This is the first installment in a three-part series on the results of a News survey on student satisfaction at Yale.

The most popular class at Yale this semester — professor Laurie Santos’ “Psychology and the Good Life” — teaches students how to live happier and more fulfilling lives. But according to a News survey distributed last month, more than two thirds of undergraduate respondents already feel happy at the University.

Almost 70 percent of the 1,299 undergraduate respondents — about a quarter of the total undergraduate population — indicated that they are either “happy” or “extremely happy” at Yale, with a roughly similar distribution among class years. Twenty-four percent of respondents reported being “content” and only around 7 percent said they are “unhappy” or “extremely unhappy” at the University. The results of the survey were not adjusted for bias.

An even larger number of respondents — 79 percent — reported being “happy” or “very happy” with their residential college, with similar numbers across residential colleges, including the recently opened Benjamin Franklin and Pauli Murray colleges.

“There are many colleges and universities who would do anything for that level of expressed satisfaction about their student experience,” Associate Vice President of Student Life Burgwell Howard said. “Yale is very fortunate to be working from such a high base, and that the areas for improvement, are those aspects that can move the student experience from ‘good to great,’ and ‘great to exceptional.’”

But survey respondents on full and high levels of financial aid reported being less happy than other students.

Of all groups represented in the survey, students on full financial aid were the least likely to say they were “happy” or “extremely happy” at Yale — only 58.54 percent of those respondents described themselves as such. These students were far more likely to indicate they were merely “content” at the University, with 36.59 percent choosing that option.

Only 64.93 percent of students for whom financial aid covers 50 to 99 percent of their cost of attendance reported feeling happy at Yale. By contrast, 73.51 percent of students on zero financial said they are happy at the University.

“We do not find these statistics to be too surprising,” said Timothy Ryan ’20, a director of administrative connections for A Leg Even at Yale, an organization that works with first-generation and low-income Yalies to combat the challenges they face at the University.

“There are numerous problems in the background associated with the first-generation low-income identity that Yale does not see or account for,” Ryan added. “Though it is true that Yale’s financial aid system allows the majority of these students to attend and graduate from college generally ‘debt-free,’ many of them still have finance concerns constantly weighing on them for costs to be incurred in the near future, whether they be miscellaneous academic fees, books and supplies, hygiene products or contributions to their families.”

These students must increase their workload and dedicate time and emotional energy to achieving a sustainable work-study balance, Ryan said, only to find themselves often lagging behind and missing social opportunities.

Mohamed Anwer Akkari ’20, an international student from Tunisia on a high level of financial aid, said that being a low-income student at Yale has created a “starkly different Yale experience” for him compared to some of his peers.

“I can’t travel during breaks to sunny beaches and come back fresh and energized to Yale. I can’t make ambitious plans to find jobs and internships to advance my career because I worry about financial constraints,” Akkari said. “While it is not fair to blame it all on Yale, we can say that some elements in the system should be amended if we worry about students happiness and well-being.”

Ryan said that to make the experience of low-income students easier at Yale, the University could encourage professors to upload PDFs rather than make purchasing books and supplies mandatory, eliminate material fees for classes “that deter low-income students from taking them,” keep dining halls open over breaks, cover dining costs with financial aid, and offer housing for students “with no permanent residence or difficulty returning” between terms.

In response to that criticism, Howard told the News that over the past decade, the University has sought to “address gaps and create enhancement opportunities” for everyone. Still, he acknowledged that there remains “plenty of room for improvement” and said he looks forward to continue working with first-generation and low-income students “to further close any gaps.”

“It is definitely true that all students will have different challenges to navigate depending on their background, preparation, ability, time and economic ability,” he said. “Where possible, there are many students, staff and faculty across Yale who seek to lower barriers to participation, and broadly advertise opportunities for students to consider taking advantage.”

Of the respondents who described themselves as unhappy at Yale, one third also said they were unhappy with their residential college.

Isaac Young ’19, who tried to transfer to a different residential college this year, said Yale should implement some kind of sophomore counselor program to foster closer-knit residential college communities. For those sophomores who socialized with students in other colleges while living on Old Campus, he said, it may be difficult to foster social connections within colleges.

Roughly 22 percent of respondents — 289 people — reported having difficulty getting to know students outside their residential colleges. Of those, 133 are first years, and almost half — 63 people — are affiliated with the new colleges, Silliman College or Timothy Dwight College. Still, the lack of potential mingling opportunities does not seem to have detracted much from the experience of first years not living on Old Campus: 79 percent reported that they are happy with the residential colleges to which they were assigned and 74 percent said they are happy at Yale in general.

Yale currently enrolls 5,453 undergraduate students.

Anastasiia Posnova |

Correction, April 4: This article and its headline have been updated to reflect that only a quarter of the undergraduate population — not the majority of Yale undergraduates — responded to the News’ survey.