Colleges where freshmen usually return

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The process of finding the right college doesn't always end once students move into their dorms and start their freshman year.

Some realize their chosen university doesn't offer what they need or the time isn't right for school and decide not to return for sophomore year. Among public institutions, an average of 64.2 percent of full-time, first-time students who started school in fall 2013 returned in fall 2014, according to a report from ACT, which manages the standardized test by the same name. The average rate is slightly higher at private colleges and universities: 70.2 percent.

At a few schools, however, almost every freshman returns for another year.

[Learn which schools have the highest undergrad enrollment.]

The average freshman retention rate at Columbia University and the University of Chicago for students who entered in the fall between 2010 and 2013 was 99 percent. They had the highest freshman retention rate among 1,354 ranked schools that submitted data to U.S. News in an annual survey.

While both schools were listed in the past among the colleges and universities with the highest freshman retention rate, two new schools have been added to the list. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Pomona College each had a 98 percent average freshman retention rate.

Pomona is one of three National Liberal Arts Colleges to make the list. These schools emphasize undergraduate education and award at least half of their degrees in liberal arts fields.

RELATED: Forbes reveals 2015 top colleges

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Colleges where freshmen usually return

#10. Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Founded in 1861 and now one of the nation’s premier technological institutions, MIT is the No. 10 college on FORBES' rankings list this year. MIT’s academic community includes 80 Nobel laureates, 56 National Medal of Science winners, 43 MacArthur Fellows, and 28 National Medal of Technology and Innovation winners. Located in Cambridge, MA, MIT is part of a vibrant intellectual community that includes cross-registration partners Harvard University and Wellesley College. Home to the acclaimed MIT Media Lab, the school excels in the art, science, and business of innovation. According to the National Science Foundation, MIT ranks first in industry-financed research and development expenditures among all universities and colleges without a medical school. About 56% of freshmen receive grants from the school averaging about $36,000. Though best known for its excellence in STEM fields, the university also has noteworthy fiction and poetry programs. The school is often referenced in popular media such as “Good Will Hunting” and “The Big Bang Theory.” Notable alumni include the billionaire Koch brothers, American economist Lawrence Summers, and Khan Academy founder Salman Khan.

(Photo by Songquan Deng, Getty)

#9. Amherst College

Ranked at No. 9 this year, Amherst College is one of the top small private liberal arts schools in the country and one of the few need-blind institutions. About 57% of freshmen receive grants from the school averaging nearly $43,000. Since Amherst belongs to the Five College Consortium, students can attend free classes at Hampshire, Mount Holyoke and Smith Colleges and the University of Massachusetts. Amherst offers bachelor’s degrees in 38 fields of study, and many students work one-on-one with renowned faculty members who have received awards from National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation and the Mellon Foundation. The college boasts one of the oldest intercollegiate athletics programs in the nation, with 27 NCAA Division III varsity teams known as Lord Jeffs. Students can select from over 100 different clubs and groups, including Croquet Club and a Much Ado About Knitting group. The 1,000-acre campus is home to the Wildlife Sanctuary, the Book & Plow Farm and four museums. Students take advantage of the snowy Massachusetts winters by grabbing dining trays and sledding down Memorial Hill.

(Photo by Raymond Forbes, Getty)

#8. Brown University

Ranked at No. 8 this year, Brown University has the reputation as the most eccentric and liberal of the Ivies. Brown offers an open curriculum in over 40 academic departments, imposing no core requirements and allowing students to “concentrate” rather than “major” in their preferred areas of study. About 47% of freshmen receive grants from the school averaging about $36,000. Established in 1764, Brown is the seventh-oldest institution of higher education in the U.S., celebrating its 250th anniversary in the previous academic year.

(Photo via Getty Images)

#7. Swarthmore College

Swarthmore College, ranked at No. 7 this year, is a private liberal arts school in Swarthmore, PA, whose students are known for their academic intensity. Founded in 1864, the college is located just 11 miles outside Philadelphia. Students can choose from more than 40 courses of study. First-year seminars are capped at just 12 students. Swarthmore is a member of the Tri-College Consortium with Bryn Mawr and Haverford, and students can cross-register for courses at the nearby University of Pennsylvania. About 49% of freshmen receive grants from the school averaging about $36,000. Those looking to get involved outside of the classroom and laboratory can participate more than 100 student clubs and organizations. Around 93% of students live on the 425-acre campus, which is home to the 300-acre Scott Arboretum full of trees and perennials. Swarthmore is the third-highest producer of Ph.D. students in the country, with nearly 20% of students entering doctoral programs after graduation.

(Photo by Aimin Tang, Getty)

#6. Harvard University

Founded in 1636 and now ranked No. 6, Harvard University was the first institution of higher learning in the U.S. Its history, influence and wealth haven’t stopped it from experimenting with new educational models in experiential learning and online platforms, such as edX, co-founded in 2012 with nearby MIT. Harvard alumni include 47 Nobel Laureates, 32 heads of state, 48 Pulitzer Prize winners. Scores of prominent people in business, the arts, politics and more have studied and taught at the university, including Microsoft founder Bill Gates, Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg, cellist Yo-Yo Ma, Henry Louis Gates, Jr., NBA star Jeremy Lin, historian Doris Kearns Goodwin and actress Natalie Portman, who delivered the 2015 Class Day address. FORBES' No. 46 Power Woman Drew Gilpin Faust currently serves as the university’s president. Harvard boasts the largest university endowment in the U.S. at $36 billion and has taken a stand against fossil fuel divestment. In June 2015, Harvard received the largest gift in its history of $400 million to endow a School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. The school motto is “veritas,” which is Latin for “truth.” About 58% of freshmen receive grants from the school averaging about $42,000.

(Photo via Shutterstock)

#5. Yale University

Granted its charter in 1701, Yale is the third-oldest institution of higher education in the country and ranked at No. 5 in the country this year. The 1,153-acre campus in New Haven, CT, is home to 440 buildings and four museums, including the Peabody Museum of Natural History and the Collection of Musical Instruments. Undergraduate students can choose from more than 2,000 courses and 81 majors. The most popular majors are economics, political science, history and psychology. The library is one of the largest in the country and houses more than 15 million volumes. Yale boasts an endowment of $19.3 billion. 51% of freshmen receive grants from the school averaging nearly $43,000.

(Photo via Shutterstock)

#4. Princeton University 

Chartered in 1746, Princeton University is one of the oldest colleges in the country, and ranked No. 4 on this year's list. Nassau Hall, first among the historic buildings that adorn Princeton’s 500-acre campus in Princeton, NJ, served as the nation’s capital in 1783. Undergraduates may select from 36 academic departments. Nine current faculty members are Nobel Prize recipients. The university’s generous financial aid program provides grants and campus jobs in place of student loans. 60% of freshmen receive grants from the school averaging more than $34,000. Admitted students can defer their enrollment for a year to participate in community service work abroad through the Bridge Year program. On-campus housing is guaranteed for all four years for undergraduates.

(Photo by Xiaoping Lang via Getty)

#3. Stanford University

Located in Silicon Valley, the epicenter of the tech world, Stanford University is a private research university ranked at No. 3 this year. The school is known for its strength in research and successful alumni. Railroad magnate Leland Stanford founded the school in 1885. Stanford boasts more than 5,300 externally sponsored research projects with a total budget of over $1.3 billion. About 53% of freshmen receive grants from the school averaging more than $39,000. The university has produced a number of leaders in government and finance, including U.S. president Herbert Hoover, four U.S. Supreme Court justices and business moguls like Steve Ballmer, Sergey Brin, Larry Page and Marissa Mayer. Around 93% of students live on Stanford’s campus, which consists of around 700 major buildings across 8,180 acres.

(Photo via Shutterstock)

#2. Williams College

The No. 2 Top College, Williams College is a highly elite liberal arts school in Williams, MA whose students are known for their academic and athletic prowess. Founded in 1793 as a men’s college, it began admitting women in 1970. Williams follows a 4-1-4 annual schedule, in which students take four courses during the fall and spring semesters and one course during the winter term. While students can choose from 36 majors, they are required to take three languages and arts, three social sciences and three science and math classes. Around 96% of the student body participates in at least one of the 150 student organizations and 53% of freshmen receive school grants averaging $40,000. The 32 varsity athletic teams, nicknamed the Ephs, compete at the NCAA Division III level.

(Photo by Mira / Alamy)

#1. Pomona College

The No. 1 college in the country this year, Pomona College is a private liberal arts college in Claremont, CA, offering 47 majors and 600 classes. Established in 1887, it is the founding member of The Claremont Colleges, a consortium of neighboring schools. Students can choose from over 2,000 classes offered through the consortium. Around 80% of students have taken a class at another Claremont school. 57% of freshmen receive grants from the school averaging nearly $40,000. Nearly all students live on campus.

(Photo by John Crowe / Alamy)


The school with the lowest freshman retention rate is East-West University in Illinois. About 30.5 percent of first-time, full-time students who started between fall 2010 and fall 2013 returned for sophomore year.

[Understand how to make a college short list.]

Below is a list of the 12 schools with the highest average retention rate for freshmen who started between fall 2010 and fall 2013. Unranked schools, which did not meet certain criteria required by U.S. News to be ranked, were not considered for this report.

Average freshman retention rate (2010-2013 fall entering classes)
Columbia University (NY) - 99%
University of Chicago - 99%
Yale University (CT) - 98.75%
Dartmouth College (NH) - 98.25%
Princeton University (NJ) - 98.25%
Stanford University (CA) - 98.25%
Harvey Mudd College (CA) - 98%
Massachusetts Institute of Technology - 98%
Pomona College (CA) - 98%
Amherst College (MA) - 97.75%
University of Notre Dame (IN) - 97.75%
University of Pennsylvania - 97.75%,

​Don't see your school in the top 10? Access the U.S. News College Compass to find retention data, 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 2015 survey of undergraduate programs. Schools self-reported myriad data regarding their academic programs and the makeup of their student body, among other areas, making U.S. News' 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' rankings of Best Colleges, Best Graduate Schools or Best Online Programs. The retention data above are correct as of Jan. 5, 2016.

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