Attending a Better University Doesn’t Make You Happier, Here’s What Does…

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Only 14% of graduates strongly agreed that the professors cared about them.

A new survey of 29,560 college graduates has found that the college they attended didn’t affect how happy they were after graduation, or their subsequent engagement with work (Gallup, 2014).

No matter whether they went to a top-ranked or bottom-ranked institution, the secret of happiness and satisfaction with work and life lay elsewhere.

Considering the huge variation in price between the most and least prestigious institutions, this is a surprising finding.

Instead it was the types of experiences they had in college and support they received there which most predicted being engaged at work and thriving in later life.

For example, college graduates were more likely to be engaged at work if they’d…

  • had a mentor to encourage them.
  • had a professor who genuinely cared about them as a person.
  • had at least one professor who made them excited about learning.
  • been to a college which was passionate about the long-term success of its students.

The same factors above also predicted when graduates were more likely to thrive in life in general.

Other factors which also helped them thrive were that they’d…

  • had an internship which allowed them to apply what they’d learnt in the classroom.
  • been active in extra-curricular activities.
  • worked on a project which took a semester or more to complete.

Here are the amounts by which each factor affected subsequent engagement at work:

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And here are the amounts by which each factor affected thriving in all areas of well-being:

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The absolute numbers of graduates who experienced these factors in college was disappointing.

Only 14% strongly agreed that the professors cared about them, just 6% strongly agreed they were involved in extra-curricular activities or had an internship opportunity which was relevant to their studies.

Across all the college graduates, 39% said they were engaged at work.

The study concluded by saying that for students trying to decide which college to attend and for employers trying to choose between applicants:

“…the answers may lie in what students are doing in college and how they are experiencing it. Those elements — more than many others measured — have a profound relationship to a graduate’s life and career. Yet too few are experiencing them.”

Image credit: Will Folsom



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About the author


Dr Jeremy Dean is a psychologist and the author of PsyBlog. His latest book is "Making Habits, Breaking Habits: How to Make Changes That Stick". You can follow PsyBlog by email, by RSS feed, on Twitter and Google+.

Published: 8 May 2014

Text: © All rights reserved.

Images: Creative Commons License