Choosing a College: Which Numbers Matter?

Learn how to decipher all of those college statistics.

By Erica Cirino, Varsity Tutors' Contributor

September 03, 2015

Choosing a College: Which Numbers Matter? Choosing a College: Which Numbers Matter?

Deciding where to apply to college can be a tedious task. Besides academics, you’ll have to consider a college’s location, recreational offerings, and overall feel, among other factors.

There may not be a formula for choosing the “right” college. But, it turns out you can use numbers to help shape your college choice in the form of so-called college statistics, a collection of data unique to each college that describes its size, demographics, students’ academic achievement and more.

These valuable numbers are most commonly found online and in college recruitment brochures. Yet some of them are more important than others.

Which statistics should you pay attention to when selecting a college? Read on to find out.

1. Tuition rate and financial aid data

For many students, a heavy student loan debt burden is a hard reality of attending college today. However, analyzing the overall costs of the colleges you are considering can help you avoid accumulating an overwhelming amount of student loan debt.

Tuition rate tells you how much a given college costs to attend each semester. At public universities, students residing within the state that the college is located are typically charged a much lower “in-state” tuition than students living in other states, who must pay a higher “out-of-state” tuition.

However, the awarding of financial aid can offset the cost of attending college. Colleges usually release financial aid information tallying the number of students who receive aid each semester as well as the type(s) and amount(s) of aid they collect. Such financial aid data can help you determine your likelihood of receiving aid and the type and amount of aid you are likely to receive.

2. Admissions data

Outlined in a college’s admissions data are its total number of applicants, percent of applicants admitted, and percent of applicants admitted who enrolled. From this information, it’s possible to glean a college’s admissions competitiveness and popularity. While a low acceptance rate and high popularity shouldn’t deter you from applying to a given college, you’ll also want to apply to a few appealing “safe” schools with a higher rate of acceptance to ensure that you get into at least one college you like.

It’s also useful to review a college’s admissions considerations, which include secondary school GPA and college entrance exam scores. If your GPA or exam scores fall below a college’s preferred range, you are probably less likely to be admitted – and that means you may want to retake your entrance exams during the fall before applying, if possible, and try to bring your grades up. Additionally, many colleges award scholarships based on entrance exam scores so ensuring your score falls within a college’s preferred range may increase your chance of receiving a scholarship.

3. Graduation and transfer-out rates

Colleges may list four-, six- and even eight-year graduation rates, as not all college students complete their degree within four years. A college’s graduation rate can provide you with insight into the quality of a school’s education: Schools with higher four-year graduation rates tend to provide their students with effective support systems that foster academic success and also reflect students’ commitment and motivation toward earning a degree.

A college’s transfer-out rate indicates the percentage of full-time, first-time students who transferred to another college after a period of time. A high transfer-out rate typically corresponds with a greater number of students who are dissatisfied with their educational and/or social experiences at a given college. While a higher-than-average transfer-out rate shouldn’t necessarily deter you from applying to a college, it’s something you’ll want to investigate further before deciding whether or not to apply.



Erica Cirino is a contributing writer for Varsity Tutors, a live learning platform that connects students with personalized instruction to accelerate academic achievement.

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