4 Overlooked Factors Influencing Student Happiness at University

May 15, 2018 | Patrick Quinn

While the pursuit of happiness has always been a defining characteristic of humanity, extensive research shows how it provides real benefits to our lives.

“People who are happy make more money, are more likely to get married, have stronger immune systems, and more friends,” according to Sonya Lyubomirsky, psychology professor at the University of California-Riverside and author of The Myths of Happiness.

What defines our happiness has evolved over time, and continues to mean different things for different people. However, there are many things that universities can do to facilitate happiness among their students – and its becoming more and more important to make this a priority. Competition for students is continuously increasing, and with more university information than ever available online, it has become easier for students to assess schools based on their happiness quotient.

Happy students satisfaction

There is a statistically significant correlation between students who report being happy and academic success. Student satisfaction leads to improved retention rates, alumni giving, international rankings and much more – in short, it’s at the heart of every successful school.

What supports student happiness? A network of supportive relationships certainly nurtures happy environments, as does a sense of belonging and work that’s perceived to be meaningful. Studies have found that satisfaction with resources and the school environment are also associated with student happiness.

Here are four other factors influencing student happiness that are more often overlooked:

Happy Administration Creates a Positive Academic Environment

Schools that are seeking to improve their bottom lines by increasing marketing budgets at the expense of their core administration should think twice. Dissatisfaction among professors and administrative staff risks spreading across a campus, impacting classroom performance and student attitudes towards an institution.

Professors worldwide have seen their administrative responsibilities expanding while their wages and job security are stretched thin. This trend has implications for how effectively teachers can interact with students, especially in providing extra support outside of class.

The connections established between teacher and student have always been the foundation of education, with mentorship opportunities providing a valuable source of confidence and career readiness. Schools with prominent labour disputes or other unfair treatment of faculty and staff convey a sense of campus instability, which can affect student happiness and consequently the institution’s reputation.

Extracurricular Activities Support Student Satisfaction

Any university that advocates a holistic approach to student development must recognize the substantial amount of learning that takes place outside the classroom. Some schools emphasise the transformative impact of non-academic pursuits by referring to extracurricular activities as “co-curricular”.

Besides the benefits of acquiring new skills, friends and self-understanding, these experiences are proven to positively impact student satisfaction. “Such commitments do have a strong relationship to overall satisfaction with college life,” reports Richard J. Light, one researcher in a recent Harvard University study.


Clubs and societies, volunteer opportunities, part-time work and sports give students a necessary and productive break from their studies, providing perspective, time management skills, teamwork and healthy endorphins. Schools can support extracurricular involvement among their students by investing in their facilities and resources, and otherwise fostering a campus culture that values participation and engagement.

Leveraging Personalization Tools

Happy students generally feel they are surrounded by a supportive network of friends, family and colleagues. Can schools increase this happiness by leveraging emerging technologies?

Universities have been focusing on providing more personalized approaches to learning, customizing instruction according to individual learning preferences, interests and skill level. This concept can help students become more engaged in their studies, achieving greater satisfaction by being suitably challenged while working on more meaningful activities.

Big data used in learning analytics can also be leveraged to support the student experience through personalized and automated feedback. Data collected from several sources in student information systems can combine to build a model of each student, giving them targeted advice to help stay on track and connecting them with counsellors at the right times.

The University of Sydney began using feedback analytics to measure student satisfaction last year and quickly saw satisfaction with feedback grow from 3.35 to 3.85 in student satisfaction surveys. Other institutions throughout the world are increasingly experimenting with customized apps and various tools to enhance the student experience.

Improving Infrastructure to Enhance Student Happiness

Spatial environments have subtle but strong influences on our happiness. Universities are paying special attention to the aesthetic quality of campus infrastructure and the layout of buildings and open space to make students feel more comfortable. Besides making substantial investments to develop modern facilities, institutions are shaping physical spaces to improve collaborative work and make campuses more “sticky” – somewhere that students want to stick around.

Campus design is a primary focus at the Riverbend School, a new school being built near Chennai that’s main goal is creating happy students. The rural campus is inspired by a village’s layout to foster strong relationships, with a central common area surrounded by concentric rings of academic buildings, recreational spaces, housing and farm fields.

“We’re going to focus first and most on students’ character and personality. We want to cultivate happy kids, compassionate people, people that are going to go out into the world and do something good,” campus architect Danish Kurani told Fast Company.

The campus includes “chat labs” for collaboration, artistic studios, labs for digital creation or physical prototyping, a retail storefront for entrepreneurial practice, and plenty of space for meditation.

It is one more example of a school challenging the assumptions and limitations of the traditional learning environment. More and more, students are choosing universities that are perceived to provide greater happiness. Schools are realizing that to succeed in today’s competitive environment, they need to first understand their students and then continuously leverage these findings to make changes that effectively improve student happiness.

Patrick Quinn is a content writer of Great Place to Study, a global auditing and intelligence firm that classifies and recognises institutes on the basis of student engagement


gpts logo


B1-B2, Mohan Cooperative Estate, Mathura Road

New Delhi 110044, India

Ph: +91-11-41023100


19th Floor Marco Polo Ortigas Pasig City

Manila- 1600, Philippines

Ph: +61-02-883-5272

United Kingdom

111 Buckingham Palace Road, Victoria Westminster

London- SW1W 0SR, England

Ph: +44 203-026-6042