The 5 US colleges that pay off the most for business students

Students walk between classes in the Wynn Commons on the campus of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S.
REUTERS/Charles Mostoller

Business is the most popular undergraduate major for U.S. college students. According to the most recent figures from the Department of Education, U.S. colleges and universities confer some 371,694 bachelor business degrees each year.

Majoring in business can open doors to a wide range of professional opportunities for graduates and it also can lead to big paychecks. When CNBC Make It compared hundreds of colleges and universities across the country to create our first list of the U.S. colleges that pay off the most, we found that many of the schools that claimed top spots on the list had strong business programs.

To develop our list of the top colleges that pay off, we identified the true net cost of each college for the typical American student — including tuition, fees, books, supplies and other expenses — after subtracting scholarships and grants. Using data from Tuition Tracker, we looked at the net cost for students from families making between $48,001 and $75,000.

Then, using data from PayScale's College Salary Report, we divided net cost by graduates' expected annual earnings. (You can read our full methodology here.)

To highlight the schools offering business students the best value, we took a look at the top-scoring schools on U.S. News & World Report's ranking of the best undergraduate business programs to see which schools provide a competitive education for business students, as well as a big pay off. (In the case of a tie, the deciding factor was CNBC Make It's overall ranking of public and private colleges.)

University of Pennsylvania
pkujiahe | Getty Images

The University of Pennsylvania takes first place on U.S. News' list of the best undergraduate business programs. UPenn's business school, Wharton, is regarded as the one of the best business schools in the country, though it can be difficult to get into.

The Ivy League school, located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, enrolls 10,605 full-time undergraduate students, and 2,500 of those undergrads study at Wharton. According to The Hechinger Report, the net cost for a student from a family that earns between $48,001 and $75,000 is $12,322. UPenn graduates with more than 10 years of experience report average salaries of $135,800.

Here are the top 5 U.S. colleges that pay off the most for business students:

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

MIT
Kevin Fleming | Corbis Documentary | Getty Images

Massachusetts Institute of Technology is a STEM-focused private, nonprofit university located in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Instead of majors, MIT students choose a "course" to specialize in. Electrical engineering, mechanical engineering and computer science are among the most popular courses at MIT. MIT is also home to the Sloan School of Management.

U.S. News & World Report business program ranking: 2
CNBC Make It ranking: 8, private schools

Average net cost (income $48,001-$75,000): $8,633
Median salary for alumni with 0-5 years of experience: $83,600
Median salary for alumni with 10+ years of experience: $150,400
Salary average, early and mid career: $117,000

University of California, Berkeley

University of California, Berkeley
Rick Gerharter | Getty Images

University of California, Berkeley, is the flagship school of the University of California system. Located in Berkeley, California, near San Francisco, the university enrolls some 30,853 undergraduate students. The school is home to the Haas School of Business.

U.S. News & World Report business program ranking: 2
CNBC Make It ranking:
25, public schools

Average net cost (income $48,001-$75,000): $17,413
Median salary for alumni with 0-5 years of experience: $68,300
Median salary for alumni with 10+ years of experience: $132,300
Salary average, early and mid career: $100,300

University of Michigan, Ann Arbor

University of Michigan
tiny-al | Getty Images

University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, is the flagship campus of the University of Michigan school system. The public university offers 263 degree programs, enrolls 29,026 undergraduate students and is known for its athletics program. The school is also home to the Ross School of Business.

U.S. News & World Report business program ranking: 4
CNBC Make It ranking:
4, public schools

Average net cost (income $48,001-$75,000): $10,106
Median salary for alumni with 0-5 years of experience: $62,000
Median salary for alumni with 10+ years of experience: $107,900
Salary average, early and mid career: $84,950

University of Pennsylvania

University of Pennsylvania
Margie Politzer | Lonely Planet Images | Getty Images

The University of Pennsylvania is a private university known for its business program. Undergraduate students at this Ivy League school can choose from more than 90 majors across four schools: the College for Arts and Sciences, the School of Engineering and Applied Science, the School of Nursing and the Wharton Business School.

U.S. News & World Report business program ranking: 1
CNBC Make It ranking: 17, private schools

Average net cost (income $48,001-$75,000): $12,322
Median salary for alumni with 0-5 years of experience: $70,100
Median salary for alumni with 10+ years of experience: $135,800
Salary average, early and mid career: $102,950

University of Virginia, Charlottesville

University of Virginia
Source: Dan Addison | UVA University Communications

The University of Virginia, is a public university located in Charlottesville, Virginia. Founded by Thomas Jefferson, the public university enrolls approximately 16,777 undergraduate students and is known for being home to the McIntire School of Commerce and for its strong athletics program.

U.S. News & World Report business program ranking: 8
CNBC Make It ranking:
17, public schools

Average net cost (income $48,001-$75,000): $14,374
Median salary for alumni with 0-5 years of experience: $62,300
Median salary for alumni with 10+ years of experience: $119,900
Salary average, early and mid career: $91,100

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Students walk between classes in the Wynn Commons on the campus of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S.
REUTERS/Charles Mostoller
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