What Are High-Impact Practices? The Keys to A Successful College Experience

Tyson Schritter / Colleges of Distinction »

These days, the best colleges recognize that the undergraduate student experience is about more than choosing a major and taking classes.

Academic achievement and student engagement are improved when colleges encourage students to collaborate with others and build a learning community of friends, faculty, academic advisors, and staff that helps them get the most out of their college education. An increasing number of universities and colleges provide hands-on experiences to undergraduates—seminars, engaging programs, research-based strategies, and community structures that go beyond the curriculum or expand upon academic majors.

These experiences are known collectively as High-Impact Practices (HIPs), and they’re linked with more successful outcomes for the students who engage with them.

The work of organizations such as the Association of American Colleges & Universities, the Educational Testing Service, and the Council for the Advancement of Standards in Higher Education demonstrates that incorporating one or more of these practices into an undergraduate program can significantly help first-year student retention and promote academic success.

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The National Survey for Student Engagement, an organization out of Indiana University that does research into HIPs with a grant for The Pew Charitable Trusts, suggests that students “participate in at least two high impact activities during their undergraduate program, one in the first year, and one later related to their major field.”

NSSE also notes that High-Impact Practices “can be life-changing.”

Colleges of Distinction agrees, and recognizes those institutions that successfully incorporate one or more High-Impact Practices into their undergraduate curricula. 

Characteristics of a High-Impact Practice

For those being introduced to the concept of a High-Impact Practice for the first time, it helps to take a step back and look at the characteristics of a High-Impact Practice.

A High-Impact Practice is a method of teaching that…

  • Positively affects a student’s educational outcome
  • Has been widely tested across many different educational institutions
  • Can take different forms depending on the school and type of learner
  • Is based upon educational research
  • Increases student retention
  • Improves student engagement
  • Works for students from a variety of different socioeconomic and educational backgrounds
  • Provides lifelong student learning strategies

10 High-Impact Practices Available at Colleges of Distinction

We’ve spent decades distinguishing successful colleges and universities and connecting them to students through our website and our yearly guide to colleges. Our list of 10 High-Impact Practices is based on extensive research into student development and higher education.

Not every college, or even every major, will offer all of these opportunities. The nature of the course of study and the resources available to the institution all play a role. That’s why it’s important to familiarize yourself with these practices and incorporate them into your college search.

Does that biology degree offer study abroad? Does this business program incorporate an internship? Does that nursing school emphasize learning outside of the classroom? Can you work with faculty on research throughout your college career? Does this first-year experience introduce you to your academic advisors or student success team?

Click on one of the High-Impact Practices listed below to learn more about it and the programs that implement each practice with success.

  1. Capstone Courses and Projects
  2. Internships
  3. Community-Based Learning
  4. Diversity and Global Learning
  5. Undergraduate Research
  6. Collaborative Assignments and Projects
  7. Writing-Intensive Courses
  8. Learning Communities
  9. Common Intellectual Experiences
  10. First-Year Seminars
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