Will your kid's B.A. pay off?
Want to know whether attending pricey Prestige U. will really help Junior land a well-paying job? Good luck finding out -- until now, that is.
While information about college outcomes has traditionally been hard to find, a handful of online providers are now trying to fill that void with data about salary, employment, and net worth for grads of many popular schools.
The hitch: So far at least, the stats are as notable for what they don't reveal as for what they do.
For families, then, the information is one more factor to consider when choosing a college, but it shouldn't be overweighted. Here's how to mine what's most useful.
Get the big picture
The new tools come in two basic types: those that provide broad statistics on salary or net worth for many colleges using self-reported figures from grads, and those with more finely cut data but for relatively few schools.
Perhaps the most comprehensive listing is at PayScale.com (go to "education," then "college salary report"), which has starting and mid-career income figures for the typical graduate of 1,000 schools, earnings ranges by degree (10th to 90th percentile), and a screen that lets you rank schools.
Related: Colleges with the highest paid grads
AlumniFactor.com ($3.99 a month) has stats on net worth and the percentage of grads at various income levels for 1,500 or so colleges.
Interesting stuff, but without a single average salary figure by degree you can't really tell if a school will give your child an edge.
"Someone who graduates from Harvard and becomes a teacher isn't going to earn that much more than other teachers," says Anthony Carnevale, director of the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce.
Drill down, if possible
If your student is interested in any of the roughly 100 schools listed under "education" at NerdWallet.com, you can get average starting salaries and employment rates for schools within universities. Users can see, say, that 85% of students from Boston College's nursing school land jobs right after graduation, vs. 31% from Marquette's.
College Measures (collegemeasures.org/esm) breaks down average first-year salary info by major for every school in a particular state using government figures. Only six states have agreed to provide data so far, but College Measures is negotiating to get more on board.
Connect outcome to price
You can also use these tools to help figure out if a specific school is a good value by weighing the salary data against how much it will cost your child to attend (use the net price calculator).
If two schools offer the same job prospects but one costs a lot more, what are those extra dollars really buying?
"When you're investing that much money in your child's future," says Mark Kantrowitz, head of Finaid.org, "you want to be sure it's a smart investment."