Harvard University students walk through the Cambridge, Massachusetts, campus in 2006. Getty Images

We get it: You don’t want to spend thousands of dollars on college unless you’re sure you’ll be earning it back right after graduation. Tuition and fees at an in-state, public university now cost an average of $9,410, and if you go out of state you’ll pay double that. So how do you make sure you’re making the right choice?

Consider these rankings from PayScale, a company that collects information about compensation, which looked at factors like institution type, major and job level after graduation. It found the No. 1 school for return on investment was the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, followed by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge and Harvey Mudd College in Claremont, California. All three are private, not-for-profit schools.

The only public colleges in the top 20 were the Colorado School of Mines in Golden, Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, State University of New York – Maritime College in the Bronx, University of California – Berkeley and the Massachusetts Maritime Academy in Buzzards Bay.

As PayScale noted on its website, the list isn’t meant to narrow students’ options but expand them. “We currently have 18-year-olds signing on the dotted line for student loans they’re not even certain they can pay back,” it wrote. “Access to data showing how other alumni following a similar path have fared in the job market is critical to ensuring students are making financial decisions that make sense.”

Another part of the research process is checking other sites’ rankings. For example, found the best majors for return on investment include economics, information technology and human resources. Kiplinger’s list of best value colleges includes Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Virginia, Princeton University in New Jersey and Harvard University in Cambridge.

If you want to stick with PayScale’s calculations, here are the top 20 institutions where you can score the best return on investment:

  1. California Institute of Technology
  2. Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  3. Harvey Mudd College
  4. SUNY – Maritime College (for in-state students)
  5. SUNY – Maritime College (for out-of-state students)
  6. Stanford University
  7. Colorado School of Mines (for in-state students)
  8. Georgia Institute of Technology (for in-state students)
  9. Princeton University
  10. Carnegie Mellon University
  11. University of California – Berkeley (for in-state students)
  12. Babson College
  13. Massachusetts Maritime Academy (for in-state students)
  14. Kettering University
  15. Colorado School of Mines (for out-of-state students)
  16. Stevens Institute of Technology
  17. Worcester Polytechnic Institute
  18. Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology
  19. University of Pennsylvania
  20. Georgia Institute of Technology (for out-of-state students)