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High Achievers Go Far from Home

Robyn Tellefsen | July 25, 2013

shutterstock_85451611If you’re like most college-bound students, you’re probably wondering where in the world you’ll end up going to school. Perhaps you’re looking at colleges all over the country or even overseas, or maybe you’d rather stay closer to home.

Here’s an interesting fact to consider – how far you’re willing to go from home might be related to your level of academic achievement.

According to a new research report from ACT, the Iowa City-based testing company, the greater your academic achievement, the farther from home you’re likely to attend college. Not only that, but the higher your aspirations, the farther you’ll go from home, too.

The study examined ACT scores of more than a million students in the high school graduating class of 2012, revealing that as scores went up, so did students’ distance from home. For high-scoring students (ACT score of 28-36), the median distance from home to college was 113+ miles; for top-scoring students (ACT score of 33+), the median distance was 170 miles. Compare that to students who scored below 24 on the ACT – they chose colleges a median distance of less than 50 miles from home.

(By the way, ACT isn’t the only standardized test showing these kinds of results – a 2009 study published in the Journal of College Admission revealed a similar pattern for SAT scores.)

What’s the Deal?
So why are all the “smart” kids flying the coop? Clearly, it can’t be that all the best schools are far from home.

Steve Kappler, an assistant vice president for ACT, says that the findings are “less about miles traveled and more about opportunity.” He adds, “The higher your score, the more opportunities you have.”

Students whose parents are college-educated also have an edge, since their parents have firsthand experience with the college process. The ACT study reveals that the higher the parents’ level of education, the farther away students went to attend college. Among first-generation college students, the median distance to college was just 24 miles.

“Better educated parents tend to have greater financial resources, but they may also have more knowledge of college application facts and resources to share with their children than do less educated parents who have not been through that experience themselves,” says Jon Erickson, ACT president of education.

The implication is that lower-achieving as well as first-generation college students are less aware of the opportunities available to them, and are therefore more likely to choose a college close to home. Of course, colleges close to home are not necessarily a poor choice. The point is that there are choices, and all students – regardless of achievement, background, or socioeconomic status – should understand what they are.

Fortunately, these studies don’t have to have the final word. Even if your parents didn’t go to college, and your grades to this point have been less than stellar, you still have options. Maybe the best school really is your local community college, but maybe it isn’t. Take time to research your options, and ask for help. It could be that your college match is miles and miles away from home.

Robyn Tellefsen

Robyn Tellefsen is an NYC-based freelance writer and editor who specializes in career education. In addition to writing for The CollegeBound Network and Employment Network's suite of sites, she provides proofreading and copyediting services for various publishing companies. She has a bachelor's degree in communications from Wheaton College (IL).

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