3 Key Predictors of College Success

Predicting college success is important to a lot of people for a lot of reasons. Students, obviously, want to know what they can do to be successful—it’s their future at stake. Parents want to know if their college investment is going to pay off. And last, but certainly not least, schools want to know if they are admitting students who will not only bolster their graduation rate, but who will go on to make a name for themselves . . . and by association, for the school.

Of these three groups, the schools are the ones with the resources to investigate this question—and they have. Colleges and universities conduct regular internal audits to examine which factors can predict students’ success in college. While there are a number of characteristics that can come into play, many of them are exhibited once those students are already attending college, by which time, it can be argued, it’s already too late. The ideal time to examine predictors of success is while students are still in high school. This way, students still have time to develop better habits, parents can guide students toward developing these habits, and schools can refine their admissions processes in order to admit classes of ever-more-successful college freshmen.

With that as an introduction, here is a list

  1. Student behavior during high school

Seems obvious, but certain student behaviors in high school can predict college success—and not the ones you might think. According to a joint 2015 report from the USDE, IES, and NCEE, these two behaviors were predictors of college success:

  • Fewer high school absences
  • Taking the SAT or ACT (regardless of score)

So students, take heed: high school attendance matters, and whether or not your colleges of interest require a standardized test score, you should probably take a shot at it anyway!

  1. High School GPA

This next predictor of college success is probably a given in most people’s minds: high school GPA. According to a 2016 report from NACAC, which surveyed 400 colleges and universities high school GPA was the most important predictor of college performance—that is, high school and college grade point averages were closely correlated. (One school’s report showed correlations of .63 and .71.)

Good students are good students, case closed.

  1. Family Income

The third predictor comes maybe not so much as a surprise, but as a disappointment. Based on a 2015 report from the Pell Institute, household income was the most important indicator of whether or not a student will graduate from college. (More than 75% of students from high-income households graduated in 2013, compared to less than 10% of students from low-income households.)

This is extremely unfortunate, since it is a factor that is entirely outside of the student’s control. However, the (marginally) good news is that this finding ought to lead to more discussions about solving economic equality at large, which will solve more than just the education gap.