04.11.10

The 100 Happiest Colleges

As decision time looms for high school seniors, The Daily Beast ranks America’s colleges using the criterion—besides academics—that students most value: quality of life. VIEW OUR GALLERY.

Last week, The Daily Beast caused a minor ruckus on various campuses, and in the living rooms of prospective students, by ranking the most stressed-out universities in America. As millions of high school seniors parse acceptance (and rejection) letters this spring, we thought we’d also look at the half-full side of the glass: the happiest colleges.

Click Here to View the 100 Happiest Colleges in America

As much as academic performance or athletic offerings, a successful college experience boils down to quality of life. Choosing a college can mean choosing between lush dorms or bunker-style lodgings; vibrant nightlife or stupefying boredom; food reminiscent of restaurant or a mess hall.

To arrive at our initial pool of schools to rank, we considered the top 50 public universities, the top 50 liberal arts colleges and the top 50 national universities according to U.S. News and World Report’s Best College rankings, as well as the 50 largest universities by enrollment according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Community colleges and online universities were eliminated due to a lack of comprehensive data. In total, 149 colleges and universities made the initial cut.

For the final ranking, we considered both objective and subjective criteria to attempt to create a well-rounded snapshot of each school’s “happiness.” Student opinion was gathered from College Prowler, an online college guide created by college students that grades hundreds of colleges in everything from availability of computers to attractiveness of students. University statistics were pulled from U.S. News and World Report’s data. And we could hardly leave out the weather—specifically, sunny days, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. We equally weighted a total of seven criteria:

Campus housing grade: how students rank their school’s dormitories (College Prowler)

Nightlife grade: how students rank the party options for their campus and town (College Prowler)

Average graduate indebtedness: how much students owe, on average, after graduating (U.S. News & World Report)

Average freshman retention rate: the percentage of students who actually stay in school after their first year (U.S. News & World Report)

Campus dining grade: how students rank their school’s food (source: College Prowler)

Number of student clubs and organizations: ranked as a ratio relative to each school’s number of enrolled students in 2008 (U.S. News & World Report)

Daylight hours that are sunny: a percentage calculated on an annual basis by dividing the number of sunny daylight hours over the number of total daylight hours (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration)

The result is a list that covers a broad swath of options. Several of the schools that rated high on the list of stressed-out colleges (notably, Stanford) scored highly here, too, suggesting that academic pressure doesn't automatically translate to a bad college experience. In fact, as seen from these rankings, dozens of colleges turn out more than graduates: They produce satisfied customers.

How did your favorite fare? Click here.

Correction: The photo that initially depicted Amherst College was of University of Massachusetts Amherst. It has been updated.

Clark Merrefield and Lauren Streib reported these rankings.