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Survey: Where Students Attend College Matters Less Than Experience There

Despite all the angst among high school students about which college to choose, results from a new Gallup survey suggest that happiness after college graduation is more linked to what students do once on campus than what school they attend.

The survey of nearly 30,000 U.S. adults who completed at least a bachelor's degree revealed that making the most of a college experience was closely aligned with graduates' sense of well-being and engagement at work.

Finding a mentor, caring professors who excited them about learning, having an internship, and being involved in extracurricular activities on campus were all strong indicators of satisfaction later in the workplace. The type of institution—large, small, public, private, prestigious or not—was not as much of a factor.

The results of the joint research effort with Gallup, Purdue University, and the Lumina Foundation were released Monday. (The Lumina Foundation supports coverage of P-16 alignment in Education Week.)

With the May 1 college commitment deadline just passed, this news should give solace to high school seniors who may be second-guessing their recent decision. It really is about what students make of their experience, not the name brand of the school. And it's a good reminder to incoming freshmen to be proactive to make the most of their time on campus.

While the Gallup survey outlined the support and experiential learning that can make college more meaningful, only 3 percent of those surveyed said they took advantage of all six opportunities outlined.

Just 22 percent of respondents had a mentor in college, 27 percent said professors cared about them personally, and 63 percent had a professor who excited them about learning. About 20 percent felt they were extremely involved in campus activities, 29 percent had an internship, and 32 percent worked on a project that took more than a semester to complete, according to the survey, conducted in February and March. 

The report suggests that traditional college rankings that focus on selectivity of admission aren't the best guides for students. Consideration should given to the "what students are doing in college and how they are experiencing it. Those elements—more than many others measure—have a profound relationship to a graduate's life and career. Yet too few are experiencing them," the report said.

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