Jennings College Consulting

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Thoughts, Ideas, and News on Admissions & Financial Aid

March Madness, College Counselor Style, Part I

I’m not a big sports fan. But there are times when the enormity of an event makes following it pretty much a necessity in polite company. So this year, when everyone I know is talking about NCAA March Madness brackets, I decided I would create my own version and turn it into professional development.


We’re down to the “Sweet Sixteen.” With bracket in hand, I opened up College Navigator in one tab, and Niche in another tab. Putting athletic prowess aside completely, I looked at the statistics that matter to ME as a college consultant.

Starting with the South bracket, first up is University of Miami versus Villanova. Two private schools located in large suburban areas, one in Coral Gables, one outside Philly.

Average Net Price: Villanova is slightly less expensive on average, but overall less expensive for those with high need and more expensive for those with low need.

Retention and Graduation Rates: Villanova with the edge on retention (94% vs. 93%), but with a much stronger performance in the 4 year graduation rate (85% over U of Miami’s 68%).

Pell Grant Recipients: University of Miami is a clear winner here with 17% over Villanova’s 13%.

Niche’s Rankings focus more on student life issues.

University of Miami posts strong rankings (A+) on Academics, Athletics, Diversity, Party Scene and Weather (duh!); and poor rankings (C- or D+) on Drug Safety and Parking.

Villanova posts nothing at the A+ level, but As in Academics, Athletics and Transportation, and C-s in Administration and Drug Safety.Overall, University of Miami beats out Villanova in 11 of 19 of Niche’s categories.

It’s not a slam-dunk (see how I used a great basketball metaphor here?), but University of Miami seems to emerge the winner.



The second match up in the South bracket is University of Kansas and University of Maryland. Two large, state-supported institutions.

Average Net Price: While Maryland’s sticker price is higher, using either in-state or out-of-state number, the average net price for Maryland is lower, and for high-need students is a LOT lower.

Retention and Graduation Rates: Maryland has the edge here too. Their retention rate is 96% versus 80% for Kansas, and their 4-year graduation rate is 67% against Kansas’ 37%.

Pell Grant Recipients: Kansas has this one with 23% compared with Maryland’s 14%.

On Niche’s student life rankings, University of Maryland’s strengths (A+s) are Athletics and Attractive Guys and Girls (I wonder who determines this?). Low scores (C-s and D+s) are in Drug Safety and Parking.

For Kansas, Strengths are in Athletics, Attractive Guys and Girls, Off Campus Dining and Party Scene, and its only problem area is Drug Safety. I will not speculate on the possible connection between high ratings on Party Scene and low ratings on Drug Safety.

Without counting ties, Maryland wins 5 categories and Kansas wins 8 categories.

Who has the edge? If you care about price and retention, go with Maryland. If you’re a “live for today” person and care about student life, go with Kansas. Me? I’d go with Maryland.


Bottom line: I’m taking University of Miami and University of Maryland to move into the next round. How about you?

I'll have my picks for the other regions in subsequent posts!