims a Catholic, Jesuit identity, which is what drives its unparalleled commitment to education. The vibrant campus supports students with a range of interests, and academic programs cover everything from Classics to Philosophy to Religious Studies. And although the college isn’t limited to religious applicants, many Holy Cross students get involved in faith and service initiatives on campus. The tight-knit community and supportive environment helps students thrive, and a full 92% of attendees graduate in six years or less.
Net Price: $26,172/yr
7. Boston College
Chestnut Hill, MA
Another Jesuit institution (and another top university in Massachusetts) comes in the form of Boston College. BC is particularly well known for the caliber of students it attracts, and over the years the student body has included Rhodes, Fulbright, Goldwater, and Marshall scholars. These ambitious learners flock to Boston College and acquire knowledge in a vast array of areas, studying Bioinformatics, Earth and Environmental Sciences, Medical Humanities, and much more. Students can also join the Honors Program or try for the Gateway Scholars Program, which offers special support to those interested in STEM fields. Of course not everyone can attend BC (the acceptance rate is only 34%) but the statistics at the other end of the tunnel are just as impressive – the graduation rate is above 90%!
Net Price: $26,335/yr
6. Wellesley College
Wellesley College is known for its unique campus culture – a culture with a successful track record of producing thoughtful graduates and empowered female leaders. “A transformative educational experience,” Wellesley accepts only the most promising young learners (the acceptance rate is 30%) and places them in a rigorous environment that challenges women to think creatively and critically. And although the college’s tuition can run somewhat high, its still one of the best Massachusetts colleges for people on a budget. This is all thanks to WellesleyX, a learning collaborative that brings online open coursework in liberal arts topics to anyone with an internet connection.
Net Price: $21,216/yr
5. Babson College
Babson Park, MA
Students with a strong spirit and a serious entrepreneurial streak will fit in well at Babson College, a school where business training meets traditional liberal arts courses to help students “cultivate an entrepreneurial mindset.” This mission is apparent from day one of students’ journey, and all freshmen have the opportunity to actually start a business in their required Foundations of Management and Entrepreneurship class. And although all students follow the same general curriculum, they can also customize their program with up to two concentrations in areas like Environmental Sustainability, Social and Cultural Studies, Quantitative Methods, and Computational and Mathematical Finance. With such a focused approach to education, it’s no wonder Babson’s graduation rate is 90% and its 20-year ROI is $812,000!
Net Price: $27,437/yr
4. Tufts University
Tufts University is a tough school, to say the least. It’s also tough to get into, thanks to an acceptance rate of just 17%. But it’s worth the effort; students who attend Tufts enjoy four scenic campuses (one in France!) and an inviting atmosphere with small classes. As far as academics are concerned, students can choose between the School of Arts and Sciences and the School of Engineering, both of which offer majors that are designed to prepare young learners for the real world. Both schools also offer research opportunities – Tufts attendees might help out at the Center for Cognitive Studies, the Institute for Global Leadership, or the Ultrafast Nonlinear Optics and Biophotonics Laboratory, among others.
Net Price: $26,103/yr
3. Massachusetts Institute of Technology
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology has an esteemed reputation as an international leader in science and engineering, and in fact it’s the top-rated university in the world in many respects. MIT’s academic and research programs focus primarily on STEM topics, including Aeronautics and Astronautics, Computational and Systems Biology, Mathematics, Physics, and Nuclear Science and Engineering (there are programs in the humanities as well, although they are less popular). Getting into MIT is almost as difficult as the classes it offers, and an acceptance rate of a mere 8% suggests that this top university in Massachusetts only takes in the very brightest minds. And since the student body is full of intelligent, motivated individuals, MIT has no problem maintaining a graduation rate of 91%.
Net Price: $22,212/yr
2. Amherst College
In a small town of just 35,000 in Western Massachusetts, Amherst College thrives as one of the best liberal arts schools in the nation. A group of 1,800 students gather on Amherst’s idyllic campus (which even includes a wildlife sanctuary!) to pursue their passions and receive an education for the simple love of learning. B.A. programs exist in Asian Languages and Civilizations, Philosophy, Economics, History, Music, and more than 30 other traditional areas of study. Amherst also excels when it comes to bucking stereotypes of liberal arts colleges; unlike other small, elite private schools, Amherst works hard to keep its total costs to students low. The university also proves that liberal arts students can be plenty successful in the real world – its 20-year ROI is nearly $400k.
Net Price: $14,687/yr
1. Harvard University
It won’t surprise many that Harvard University has risen to the #1 spot on yet another ranking. Between its extreme selectivity (6% acceptance rate), unparalleled commitment to student success (98% graduation rate), highly-accomplished alumni ($646,000 20-year net ROI) and strong financial programs to offset tuition costs, Harvard University is hard to beat. Distinguished professors stand at the helm of undergraduate classes, pushing students to get involved in every aspect of campus life. Harvard offers more than 45 “concentrations” – many of them interdisciplinary – and myriad opportunities for research. All this, along with enrichment programs that give students the flexibility to study abroad and design their own courses, paint a clear picture of why Harvard is one of the best universities in Massachusetts.
Net Price: $15,095/yr
About the Author:
Iris Stone began her writing career as a freelance writer and researcher. She now owns and operates a writing and editing firm that works with clients all across the country. Her work has included articles related to education policy, colleges and universities, academic programs, and careers.