Student-centric advice and objective recommendations
Higher education has never been more confusing or expensive. Our goal is to help you navigate the very big decisions related to higher ed with objective information and expert advice. Each piece of content on the site is original, based on extensive research, and reviewed by multiple editors, including a subject matter expert. This ensures that all of our content is up-to-date, useful, accurate, and thorough.
Our reviews and recommendations are based on extensive research, testing, and feedback. We may receive commission from links on our website, but that doesn’t affect our editors’ opinions. Our marketing partners don’t review, approve or endorse our editorial content. It’s accurate to the best of our knowledge when posted. You can find a complete list of our partners here.
Average College Graduation Rates for US Students
College is like a marathon, and reaching the finish line is a special moment. But unfortunately, not everyone makes it that far. A lot of students face obstacles that prevent them from graduating and earning their degree. In this guide we’ll talk about some important factors surrounding college graduation rates, and what you can do to ensure you graduate on time.
What is the average graduation rate for U.S. college students?
College graduation rates are typically measured according to the proportion of students who complete their degree within 150 percent of the normal time. That means for students seeking a four year bachelor’s degree, the graduation rate is calculated according to how many students graduate within six years. And for students seeking a two year associate degree, the graduation rate is based on how many students graduate within three years.
Now let’s take a look at the numbers. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the average graduation rate for college students seeking a bachelor’s degree is 64 percent. That means about two thirds of college students graduate within six years or less. There’s no official figure on how many students earn their bachelor’s degree on time (in four years), but it’s estimated that less than half of students do this.
When it comes to students seeking an associate degree or certificate at a two year college, the graduation rate is even lower. The National Center for Education Statistics reports that only 34 percent of students enrolled in two year programs graduate within three years. The remaining students either take longer to earn their credential, transfer to another school, or drop out of school entirely.
Key factors affecting graduation rates
So why do some students drop out of college instead of graduating? There are several factors that contribute to students’ likelihood of graduating, which we’ll discuss below.
Full-time students are more likely to graduate on time compared to students who enroll part-time. In a lot of cases, part-time students have obligations outside of school. Often, this makes it tough to focus exclusively on academics. These could include family commitments and work obligations.
Speaking of work, students who have a full-time job during the school year are less likely to graduate with a bachelor’s degree. Working 40 hours a week on top of going to school is a lot to balance. It’s understandable that for some students it’s too much. If you need help paying for school and don’t have time to work a ton of hours, consider these part-time jobs for college students.
Students who enroll in college immediately after graduating high school are 50 percent more likely to graduate with a bachelor’s degree compared to students who take a gap year. That said, it’s entirely possible to take a gap year without falling out of academic rhythm. Check out our guide on how to have a successful gap year if you’re considering this option.
Believe it or not, where you live also affects how likely you are to graduate. Students who live on-campus are two thirds more likely to graduate with a bachelor’s degree than students who live off-campus or with their parents. Living on campus comes with certain benefits, such as easier access to tutoring and support services, office hours with professors, and dedicated study spaces. Plus, students who live on-campus don’t have to worry about commuting to class.
Also see: How to pay for housing
Type of school
Students who start out at community college are historically less likely to end up with a bachelor’s degree than students who start at a four-year school. Why? Because the transfer process can be difficult to navigate for students who don’t have the proper support. Check out our guide on how to transfer from community college for a step-by-step breakdown of the entire process.
Students who win scholarships are more likely to complete their degree program and graduate on time. These students have less of a debt burden to worry about, They also might not worry as much about holding down a job to help pay for school. As a result, they have more time to focus on academics. Take a look out our scholarship database if you need help paying for college!
How can graduation rates affect your college choice?
When it comes time to choose a college, many students turn immediately to competitiveness stats such as average GPA, test scores, and percentage admission rate. However, there’s another number that should be key in your decision, and that is graduation rate. College graduation rates are a great way to judge the effectiveness of a school; are students completing their education there? Are they getting their money’s worth by earning a degree at the end of their schooling?
If your chosen college has rates that are higher than the average college graduation rates, this is a good sign, but if it is lower, this should be taken as a red flag and you should do some investigating as to why so many students are not completing their degree.
How can I increase my chances of graduating?
Some students have life circumstances that get in the way of college, and that’s understandable. It’s not your fault if you only have time to attend school part-time, or if you have to work a job to help pay for your education. These things are out of your control. However, there are a few things you can control to set yourself up for success and increase your chances of graduating.
Create a strong plan
Meet with your academic advisor early on to map out a plan for your college education. Become familiar with the credit requirements for your major. Plan ahead and determine which courses you need to complete each semester to fulfill those requirements. Regularly follow up with your advisor to ensure that you’re staying on track.
Focus on your first-year courses
Your first year of college lays the foundation for the rest of your education. It’s important to earn good grades and establish a strong GPA during your first couple semesters. If you start out with a low GPA, it’ll be more difficult to get back on track in the following years.
Connect with your instructors
You’re more likely to succeed in your courses if you establish positive relationships with your professors and instructors. Ask questions during class and don’t be afraid to visit your professors during their office hours if you need extra help. If you make it clear that you’re serious about achieving your goals, your professors will do their best to help you.
Take advantage of support services
Most colleges have a variety of support services to help their students achieve personal and academic success. Things like tutoring sessions, writing workshops, and counseling services can go a long way in helping students. Find out what kind of services your school offers and don’t hesitate to use them when needed.
Stay on top of your financial aid
It’s important to renew your FAFSA every year to ensure that you keep receiving your financial aid. If you find yourself in a position where you still can’t afford tuition even after financial aid, contact your school’s financial aid office. They might be able to help you with other options. Our guide on what to do if you can’t afford college is a helpful resource for students in this situation.
- Complete guide to how to graduate college early
- Making the most of college: tips from the S360 team
- First year of college: How to prepare
Start your scholarship search