One theme that Payscale’s College (and college major) Return on Investment study hits hard is that colleges are not equal. Certain schools perform, on average, better than others in helping students earn a successful and well-paying career. The same can be said for majors; an engineering degree is a safer economic investment than an education degree.

The Brookings Institute took this investigation a bit deeper. Specifically looking at school selectivity and graduation rates, as well as debt, earnings and other degree-related outcomes, they concluded, too, that colleges and majors are not made equal. However, they also emphasized that not all colleges are worth the investment.

These conclusions tie into our last post about whether college is worth it. An investment in a college education is usually the right choice, but there are pitfalls that must be avoided. Matt Reed of Inside Higher Ed obliquely made that same point:

“Does “college” refer to a completed degree at a public institution, or to a year with nothing to show for it at an expensive private institution?  Does it refer to all post-secondary education, whether a medical billing certificate or a Ph.D.?  Does it refer to a well-known, accredited, national for-profit?  Perhaps to an obscure, unaccredited, local for-profit?  Or do we really mean “someplace prestigious” (as in the angst-ridden pieces written by kids dreading the prospect of having to settle for, say, Bucknell)?  If we know what we’re talking about, frequently, we’d use the plural, since so many students attend more than one college before graduating.  But I’ve never seen the plural used in this context.

“Worth” is usually assumed to refer to money, though it’s also sometimes used to refer to “the college experience.”  I haven’t seen it used to refer to occupational preferences, which is weird, since so many occupations require a degree, or sometimes several.  Yes, it’s possible to make a good living without a degree, and some people do.  But some of us choose occupations because they allow us to do the work we want to do…

And “worth it” for whom, exactly?  Are we talking about students, employers, or taxpayers?  And which ones?  How do we account for indirect benefits, such as show up in the typically higher property values in college towns?  (If you don’t know what I’m talking about, compare house prices in, say, State College, PA, to house prices in any of the surrounding towns.)”

The Brookings Institute has a full report on their findings. However, the infographic below hits all the main points. Please check it out… and invest in college wisely. As the reports over the past few months have shown: college is worth it, but it is imperative that you make smart choices about schools, majors and debt.