50-50 College List

students on college campus represent free college listThe information in this free college list is part of the data available in the DIY College Rankings College Search Spreadsheet. The 50-50 College Listing contains four-year colleges that accept at least 49 percent of their applicants and have at least a 49 percent four-year graduation rate for private colleges or at least a 49 percent five-year graduation rate for public universities. The reason I use 49 instead of 50 is to capture the schools that might have qualified last year or would qualify next year but don’t this year.


So what good is this college list? Well, if you don’t see any value in college graduation rates, you can just stop reading right here. I have found that nothing I say is going to change your mind and I’m really not interested in debating its value or going into the psychology of why people ignore college graduation rates.

Still with me?

The First 50-Graduation Rates

Okay then. I use college graduation rates as a rough-repeat rough-proxy for college success. There are all kinds of limitations in using this number. The one you should be most aware of is that colleges with large engineering departments (relative to the rest of the school) are likely to have a low four-year graduation rate but much higher five-year graduation rate. This is because it often just takes students longer to complete the demanding engineering load but also because many engineering student co-op which extends their program to five years.

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And yes, I do believe that an individual can get a great education at any school if she puts in the effort. However, I also believe that it’s easier to get a good education and graduate if you are in an environment with other people (for whatever the reason-money, ethnicity, family situation) that are likely to graduate. The graduation rate is not the final say so in evaluating a college’s effectiveness.

There are colleges out there that should be considered doing an extraordinary job even if they only graduate 35% of their students. This is because the students they accept are often less prepared for college or have other issues that are likely to keep them from graduating. This is the basis of the Washington Monthly’s and US News expected graduation rate. If a school has an expected graduation rate of 15% and graduates 35%, it’s doing something right.

But it’s not going to be included in my 50-50 listing. A student may ultimately end up at such a school for very good reasons but with over 400 50-50 institutions, there is no reason to start the college search process with such schools.

The Second 50-Acceptance Rates

And this brings us to the other 50 aspect of the list, acceptance rates. A 50% admissions rate means that a student doesn’t have to have stellar qualifications to be admitted. In other words, there’s a reasonable chance of B or B+ students of being admitted.

I did a very unscientific check to see how true this might be by looking the colleges with the lowest admission rates on the list. I looked up the percentage of enrolled freshman who had a high school GPA below 3.5. Basically, I wanted to see how many students were admitted that were B+/A- students. Below are the 15 colleges I checked.

50-50 colleges with lowest acceptance rates

As you can see, the B student would probably have problems getting in at the state flagships universities on the list. However, at 7 of the schools 40% or more of the students had less than a 3.5 GPA. And while there aren’t as many students with lower GPAs at places like Whitman and the University of Denver, there are obviously circumstances where the B student is admitted.

However, acceptance rates may not be the best indicator of the average GPA of the freshman class. So I did another unscientific check of looking at colleges on the list with the highest 75th% ACT score.

50-50 colleges with highest ACT scores

There are four colleges that overlap both groups. However, despite the remaining 12 colleges having higher acceptance rates, they had a lower percentage of students with a GPA of 3.5 or less. Not great for the B student, but there is still the chance of admission with the right application.

There’s also the flip side to these numbers. You can find concentrations of good students (by superficial measures of SAT and GPA) in plenty of schools. At Appalachian State, 87% of freshman reporting GPAs had an average over 3.75 while 82% did at the University of North Carolina Wilmington. A total of 45 colleges reported a 75th% ACT of 30 or better-that’s the 95th% or better nationally. These numbers mean that a student could count on attending class with a group of peers who are serious about their academics.

The 50-50 list is about options. Most students start their college search knowing only a few regional colleges and probably the nationally ranked ones that no one gets into. And unfortunately, many never expand their list which means they are missing out on some great opportunities. Click HERE to download the free college list.


Listing of colleges that accept at least 50% of students and have at least a 50% graduation rate

50-50 College List

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