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25 private colleges with the happiest freshmen

(MoneyWatch) When teenagers shop for a college, here is a question that they should be asking at every campus they visit: How happy are the freshmen?

Of course, no school will admit that their students are dissatisfied with the academics, campus life or financial aid. But there is a way to take the pulse of a freshman class: Determine what percentage of students return for their sophomore year.

Following is a list of the 25 private colleges and universities in the U.S. with the highest freshmen retention rates, as ranked by the U.S. Department of Education (see here for the same ranking for public universities):

1. Princeton University 99.2%
2. Harvey Mudd College 99%
3. Yale University 99%
4. University of Pennsylvania 98.3%
5. University of Chicago 98.1%
6. Harvard University 98.1%
7. College of the Holy Cross 98.1%
8. Stanford University 98.1%
9. Carleton College 98.15
10. University of Notre Dame 98%
11. Wesleyan University 97.9%
12. California Institute of Technology 97.5%
13. Brown University 97.5%
14. Massachusetts Institute of Technology 97.3%
15. Columbia University 97.2%
16. Duke University 97.2%
17. Pomona College 97.2%
18. Williams College 97.1%
19. Tufts University 97%
20. University of Southern California 97%
21. Vanderbilt University 96.6%
22. Washington University St. Louis 96.5%
23. Dartmouth College 96.5%
24. Johns Hopkins University 96.4%
25. Georgetown University 96.4%

It should be no surprise that the schools on this list are elite institutions with that typically attract more affluent students. Since many of these institutions are on the East Coast, schools in that part of the country dominate the list. In fact, all but six of the listed schools are located on either the East or West coasts.

According to ACT Inc., the standardized test maker, the average freshmen retention rate for private, four-year colleges and universities is 67 percent.

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