Brown but not blue: Survey says students at Tufts are happy

Welcome to a day in the life of a Jumbo: go to class, attend a couple of club meetings, and of course, if it’s a Tuesday, Thursday, Friday or Saturday, perhaps go out and party.

The routine is common and familiar, but how happy are students with life at Tufts? According to a 2006 survey by The Princeton Review, Jumbos are some of the happiest students in the nation, placing seventh on a list of 20 schools, behind universities including Brown, Princeton and Stanford.

“Happiest Students” is one of over 60 rankings released in “Best 361 Colleges,” a best-selling and annually updated book by The Princeton Review. Examples of other lists in the book include “Their Students Never Stop Studying,” “Party Schools” and “Birkenstock-Wearing, Tree-Hugging, Clove-Smoking Vegetarians.”

Each ranking is based on The Princeton Review’s 80-question survey, which is completed by an average of 300 students at each of what the company deems the “best” 361 colleges in America. Only the 20 schools with the highest ratings for each category are published in the book.

According to publicist of Princeton Review Books Jeanne Krier, the role of The Princeton Review in the rankings is purely procedural. “We don’t rank the schools,” she said in an e-mail to the Daily. “The students rate their schools and then we tally that data and compile and report our ranking lists.”

For “Happiest Students,” rankings are based on students’ answers to a single question: “Overall, how happy are you?” Respondents are asked to check mark one of five boxes, ranging from “not at all” to “very.”

Since the first edition of “Best 361 Colleges,” which was published in 1992, Tufts has made the “Happiest Students” list only three times, holding the No. 9 spot in 2000 and the No. 7 spot in both 2001 and the most current edition, which was published in August 2006.

The ranking represents a significant change in the way the guide portrays Tufts; in the 2004 edition, a student quotation from the survey said Tufts was “filled with bitter Ivy League rejects.”

Dean of Student Affairs Bruce Reitman was pleasantly surprised by Tufts’ position on the list. “That’s just wonderful,” he said. “I didn’t think that we were this happy, so I’m delighted.”

Ironically, Tufts’ promotion to the ranks of the country’s happiest colleges coincides with the height of a student movement for improved social life on campus. According to Reitman, the Princeton Review survey indicates that most Jumbos’ are satisfied with life here in spite of their complaints.

“Students have always expressed more satisfaction with the social environment than one would believe reading [viewpoints in] the Daily because you get the most extreme voices there,” he said. “While I’m not discounting those, it’s reassuring to know that for most students, it’s working.”

Reitman elaborated on the ranking’s significance for the Tufts administration. “To some extent, this is even more gratifying than the U.S. News & World Report because that’s something we can’t really change, whereas [the happiness of students] is a much smaller focus,” he said.

When asked what may have accounted for the apparent rise in students’ happiness, Reitman recalled an event that was probably fresh in the minds of survey respondents in 2006. “It didn’t rain at Spring Fling,” he joked. “I think it was the first time in four years that it didn’t rain or snow.”

In a more earnest response, Reitman attributed the survey results to Tufts’ growing reputation as a premier university.

“Tufts keeps getting better,” he said. “In the last six years since President Bacow came, the reputation of Tufts has increased. Part of being happy is going to a place where you know [potential applicants] would like to be.”

Still, Reitman said, each student defines happiness in his or her own way. Some students choose Tufts because of its proximity to Boston, he explained, while others enroll without any intent of utilizing the city. “I don’t suppose there’s one answer,” he said.

Most Jumbos who were interviewed expressed qualified astonishment at the survey results. “It surprises me a little bit,” junior Jayson Uppal said. “I think people are happy here, but I wouldn’t have expected us to be in the top 10.”

According to junior Kaitlin Storck, Tufts’ acquisition of the number seven spot may reflect a unique social dynamic among students. “There are different circles of friends, but I think within those groups, people are close,” she said. “There’s a family-type feeling.”

Considering her own social network through her involvement on the sailing team, Storck said that Tufts is unique in its abundance of meaningful friendships. “I don’t think most other schools’ sailing teams are close like ours,” she said.

Storck pointed to Tufts’ size as a possible explanation for the cohesive communities she has observed. “A slightly smaller school [like Tufts] can definitely foster this kind of stuff,” she said. “And with schools that are smaller [than Tufts], there might not be a group for everyone.”

Senior Corrine Mahoney said one of Tufts’ best features is the diversity in its student body. “I would find it hard to believe that a person wouldn’t be able to find a group of people they could connect with,” she said.

According to freshman Thomas Bennett, happiness at Tufts is a phenomenon that transcends considerations of its relative prestige. “All my friends say how glad they are that they chose Tufts – even students who got into schools with higher rankings – because they’re having such a good time,” he said.

Bennett attributed student satisfaction to the flexibility of academic and extracurricular offerings. “I think it’s a very accepting community, and there’s not too much emphasis on any one area,” he said. “There are options available for everyone.”

But what about social options? According to Mahoney, social life and happiness are mutually exclusive terms.

“I would never rank my happiness based on the social life,” she said. “I’m happy here because [Tufts] has provided me with a good education.”

Still, other students defined social life as an integral component of overall happiness. Storck said an increased commitment on the part of the administration to school-sponsored social events would make students even happier with life at Tufts.

“We have NQR, but that’s just once a year,” she said. “I think Tufts could foster more of a school spirit by creating more things like that. If we work on our [social] identity, people will feel proud to be Jumbos for life.”

Nevertheless, Reitman said, the results of the Princeton Review survey represent a remarkable achievement for Tufts. “Striking a balance where you know that your academics are excellent but that you are also in a living, learning environment where you are enjoying each other’s company is a balance that every university should strive to achieve,” he said.

“If this is a measure of that,” he added, referring to the “Happiest Students” ranking list, “then that is a wonderful statement about Tufts.”

Storck echoed the findings of The Princeton Review: “I can’t see myself being happier anywhere else,” she said.