6 College degrees with the best return on investment

Education used to be an end in itself. The Victorian education model focussed on a grounding in the Classics and foreign languages so as to prepare the young nobility of England for careers in law, foreign service and administration. The assumption underlying this system was that a generalist education suited young men (women rarely opted for careers those days) best in their early years, and actual training for a trade was best done by on-the-job apprenticeships in the offices of barristers, government administrations and banking-houses.

The explosion in the world economy since then has rendered this somewhat idealistic concept of education out-dated. We now think about a college degree as an investment not so much in the child’s development, but rather as a return-earning investment.

A number of studies have been conducted in the USA and other developed markets on the degrees with the best return on investment and have thrown up interesting results. In India though, this is a little harder to do. This is due to the lack of uniformity in fee structures. Engineering and medicine in government-run colleges including IIT’s cost a fraction of what they do from private colleges. Again, the kind of salary a graduate from a Tier I college commands as against what a graduate from a Tier III college can get is so vast as to make comparison impossible.

College Degrees

Nevertheless we have tried to compile a list of the degrees that are likely to offer the best return on investment in India.


A safe and reliable option, Engineering continues to attract large numbers of students. From a risk-return perspective, it is not worthwhile to explore the bottom half of the rankings pile – there are colleges that are so poor that a student might learn more engineering from watching YouTube videos – but at the top end, this continues to be a stream for which the demand is high and will continue to be for the near future. Add to this the fact that Engineering is the stream that offers the best possibility of continuing education abroad and seeking employment there, and this remains the most viable option for students in this country. It goes without saying that the ROI is exponential for the IIT’s, BITs or REC’s as well as top regional colleges like Anna University (Chennai), NITIE (Mumbai) and DTU (Delhi)


As the economy grows, the demand for entry-level management talent does as well. While a post-graduate management degree is the most lucrative, even graduate degrees like BMS or BBS (nomenclature changes from state to state) have considerable scope. Banks and NBFC’s hire heavily from such management institutes and so do construction and sales-oriented companies. While the ranking lists for MBA courses are widely publicised, for undergraduate courses in management, it is recommended to closely examine the college’s placement track record before enrolling.

Accountancy and Commerce

Perhaps the most under-rated course of all, because it is seen as too easy to do. In fact, the demand for people with a strong understanding of basic accountancy is very high, and it also gives the candidate a strong chance at passing banking and similar exams. The salaries at the initial levels might be lower, but opportunities for growth are available in this sector due to the sheer pervasiveness of finance in the economy. At the very highest level, SRCC (Delhi) is the best, of course, but a good regional college like RA Podar, Hans Raj, Loyola etc. are also very helpful in putting students on a strong career path.


Once seen as an academic pursuit, economics has become a sought-after specialisation as finance and research become more and more important in the world. An economist from a top-rung university can hope to make as much as an MBA, but the degree costs much less.

Delhi School of Economics, Indian Statistical Institute, St Stephens College, New Delhi, and Indira Gandhi Institute of Developmental Research are among the best colleges for undergrad and post-grad programmes in Economics.


As India becomes a hub for clinical testing and biological research, pure pharmacy majors have become much sought-after. Further, recent changes in the law have made qualified pharmacists mandatory for selling of drugs in pharmacies as well. The long-term prospects for pharmacists in a world full of people with ailments new and old are excellent!

A specialised and heavily-regulated industry, the number of top pharma colleges in India includes NIPER, Mohali, UICT, Mumbai and BITS Pilani’s Phamacy course.


Commonly called (jokingly) as the world’s second-oldest profession, law continues to be lucrative for those who are able to get their degrees from the better colleges. In fact, careers in law can be very high paying at the top end in corporate law. India’s top law firms are now operated like diversified companies, with departments focussed on various aspects of law and with branch offices across the country. Relatively speaking, a law degree is less costly than a management degree, though the investment of time (four year degree) is more.

The best law colleges in India continue to be the National Law Schools, of which the one in Bengaluru is pre-eminent. Jodhpur and other centres also have high-quality National Law Schools. Among other institutes, Benaras Hindu University, Symbiosis Law School and many similar institutes of good quality are also present throughout India.

In conclusion though, I would like to reiterate that seeing education purely as a money-earning investment is likely to be counter-productive in the long run. Assess your interests and capabilities before making these calculations, and the chances of long-term happiness are much higher.

All the best for a happy college life!

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