Key Questions

1. How could academic strategies, such as increasing GPA or ACT scores, impact students’ prospects of completing college?

2. How could college choice strategies in high school affect students’ prospects of completing college?

3. How could academic and college choice strategies impact college completion rates across the district?


Despite the concerted focus on preparing students to graduate high school ready for college and careers, the gap between college aspirations and degree attainment persists for students at all achievement levels. To better address this gap, educators need reliable information on the most effective strategies for improving student outcomes. This study uses a series of statistical simulations to test which one of three common strategies—improving ACT scores, improving GPA, or improving college choice strategies—would have the greatest effect on students' likelihood of graduating from college. 

Key Findings:

  • Increasing high school GPA has the greatest effect on students' likelihood of college completion.
  • College choice also has significant effects on students' college outcomes.

The simulations presented in this working paper demonstrate the importance of focusing on improving students' academic qualifications and college choice as strategies to increasing college completion rates.  For high schools, this work underscores the importance of focusing on improving students' course performance, which leads to improvements in GPA. Better grades, coupled with counseling on college choices, can best help translate students' high school preparation into the highest chance of earning a college degree.

This is a working paper. Working papers are preliminary versions that are shared in a timely manner, with the aim of contributing to ongoing conversations in research and practice. They have not undergone the UChicago Consortium’s full internal review process, nor have they received external peer review. Views expressed in this paper do not necessarily reflect those of the UChicago Consortium or the University of Chicago. Any errors are the authors’ own.