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    What Are Safety Schools?

    By Savannah Dawson

    Prior to coming to Scholarships360 for her first internship in 2022, Savannah utilized her campus publications by joining various fashion publications that are offered at Ohio University. One of those publications is Thread Magazine, where Savannah has had the opportunity to work on articles related to world-wide related fashion news and events, as well as articles closer to home, such as a fashion piece on Athens hometown-hero Joe Burrow. This year, Savannah also had the opportunity to be a content writing intern for Aiken House, as well as a section editor for Southeast Ohio Magazine. In 2023, Savannah served as the Chapter President of her sorority, Alpha Gamma Delta. These collective experiences, as well as her experience currently working for Ohio University’s Undergraduate Admissions, has led her to Scholarships360 and aided in her passion for helping students better understand the college admissions process and financial aid. In her free time, Savannah enjoys horseback riding, watching Formula One races, traveling, and spending time with her friends and family. Savannah will graduate from Ohio University in May 2024 with a degree in Journalism News and Information and a certificate in Italian Studies.

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    Reviewed by Bill Jack

    Bill Jack has over a decade of experience in college admissions and financial aid. Since 2008, he has worked at Colby College, Wesleyan University, University of Maine at Farmington, and Bates College.

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    Edited by Maria Geiger

    Maria Geiger is Director of Content at Scholarships360. She is a former online educational technology instructor and adjunct writing instructor. In addition to education reform, Maria’s interests include viewpoint diversity, blended/flipped learning, digital communication, and integrating media/web tools into the curriculum to better facilitate student engagement. Maria earned both a B.A. and an M.A. in English Literature from Monmouth University, an M. Ed. in Education from Monmouth University, and a Virtual Online Teaching Certificate (VOLT) from the University of Pennsylvania.

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    Updated: March 14th, 2024
    What Are Safety Schools?

    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. 

    Keep reading below, and we’ll take a look at the numbers.

    The facts about graduation rates

    According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the average graduation rate in 2020 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 credentials, transfer to another school, or drop out of school entirely. 

    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 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. However, 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.

    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. 

    Enrollment status 

    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, work obligations, and other extenuating circumstances. 

    Employment status 

    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, but anything is possible if you put your mind to it. 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.

    See also: Top companies offering tuition reimbursement

    Gap years

    Some students opt to take a semester or more off during their time in college. However, it’s important to stay motivated during your time off if you plan on finishing up your desired degree path.

    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. 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, and 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 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. Also, higher GPAs can improve your chance of acceptance into graduate school, and you might not have to take a graduate school exam like the GRE or GMAT

    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. 

    Key Takeaways

    Key Takeaways

    • The average graduation rate for students pursuing a bachelor’s degree was reported to be 64% in 2020. For associate’s degrees, about 30% of students graduated within three years
    • You should consider graduation rates when choosing a college. A low graduation rate can signal hidden barriers that prevent students from graduating on time
    • There are several factors that impact graduating such as enrollment status, funding, gap periods, and housing
    • You can increase your chances of graduating by sticking to your plan, focusing on your early courses, connecting with faculty, taking advantage of support services on campus, and staying on top of your financial aid

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    Frequently asked questions about US college graduation rates

    How can I stay on track to graduate?

    Staying on track to graduate can seem difficult, especially with the distractions you might face while in college. It obviously takes focus, but it also takes motivation and drive. Try to figure out why you want to go to college, and what you hope to achieve for yourself upon graduation.

    What can I do if I fall behind in college?

    The first thing you should do if you feel you’re falling behind is reach out to an advisor or any other campus support. You can also try to make up for lost time by taking summer courses at your current school or local community college. Depending on your school’s limit on credits, you may be able to add a few more classes to your schedule to try and catch up as well.

    Is it possible to graduate college early?

    Yes, it is completely possible to graduate college early! If you’re already in college, you should check to see if your college allows you to test out of certain courses with exams like CLEP. You can also take summer classes and max out your credit hours for the semester, but be sure to still make an effort to enjoy your college experience while you can!

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