10 Colleges With the Highest Freshman Retention Rates

The U.S. News Short List, separate from our overall rankings, is a regular series that magnifies individual data points in hopes of providing students and parents a way to find which undergraduate or graduate programs excel or have room to grow in specific areas. Be sure to explore The Short List: College and The Short List: Grad School to find data that matters to you in your college or grad school search.

The transition from high school to higher education can be difficult to navigate, leading many college freshmen to not return to campus for their sophomore year. Some students drop out completely--for personal, financial, or academic reasons. Others transfer schools to find a better fit.

[Learn who to get to know on campus.]

Researching freshman retention rates--the percentage of first year students who return the following year--can give prospective students valuable insight into how new students fare at a particular college or university.

Among the 1,377 ranked schools that reported freshman retention data to U.S. News during the 2012 annual survey, the average retention rate is 75 percent. Those rates reflect the four-year average of incoming freshmen between fall 2007 and fall 2010 who returned to campus the following fall.

At some of the most elite institutions, however, nearly all first year students returned the following year. Both Columbia University in New York City and Yale University in New Haven, Conn., boasted 99 percent retention rates for their freshman classes between 2007 and 2010.

[Get tips for starting college on the right foot.]

Of the 10 colleges and universities with the highest freshman retention rates, five landed in the top five of the 2013 Best Colleges rankings. The lowest-ranked school on the list, Harvey Mudd College in California, ranked 12th among National Liberal Arts Colleges in the 2013 rankings.

Schools that were designated by U.S. News as Unranked were not considered for this report. U.S. News did not calculate a numerical ranking for Unranked programs because the program did not meet certain criteria that U.S. News requires to be numerically ranked.

The following schools had the highest freshman retention rates, based on data covering first year students entering college between fall 2007 and fall 2010:

School name (state)

Freshman retention rate (2007-10)

U.S. News rank and category

Columbia University (NY)


4, National Universities

Yale University (CT)


3, National Universities

University of Chicago


4, National Universities

Amherst College (MA)


2, National Liberal Arts Colleges

California Institute of Technology


10, National Universities

Harvey Mudd College (CA)


12, National Liberal Arts Colleges

Princeton University (NJ)


1, National Universities

Stanford University (CA)


6, National Universities

Dartmouth College (NH)


10, National Universities

University of Pennsylvania


8, National Universities

Don't see your school in the top 10? Access the U.S. News College Compass to find information about freshman retention, as well as complete rankings and much more.

U.S. News surveyed more than 1,800 colleges and universities for our 2012 survey of undergraduate programs. Schools self-reported a myriad of data regarding their academic programs and the makeup of their student body, among other areas, making U.S. News's 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's rankings of Best Colleges or Best Graduate Schools. The freshman retention data above are correct as of Oct. 10, 2012.

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting