5_smartest_choice_1Each year, colleges and universities from around the country are recognized as being “the best”. Based on statistics like retention rates, graduation rates, selectivity, and other metrics, those colleges which are deemed top in the nation represent the dream of many students.

But it’s no secret that these schools are also an elite club. At many schools, as little as 2 or 3% of “regular” applicants are actually accepted each year.

Even for the brightest students in our nation, it can be nearly impossible to enroll in an Ivy League school. So what about all of the other students?

In our newest ranking, we looked for the elite colleges and universities across the country. But, instead of highlighting uber-selective universities, we wanted to showcase the colleges around the country that are serving students best and also accessible to a wider range of students.

Our Smart Choices 2016 award is for colleges that meet the following criteria:

  • 50% or greater acceptance rate
  • 70% or greater freshman retention rate
  • 70% or greater 4-year graduation rate

These schools are not meant to represent consolation prizes, nor are they entirely non-selective. But, they represent 43 of the nation’s top schools in the measures that matter most, and with an acceptance rate that’s favorable to more students.

Here are those colleges:

RankingCollegeCity, StateUndergradsAcceptance Rate4-Year Grad RateFirst-Year Retention Rate
1Wheaton CollegeWheaton, IL2,43269%76%93%
2Grove City CollegeGrove City, PA2,50988%78%92%
3St Olaf CollegeNorthfield, MN3,03451%83%93%
4Centre CollegeDanville, KY1,38772%87%90%
5Illinois Wesleyan UniversityBloomington, IL1,89360%78%92%
6St Mary's College of MarylandSt. Mary's City, MD1,68879%72%85%
7Elon UniversityElon, NC5,78254%77%91%
8Rhodes CollegeMemphis, TN2,03160%80%88%
9DePauw UniversityGreencastle, IN2,21557%74%93%
10Providence CollegeProvidence, RI4,02263%84%92%
11Mount Holyoke CollegeSouth Hadley, MA2,18955%79%91%
12Westmont CollegeSanta Barbara, CA1,30079%76%91%
13Denison UniversityGranville, OH2,27856%84%89%
14Muhlenberg CollegeAllentown, PA2,44053%82%91%
15Wofford CollegeSpartanburg, SC1,65877%79%89%
16University of ScrantonScranton, PA3,99877%76%89%
17Furman UniversityGreenville, SC2,81069%79%89%
18Fairfield UniversityFairfield, CT3,98272%78%89%
19Bryant UniversitySmithfield, RI3,32075%77%87%
20Saint Michael's CollegeColchester, VT2,12380%77%90%
21Mount Carmel College of NursingColumbus, OH92774%71%88%
22Gustavus Adolphus CollegeSaint Peter, MN2,45761%81%91%
23College of Saint BenedictSaint Joseph, MN2,02082%74%88%
24Stonehill CollegeEaston, MA2,28477%79%90%
25Austin CollegeSherman, TX1,27854%74%86%
26Loyola University MarylandBaltimore, MD4,08460%79%87%
27Saint Joseph's UniversityPhiladelphia, PA5,51285%74%90%
28Clark UniversityWorcester, MA2,30154%75%88%
29Saint Mary's CollegeNotre Dame, IN1,51983%74%89%
30Ursinus CollegeCollegeville, PA1,68183%71%92%
31Sewanee-The University of the SouthSewanee, TN1,63165%74%88%
32Franciscan University of SteubenvilleSteubenville, OH2,13578%71%87%
33Quinnipiac UniversityHamden, CT6,55366%71%85%
34Messiah CollegeMechanicsburg, PA2,78980%72%88%
35Wheaton CollegeNorton, MA1,58770%77%83%
36Saint Anselm CollegeManchester, NH1,96876%72%90%
37Knox CollegeGalesburg, IL1,39968%71%88%
38Xavier UniversityCincinnati, OH4,62173%71%85%
39Juniata CollegeHuntingdon, PA1,61574%71%88%
40Augustana CollegeRock Island, IL2,49754%73%83%
41Westminster CollegeNew Wilmington, PA1,15994%72%82%
42Assumption CollegeWorcester, MA2,22581%72%83%
43Moravian CollegeBethlehem, PA1,61286%71%79%

Smart Choices 2016 Methodology Notes

We developed a methodology that allowed us to identify the schools that for many students represent the smartest choices for them to apply. In other words, at each of these colleges, the student is likely to be accepted, remain enrolled, and to ultimately graduate within 4 years–a pragmatic approach to college choices.

After filtering for all colleges that met our acceptance, retention and graduation rate criteria (listed above the table), we ordered all colleges in a single list.

From there, each of the schools was sorted by its national overall ranking, which is determined based on a variety of factors. You can read about that full methodology in our 2016 Best Colleges section.

Exclusion notes: Colleges with less than 500 undergraduates were also removed, as it helped us to focus on well-rounded colleges and universities suited for the majority of prospective students and filter out highly-specialized institutions. Other institutions were also manually excluded based on strict religious affiliation or major specialization.


Author: Tyler Hakes

Tyler Hakes
Tyler Hakes is the Director of Marketing at College Raptor. He writes about topics related to the college search, admissions and financial aid. He's always looking to tell great stories about students discovering their perfect school.

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