Instead of worrying too much about whether or not the school wants you, research the school’s performance. How well does the institution support students like you to complete degrees on time and get jobs after graduation? This is a much better indicator of the overall value of the education you would receive for the money.
GRADUATION RATES 101
Students often choose schools for the wrong reasons. If the main selling point is that you like their colors or they have a good football team, you might be disappointed to find that the school doesn’t deliver value for your investment.
Four-year colleges and universities often are compared based on the percentage of incoming freshmen who earn bachelor’s degrees within 6 years. Critics argue that the 6-year graduation rate is incomplete because it doesn’t track part-time or transfer students, or those who enroll mid-year. According to the American Council on Education, these rates might leave out more than 60% of students.
But, for now, graduation rates are one of the best measures we have to compare schools. Particularly if you come from a lower socioeconomic background or if you are African American or Latino, it is crucial to look at the school’s graduation rates for various sectors of the student population. Some schools have great overall rates, but much lower rates for nontraditional and minority students.
The most recent data show the 6-year graduation rate for all first-time undergrads at 4-year institutions seeking bachelor’s degrees hovers around 60%. That means 40% of undergrad students do not graduate within 6 years. You can imagine how much harder it is to pay back student loan debt if you don’t have the degree — or the job it was supposed to help you get.
For a long time, students were blamed for these poor graduation rates, but recently, attention has shifted to the schools themselves. Research out of Harvard University tracked students of similar academic levels in Massachusetts and found that the resources an institution commits per student make a huge difference.
Not surprisingly, schools that are harder to get into have higher graduation rates. Often schools that are not very selective don’t provide the per-student resources to help students succeed. Then the students are blamed, when actually they were lured by the promise of a brighter future, often taking on debt they couldn’t afford for an education that didn’t deliver.
Private colleges and universities tend to have better graduation rates, but also significantly higher costs. In-state tuition and fees at public institutions range from $8,000 to $10,000 per year, while the average price tag for private schools is $29,000 to $42,000.