With over 2,500 four-year colleges in the U.S. to choose from, you are probably feeling a little stressed about trying to pick only one of them by May.  Good questions are your best list trimming tools, and I’m sure you’ve already hacked hundreds of colleges with your expert use of “do you have my major?” and “what cereals are available in your cafeteria?”  Here are a few other questions that might come in handy:

What is your freshman retention rate?

The freshmen retention rate is the percentage of freshmen who come back for their sophomore year.  When students are happy at a college, they tend to come back unless something really challenging and unexpected happens in their lives.  Average freshman retention rates will vary depending on the type of school you are considering, so you’ll want to compare several similar colleges to find a good baseline to use as a measuring stick.  If a school’s freshman retention rate seems low, you need to ask your admissions counselor why.

What is your graduation rate?

The graduation rate is the percentage of students who graduate from college in a particular window of time.  Colleges have to report their four year and six year graduation rates.  Why are graduation rates important?  The longer you are in college, the more it will cost!  Low graduation rates often signal that it is difficult for students to get the classes they need when they need them, or that they have a hard time paying for their education.  The Chronicle of Higher Education has a great website to help you compare and understand graduation rates.

What is your success rate?

The success rate (sometimes called the placement rate) is the percentage of students who graduate from college and land a job or pursue graduate school within a specific window of time (usually six months).  The importance of this number is obvious, and at Lipscomb, we are very proud that our students’ success rate has been over 90% for the last three years.

Of course, there is no perfect question to find your perfect school, and you should take extra care to understand numbers in their proper context.  These questions can help you to narrow your college list and compare your top choices, but nothing can replace visiting the schools you are most interested in and talking with the people you meet on campus.

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