Colleges that Lead to the Most and Least Debt

Students graduated from these universities owing between $5,000 and $47,000 in 2011

US News

The U.S. News Short List, separate from our overall rankings, is a regular series that magnifies individual data points in hopes of providing students and parents a way to find which undergraduate or graduate programs excel or have room to grow in specific areas. Be sure to explore The Short List: College and The Short List: Grad School to find data that matters to you in your college or grad school search.

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Columbia graduation ceremony (Michael Rubenstein for U.S. News & World Report)

Students at Princeton University not only attend one of the best National Universities in the country, they also are likely leaving school with less debt than most of their peers.

Members of Princeton’s class of 2011 who borrowed for school graduated with an average of $5,000 in debt, the school reported to U.S. News. That’s the lowest class average of any National University, and well below the national average of $24,445.

Of the 270 ranked colleges in the U.S. News 2013 Best National Universities, 229 reported indebtedness data. Other highly ranked schools are comparatively good deals, too: Class of 2011 borrowers left Harvard University owing $11,780, and Yale University grads shouldered $8,940.

[Explore the U.S. News 2013 Best Colleges rankings.]

It’s not just the top schools that were the most likely to graduate students with low debt in 2011, however. San Diego State University, ranked 165 among National Universities, sent its student borrowers off with an average of $16,400 in debt, and at Old Dominion University in Virginia, students left owing an average of $16,500. In the U.S. News rankings, Old Dominion received a “Rank Not Published” (RNP) designation, signifying a school that falls in the bottom quarter of the rankings. U.S. News does not publish the numerical rankings of RNP schools.

Several RNP schools also sent their students off with the highest levels of debt in 2011. Clark Atlanta University, which received a RNP designation, graduated the most-indebted class of borrowers in 2011. Of the 2011 class, 94 percent of students borrowed for school and graduated owing an average of $47,066.

[See photos of the top National Universities.]

Three Florida institutions that received RNP designations, Nova Southeastern University, Lynn University, and Barry University, also graduated some of the most in-debt classes in 2011. Case Western Reserve University, ranked 37th, is the highest-ranked school that graduated its class with one of the largest average debt loads, reporting that 59 percent of graduates owed an average of $39,886 in 2011.

Students borrowing to attend any college should research their school, major, and career options before taking out loans. The total amount you borrow should be less than your predicted starting salary after graduation, according to financial aid expert Mark Kantrowitz.

[Find out how to pay for college.]

Below are the National Universities that graduated their classes with the most and least average debt in 2011. Schools designated as Unranked by U.S. News, because they did not submit enough data for calculations, were not considered for this report.

Least Debt

School (state)
Debt at graduation, class of 2011
% of grads who borrowed
U.S. News National Universities rank
Princeton University (NJ)
$5,000
25
1
Yale University (CT)
$8,940
23
3
Harvard University (MA)
$11,780
34
1
California Institute of Technology (CA)
$13,442
43
10
Brigham Young University--Provo (UT)
$14,320
31.6
68
Howard University (DC)
$15,080
82
120
University of Houston (TX)
$15,613
49
184
San Diego State University (CA)
$16,400
44
165
Stanford University (CA)
$16,458
28
6
Old Dominion University (VA)
$16,500
75
RNP

Most Debt
School (state)
Debt at graduation, class of 2011
% of grads who borrowed
U.S. News National Universities rank
Clark Atlanta University (GA)
$47,066
94
RNP
Widener University (PA)
$44,430
86
189
Nova Southeastern University (FL)
$43,201
73
RNP
Stevens Institute of Technology (NJ)
$41,797
72
75
Lynn University (FL)
$40,101
31
RNP
Case Western Reserve University (OH)
$39,886
59
37
Florida Institute of Technology (FL)
$39,007
59
160
Andrews University (MI)
$38,054
63.1
189
American University (DC)
$37,674
58
77
Barry University (FL)
$37,512
61
RNP

For more information, including full lists of the schools that lead to the most and least debt, sign up for the U.S. News College Compass.

U.S. News surveyed more than 1,800 colleges and universities for our 2012 survey of undergraduate programs. Schools self-reported a myriad of data regarding their academic programs and the makeup of their student body, among other areas, making U.S. News’s data the most accurate and detailed collection of college facts and figures of its kind. While the data come from the schools themselves, these lists have no influence over U.S. News’s rankings of Best Colleges or Best Graduate Schools. The student indebtedness data above is correct as of September 13, 2012.

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