As you continue to research and evaluate potential schools, one thing you may want to consider in addition to factors like cost and academic reputation is a school’s freshman retention rate. In short, the freshman retention rate is the percentage of first-time undergrads that return for their sophomore year. This percentage is often associated with the overall level of student satisfaction, although there are numerous additional factors at work below the surface.

Studies indicate that if a college is going to lose students, this most likely occurs between freshman and sophomore year. Studies also suggest that, in general, the more selective an institution, the higher the freshman retention rate.

Additional factors that influence retention rates include the affordability of the school, how well a student’s high school prepared them for the rigors of college, and how much the school lived up to the promises made in glossy brochures and through campus tours. Often, families underestimate the true costs of attending certain schools, and the bills for freshman year expenses offer a serious wake-up call.  Another common scenario is that a student doesn’t realize how little their high school prepared them for college-level coursework until they find themselves struggling and pulling less-than-stellar first-year marks. Additionally, most schools have marketing departments whose sole purpose is to “glamorize” their establishments and paint them in the most favorable light possible. At times, students attend based on what they’ve seen and read, and then dip out when they determine that reality doesn’t always live up to expectation.

Low freshman retention rates can also indicate a commuter school, or a school transitioning from commuter to residential. Of course, there are numerous other factors that affect the freshman retention rate, such as illness, injury, family crises, and so on, but the majority of students who don’t return make their decision based on financial constraints, a lack of preparedness, or the failure of an institution to live up to their expectations. If you want to check out the freshman retention rates for the schools you’re considering, there are a number of great resources available, one being College Navigator. You can check it out here:

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