Far and away, the nation’s science, math, technology, and Ivy League colleges produce the highest-earning graduates, according toPayScale.com salary data released today.

The average grad of math- and science-heavy colleges such as Harvey Mudd, CalTech, and the Georgia Institute of Technology out-earned grads of any other type of college, netting $677,000 more in earnings over 20 years than someone who didn’t attend college at all (minus the cost of attending the college).

Graduates of the Ivy League came in a close second, netting $650,000 in extra earnings over the first 20 years of their career. Both groups of schools report returns on investment that are at least 80% higher than any other type of school in PayScale’s analysis.

Hope if You’re Hopeless at Math

But what if you’re not a math genius, or lucky enough to get into an Ivy League college?

PayScale says the next-highest-earning group of colleges are so-called “party schools,” such as the University of Florida, Syracuse University, and Penn State, whose graduates’ salaries over 20 years added up to a net extra $354,000.


Graduates of research universities, such as large private universities and flagship public schools, and so-called “sober” schools, such as religious schools, commuter colleges, and military academies, earned just slightly less, on average, than party school alums.

Graduates of arts and liberal arts schools reported comparatively low salaries, notching a return on investment over 20 years of about $200,000. Music school graduates had the lowest average 20-year return of just $128,000 over their costs.

PayScale spokeswoman Lydia Frank says neither parents nor students should take the party school findings too seriously, however. “That was just a fun comparison and kind of surprising,” she says. “Apparently there is some studying happening in between partying.”

What’s more, the salaries reported on PayScale.com are only for college graduates whose education ended with a bachelor’s degree and who work full-time. All the students who couldn’t balance partying with class work and dropped out aren’t counted.

That could be a big number. There is plenty of research that shows that students whose partying involves lots of drinking flunk or drop out at a higher rate than those who have more moderate social habits. And federal earnings data show that college dropouts have a harder time finding jobs, and earn less, than college graduates do.

Meanwhile, other studies shows that the more time undergraduates spend intensely studying–especially studying alone–the better their odds of getting a good job after school.

Scott Carrell, an economist at UC Davis who has studied how alcohol use affects academic performance, says that the PayScale findings could reflect one important truth: Students who manage to graduate from a party school may have developed self-restraint, social skills, and networks of friends that help them find better paying jobs after graduation.

But Carrell also questioned the accuracy of Princeton Review’s labeling of selective universities such as the University of Florida and UC Santa Barbara as “party schools” over less selective and, perhaps, jollier schools such as Chico State University.

The bottom line, Carrell says, is that students shouldn’t conclude from the PayScale data that it pays to go to a “party” school because, he says, “you don’t know if you will be the one who drops out.”

The Top 10

These 10 colleges were ranked highest in PayScale’s latest return on investment analysis: the total average earnings for each school’s graduates over 20 years, minus the cost of attendance and the average pay of someone who didn’t attend college.

Harvey Mudd College $985,300
California Institute of Technology (Caltech) $901,400
Stevens Institute of Technology $841,000
Colorado School of Mines (in-state) $831,000
Babson College $812,800
Stanford University $809,700
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) $798,500
Georgia Institute of Technology $796,300
Princeton University $795,700
Colorado School of Mines (out-of-state) $771,000

Money uses PayScale.com earnings data as a part of its college rankings, but balances that data with graduation rates, student loan repayment rates, educational quality indicators, and value-added measures. See which