26 colleges with the happiest freshmen

I got an anguished email recently from a mom whose daughter's freshmen year in college was hellish.

The daughter, let's call her Samantha, lived in California, but she decided to attend the University of Dayton in Ohio. The straight "A" student was assigned to a four-person freshmen dorm -- never a good idea in my opinion -- and her roommates appeared to take their cues from Animal House. Here's an excerpt from her mother's email:

The first week, they had boys staying the night, partying all night long, blaring the TV and music, and the final straw was a boy urinating on my daughters bed! Of which the roommates stated that it wasn't their problem! We were able to get an emergency move after much threatening and many, many phone calls...

Roommate problems continued even after she switched dorm rooms twice more before leaving the school after her first year.

When my daughter finally returned home to California, she was humiliated because she had a 4.5 GPA leaving high school and now her only option was to attend a junior college to get enough units to transfer, the mother wrote.

Of course, you never know what will happen when a child leaves for college. Some teenagers can handle tough situations better than others. One way to boost the odds of a successful transition, however, is to look at how happy a school's freshmen are. You can do that by checking an institution's freshmen retention rate. That is, how many freshmen return for their sophomore year.

How happy are the freshmen?
The federal government keeps statistics on freshmen retention rates and you can find the figure for any school by heading to the federal College Navigator. Of course, 100% freshmen retention is ideal, but most schools don't come close to that mark. The University of Dayton's freshmen retention rate is 88%, which is above average.

I used the college search engine over COLLEGEdata.com to search for schools strictly by freshmen satisfaction and came up with a list of 26 schools with the happiest freshmen. (I eliminated schools with less than 500 students.)

Colleges with the happiest freshmen

Columbia University 99%
University of Pennsylvania 99%
Yale University 99%
Brown University 98%
Cal Tech 98%
Carleton College 98%
Harvard University 98%
Harvey Mudd College 98%
Princeton University 98%
Stanford University 98%
U.S. Naval Academy 98%
University of Chicago 98%
University of Notre Dame 98%
Wesleyan University 98%
Dartmouth College 97%
Duke University 97%
Johns Hopkins University 97%
MIT 97%
Northwestern University 97%
Pomona College 97%
Tufts University 97%
UCLA 97%
University of S. California 97%
Vanderbilt University 97%
Washington U. St. Louis 97%
Williams College 97%

Do your homework
I'd urge students to always check freshmen retention rates when evaluating schools. I'd also stay away from four-person dorms, which is the type of housing where Samantha experienced her problems. I think a freshman's odds of surviving his or her first year is better if they only have to deal with one roommate. After your first year in college, you select your own roommate(s) so it's only freshman year where it's a real crap shoot.

Happy freshmen image courtesy of Flickr user Jason Hargrove.