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

February 19 2019
Student satisfaction, university, united states, study abroad, international

When looking at prospective universities, one of the most useful things that you could do to get an insight into the place would be to ask current students what they think of their institution. What do they think of the class sizes? Or 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 2019, we surveyed more than 200,000 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 the most and least satisfied with. The categories could broadly be grouped together into “classroom factors” (class size, classroom teaching facilities, academic support, course content), “human factors” (personal support, diversity) and financial aid.

For each institution, when a student ticked a category they were satisfied with, the university scored one point, while a category ticked as “could be improved” scored −1. We added together all those points to come up with a “satisfaction score” in a −10 to +10 range for each institution and category.

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

Category Average satisfaction  score
Academic support 4.9
Campus facilities 2.4
Class size 7.0
Classroom and teaching facilities 4.9
Course content 4.3
Diversity 1.9
Extracurricular activities 3.5
Financial aid −1.6
Online resources 1.1
Personal support 2.3
Research opportunities 1.3

Across the board, the “classroom factors” received relatively high satisfaction scores, but there was widespread dissatisfaction with financial aid.

In fact, financial aid was the only category that received a negative average score – with more students stating that it was the aspect of their university that they thought could be improved. In fact, most universities gained a negative score in this category, although there were some notable exceptions.

Berea College in Kentucky scored 7.3, the highest among the universities. This might be explained by the fact that its students are not required to pay tuition fees. Instead, they are given a Tuition Promise Scholarship worth about $100,000 over four years.

Princeton University was the only Ivy League institution with a significantly high score, 3.1. Princeton was the first university in the country to eliminate loans from its financial aid package, and it is part of a handful of universities that do not limit aid for international students. Other universities that scored highly in this category were the University of Evansville (2.2), Washington and Lee University (4.3) and Denison University (5.9).

Best historically black colleges and universities in the United States
Best private universities in the United States
Best liberal arts colleges in the United States
Best public universities in the United States

On the flip side, students across the US were the most satisfied with their class sizes. With an average score of 7, very few universities received a minus score in this category.

Interestingly, of the 10 campuses of the University of California System, seven scored below 1 in satisfaction scores for class size. These were the University of California, Davis (−2.5), the University of California, Riverside (0.5), the University of California, San Diego (−2.4), the University of California, Berkeley (−4.5), the University of California, Irvine (−1), the University of California, Los Angeles (−3.4) and the University of California, Santa Barbara (−2.8).

These were not the only universities to score lower – Rutgers University (−1.5), San Diego State University (−1.8) and the University of Washington Seattle-Campus (−2.4) also left students disappointed in their class sizes.

Diversity was another interesting factor as some universities scored very highly for diversity while others did not, as illustrated in the box plot below. 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 Illinois at Chicago (8.4), Wayne State University (8.3), Winthrop University (8.1), the University of Central Florida (7.3), the University of Nevada (7.3) and CUNY John Jay College of Criminal Justice (7.5) scored particularly well for diversity.

Interestingly, a few of the universities with lower scores such as Endicott College (−5.8), Boston College (−7.7) and Emerson College (−8.2) were located in Massachusetts. However, other universities in Massachusetts such as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (5.6), Babson College (6.1) and MCPHS University (6.3) scored fairly well in this category.

Box plot showing the median scores in each category

 Student satisfaction, university, united states, study abroad, international

Read more: Most-recommended universities in the United States


Have your say

Log in or register to post comments

Study Business & Management

Study Computer Science

Study Mechanical & Aerospace Engineering

Study Electrical & Electronic Engineering

Study Accounting & Finance

Study Biological Sciences