So many of us go out to eat. Hopefully many of us are responsible enough to glance at the restaurant’s health inspection score on the way in. Restaurants are required by law (at least here in Georgia) to prominently display this number. I know when I see a score lower than a “90,” I just turn around and walk away to another establishment. If I see a score of “72” or “56” I don’t stay and inquire to the reasons behind the score. I don’t want to know if the employees were caught without gloves or if there were any rats or roaches in the kitchen. I see the score and that’s good enough for me to look elsewhere.

We need to take the same approach to college. Unfortunately, there are so many “scores” that families do not consider at all or that they completely ignore. Our practice uses research and data to form the basis of an effective and meaningful college search, so we take metrics very seriously. Data isn’t the final decision maker, but we believe it’s the best place to start. Here are 3 metrics that you should start with when considering any college.

1. 4-year grad rate. I am shocked at how many families do not even think to ask this question. It’s always interesting to see how colleges report this number. Many colleges like to quote a 6-year grad rate since that is the typical timeline for a 4-year degree for most students. However, many scholarship and aid packages only cover 4 years. Other colleges will artificially inflate this number by not counting the students that drop-out. It is also worth noting that Georgia ranks among the bottom of all 50 states when it comes to 4-year grad rate. The national average is about 25%, I like to see colleges at 50% or greater. A lot of parents take an approach where they think this metric will not affect their student. A word of caution, in the case of public colleges in Georgia, there are institutional factors outside of the student’s control that can affect their grad rate. What is the top factor? Overcrowding. There are too many students on campus and not enough professors. Class availability is limited so many students do not get all of the classes they need to graduate on time.

2.  Retention rate. This seems like a simple metric, but it can uncover the many things that are going right or wrong with the college. This is a measure of how many freshman come back for their sophomore year. We like to see this number at 75% or greater. Institutions such as Yale boast rates at about 99%. I have seen other colleges at 27%. Is it the food? Is it the faculty? Who cares? Look elsewhere. There are plenty of other options where you don’t have to settle for a low retention rate.

3.  Job placement rate. This one should be on everyone’s radar. The whole point of college is to graduate into a career where your student will thrive. What percentages of the college’s graduates are employed after graduation? How long does it take to find a job after graduation? How many graduates are moving on to graduate programs or further education? There are some colleges where almost all of the students are doing one or the other. These colleges typically have dedicated teams and departments for career placement. Some colleges do not even track this number. If that’s the case, look elsewhere.