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Articles / Campus Life / Happy (College Students) New Year!

Jan. 7, 2014

Happy (College Students) New Year!

If you're a college student, are you happy at your college? If you're a high school senior, do you think you'll be happy at one of the colleges you applied to (or was accepted to as a result of your Early Action or Early Decision applications)? Also, if you're a high school junior thinking about your college application process, which is less than a year from now, how will you be able to tell if the colleges you'll be applying to have a generally happy student body?

These may seem like frivolous questions, but when you think about the stresses of college life, your happiness (or, perhaps more appropriately, your satisfaction) with life on your chosen campus can make a huge difference in your academic, extracurricular, and social experience. So, how can you, hopefully as a good consumer-minded young person, go about evaluating the happiness index at all the various schools who will be vying for your application and tuition dollars, not to mention those you long to attend?

Well, don't expect to find a hardcore scientific evaluation tool out there. I have always advised young people to “trod the sod" of the colleges they're considering. By that, I mean actually go to those campuses, walk around, and experience as many aspects of those schools as possible. More importantly, though, I urge potential applicants to engage students who are attending a particular college and ask them what they think about their school. The obvious question would likely be, “Are you happy here?" “Happiness" covers a lot of ground across a number of categories, such as academics, professors, facilities, the social scene, and–of course–food quality.

Anyway, back to finding about happy college students. Let's take a look at what has to be a generally subjective survey of the happiness factor of students at 20 U.S. colleges, courtesy of The Daily Beast. Maybe you're currently a student at one of these havens of happiness, or perhaps you're waiting for an admissions decision from one of these schools. If you're a high school junior, then maybe you'll find some inspiration to explore one of these institutions a bit further. Keep in mind, though, that happiness is generally what you make of it. You can find happiness in the oddest places, so don't use this list as a black-and-white litmus test that eliminates other schools from your consideration. That's just common sense, in my view. Let's take a look at a few of the Top 10 of these 20 cheery campuses.

According to the Beast's survey, apparently the happiest students are found at Texas A&M University. That may be due, in some degree, to the presence of “Johnny Football," the team's Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback who, as I see from recent media reports, may be leaving A&M for the NFL, now that he's completed the requisite two years of NCAA competition. According to the Beast's criteria, however, some of the main reasons students are so happy include:

Full-time Freshman Retention Rate: 92%. This means that over nine out of 10 resident full-time first-year students return for their sophomore year. That's a pretty good indicator that they had a positive experience that first year away from home.

Best Student Health Center (score out of 10): 9.3. Where do you go when you're sick or need some kind of medical help? Apparently A&M students get the answers and pills (and other things) they need to stay well (or get well) and safe at A&M's effective health center.

Best Overall Student Experience (score out of 10): 10.0. This speaks for itself. Overall, a 10 out of 10 score can't be beat.

Would Do It All Over Again (score out of 10): 9.8. When I see slightly less than perfect scores like this, I'm always curious about why the remaining 0.2 faction wouldn't do it all over again. Maybe they had a bad professor or something at the dining hall made them sick.

The Beast's Number 2 happiest-students school is Stanford University. Stanford is one of the most highly coveted goals for high-reaching high schoolers, easily ranking up there with the Ivy League and, especially the so-called Big Three Ivies: Princeton, Yale, and Harvard. One of the common threads I've noticed among the Beast's group here is warmer weather. Take a look at the entire list and check out how many of these “happy" schools reside in warmer climes. It's not hard to see how happiness is linked to better weather. Not every school on the list enjoys warm weather most of the school year, but sunshine does have a positive effect on one's outlook day to day. Stanford's happiness numbers (right on the heels of A&M) come in as such:

– Full-time Freshman Retention Rate: 92%

– Best Student Health Center (score out of 10): 9.0

– Best Overall Student Experience (score out of 10): 9.8

– Would Do It All Over Again (score out of 10): 9.9

Florida State University is the Beast's #4 school this year. The simple fact that the Seminoles just won the NCAA National Football Championship may well propel them up the rankings for next year. I can imagine that there is a lot of increased happiness on campus after that stellar win. In fact, schools that have Division I national championship teams often are among the those with the largest increases in applications the year following their title victories. Florida State scores high in all their respective categories:

Full-time Freshman Retention Rate: 92%

Best Student Health Center (score out of 10): 9.0

Best Overall Student Experience (score out of 10): 9.8

Would Do It All Over Again (score out of 10): 9.9

Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah comes in at #7. Here are the numbers:

– Full-time Freshman Retention Rate: 87%

– Best Student Health Center (score out of 10): 9.1

– Best Overall Student Experience (score out of 10): 9.7

– Would Do It All Over Again (score out of 10): 9.9

Obviously, the climate in Provo can't challenge Florida or California for suntan days, but there's a lot going for it. BYU also has a highly competitive sports program, especially in football. That seems to be yet another common thread among these happy schools. The student bodies need a rallying point and sports provide that. I wonder about schools whose sports teams are perpetual losers. This brings to mind the possibility of another survey: America's Unhappiest College Students. That's a topic for another day, but you'll no doubt find a lot of “inverse" factors with those schools, especially with sports and weather.

Rounding out my selective look at the Top 10 happiest campuses is Kansas State University at #10. Once again sports dominate a big part of the school's profile and identity on the national collegiate map. Here are the Beastly numbers:

– Full-time Freshman Retention Rate: 82%

– Best Student Health Center (score out of 10): 9.2

– Best Overall Student Experience (score out of 10): 9.8

– Would Do It All Over Again (score out of 10): 9.9

One key indicator, retention rate, seems to be a good rule of thumb for student satisfaction and happiness. (Are satisfaction and happiness pretty much the same thing?) Naturally, if you're happy (and satisfied) with your first-year experience, you're most likely going to return for your second full-time year, all (mostly money-related) things being equal. So, when you juniors out there begin to assess college candidates for your application process, be sure to pay attention to the retention rate of the schools you're considering.

I hope this sampling of the Beast's happy list will inspire you to be a bit more discriminating in your college selection process. Even though this survey's methodology likely won't stand up to strict scientific scrutiny, it's good enough to give you a snapshot of who's really happy at college. There has to be a good reason these schools are always at the top of surveys like this. If any of them happen to meet your selection criteria, then perhaps they merit further investigation and hopefully a campus visit. Remember: the college experience you enjoy will probably be your own. 🙂


Don't forget to check out all my admissions-related articles and book reviews at College Confidential.

Written by

Dave Berry

Dave Berry

Dave is co-founder of College Confidential and College Karma Consulting, co-author of America's Elite Colleges: The Smart Buyer's Guide to the Ivy League and Other Top Schools, and has over 30 years of experience helping high schoolers gain admission to Ivy League and other ultra-selective schools. He is an expert in the areas application strategies, stats evaluation, college matching, student profile marketing, essays, personality and temperament assessments and web-based admissions counseling. Dave is a graduate of The Pennsylvania State University and has won national awards for his writing on higher education issues, marketing campaigns and communications programs. He brings this expertise to the discipline of college admissions and his role as a student advocate. His College Quest newspaper page won the Newspaper Association of America's Program Excellence Award, the Pennsylvania Newspaper Publisher's Association Newspapers in Education Award, the Thomson Newspapers President's Award for Marketing Excellence and the Inland Press Association-University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Mass Communications Inland Innovation Award for the Best New Page. His pioneering journalism program for teenagers, PRO-TEENS, also received national media attention. In addition, Dave won the Newspaper Association of America's Program Excellence Award for Celebrate Diversity!, a program teaching junior high school students about issues of tolerance. His College Knowledge question-and-answer columns have been published in newspapers throughout the United States. Dave loves Corvettes, classical music, computers, and miniature dachshunds. He and his wife Sharon have a daughter, son and four grandchildren.

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