Should Your Student Attend the Most Selective School Possible?

Parents of college bound children are faced with a tough decision - do they send their student to the most selective school that they would be accepted – one in which the student’s peers are of a comparable aptitude?  Or, would it be better to send their student to a less selective school whereby the student would be of higher aptitude then his or her peers? 

Most people tend to lean towards sending their kids to the more selective school. It seems to be common sense that the more selective the school, the better the outcomes. Just look at some of the top ranked schools by College Factual. Yale, Harvard and Stanford are all highly selective schools – with average SAT scores at or near 1,500 and these schools also have some of the best graduation rates in the nation – all hovering around 97%.

There must be a correlation between selectivity and graduation rate – right? If so, then if you send your student to a highly selective college, that simple choice alone almost guarantees they’ll graduate – right? Not necessarily. 

Graduation Rates Not Necessarily Tied to Selectivity

An article entitled College Selectivity and Degree Completion by Scott Heil, Liza Reisel and Paul Attewell published in the American Educational Research Journal proposes that the selectivity of a college does not have an independent effect on graduation rates

Heil et al. examined students noting SAT scores and pitted them again several data models to answer what effect SAT score had on graduation rate. If a student with a high SAT score attended a school with a similar average SAT score – would it affect graduation likelihood? What about a student who was “over qualified” for a school – student with high SAT score attending a school with a lower average SAT. 

The authors concluded that although selectivity does play some part in graduation rates, it is most likely a larger set of factors that will impact a student’s likelihood of graduating. Neither scenario (qualified or over qualified) noted any substantial difference in graduation rate. 

This doesn’t mean your student shouldn’t necessarily attend a more selective school as there may be additional benefits attributed to more selective schools such as increased earning power and stronger social network. However, when it comes to strictly looking at graduation rates, the selectivity doesn’t much matter. 

How to Choose the Right School

Students and their parents should take a holistic approach to choosing a college and not follow the temptation to hone in on a specific factor. Some aspects to consider include graduation rates, location, college size and economic viability.

After all, if your homesick student attends a school out of state and one that is not as affordable to your family, the chance your student will graduate is much lower than if they had attended a college with a better fit. 

College Factual can help you and your student find the top colleges for your family. Log into College Factual and start filling out the College Match Profile for your child. The profile will ask you simple questions to get an idea of what is important to you and your student. 

Once the profile is filled out College Factual will crunch through the data and present you with the top ranked schools based on your fit. It’ll even tell you why the presented schools rank highly for you. It’s a great way to help narrow down the over 4,000 post-secondary schools in the US into a manageable list

I don’t have any published works in academic journals but it seems to me that common sense would say that the better your child fits with the college they attend, the better the outcome they will have.