By Iris Stone
Why pick New Jersey as your new residence for college? With top schools – including Ivy League Princeton and two separate tech centers (Stevens Institute of Technology and the New Jersey Institute of Technology) – this state is geared toward long-term student success. Plus, the beach is close by and some of the nation's largest cities, including Philadelphia, Washington D.C., and neighboring New York City, are well within driving distance. Many top New Jersey colleges leverage this ideal location as a way to bring their students top internship and fellowship opportunities, and of course entertainment too!
For our corresponding ranking of online programs, see Best Online Colleges and Universities in New Jersey.
How do you define a "best value" college? Answers may vary, but for the purposes of this ranking we focused on pinpointing the crossroads of two of the biggest factors in any soon-to-be college student's decision: affordability and academic success. We carefully selected scoring categories to bring out the very best in New Jersey education, with a special emphasis on schools that work to keep costs low.
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 81 to 141, 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 New Jersey.
15. Seton Hall University
South Orange, New Jersey
Going to school in Manhattan might be a popular dream, but college students in the city can suffer from high prices and overcrowding. But what about the suburbs? Seton Hall University – just a short 14-mile trip from the Big Apple – put students in close proximity to all the culture and entertainment they could want, without all the stress. Seton Hall's quiet, 58-acre campus hosts 10,000 students each year and is brimming with opportunities for the ambitious. Fueled by a passion for education and a search for truth that is central to Catholicism, Seton Hall has evolved into one of the best universities in New Jersey for its ability to develop "servant leaders for a global society."
Net Price: $26,585/yr
14. College of Saint Elizabeth
Morristown, New Jersey
Other schools that call themselves progressive should step aside at the mention of the College of Saint Elizabeth. One of the most forward-thinking institutions on the east coast, Saint Elizabeth gathers its strength from its long-standing goals for students: serve the poor, take on social responsibility, act as leaders, and promote women as "full partners in society." This top New Jersey college advertises the same appeal as many schools in the state (proximity to New York) but also offers plenty of reasons to stay local. CSE students are particularly well known for their volunteer work; the university works with around 90 non-profits and service organizations each year, from Habitat for Humanity to Big Brothers/Big Sisters.
Net Price: $15,646/yr
13. Caldwell University
Caldwell, New Jersey
It's hard to go wrong with a school like Caldwell, whose core values of respect, excellence, community, and integrity are practically universal in their appeal. And speaking of broad appeal, Caldwell stands out among religious colleges for its comprehensive array of degree programs. While many faith-based universities focus on biblical studies, this affordable New Jersey college offer degrees that cater to every interest – from art to sociology to mathematics and everything in between. Caldwell also sports the nationally recognized Scholars Program, a nine-credit course of interdisciplinary seminars and self-directed projects reserved for only the best and brightest.
Net Price: $17,834/yr
12. Saint Peter's University
Jersey City, New Jersey
When it comes to value, Saint Peter's University seems to have mastered the balancing act of cost and quality. MONEY Magazine agrees, and it recently named Saint Peter's fifth in the nation for "colleges that add value." It's likely that at least a portion of this success stems from the university's Jesuit roots, which propel students into lives of service and positions of "transformational leadership." And the statistics clearly demonstrate Saint Peter's commitment to giving back; students spend more than 16,000 hours a year in charity work, including tutoring in local schools and assisting in development projects abroad.
Net Price: $14,970/yr
11. Stockton University
Galloway, New Jersey
Stockton University's low net price is likely to attract students initially, but what keeps them coming back for more? The hallmark of a best value school is its ability to do a lot with just a little, and Stockton rises to the challenge. A public university with a limited budget, Stockton has somehow managed to build up an impressive set of facilities. The Health Sciences Speech and Hearing Clinic serves as a training ground for future speech pathologists, while the Marine Science and Environmental Field Station and the Coastal Research Center provide hands-on learning opportunities for aspiring ecologists. And this affordable university in New Jersey isn't done – a three-story expansion to the Unified Science Center, which will include new high-tech labs, a green house, and even a vivarium.
Net Price: $15,215/yr
10. Rutgers University Camden
Camden, New Jersey
Springing out of the merger of the South Jersey Law School and the College of South Jersey, Rutgers University in Camden has grown into a top educational institution as well as a center for civic engagement. Students at the campus pride themselves on their commitment to their community and their country. Through the Office of Civic Engagement, students and staff have the opportunity to partner with government agencies, nonprofit groups, and their neighbors for the benefit of all. The affordable New Jersey college has an especially strong record in childhood education outreach, having formed partnerships with numerous K–12 education organizations. Not only that – Rutgers is home to the nation's first childhood studies Master's program.
Net Price: $12,201/yr
9. Montclair State University
Montclair, New Jersey
With nearly 300 programs of study, Montclair State University offers a quality education to students with a wide array of interests. Combining cutting-edge technology with environmental sustainability, the campus is known as one of the greenest in the nation while boasting state-of-the-art facilities. Students can expect top-notch technological accommodations both in the classroom and in the housing available on its impressive 250-acre campus. Montclair has also been recognized as one of the best New Jersey colleges for students from minority backgrounds; it's known for supporting a diverse community and maintaining an excellent track record for increasing graduation rates.
Net Price: $14,798/yr
8. New Jersey Institute of Technology
Newark, New Jersey
Students who want to be prepared for the technology jobs of the future will find a lot to recommend at the New Jersey Institute of Technology. Not just one of the best cheap colleges in New Jersey, NJIT has consistently been rated one of the country's best value universities, both for its low tuition and high average starting salaries for students. With a low student-faculty ratio of 16:1, students can work closely with the 99% of NJIT's faculty members who possess the highest degree available in their field. The school also has an excellent track record for awarding engineering degrees to students with minority backgrounds, making it a diversity leader in important STEM fields.
Net Price: $14,875/yr
7. Ramapo College of New Jersey
Mahwah, New Jersey
Ramapo College of New Jersey describes its educational approach as international, intercultural, interdisciplinary, and experiential. Students here can expect hands-on instruction in a wide range of disciplines, as well as the opportunity to study subjects and interact with people from other cultures. The school also offers a substantial study abroad and student exchange program. Along with its small student body of just over 6,000, these factors give Ramapo College the feel of a private institution with the value of a cheap New Jersey college. Ramapo College has also been named a top school for military veterans due to its flexible schedules, credit transfer policies, veterans associations, and for offering credit for military training.
Net Price: $15,771/yr
6. Rutgers University – New Brunswick
New Brunswick, New Jersey
As Rutgers' flagship campus, Rutgers University in New Brunswick is a leader in diversity and academic achievement. Nearly 70 religious and cultural student organizations are housed on campus, and the university has also been recognized as a top school for LGBT students. Rutgers University in New Brunswick is also committed to economic diversity, offering full scholarships for many first-generation college students from low-income families. Once at the school, students have the opportunity to join some of the top-ranked gender and cultural studies programs. As evidenced by its 81% graduation rate, this top New Jersey college does an admirable job of making its diverse student body feel at home.
Net Price: $15,917/yr
5. Rowan University
Glassboro, New Jersey
Rowan University received a golden opportunity – and a new name – when local businessman Henry Rowan donated $100 million to what was then Glassboro State College in 1992. The donation was the largest ever made to a public school, and it enabled Rowan University to morph into one of the top universities in New Jersey. Mr. Rowan requested that a new engineering school accompany his gift, a request that the school honored to completion in 2000. From the start, the school pioneered new instructional methods and earned well-deserved accolades. In addition to its awards for academic excellence, Rowan University attracted attention from the EPA for its commitment to environmental sustainability.
Net Price: $15,413/yr
4. Rutgers University Newark
Newark, New Jersey
Located in the heart of New Jersey's largest city, Rutgers University in Newark offers students the opportunity to pursue higher education while enjoying everything that city life has to offer. The school is also a leader in racial, ethnic and religious diversity, consistently drawing top honors for its inclusive student body. While exploring the city of Newark and expanding their perspectives, students will also be learning from top-notch educators, as 99% of the university's nearly 600 full-time faculty members hold a doctorate. All that comes from one of the most affordable colleges in New Jersey, with a net price that scrapes in under $10,000 per year.
Net Price: $9,858/yr
3. The College of New Jersey
Township, New Jersey
While some schools become great by specializing in just a few fields, The College of New Jersey offers first-rate education in a variety of disciplines. The school's liberal arts focus makes it easier for students to surround themselves with multi-interested peers in vastly different programs. It's no wonder that the college boasts the second-highest graduation rate among top colleges in New Jersey, at 87%. In addition to its excellent academic programs, the College of New Jersey is recognized as a leading NCAA Division III school. Whatever their focus, students are sure to enjoy the school's incredibly scenic 289-acre campus.
Net Price: $19,119/yr
2. Stevens Institute of Technology
Hoboken, New Jersey
Stevens Institute of Technology has made a name for itself as one of the nation's strongest research universities as well as one of the best colleges in New Jersey. With research projects in fields ranging from healthcare to finance, Stevens Institute is a leader in technological innovation. Stevens' students are empowered to direct their own efforts on projects that stand to benefit society the most. Getting into Stevens Institute is difficult –as fewer than half of applicants are accepted – but those who make it in benefit from unparalleled support (no doubt a major contributor to the 80% graduation rate). Students will also enjoy studying in Hoboken, a beautiful college town in its own right and just 10 minutes by train from Manhattan.
Net Price: $31,492/yr
1. Princeton University
Princeton, New Jersey
Despite being the fourth-oldest college in the country, chartered in 1746, Princeton University has never rested on its laurels. The school has become known as a leading center of research in its graduate programs without neglecting the needs of undergraduates. Its commitment to excellence makes it a difficult school to get into, with only a 7% acceptance rate, but it also boasts an impressive 97% graduation rate. Princeton has long focused on fostering good citizens, just as its informal motto "in the nation's service and the service of all nations" suggests. This combination of academic rigor and its longstanding mission to support civic engagement easily make Princeton one of the best universities in New Jersey.
Net Price: $18,885/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.