Malia Obama departs after her visit of 10 Downing Street on June 16, 2015 in London.
Karwai Tang—WireImage/Getty Images
By Kim Clark
October 5, 2015

Malia Obama’s college application tour has taken her to several famous Ivy League and elite colleges. But her dad is encouraging parents to use data—not just reputation—to choose the best college for their kids. So MONEY crunched the data for the Obamas to find which schools would best serve the interest of an academically well-prepared student who is interested in filmmaking and might want to play on a tennis team.

We’re assuming President Obama, whose presidential salary is about $400,000 a year, won’t qualify for need-based aid. But given the cost of college these days, he might be happy for his daughter to consider colleges that award so-called “merit” aid—scholarships granted without regard to the student’s financial status. If so, our data show the Obamas should take a look at schools like the University of Michigan and the University of Southern California, where more than 15% of freshmen receive some sort of non-need-based grant.

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One school that doesn’t make this list because it has no sports team may well be the Obamas’ most affordable option for schools with strong film programs—if Malia can get in, that is: the University of North Carolina School of the Arts. As out-of-staters, the Obamas would pay about $39,000 a year for tuition, fees, room, board, books, and other expenses. That sounds like a lot, but it is far less than the $65,000 sticker prices of elite schools like Michelle Obama’s alma mater, Princeton. UNCSA’s film program is one of the strongest and most selective in the country, and boasts alumni such as David Gordon Green, director of Pineapple Express, and Jody Hill, producer of The Foot Fist Way.

Check out MONEY’s 2015-16 Best Colleges rankings

Here’s our suggested list, based on federal data such as graduation rates, student loan default rates, and alumni earnings. We used the premium version of the Find Your Fit tool on the MONEY College Planner to narrow the list to the schools that best match Malia’s interests.

College Money rank Est. sticker price of degree Graduation rate Avg. earnings within 10 years of start Student loan repayment rate Odds of getting merit aid
Stanford University 1 $261,724 95% $81,000 96% <10%
University of Michigan-Ann Arbor 18 $233,675 90% $58,000 93% 10-30%
University of California-Los Angeles 26 $229,252 91% $59,000 92% <10%
Columbia University in the City of New York 28 $276,704 94% $73,000 90% <10%
Northwestern University 89 $272,264 94% $64,000 96% <10%
University of Southern California 101 $268,075 91% $66,000 95% 10-30%
Wesleyan University 134 $269,710 91% $51,000 96% <10%
Syracuse University 171 $247,411 81% $57,000 93% 10-30%
Emerson College 499 $230,400 82% $45,000 95% <10%

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