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A degree from this Ivy League university can add over $80,000 to your salary—it's not Harvard or Yale

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Getting your bachelor's degree from virtually any college can dramatically increase your earning potential.

Among full-time workers ages 25 to 34, those with a bachelor's degree earned a median of $61,600 a year in 2021, compared with a median of just $39,700 among those with only a high school diploma, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

Degrees from certain colleges, however, can boost your earnings even more. A degree from the University of Pennsylvania may have the biggest impact on your salary, adding an estimated $80,000 a year, according to The Wall Street Journal's rankings of U.S. colleges and universities.

A school's reputation matters to employers who may actively recruit from top schools or be impressed to see certain names on your resume. But the on-campus experience is important too, and Penn seems to help its students find their way to successful careers in a variety of fields. 

"I met a lot of really interesting, smart, engaged people there," Emma Morgenstern, senior producer of food podcast "The Sporkful" and a Penn alum, tells CNBC Make It.

"There were a lot of opportunities to make my own way there," Morgenstern says. "It's bigger than some of the other Ivy League schools, so there's more opportunities because of that, but still the attention from faculty and professors."

The Wall Street Journal used two metrics to rank colleges by overall salary impact:

  1. The impact one college will have on your salary versus similar colleges
  2. The length of time it will take you to pay for that college based on average net price and the estimated value the college added to your salary. Net price is defined as the average amount students pay to attend the college each year after financial aid and scholarships.

Unsurprisingly, five of the eight Ivy League schools are in the top 10 colleges with the biggest salary impact. Only one public school — Missouri University of Science and Technology — made it into the top 10.

These are the 10 colleges and universities that can have the biggest impact on your salary, according to The Wall Street Journal. The colleges are ranked by a cumulative score, based on how much a degree from a certain school would theoretically impact your salary, compared with the salary you may have earned regardless of the school you attended.

1. University of Pennsylvania—Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

  • Average net price: $14,851
  • Value added to graduate salary: $84,761
  • Time to pay off net price: 8 months

2. Princeton University—Princeton, New Jersey

  • Average net price: $11,080
  • Value added to graduate salary: $82,433
  • Time to pay off net price: 6 months

3. Columbia University—New York, New York

  • Average net price: $12,836
  • Value added to graduate salary: $71,540
  • Time to pay off net price: 8 months

4. Massachusetts Institute of Technology—Cambridge, Massachusetts

  • Average net price: $5,084
  • Value added to graduate salary: $94,213
  • Time to pay off net price: 2 months

5. Harvard University—Cambridge, Massachusetts

  • Average net price: $13,259
  • Value added to graduate salary: $65,114
  • Time to pay off net price: 9 months

6. Stanford University—Stanford, California

  • Average net price: $7,200
  • Value added to graduate salary: $79,187
  • Time to pay off net price: 2 months

7. Missouri University of Science and Technology—Rolla, Missouri

  • Average net price: $12,682
  • Value added to graduate salary: $56,672
  • Time to pay off net price: 10 months

8. Claremont McKenna College—Claremont, California

  • Average net price: $20,114
  • Value added to graduate salary: $69,374
  • Time to pay off net price: 1 year, 1 month

9. Yale University—New Haven, Connecticut

  • Average net price: $16,341
  • Value added to graduate salary: $66,961
  • Time to pay off net price: 11 months

10. Babson College—Wellesley, Massachusetts

  • Average net price: $31,267
  • Value added to graduate salary: $81,604
  • Time to pay off net price: 1 year, 6 months

The Wall Street Journal compared median earnings among a college's graduates to median earnings among high school graduates in the state where the college is located to estimate the value a college's degree can add to your salary.

The time to pay off the net price is the average net price times four (to reflect the cost of a four-year program) divided by the value added to graduate salaries.

Should you choose a school based on its salary stats?

While it may pay off to attend a top-rated college or a school that boasts high-earning alumni, there are other factors to consider as well.

Morgenstern appreciated her time at Penn, but she warns that attending a top school can be stressful at times.

"I do think there is some pressure to compete and to live up to 'OK, I went to the school, now I have to prove something in the real world,' like I have to make the money or do good or whatever that thing is," she says. "Sometimes that's a good thing, sometimes it's not a great thing."

A school's earnings data can help you better understand what a college has to offer, but you may be more interested in its degree offerings, facilities, location or alumni network.

Choosing a college is an extremely personal decision and it's smart to consider a number of different factors to create your own rankings according to what is most important to you.

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