College Retention Rates (Why it Matters)

Universities with the Highest retention Rates

There are many different things that you are going to want to look into when looking at universities. You will probably pay a lot of attention to the tuition price, the location, the programs, and the living situation. One important aspect that people tend to look over when researching colleges and universities is retention rates.

Many people pay more attention to the graduation rate and the acceptance rates of colleges.

Acceptance Rate

The acceptance rate tells you how many people get in compared to how many people apply. This can be important because this is where your grades and involvement from high school come into play. If the acceptance rate is very low, then you have a chance of not even getting into this college or university.

Graduation Rate

This is important because it shows how many students graduate. This is the percentage of people who do not drop out in essence. This is important because obviously schools with good graduation rates show that students enjoy their time there, focus on education, and eventually end up with actual degrees to help them in the workforce.

I am going to talk a little about retention rates and what they represent when you are researching and comparing universities. The college search is hard enough, hopefully, this clears some questions and problems up.

What Does Retention Rate Mean?

A retention rate represents how many freshmen come back for a second year. It is basically the percentage of sophomores that return to this specific college or university.

The reason that this is important is that the first year of college is always the hardest. You are adjusting to so many new things. You are basically plunged into a completely new place with brand new people and a ton of new responsibilities.

Many schools put in lots of programming to help freshmen have an enjoyable first year and want to return. Many schools have also started making a two-year live-in requirement in the dorms to help build more of a community for its first and second years.

I think that this really helps because then it gives you two years to figure out who you would like to live within an apartment or house. It doesn’t matter how great a school seems and looks when you are researching it and on visits if no one ends up staying.

You want to be somewhere that you are going to enjoy and want to return. You do not want to go to a school that has a high chance of you transferring.

Colleges with Highest Retention Rates

For some perspective, the national average for retention rates is currently at around 72%. This means that nationally, only around 72% of freshmen return to the same university for a second year.

Ivy league schools always have the highest. This is because ivy league schools already have the best and brightest. They are also so hard to get into that most students are not willing to transfer.

Here are some of the highest college retention rates within universities other than ivy league schools.

School:Location:Retention Rate:
MITCambridge, MA99%
University of ChicagoChicago, IL99%
California Institute of TechnologyPasadena, CA98%
Duke UniversityDurham, NC98%
Northwestern UniversityEvanston, IL98%
University of Notre DameNotre Dame, IN98%
Carnegie Mellon University Pittsburgh, PA97%
Johns Hopkins UniversityBaltimore, MD97%
University of MichiganAnn Arbor, MI97%
Georgetown UniversityWashington, DC96%
University of Southern CaliforniaLos Angeles, CA96%
Boston CollegeChestnut Hill, MA95%
University of GeorgiaAthens, GA95%
Emory University Atlanta, GA94%
The Ohio State UniversityColumbus, OH94%
Case Western UniversityCleveland, OH93%
Clemson UniversityClemson, SC93%

A list of all college retention rates you need to go to Open Education Database.

What is a Good Retention Rate for a College?

Since the average retention rate is around 72%, and retention rate above this is going to be “good”.

Anything above 90% is going to be great.

Think about it with respect to the total number of students at your college or university. If there are 60,000 people at your school (including grad students and other students), you probably had around 8,000 freshmen in your class when you first started.

This would mean that if the college retention rate of this class was 72% there were 2,240 students that didn’t come back for a second year. If your school has a high college retention rates like 90%, then that would mean that only 800 students decided not to return for a second year.

This is a lot of students that were unhappy with their freshman year and either transferred or dropped out.

This is the national average, which means it is like this everywhere. The higher the retention rate the more likely you will be back in year two.

What Percentage of College Freshmen Fail?

This can differ between universities and their standards and rules. The rule at my university is that you don’t fail unless you get below 2.0 twice. A 2.0 would be equivalent to getting a c- in every single class.

You are on probation after getting below a 2.0 once.

The percentage of freshmen who fail also differs from university to university. Universities that are harder to get into have more hardworking and determined students which usually leads to less freshman failing.

Colleges also have what they call weed out classes which are basically made for a certain number of students to fail. These are meant to “weed” people out of specific classes and majors before they get too far into it. These are normally the classes that lead to freshman failing in the first place.

What Degree has the Highest Dropout Rate?

This also depends on the specific programs at different schools as well. Here are the highest dropout rates among majors in the U.S. right now.

It is important to understand that dropping out of college means quitting college for good, not transferring schools or taking a gap year.

  1. Advertising
  2. Agriculture
  3. Art
  4. Architecture
  5. Biology
  6. Engineering
  7. Education
  8. Computer Science

Why Do Retention Rates Matter?

Retention rates matter because it is important that you like the college you choose and intend to stay there. It can be so discouraging after months and months of research and preparation to realize that you do not like your university.

There is nothing wrong with transferring and it is totally normal, but it is something that you want to try to prevent. It doesn’t matter how cheap or beautiful campus is if you don’t want to stay there.

Every university is going to show you their best and top-notch things on their websites and while on tours. You must dig a little bit deeper to figure out how you will feel about it once you are there.

One thing that you can do is to talk to current students. There is no better pool of information than the students that are already attending and maybe currently living at the university of your choice. Your academics are obviously always your priority but the rest matters too.

The reasons for switching schools usually have nothing to do with academics and more to do with location, dining, campus, living situation, dorms, roommates, friends, etc. It is important to investigate these things as much as academics because they really do have a large effect on your college career.

It is a lot different talking about and preparing for college than it is once you are here. Basically, it is just a smart idea to look into retention rates and actually make them a factor of consideration when choosing colleges.

If you are stuck between two and one has a retention rate of 91% while the other has college retention rates of 70%, I think you can tell which one you would end up enjoying more and sticking with until you obtain your degree.


Overall, there are many important things to look into when deciding colleges. When it comes down to it, money or location can be deciding factors regardless of anything else and I completely get that.

Retention rate is not of the utmost importance like money and location, but if you can afford to have options, then I recommend looking into retention rates. Talking to current students to see how your time at this college or university may be is also a great idea.

This is supposed to be some of the best times of your life. Make sure that you are choosing somewhere where you want to live, make new friends, and explore. You will be spending four or more years here and it will have a large impact on your life.

Take your research and preparation seriously and choose where you personally think you will enjoy the most, have the most opportunities, and graduate with your degree.

Once you see the retention rates for each college that you are interested in then you need to know how to submit a college application.

Recent Posts