High School Graduates That Go to College 


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Report Highlights:

  • In the data for October of 2020, among all recent high school graduates in the United States ages 16 to 24, the college enrollment rate for males was 59.3% and 66.2% for females.
  • Between January to October 2021, there were a total of 3.1 million high school students who graduated from college, and 2 million or 62.7% enrolled in college.
  • This high school graduate enrollment rate was down about 4% compared to the 66.2% rate in October of 2019.
  • By ethnicity, the college enrollment rate for Whites was 62.9%, Asians were 83.2%, Hispanics was 56.2%, Blacks was 56.6%.
  • The percentage of the U.S. high school graduates who are attending college looking for work or already employed was 33% in 2020.
  • This labor participation rate was 37.9% for females and 27.7% for males.

High School Graduates that go to college

High School Graduates That Have Enrolled in College

The high school graduates who immediately enroll in college after completing high school are also known as the immediate college enrollment rate. These numbers are critical to determining the percentages of students that decide to enter a post-secondary institution.

  • In the Fall of 2019, 2.3 million students between the ages of 18 to 24 have enrolled in college after completing high school.
  • For individuals who are over 24 years old, about 200,800 students have enrolled in college.
  • In 2017, there were 2.9 million students that completed high school.
  • Of that number, 67% or 1.9 million decided to enroll in a college that same fall.
  • In 2018, 42.8% of all individuals between the ages of 16 to 24 were not attending school.
  • In 2018, about 66.9% of males between the ages of 16 to 24 who have recently graduated from high school had enrolled in college.
  • 71.3% of females who are recent high school graduates also enrolled in college.
  • 44% of high school graduates enrolled in four-year colleges.
  • 23% of high school graduates enrolled in two-year colleges.
  • 60% of students who take the GED exam also plan on attending college.
  • 98% of post-secondary institutions also accepted GED credentials
  • Surprisingly, the immediate college enrollment rate has only increased by 6% from 2000 to 2018 (63 to 69%).
  • According to the Department of Education, the immediate enrollment rate rose from 63% to 70% from 2000 to 2016. This falls in line with many other data points as well.

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Perception of How Attending College Will Affect Their Earning Potential

Many people have changed their perception of the impact that attending college has. Americans are becoming more skeptical about whether college can help young adults in the workforce.

Bachelor’s Degree Associate’s Degree Professional Technical Certificate
Very Well 16% 12% 26%
Somewhat Well 51% 46% 52%
Not Too Well 21% 25% 15%
Not At All Well 8% 13% 5%


The demographics have a significant impact when it comes to the immediate college enrollment rates. Some factors include the location or income level within an area, gender, race, and socioeconomic status.

2019 Immediate College Enrollment Rates for Public Charter Schools

School Rate
High poverty schools 54%
Low poverty schools 76%
Higher income schools 55%
Low income schools 69%
High minority schools 58%
Low minority schools 69%
Urban schools 62%
Suburban schools 67%
Rural schools 62%

Immediate College Enrollment Rates Over the Years: 1960 to 2017

Year Rate
1960 45.1%
1970 51.7%
1980 49.3%
1990 60.1%
2000 63.3%
2005 68.6%
2010 68.1%
2015 69.2%
2016 69.8%
2017 66.7%

Statistics by Gender

Females seem to take the edge in high school students who have decided to enroll in college. However, more male students decided to enroll in two-year institutions compared to females.

  • 61% of male high school graduates decided to enroll in college
  • Of that number, 37% enrolled into four-year institutions, and about 24% of them enrolled into two-year institutions.
  • In contrast, about 72% of female high school graduates have enrolled in college.
  • Of that number, about 50% of females enrolled in four-year colleges, and 21% of them enrolled in two-year colleges.

Statistics by Socioeconomic Status

The socioeconomic status of a U.S. high school student plays a big role in their decision to go to college. The higher the income of the student’s family, the more likely they are to enroll in college.

  • In 2019, 55% of students from low-income high schools decided to enroll in college.
  • In contrast, 69% of students from high-income high schools decided to go to college. This is a 25% increase compared to students from low-income schools.
  • 79% of students returned to attend college in their sophomore year.
  • In contrast, about 89% of students from high-income schools returned as sophomores.
  • Students in the U.S. top quintile of socioeconomic status are about 50% more likely to attend college.
  • In comparison, only 28% of students from the lowest quintile of socioeconomic status will attend college.
  • 32% of the lowest quintile of socioeconomic status pursue a four-year program, while 42% pursue a two-year program.
  • 13% of the highest quintile of socioeconomic status pursue a two-year degree compared to 78% of them who seek a four-year degree.
  • Only 7% of low-income students enroll in highly selective colleges, while 37% of high-income students enroll in these colleges.

By the Numbers for Race

The race is an important aspect of the immediate college enrollment rate because it gives us insight into whether there are any huge discrepancies among races. If there are some, then you may draw conclusions or paint a picture as to why that is. Clearly, there is a significant difference in the growth of attending college for all races.

  • The immediate college enrollment rate for Asians was 87% in 2017 and 74% in 2000.
  • For white students, it’s 69% in 2017 and 65% in 2000.
  • For Hispanic students, the enrollment rate is 67% in 2017 and 49% in 2000.
  • In 2017, the enrollment rate for Blacks was 58%.

Where High School Graduates Are Enrolling To

High school graduates have the option to go to various types of post-second institutions. This includes four-year public institutions or even private institutions.

  • In the spring of 2018, about 184,264 have enrolled in four-year public schools.
  • 69,418 high school graduates enrolled into four-year private non-profit colleges.
  • 11,356 enrolled into four-year for-profit colleges.
  • 325,242 have enrolled into two-year public colleges.

Full-Time College Student Retention Rates After One Year

Besides the immediate enrollment rate of high school graduates attending college for the first time, it’s important to note the rates for returning students after their first year of college. These stats demonstrate the difference in retention rates between the type of post-secondary institutions.

This table represents the rates at which full-time college freshmen return to college after their first year of college, either part-time or full-time. The data is from the years 2011 and 2016.

2011 2016
All schools 78.5% 80.8%
Public 78.6% 81.1%
Private not-for-profit 80.2% 81.6%
Private for-profit 56.5% 55.7%
  • 79% of students from low-income high schools who attend college will stick it out after the first year.
  • 89% of students who are from high-income high schools make it to their second year.

In reference to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, many recent graduates who are enrolled in college are much less likely to be in the woHowever, there. The data breaks down the exact percentages by enrollment status.

  • Of the total recent high school graduates who decided to enroll in college, about 9 out of 10 were enrolled as full-time students.
  • Only 30.4% of those who enrolled in college full-time after graduating from high school were in the labor force.
  • For those who enrolled part-time, about 67.5% were in the labor force.
  • About two-thirds of the recent high school graduates that are enrolled in college are attending a four-year institution.

When comparing the high graduates to other countries, the rates of high school graduates are much lower compared to most other countries. These statistics are important when considering that enrollment may not be as high because high school graduation could be higher, especially when looking at other countries.

High School Graduation Rates

The high school graduation rate is a great indicator of the number of high school graduates who enroll in college. If high school graduation rates are lower, likely, college enrollment percentages are also lower.

  • In 2019, the graduation rate in the United States was 84.6%.
  • In 2018, 89.8% of adults who are 25 years and older and 93% of adults between ages 18 and 24 had completed either the GED, diploma, or equivalency to high school learning.
  • This is an increase of 1980. At this time, among adults between the ages of 18 to 24, about 84% have graduated from high school.

High School Graduation By Country Including U.S.

Country High School Graduation Rate Country High School Graduation Rate
Norway 100% Slovak Republic 83%
Germany 99% France 81%
Korea 96% Italy 81%
Ireland 92% Poland 79%
Japan 91% Sweden 78%
Denmark 90% New Zealand 75%
Finland 90% United States 75%
Switzerland 89% Luxembourg 69%
Czech Republic 87% Spain 66%
Hungary 86% Turkey 53%
Iceland 84% Mexico 38%


  1. https://www.bls.gov/news.release/hsgec.nr0.htm
  2. https://educationdata.org/high-school-graduates-who-go-to-college
  3. https://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/display.asp?id=51
  4. https://www.the74million.org/article/alarming-statistics-tell-the-story-behind-americas-college-completion-crisis-nearly-a-third-of-all-college-student-still-dont-have-a-degree-six-years-later/
  5. https://hechingerreport.org/more-high-school-grads-than-ever-are-going-to-college-but-1-in-5-will-quit/
  6. https://nscresearchcenter.org/high-school-benchmarks-2019/


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