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What are students in the United States most satisfied with at their university?

Students in the United States told us what aspects of university life they were happiest with and which disappointed them

Seeta Bhardwa's avatar

Seeta Bhardwa

Editor, THE Student
March 11 2020
Student satisfaction, university, united states, study abroad, international


When looking at prospective universities, one of the most useful things you could do to get insight into the place would be to ask current students what they think of their institution. What do they think of the class sizes? What are their views on the course content? And just how satisfied are they with financial provision?

These are all crucial things to know when considering prospective institutions. Now, for the US anyway, we can provide you with some of the opinions of current students on those key questions.

As part of the Times Higher Education/Wall Street Journal US College Ranking 2020, we surveyed more than 170,000 students across America to discover their views on various aspects of their university. One of these questions was to name which aspects of university life they were most and least satisfied with. The categories could broadly be grouped together into “classroom factors” (class size, classroom teaching facilities, academic support, course content, exchange programmes), “human factors” (personal support, diversity, living cost), "career opportunities" (career support, extracurricular activities, internship opportunities, research opportunities) and financial aid.

For each institution, when a student ticked a category they were satisfied with, the university scored a point, while a category ticked as “could be improved” received a negative point. We combined all those points to come up with a “satisfaction score” in a −1 to +1 range for each institution and category.

Although this question was not used to determine the final ranking of an institution, it provides valuable insight for prospective students to know how US universities are doing in the eyes of their current students. The table below shows the average score in each category.

Category Average satisfaction  score
Academic support 0.49
Campus facilities 0.30
Career support 0.11
Class size 0.69
Classroom and teaching facilities 0.47
Course content 0.42
Diversity 0.17
Exchange programmes 0.05
Extracurricular activities 0.35
Financial aid -0.13
Internship opportunities 0.12
Living cost -0.28
Online resources 0.14
Personal support 0.22
Research opportunities 0.16

Across the board, the "classroom factors" category received relatively high satisfaction scores, but there was widespread dissatisfaction with living cost.

In fact, living cost received the lowest average score and was one of only two categories that received a negative average score. In fact, most universities gained a negative score in this category, although there were some exceptions. 

The United States Naval Academy had the highest score with 0.75. The high score for living cost could be down to the fact that the US Navy pays all the students’ tuition, room, and board, medical and dental care costs. Students are also able to enjoy many benefits including access to military commissaries and exchanges, commercial transportation and lodging discounts and the ability to fly (space-available) in military aircraft around the world. A monthly stipend is also paid from which laundry, barber, cobbler, activity fees, yearbook and other service charges are deducted. 

Other institutions that scored well in this category were Brigham Young University (0.39), Eastern Illinois University (0.28) and Berea College (0.1). 

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Financial aid was the only other category to receive a negative average score. Again, the United States Naval Academy scored highest in this category. 

Yale University is the highest scoring Ivy League university for financial aid, receiving an average score of 0.25. Yale has one of the most generous financial aid policies in the country and almost half of students receive some kind of financial aid package. 

On the flip side, students across the US were most satisfied with their class sizes. With an average score of 0.69, very few universities received a minus score in this category.

Interestingly, of the 10 campuses of the University of California System, seven scored 0 or below 1 in satisfaction scores for class size. These were the University of California, Davis (−0.1), the University of California, Riverside (0), the University of California, San Diego (−0.06), the University of California, Berkeley (−0.36), the University of California, Irvine (0), the University of California, Los Angeles (−0.07) and the University of California, Santa Barbara (0).

Diversity was an interesting factor. It does not seem that a particular state or location was better at diversity than others given that the universities that scored particularly highly were spread across the country. In particular, the University of Alabama at Birmingham (0.82), Georgia State University (0.81), California State University, Fresno (0.79) and the University of Central Florida (0.79) scored particularly well for diversity.

Institutions that did not score well for diversity included Whitman College (-0.81), Bucknell College (-0.72) and Elon University (-0.71).  

Read more: Most-recommended universities in the United States


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