The U.S. News Short List, separate from our overall rankings, is a regular series that magnifies individual data points in hopes of providing students and parents a way to find which undergraduate or graduate programs excel or have room to grow in specific areas. Be sure to explore The Short List: College and The Short List: Grad School to find data that matters to you in your college or grad school search.
College is often billed as a four-year endeavor, but most students don't earn a degree in that time frame.
On average, only about 41 percent of undergrads graduate in four years, according to data reported by 1,207 ranked colleges and universities in an annual U.S. News survey. That figure reflects first-time, full-time students who entered as freshmen in fall 2006 and graduated by spring 2010.
A number of factors can throw students off track, including academic issues or financial trouble, but many top-ranked institutions excel at keeping students on a four-year path.
Carleton College in Minnesota, Williams College in Massachusetts, Bowdoin College in Maine and Columbia University in New York all boast four-year graduation rates of at least 90 percent. Each school also ranks among the top 10 in either the Best National Universities or Best National Liberal Arts Colleges rankings.
In fact, the 10 schools with the highest four-year graduation rates achieved an average of nearly 90 percent. All but one school landed in the top 25 of their respective ranking categories, too. Lafayette College in Pennsylvania ranked 36th among National Liberal Arts Colleges in the 2014 rankings.
These colleges tend to be highly selective and have small undergraduate classes – none of the schools on this list enrolls more than 10,000 students. Their size often allows for more personal attention from teachers and administrators, which can help students stay the course.
The same cannot be said of some of the country's largest institutions, though.
Arizona State University and the University of Central Florida regularly top the list of largest undergraduate student bodies. But only 33.5 percent of Arizona State's first-time, full-time students graduated within four years. At Central Florida, that percentage was 35.3.
Below are the 10 colleges and universities with the highest four-year graduation rates, based on first-time, full-time students who started in fall 2006. Unranked schools, which did not meet certain criteria required by U.S. News to be numerically ranked, were not considered for this report.
|School name (state)||4-year graduation rate||U.S. News rank and category|
|Carleton College (MN)||90.9%||7, National Liberal Arts Colleges|
|Williams College (MA)||90.8%||1, National Liberal Arts Colleges|
|Bowdoin College (ME)||90.7%||4, National Liberal Arts Colleges|
|Columbia University (NY)||90%||4, National Universities|
|College of the Holy Cross (MA)||89.9%||25, National Liberal Arts Colleges|
|Haverford College (PA)||89.5%||9, National Liberal Arts Colleges|
|Davidson College (NC)||89.4%||9, National Liberal Arts Colleges|
|Georgetown University (DC)||89.4%||20, National Universities|
|Lafayette College (PA)||89.2%||36, National Liberal Arts Colleges|
|Yale University (CT)||89%||3, National Universities|
Don't see your school in the top 10? Access the U.S. News College Compass to find graduation and retention rates, complete rankings and much more. School officials can access historical data and rankings, including of peer institutions, via U.S. News Academic Insights.
U.S. News surveyed nearly 1,800 colleges and universities for our 2013 survey of undergraduate programs. Schools self-reported a myriad of data regarding their academic programs and the makeup of their student body, among other areas, making U.S. News's data the most accurate and detailed collection of college facts and figures of its kind. While U.S. News uses much of this survey data to rank schools for our annual Best Colleges rankings, the data can also be useful when examined on a smaller scale. U.S. News will now produce lists of data, separate from the overall rankings, meant to provide students and parents a means to find which schools excel, or have room to grow, in specific areas that are important to them. While the data come from the schools themselves, these lists are not related to, and have no influence over, U.S. News's rankings of Best Colleges or Best Graduate Schools. The graduation data above are correct as of Oct. 15, 2013.