Grad Rate can tell you a lot about the value of an education at a College
Comparing Colleges

When you’re applying to college, there are many criteria you will need to consider. 

  • Does the school have your intended major? 
  • Can you afford to pay the cost to attend the college? 
  • Does it have the right campus vibes for you to succeed? 
  • What’s the overall reputation, selectivity, and future outcomes of graduates from the college?

Hint: One important metric you shouldn’t overlook is the graduation rate. This can tell you a lot about the value of an education at a given college. For a college to be considered a quality college, it should have at least a decent graduation rate, so keep that metric in mind as part of your deciding factor.


Looking at graduation rates can assist you in getting a sense of the quality of the college because it gives you insight into not just how many students are enrolling at that college, but also how many are finishing their degrees in a timely manner (between 4-6 years.)

It is important to pay attention to how colleges support students on their campus, especially students like YOU. Colleges that have very low graduation rates for students of a certain demographic may indicate issues such as:

  • A lack of student support services or guidance, resulting in students 
    • taking classes that do not count towards their degree objectives
    • performing poorly in classes due to mismatch with goals and academic skills
    • missing opportunities, activities, and resources to help them with their classes, accessing social-emotional supports, obtaining food and housing assistance, and career planning
  • A tendency to have students take more remedial courses, which can 
    • impact your ability to graduate on time, and/or 
    • pay more out of pocket than expected in the long-run 

When looking at the graduation rate, it is important that you take into account the services and supports available for you at the college. You can mitigate many of the concerns mentioned above and get support to help you to graduate on time by knowing about and taking advantage of all the resources the college has to offer. 


According to a study done by Complete College America; 

16% of full-time students graduate on time with a two-year certificate

5% of full-time students graduate on time with a two-year associate degree

19% of full-time students graduate on time with a four-year bachelor’s at (non-flagship colleges)

36% of full-time students graduate on time with a four-year bachelor’s degree (flagship*/research colleges).

Hint: flagship colleges are elite universities with a commitment to teaching top undergraduate students,  providing top-level professional education, and a mission of civic engagement, outreach, and economic development.

It is important to know that a college’s graduation rate can be impacted by many different circumstances. For example: 

  • Some students need additional time to graduate due to 
    • changing majors 
    • taking time off from school 
    • dealing with extenuating personal circumstances 
    • many other factors that contribute to delayed graduation 

In the end, graduating in four years* means fewer expenses and loans you may need to take on for tuition, room and board, supplies, and other fees. In addition to potentially fewer expenses and loans, most financial aid like state grants and certain institutional grants & scholarships are renewable for only 4 years, meaning additional years of school will come out of your pocket. Graduating within four years also means you can get started on your career earlier and begin to build your financial wealth! 

This is why it is important to pay attention to metrics like graduation rate as part of your full picture in your enrollment decision. 

Hint: You are able to receive Pell Grant for 6 years as long as you continue to be eligible. Be aware that some rigorous programs and career paths may require more than four years, for example, Engineering, Law, Medicine, etc.


You will see the Graduation Rate in DecidED as a percentage, reflecting the number of students who enrolled at that college as a freshman and ultimately graduated from that college. Usually, colleges report either a four-year or six-year graduation rate. 

  • In DecidED we personalize this information for you by showing you the four year graduation rate based on the ethnicity/race you selected.

If the graduation rates at your current top choice college don’t look as good as the other options you are evaluating, then consider:

  • Reaching out to the admissions office to learn more about why the graduation numbers are low. Ask what the graduation rate is for your intended major 
  • Researching what supportive services and programs are available to help students like you graduate on time and if these services will be accessible to you
  • Connecting with current students and alumni from that school to learn more about their experiences  


Here are some things to consider when comparing colleges:

  • “What percentage of students that identify the way I do (e.g. Black or African American) graduate from this college in 4 years, versus the other college?”
  • “Do I think this is a high number or a low number for this college?
    • Am I comfortable with this number?”
  • “If I go to the college with the lower graduation rate, are there resources there to help me graduate on-time (within 4 years)?”


We talked a lot about the importance of a college’s graduation rate, since the end goal of going to college is to be able to walk away with a degree and increase your future potential earnings exponentially. There are two more numbers that can be useful in understanding the quality of your college options:

  • Retention
    • “Retention rate” is the percentage of students who return to the same college for their second year
      • National average retention rate is around 61.7% (2018)
  • Persistence 
    • “Persistence rate” is measured by the percentage of students who return to any college for their second year (does not have to be the school they enrolled their freshman year)
      • National average persistence rate is around 73.8% (2018)

Retention & Persistence can be useful when considering the quality of a school. Looking at the graduation, retention & persistence rates from a college can empower you to understand how much “bang for your buck” you’re getting. 

Ultimately you will be investing a lot of money and time to attain your college degree, so make sure you can squeeze as much as you can from this critical investment decision. A college with higher graduation and retention rates can give you some assurance that your odds of success are good!

Here are some things to consider:

  • “Even if students don’t start or finish at this college, could it still be a good choice for me?”
  • “If this isn’t the right college for me to go to right now, could it be a good one to transfer to?”