Image of a building located on the campus of the University of Iowa.

In 2006, the biggest worry among students and parents was that they would be rejected from their first-choice school. That information came from a recent Princeton Review survey released Tuesday; it covered more than 10,500 students and parents. The same survey revealed this once relevant fact to be outdated.

Taking on student loan debt is now the top worry among college applicants. You'd think it would be getting into college in the first place, but with the total U.S. student debt climbing dramatically (now exceeding $1.4 trillion), students and parents are starting to focus on the projected return on investment for higher education. More than one organization is trying to accommodate this need.

Many websites, and even the federal government, have launched tools and rankings over recent years to help families compare schools on such factors as return on investment, graduates’ prospects for employment, and median earnings after 10 years.

“Students and parents have become vigilant about asking questions that would have been taboo five years ago,” said Robert Franek, editor-in-chief of the Princeton Review. He said those questions include “What’s going to be the return on my investment?”

Harker Calls for Loan and Education Reform to Help Students in Debt

Though top Ivy League schools are usually seen as paving the way to earn enough money to pay back student loans, Franek said families ought to look wider when considering return on investment.

A report from Brookings Institution in 2015 showed many graduates from community colleges and non-selective four-year colleges have good job prospects, based on their ability to make student loan payments within the first few years of graduation. This is particularly true of students majoring in science, technology, engineering or math subjects but less so for business and liberal arts degrees, research shows.

But don’t despair. There’s still hope for those who want to study English or history. Some liberal arts colleges did make the Brookings list of schools that boost a student’s chance of earning a bigger paycheck.

Also, small liberal arts colleges have caught on and have been emphasizing their career services centers to prospective students, said Andy Lockwood, a financial-aid consultant. At career service centers, families can find information on resume and interview support services and the types of places where students usually intern.

Image Copyright © Anthony Auston