Why Graduation Rate Matters in Your College Search

by Joy Netanya Thompson

As an incoming freshman, Marissa Hartel ’17 admits she was “oblivious” to the idea that it could take longer than the expected four years to graduate. Now, as a graduating senior, she says it is “incredibly important” that she completed her bachelor’s degree in psychology on time.

Like Marissa, many incoming college freshmen assume they will finish a university degree in four years. But across the nation, only 19 percent of full-time students in public universities graduate in four years. Even at flagship state schools with highly selective admissions, only 36 percent of full-time students completed their degrees on time.

College graduation rates reflect how many first-time, full-time students graduate in 150 percent of the expected time, which means six years for most colleges and universities. A prospective student may skim over a school’s graduation rate, but the number says a lot about the school and about that student’s future. For example, a university with a higher graduation rate might have smaller class sizes and more support services than one with a lower rate.

With a 70 percent six-year graduation rate, Azusa Pacific understands the benefits of graduating students on time and how to help them get there.

The greatest benefit of graduating on time is financial. “As a first-generation college student I had no idea how to pay for college,” says Scott Salsman ’15. “I knew it was expensive though, and the longer I spent in school, the more money it was going to cost me.”

Graduating on time also means not delaying the next step on the journey to one’s calling. “APU has prepared me so well for the next steps in life and I cannot wait to get there,” says Hartel, who is enrolling in a Doctor of Clinical Psychology program upon graduation.

So how does a first-time, full-time student graduate on time?

  1. Make a plan. Meet with an academic advisor and use the academic map for your major, which clearly lays out the classes you must take each semester to complete the degree requirements in four years.
  2. Take at least 15 units a semester. Although a full load is technically 12 units, students must take at least 15 units a semester to finish the required 120 units in four years’ time.
  3. Pass your classes—the first time. Failing a course can set you back; sometimes that happens if a student isn’t yet prepared for the class. Be sure to take placement tests to sign up for appropriate-level courses, and take advantage of APU’s free services such as tutoring, math support, and the Writing Center to stay on track.
  4. Don’t wait to change your major. Changing your major late in your academic career is a common cause for delaying graduation. For those unsure of which major to choose, APU offers an exploratory studies program, which helps students examine their options for majors while still moving forward in their academic journey.
  5. Don’t try to go it alone. A supportive community of staff and faculty at APU are ready to help you reach your goal and fulfill your calling as a difference maker in the world. If you have questions, don’t hesitate to ask for help. Visit the Undergraduate Academic Success Center to get connected to resources. “Here at APU, we have a lot of ways to partner with students to graduate on time,” says Stephanie Gala, director of academic advising. “They’re not on their own.”

Joy Netanya Thompson is an editor in the Office of University Relations.