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Don Burleson Blog 








The net present value (NPV) of undergraduate grades towards professional school tuition costs

College career tips by Donald Burleson

If you are interested in grad school, make sure to see my related  notes on the NPV of college and the increasing numbers of millionaires in the USA.

What's a good grade worth?

How much are good grades worth?  How much, in today's dollars?  If a student makes a decision to devote extra effort to improve their GPA, how much will they save down-the-road?  Admissions to professional schools (MBA, PhD, Law, Medicine) are a ultra-competitive, and everybody wants the increased earning power.

But what are good grade worth in terms of grad school tuition costs?  For any professional-bound undergraduate student, this is a critical question.  It's ironic that some of the best professional schools (MD, PhD, JD) cost less, while the low-quality professional schools charge a fortune for low-quality learning.

The expensive low-quality professional schools serve an important market niche, providing the only way for many lazy and unmotivated students to enter a professional career.

Comparing the quality of professional schools?

There is no denying that worthy scholars are rewarded for their high undergraduate GPA's with offers to higher quality universities with lower tuition costs.

How do we measure the "quality" of a professional school?  Many professional schools publish the average starting salaries of their graduates (get cite), hinting at the cost-benefit of their hallowed institution.  But it's easier to correlate selectivity as a measure of quality. 

Admission to a top Law, Business and Medical schools is better than winning the lottery, with almost guaranteed millionaire status by age 40.  My research on the increased earning power of a professional degree shows that professionals can expect to earn $4,300,000 over their working lifetime, $3,200,000 million dollars more cash than the average high school graduate will earn.

Will you be in the top 20% in 2050?

In fact, it appears that almost all graduating professionals in the early 21st century can expect to become millionaires.  This is largely due to normal inflation and less barriers to entry for professional careers (i.e. more professional schools).

"The percentage of millionaires will increase from 3% of the US population in 2015 to about 20% by the year 2050."

I'll bet that they will even come-up with a name for the one-in-five people who will be millionaires in 2050.

For the purpose of this justification, let's assume that there is a high correlation between selectivity and quality.  We assume that the most highly-selective professional schools (e.g. Harvard Law, Wharton MBA, Johns Hopkins, &c) are the "best", and that they are a more lucrative investment of the candidates time and money.  Here is a list of the top Medical schools, all noted for producing multi-millionaire physicians. 

Finding a bargain Law School

There are 192 ABA-approved law schools, with widely varying costs and quality. Note that many of the "top-rated" law schools are low-cost State schools, with subsidized tuition.  Here are the top-10 law schools ranked by highest costs (tuition & R&B).
Law School State Yearly Tuition Yearly
Room & board
Yearly total
law school costs
Cardozo-Yeshiva University NY $32,950 $19,500 $52,450  
New York University NY $35,710 $17,980 $53,690  
  DePaul University IL $27,710 $17,114 $44,824  
  Harvard University MA $33,120 $15,728 $48,848  
Touro College (Fuchsberg) NY $25,210 $15,545 $40,755  
U. of Maryland MD $16,253 $14,985 $31,238  
Fordham University NY $33,216 $14,645 $47,861  
Georgetown University DC $33,055 $14,500 $47,555  
Stanford University CA $34,230 $14,500 $48,730  
UC Hastings CA $20,919 $14,031 $34,950  

Wow,  $50k per year is expensive!  Many working people don't have $150,000 laying around to pay for juniors' professional education.  Fortunately, there are some bargain law schools to be found if you take the time to do the research.

Finding law school tuition bargains

When we examine the law school ratings we are happy to see that private law schools do not dominate.  It's a happy fact that half of the top-10 law schools offer inexpensive State-subsidized tuition for their in-state law students:


US News
Quality Rankings 
Insider's Guide 
to Law Schools  
4*. NYU
6. U. Chicago
7. U. Pennsylvania
8.* UC  Berkeley (Boalt)
8.* U. Michigan-Ann Arbor
8.* U. Virginia

For cost comparisons of law schools, we need look no further that where I live in North Carolina, and I'll use NC schools for this study.  This from the top law school pages.

  • University of North Carolina (UNC) Chapel Hill Law School - UNC Law is rated as the 27th best law school, ahead of expensive private law schools such as Wake Forest. Tuition is only $4,200 per year, a great bargain.
  • North Carolina Central University - Rated in the top 200 law schools by the Princeton review.  Tuition is only $2,000 per year in-state (out of state tuition is $12,000, still a good bargain).

For an example, here in NC we have cheaper in-state law school tuition, with an amazing bargain for UNC law school, rated in the top-30 law schools and with affordable tuition:
NC Law school Yearly Tuition Room & board   Yearly Total   Total 3- year cost
NC Central $4,291 $7,500   $11,791   $35,373
UNC Chapel Hill $11,118 $10,588   $21,706   $65,118

When we compare the costs to a school like Wayne State Law school, we see that a comparable in-state law school is fully half the cost of out-of-state tuition, saving the grateful parents $40,000 over the three year period:

Law School Yearly Tuition Room & board Yearly Total Total 3- year costs
North Carolina Central $4,291 $7,500 $11,791 $35,373
U Carolina Chapel Hill $11,118 $10,588 $21,706 $65,118
Wayne State, MI  $12,707 $11,888 $24,595 $73,785

We also see the same giant savings when we include the expensive "offshore" professional schools and the expensive low-quality professional university programs.

This relationship appears to exist in all processional schools, where we see a super-expensive lower-tier waiting to pick-up the slack and apathetic college graduates.  There is a lucrative market serving the children of professionals who are not good enough to enter respected professional schools.

The best value professional universities

If we consider both quality and tuition costs, we can compare the selectivity of the university with the tuition and arrive at a net present value estimate of the "value" of the doctoral school. 

The low-quality professional schools include "offshore" Medical, Law and Doctoral schools, plus unaccredited USA schools.

The are many professional universities who cater to mediocre students and many of these schools are relatively more expensive and of lower overall quality. 




Burleson is the American Team

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