Data that can be extremely useful for students looking to choose a school has become abundant. College rankings of all sorts and sizes are posted on every corner of the internet, while reports like Payscale’s College Return on Investment demonstrate the difference between economic returns on college choice and major choice.

Yet, while quality data has thankfully alleviated some of the difficulties of pre-college choice optimization, there remains a considerable data gap in helping students seeking to optimize their in-college years for post-college quality of life. Today, however, a new report has provided a framework that may eventually bridge that data gap.

Gallup and Purdue University teamed up between February and March this year, and got nearly 30,000 web responses from U.S. adults with at least a bachelor’s degree. They asked about a wide range of in-college activities and post-college outcome details and then looked for statistical correlations. The findings, to some, will no doubt be surprising.

[Our summary focuses on the practical steps for students prescribed by the data. If you prefer to just read the report, you can find the full index by clicking this link.]

To achieve a good life, Gallup and Purdue focused on workplace engagement and the fulfillment of five types of well-being: Purpose Well-Being (liking what you do each day and being motivated to achieve your goals), Social Well-Being (having strong and supportive relationships and love in your life), Financial Well-Being (effectively managing your economic life to reduce stress and increase security), Community Well-Being (the sense of engagement you have with the areas where you live, liking where you live, and feeling safe and having pride in your community), and Physical Well-Being (having good health and enough energy to get things done on a daily basis). These indicators were chosen not at random, but because previous Gallup studies stressed their particular importance to what individuals define as ‘good lives.’


Wise, in-college step #1 for post-college life success: avoid (or strictly limit) college debt.

Excelling on Gallup’s well-being metrics necessitates limited, if any debt. In fact, “Graduates without loan debt are seven times more likely to be living the Gallup good life than those with at least $40,000 in student debt.” Any student debt, but particularly in amounts in excess of $10,000, significantly harms student performance on Gallup’s well-being metrics.

[quote from Vox; Graph also available from Vox]


Wise, in-college step #2 for post-college life success: no matter what school type you choose or have chosen, it is imperative to engage with professors and staff who care, who make you excited about learning, or who encourage you in your pursuits.

The study suggests that college graduate work engagement does not appear locked to which school type you attended. Rather, “there is no distinction between graduates of public versus private colleges on employee engagement, but there is a substantial difference between graduates of for-profit institutions and the rest.”

[see this data point graphed from Vox].

What does matter for workplace engagement, however, is the set of connections students make with faculty and staff. Such connections, and the motivations that stem from them, have lasting, important impacts: “If an employed graduate had a professor who cared about them as a person, one who made them excited about learning, and had a mentor who encouraged them to pursue their dreams, the graduate’s odds of being engaged at work more than doubled. Only 14% of graduates have had all three.”

[see this data point graphed by Gallup]


Wise, in-college step #3 for post-college life success: be prepared for post-college work life from day one by working in college, completing an internship, being active in extracurricular organizations or working on long-term projects.

From the report: “If employed graduates feel their college prepared them well for life outside of it, the odds that they are engaged at work rise nearly three times. Experiences in college that contribute to feeling prepared for life after college, such as internships or jobs where students are able to apply what they are learning in the classroom, active involvement in extracurricular activities and organizations, and working on a project that took a semester or more to complete are part of this preparation.

“Employed graduates are more likely to be engaged in the workplace if they had any of these experiences individually, but if they took part in all three, their odds of engagement more than doubled. Fifty-nine percent of graduates who experienced all three are engaged at work, compared with 30% of those who did not have any of these experiences.”



These three wise steps can strongly increase a college student’s odds of thriving in all areas of post-college well-being [as is shown in this graphic representation from Gallup]. Certainly, it can be a challenge to pursue these steps (especially limiting debt!). However, it is evident from this report’s data that pursuing these challenging, but wise, steps in college can make the following lifetime’s journey a much smoother path.