Beating the Odds

The odds of getting IN to college are pretty great, but the odds of getting OUT are pretty pathetic, so you have to set your teen up to beat the odds and get OUT of college with a degree!

Odds and statistics are a funny thing.  It’s human nature to look on the bright side, so if I told you there was a 50% chance of winning a million dollars, you’d be thrilled! But, if I told you there was only a 50% chance that your car would start every morning, you’d probably panic.  Seven Reasons Why Your Car Won't Start ❤️ Cash Cars Buyer ❤️

Common sense college planning takes some of the emotion out of the process and looks at college through a more skeptical lens. Granted, no one thinks their teen will be in the 50% that doesn’t graduate, but understanding the odds helps you take your role as guidance counselor that much more seriously. Some of you are rolling the dice with a quarter-million dollars of tuition, and that’s no joke.

The graduation rate at my target college is (___)%

Generally speaking, most people assume that high school students all go on to college and that once they head out, that they’ll graduate. In this post, we’ll look at the data and employ a few strategies to assure your teen beats the odds. I love statistics and data, but don’t want this to get too mathy. Of all high school graduates this year, 67% will go directly into a two or four-year college.


Once enrolled, the government tracks completion rates, but not like you would expect.  Completion rates for a 4-year degree (bachelor’s degree) are only calculated using 6 years.  In other words, colleges don’t have to tell you how many students finished their 4-year degree in 4 years, but the government forces them to tell you how many of their students finished their 4-year degree in 6 years. Not exactly the transparency we expect, but it’s what we have, so at the very least, you need to know your target college’s number!

In general, the more selective the college (fewer than 25% of applicants are accepted) the better their 6-year graduation rate. We can make some assumptions around why that’s true, but no one answer explains the entire picture. In general, teens at a selective college have:

  • strong academic track record – clearly above average students
  • attentive advisors – careful planning and support
  • high levels of motivation from the student

At a highly selective college, the graduation rates are the highest:  87%. Sound impressive?  Let’s remember, that number represents a six-year completion allowance!

Students at “average” colleges don’t do nearly as well. Only about 60% of students attending their local state university actually graduate in 6 years.

Here’s the mathy part- when you remember that 60% represents only those who enrolled after high school, we see the real picture represents very few students actually earn a degree in 6 years after high school!


So what about the actual number of high school students who go into an average state university and graduate in 4 years? We know that the “graduation rate” is 33%, but remember that represents those who enrolled and then filters out those who needed more than 4 years. Hang in there- this is the end of the math and the final breakdown:

100 teens graduate high school

67 enroll in college

40 will eventually graduate

27 will never graduate

13 will graduate in 4 years

Let’s Make a Plan

Common sense college planning starts with resourceful high school planning. First things first, you have to learn your target college’s graduation rate! Colleges with rates lower than 50% mean you’ll have to implement a very strong plan to assure your teen crosses the finish line with a degree in hand. There is no one who cares about this more than you, so this is not the time to stand down- let’s get your teen graduated!

Elite colleges have 3 things going for them:

  • strong academic track record – clearly above average students
  • attentive advisors – careful planning and support
  • high levels of motivation from the student

We’ll use the same success markers demonstrated by the elite colleges, but we’ll implement them with our (average) teen attending an average target college.

strong academic track record – clearly above average students

Having been gifted academically average students who all found success at college, my advice is to work within your teen’s abilities from the start. Don’t get me wrong, I want my kids to strive for success, but by helping them identify their academic strengths and weaknesses, they’ve been able to achieve success – not just hope for it!

Homeschooling for College Credit families can help their students find a “match” for their academic strengths in the field of their dreams- but adapted and honed in on their academics. In almost every occupation, you’ll find the tippy top in the field- the best degree from the best school in the best major. Parents sometimes make the mistake of thinking their teen has to hit the tippy top or else.

attentive advisors – careful planning and support

The truth is that most occupations are overwhelmingly staffed with people who went to colleges you’ve never heard of and majored in something that may or may not have prepared them for their career. In reality, a degree from an accredited college will check the box for many students. Majors come in all shapes and sizes, sometimes varying widely from college to college!

As the person who cares more about your student than anyone else, being on their team is so important!! Get on “Team Degree” and help them find the degree that matches their strengths. When you know that their target college or major is a tall order, outline a smaller goal first, and then if successful, help them plan to tackle the bigger goal next.

For instance, a student who may not be academically ready to handle the heavy sciences of rigorous nursing courses (and trust me, they are heavy!) can find success by starting in a shorter diploma program or nursing assistant program. Once the “proof of concept” is on the books, your teen can make an informed decision about obtaining extra education.

Other examples include a student not ready to handle the challenging maths of a business major may find success as a management major. A student unsure about a career in computer science can begin accumulating valuable IT Certifications immediately.

high levels of motivation from the student

Success breeds success. Setting up a plan of action that begins in high school, checking off college credit requirements, earning certificates and diplomas before degrees – all of these smaller accomplishments help teach your student how to aim high. While most students start their college credit journey after high school, and most parents step back- we know that plan doesn’t end well for most students.

The combination of realistic goals and strong parental guidance will help your teen get OUT of college, and from there, the sky is the limit!



Executive Director of Homeschooling for College Credit