One of the biggest mistakes that students make is thinking that acceptance rate = quality of school. A casual glance at acceptance rates would certainly back this up–the most selective schools are often the most prestigious and well-resourced institutions in the world. But by focusing on acceptance rate, you are missing out on other fantastic institutions. And more importantly, there are other metrics and statistics that offer more substance than acceptance rate. Here are five of these metrics:
The retention rate is typically calculated as the percentage of freshman who return for their sophomore year at a school. This is kind of a proxy for student happiness and whether students are finding the school to be a good fit. It also indicates that the school is doing a good job of supporting enrolled students. A strong retention rate is well into the 90%s.
Graduation rates are another important statistic (it is often calculated in four year and six-year time-spans). A strong graduation rate means that students are succeeding in the classroom and are being well advised along the way. One of the big drivers of student loan debt is that kids are not graduating on time, so schools with high graduation rates are also helping their students save money. A strong graduation rate for four years is typically in the 80%s and above.
The cost of college is not necessarily a single, sticker price. Sure, there are some families who will pay full freight, but many others will receive need-based financial aid. The Net Price is the cost of college when this need-based financial aid is considered. There is a great tool called the Net Price Calculator that provides an accurate estimate of a potential need-based financial aid package for each individual family. Every school has a net price on their website (it is often on the financial aid page).
% of Graduates Employed and Average Salary
As the cost of college continues to rise, students have been paying more and more attention to post-college outcomes. After all, how can you pay off potential student loan debt if you don’t have a job? Finding information on employment and salaries can be difficult. Schools will publish statistics, but it is important to know whether the employment is full-time and whether it required a college degree in the first place. Don’t be afraid to clarify and dig deeper. It is also worth asking about what the career and professional development process is like (how does the school help students find internships and jobs? Does the school provide stipends so students can gain experience through unpaid internships?). Regarding salary information, the Department of Education put together the College Scorecard (which also contains stats for graduation rate and retention rate). Remember that this is just the average salary for all students, and does not take major or career into consideration.
Student to Faculty Ratio
Relationships with professors are an integral part of the college experience. The student to faculty ratio stat is a good proxy for faculty attention you will receive. This will vary from school to school, but a smaller student to faculty ratio is typically around or under 10-15.
Whether you are finalizing your college list or deciding on which college to attend, these are some helpful data points that will help you sort through the “noise.”