The Top 25 Happiest Colleges in 2021

College life is not often a walk in the park. It is one of the most challenging stages of a student’s life. Nevertheless, that does not stop college students from enjoying their stay, both inside and outside the campus.

In the latest edition of The Princeton Review, many colleges proved that they promote academic excellence and value their students’ overall satisfaction and well-being. While the universities have varying advantages for students, their common denominator is how they have successfully found the balance between the demand of academics and the excitement of extracurricular activities.

Students often want something beyond what a classroom experience can offer. They need to soak up the campus culture and participate in events that enrich their college life to be the happiest learners!

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But what exactly encompasses a happy college?

Rankings from various educational organizations and websites base their criteria on different categories, but everything ultimately lies in student satisfaction.

Princeton University does well when it comes to student satisfaction, boasting a rate of 85%.  Meanwhile, the 2018 National Student Satisfaction and Priorities Report, sponsored by Ruffalo Noel Levitz, found that around 56% of students from private colleges and public institutions are satisfied overall with their college experience.

Times Higher Education publication, The Student, counts academic support, campus facilities, career support, and class size as their basis for student satisfaction. They found that Yale University scored the highest in the financial aid category among Ivy League universities, receiving an average score of 0.25.  

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Reality Check: Challenges Faced by College Students

Student satisfaction largely depends on how a higher learning institution supports and helps them deal with every challenge and problem they face.

One of the main challenges for college students is being able to manage their time wisely. Time management is key in helping them excel in their academic life. Some universities give part-time and online options for students. The latter is such a huge help as it offers flexibility and convenience. Many college students can customize their coursework and only take on what they can manage. Some can control their own pace by only taking courses that will suit their schedules.

Another obstacle to a quality college education is the lack of funds. Many students are financially strapped, forcing some of them to quit before they graduate because they cannot sustain the alarmingly high cost of college degrees. Fortunately, many schools offer financial assistance to their students, including student loans, scholarships, grants, and other financial aid forms.

We normally hear about college students suffering from mental fatigue owing to arduous academic demands. Some have to deal with psychological issues such as anxiety, panic attacks, and depression. Universities often assist students by providing mental health services, orientation sessions, and increased information dissemination. Some provide mental health screenings, allowing students to access free mental health checkups readily.

While every college student’s challenges are unique depending on their circumstances, a good university will provide most of their needs.

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Top 25 Happiest Colleges in 2021

Princeton University

Princeton University is among the leading private institutions in the country. It offers a vibrant community for students who wish to acquire a quality degree and embody the kind of learning that serves humanity.

As part of their commitment to making education affordable for all, Princeton University provides many grants for undergraduates with a family income of $65,000 and below that do not need to be repaid. Grants at Princeton cover 100% tuition, room, and board. Moreover, their regularly enrolled Ph.D. students are guaranteed funding as long as their academic performance is satisfactory. Princeton’s generosity is recognized in the country. In fact, their aid programs allowed 82% of students to graduate debt-free.

Students are provided with enriching experiences through the efforts of Campus Life. This organization within the university offers educational and social programming initiatives along with support services and outreach. One of their initiatives is the fully accredited health care facility that allows students and their dependents to avail of various services, including mental, counseling and psychological, and health promotion and prevention.

Princeton also ensures that talented students from all backgrounds can engage and connect with their identities through various activities organized by their centers and groups. Some of them include Fields Center for Equality and Cultural Understanding, Women*s Center, Davis International Center, LGBTQ Center, and more.

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Brown University

Known for its student-centered learning, Brown University is a leading research university that aims to cultivate creativity and intellectual joy among its students to pursue academic excellence. The university ensures that students’ demonstrated financial needs are fully met. Students can expect rigorous scholarships and grants in their financial aid packages, making Brown increasingly affordable to everyone, regardless of socio-economic background.

While academic excellence is a given, students are given a chance to explore other areas of college life through athletics and recreation. Student-athletes are taken care of, and anytime they can enjoy Brown’s state-of-the-art fitness center along with an expansive athletics complex. Brown makes it a point to provide a diverse campus community, allowing students, faculty, and staff to tackle difficult issues and understand the important challenges faced by society.

Of course, health and wellness are also fostered. Students take advantage of a myriad of dedicated services that will help them maintain their health and wellness. This includes counseling and psychological services, health promotion services, emergency medical services, student accessibility services, and student support services.

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Vanderbilt University

Vanderbilt University fosters a culture where academic rigor and an involved and enjoyable student experience meet. While the university can be academically challenging, it has cultivated some of the country’s happiest students, thanks to a great balance between school and social life. Students get to experience Nashville, as the city is right in their backyard. The university boasts 30 dining halls, 18 dining locations, and more than 35 club and varsity teams. This allows students to find and cultivate their passions with limitless possibilities.

As some of the university’s top priorities, health, wellness, and safety are provided, letting students access a full range of resources and services. For one, there’s the Student Health Center that provides services from acute care needs to chronic disease management. Students can consult with the experts at the University Counseling Center to ensure their mental and emotional well-being needs are met, including personal, academic, or emotional support.

With Vanderbilt’s student organizations and identity centers, students can come together outside the classroom based on shared interests. One of these is the Margaret Cuninggim Women’s Center which provides a safe space for women and members of the Vanderbilt community, advancing dialogue on gender equality, women’s health, and oppression resistance.

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College of William and Mary

Nestled in the historically rich downtown Williamsburg, the College of William and Mary boasts a stunning campus and vibrant community where engaged and successful graduates are made. Some of the main attractions on campus include the Martha Wren Briggs Amphitheatre, Lake Matoaka, and College Woods. Students enjoy a wide range of resources and facilities that help them become the best in their fields.

Earl Gregg Swem Library is said to house more than 2 million books, films, and e-resources. They can access the Muscarelle Museum of Art, showcasing a permanent collection of more than 60,000 paintings, sculptures, and more. Owing to the demands of coursework, students who need to replenish their energy can visit all-you-care-to-eat facilities. They can also find five specialty coffee houses, a bakeshop, a food court, and many national franchises.

Academic life is not all there is at the College of William and Mary. Students can enjoy an array of fun traditions that go beyond the conventional. The school year often begins with the Opening Convocation, a welcome ceremony for the incoming class that concludes with a sumptuous picnic dinner with live music. Another festive event comes in Yule Log, a winter celebration with live holiday music, book reading, and a warm treat of hot cider and sugar cookies.

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Kansas State University

Kansas State University is where everybody feels at home and considers each other as family, whether it’s a longtime professor, alumnus, recent graduate, or wide-eyed freshman. This close-knit tradition is maintained even with a diverse student population. The university’s strong commitment to diversity and inclusion is demonstrated by the full educational privileges enjoyed by its students, including open enrollment regardless of gender, race, or creed.

Students are also given ample opportunities to grow beyond the realm of academic excellence. They can hone their leadership skills by joining student organizations, participating in the Student Governing Association, and planning local events through the Union Program Council. Students interested in culture and arts can watch a play or take the stage, drop by a gallery or exhibit, and hear a visiting author read a book. The university is home to McCain Auditorium, where a series of performances headed by nationally and internationally acclaimed artists is run, including War of the Worlds and The Lost World.

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University of Iowa

Situated alongside the Iowa River in Iowa City, the University of Iowa boasts stunning and picturesque sights in and around the campus. Their wide variety of programs and fields ensures students have plenty of choices. The university seeks to provide students with a life-changing educational experience. On top of that, students can also enjoy sustainable scholarship support. Forevermore Scholarships give deserving students a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to pursue their dreams at the University of Iowa.

Beyond academics, students can experience rich college life by choosing among 500 plus student organizations. They can seek educational services and activities beyond the classroom at the Division of Student Life. This division currently organizes online events that students can participate in, like the Mid-Day Mindfulness organized by Student Wellness, a weekly activity that aims to increase and maintain students’ meditation skills. Those who live on campus can relish the cultural community exemplified in residence halls with their full set of amenities such as convenience stores and Marketplaces.

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Fairfield University

Fairfield University is one of a kind for its humanistic approach to education. Students are encouraged to think critically, allowing them to participate in free and open inquiries while fostering their ethical and religious values. Its idyllic campus is located on the coast of Connecticut, a good one hour away from New York City.

Fairfield University is heavily involved in campus sustainability efforts, with their strong green movement leading to the implantation of green projects like water-conserving plumbing, switching to green cleaning products, and thousands of lighting fixtures outfitted with energy-efficient alternatives. Students are encouraged to do their part with a chance to be rewarded with a $15,000 grant if they submit a winning proposal that positively impacts the campus’ sustainability issues.

Getting active is easy at Fairfield University with the state-of-the-art Fairfield RecPlex, complete with an indoor track and large cardio training suite. Those who want to sample good food in the area can choose from various restaurants around Connecticut. They also have extensive housing options, from traditional residence halls to townhouses, all of which are linked by fiber-optic cable.

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University of California, Berkeley

Located in a vibrant urban setting, the University of California, Berkeley offers a wealth of experiences to its students. To get a taste of Berkeley can choose among various activities, performances, and events around the campus. Film enthusiasts will have a grand time at the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive. Nature walks and sightseeing can be done in the Botanical Garden, boasting more than 13,000 plants worldwide.

Recreational sport is valued at Berkeley, with students encouraged to maintain an active and healthy lifestyle. Due to the pandemic, online on-demand and live virtual fitness classes are highlighted. Of course, it is not a complete campus experience without participating in student organizations. Students at Berkeley can choose among various organizations, including Berkeley Art Studio, Cal Greeks, choral ensembles, and campus newspaper, among others.

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Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University

At Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, a good blend of education and technology is instrumental in transforming the way students learn, perform research, and engage with communities around them and beyond. Located in Blacksburg, Virginia, Virginia Tech’s campus includes more than 200 buildings, 2,600 acres, and an airport. Students at Virginia Tech are taught how to serve their immediate communities and the world at large. They are also provided with an ideal environment for learning and growing. Holistic education is promoted, and opportunities for leadership, innovation, and service are provided.

The Hokies get to enjoy a dynamic residential campus award-winning dining experience. They can also choose among many health and wellness programs and hundreds of student clubs and organizations. The university promotes a barrier-free environment, considering equal access. Some accessibility resources include the Office for Equity and Accessibility and Services for Students with Disabilities and accessible technologies.

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Clemson University

Clemson University goes beyond its strong military tradition to embrace a rich college experience for its students through various initiatives. They showcase the university’s diversity by providing diverse programs and opportunities to help students and staff raise awareness and promote critical understanding. This includes educational and celebratory events as well as fun activities.

Students have easy access to medical services and counseling and psychological services if the need arises. On good days, they can experience Clemson in all its glory by taking part in leisure activities at Bowman Field, immersing themselves in performance arts shows at Robert Howell Brooks Center for the Performing Arts, and taking the scenic route at the Carillon Garden.

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Rice University

Rice University boasts of a 300-acre tree-lined campus in Houston. Its students enjoy a great student-to-faculty ratio of 6-to-1, making it a close-knit college community with a strong campus tradition. Social events, intramural sports, lecture series, and student plays are just some ways students are supported in terms of their intellectual, emotional, and cultural well-being.

At Rice University, there is an emphasis on academic excellence. Students are helped through their educational challenges through the Office of Academic Advising. They can also go to the Access and Opportunity Portal to learn about resources available to them, including financial support requests. There are three kinds of funding that students can lodge requests for. For example, they can request financial support from the Residential College Accessibility Fund if they need residential college merchandise like clothing, ticket fees for campus events like Senior Gala and Esperanza, and transportation-related costs when they need to travel to events.

Students are also encouraged to join in more than 200 student organizations, spanning various interests such as athletic, academic, political, religious, cultural, media, and performance. The university also promotes health and wellness through the Barbara and David Gibbs Recreation and Wellness Center with programs like SWEAT (Scheduled Weekly Exercise and Activity Times) and Mind & Body, where yoga classes are offered.

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Auburn University

Occupying more than 1,840 acres of land, Auburn University is located in the rolling hills of east-central Alabama. Equality and inclusivity are valued in the university. This is demonstrated by their all-gender restrooms across the main campus buildings. The Presidential Task Force for Opportunity and Equity seeks to address the disparities in recruitment and retention. They also ensure that campus-wide Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Education and Training programs are implemented.

Auburn University takes care of its students’ future by providing them with career fairs and career development initiatives. This includes a virtual part-time job fair, Education Interview Day, Agriculture Career Fair, Auburn University Career Fair, Mock Interview Day, and Chill Out with the University Career Center. Student support initiatives like Counselling & Psychological Services, on-campus pharmacy, and Psychological Services Center are readily available.

There are also campus recreation programs such as fitness, outdoor adventure experiences, personal training, and intramural and sports clubs provided to students. The Recreation and Wellness Center boasts awesome amenities, including a 1/3-mile indoor walking/running track, cardio and fitness areas, regulation-size basketball courts, and a personal training studio.

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Florida State University

Considered as an elite research university, Florida State University values a learning philosophy where liberal arts and critical thinking take center stage. Diversity is widely embraced in the university, with nationally recognized efforts since 2014 with the Higher Education Excellence in Diversity (HEED) Awards.

Athletics is one of the university’s strongest suits. Florida State University has won 80 ACC team championships across 14 different sports. Students can enjoy the recreational facility at Bobby E. Leach Center, featuring extensive training areas for strength and cardiovascular training, aerobic classes, indoor track, and a 16-lane indoor pool, among others. Intramural sports and sports clubs are also available for students to participate in.

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Dartmouth University

Dartmouth University has made it a point to provide students with a vibrant, inclusive learning environment in the Upper Valley with a backdrop of majestic mountains and rivers. Some of the landmarks on the campus include Dartmouth Library, Hood Museum of Art, Hopkins Center for the Arts, and many more.

The university often holds exciting events and learning opportunities beyond the classroom. Some of the offered events include The Donald Claflin Jewelry Studio: Introduction to Jewelry Casting, Medi Quick, Mindfulness Drop-In Summer Session, and so much more. Dartmouth has a diverse community of students, faculty, and staff, so diversity and inclusion are at the forefront of the college experience. Students stay connected in the close-knit community of campus life, whether they live in residence halls or student apartments nearby. The dining experience around the campus is also stellar, allowing students to enjoy locally sourced foods, specialty dishes, and various cuisines prepared by Dartmouth’s dining areas and cafes.

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University of Pennsylvania

Ranked among the country’s leading universities, the University of Pennsylvania utilizes an interdisciplinary approach in education that allows students to pursue discovery and follow their passion. Intellectual and practical pursuits are both encouraged. Students get an impactful Ivy League education, regardless of their economic status. They can take advantage of Penn’s grant-based financial aid program, with 46% of undergraduate students have received such assistance from 2018 to 2019.

Students interested in art and culture can access world-class art and cultural institutions, including Penn Museum, Arthur Ross Gallery, Institute of Contemporary Art, Annenberg Center, and Platt Performing Arts House. Penn commits to providing the necessary support, resources, and tools to ensure student health and wellness. Some of the best medical service providers are available to students, including Penn Dental Medicine and the University of Pennsylvania Health System.

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Johns Hopkins University

Instruction and research are at the forefront of Johns Hopkins University’s mission. They also make it a point to support the best and the brightest, hence the need-blind admission process. Students often receive loan-free financial aid packages that fully meet their needs. This allows students to avoid being saddled with debt once they graduate, letting them pursue whatever path they want to take career-wise. Every year, the university awards more than $100 million in aid to students.

The campus has some of the best dining programs, even recently recognized by Daily Meal as the 6th on the list of “Best Colleges for Food.” Students have a myriad of food choices, ranging from gluten-free, vegan and vegan-friendly, and so much more. Access to the arts is readily available to students, whether their passion lies in drawing, painting, singing, dancing, acting, or playing an instrument. The university houses the Peabody Institute and is considered the country’s first conservatory, and the Center for Visual Arts, where students can enjoy a studio environment to hone their skills.

Students can take advantage of the Student Health and Wellness Center for their health concerns. Primary care, including injury and illness treatment, routine gynecological care, and immunizations, are available and free of charge.

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Duke University

Duke University underlines its commitment to empowering diverse and inclusive communities. Around 52% of their undergraduates in 2020 were women. The culture of diversity, inclusion, and equity is promoted through educational opportunities and resources with the Office for Institutional Equity leadership. Individuals’ unique needs are accommodated through Duke’s robust accessibility programs.

The university ensures that everyone has access to a range of wellness resources and support. There is the Duke’s Student Wellness Center. They can also avail of telemental-health support, counseling and psychological services, wellness experiences through DuWell, and healthcare services through Student Health.

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Yale University

Since 1701, Yale University has committed to sharing knowledge and preparing students for success. Its wide array of programs, centers, and affiliated organizations make it one of the country’s leading research universities. Students are provided with learning opportunities that go beyond the classroom. Some of the research centers housed by Yale include Binger Center for New Theater, Center for Global Legal Challenges, Economic Growth Center, Center for Infectious Disease Modeling and Analysis, Center for Medical Informatics, and many more.

Arts and culture are also nurtured at Yale. Whether one’s interest lies in music, art, drama, or dance, there is an activity for them. Yale’s calendar features many exhibits and performances throughout the year. Free admission in museums and galleries means students can indulge their curiosity and sense of wonder, be it in Yale University Art Gallery, Yale Center for British Art, Peabody Museum of Natural History, Sterling Memorial Library, and many more. Those who are into physical activity can take advantage of the university’s premium facilities, including Tsai Lacrosse Field House, Yale Bowl, Ingalls Park, Carol Roberts Field House, and John J. Lee Amphitheater.

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University of Notre Dame

The University of Notre Dame commits to advancing diversity, sustainability, and inclusivity. Situated in 1,250 acres of land and boasting collegiate Gothic Architecture, park-like landscape, and breathtaking views, the university has one of the most beautiful campuses in the country. A host of events woven into the fabric of campus life is available for students to participate in, whether in athletics or art and culture. Students can also enjoy 28 campus eateries, over 500 student clubs and groups, and five recreation venues.

The university offers a need-blind admission process. About 69% of undergraduate students received some form of financial aid in the 2019-2020 academic year, with a median need-based scholarship at $47,800.

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Washington College

At Washington College, learning is made possible in and out of the classroom. Students can be sure to receive hands-on education from exceptional faculty. They have opportunities to take part in independent research facilitated programs like the Cater Society and Tom Fellows. Other facilities at the tip of their hands include Rose O’Neill Literary House, Center for Environment & Society’s Center, and Eastern Shore Food Lab. For students who want to be more proactive when it comes to the education they receive, there is a chance to customize their education. They can take up double majors, intern, or study abroad. The student-to-faculty ratio is also ideal at Washington College at 10:1. The average class size is 12.

Students who love the outdoors will truly enjoy their campus experience. The college is located in Chestertown, a charming spot on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. If they crave urban life, they can easily go on a day trip to Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Washington, DC Campus organizations are plenty, including sororities and fraternities as well as academic clubs. Programs that promote active and healthy lifestyles are regularly hosted at Campus Recreation. Students have easy access to Johnson Fitness Center, where facilities like tennis courts, indoor track, and basketball courts can be found.

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University of Arizona

Committed to providing quality education for deserving students, the University of Arizona has generous financial aid efforts. 9 out of 10 students in the university have received financial aid. With a student-to-faculty ratio of 15:1, the learning environment is guaranteed to be intimate and supportive. Students can enrich their student life beyond their academic goals. They have more than 600 student clubs and organizations to choose from, allowing them to hone their social and interpersonal skills and learn beyond the classroom.

At the University of Arizona, the college experience is unlike any other. Students can join one of the nation’s largest, loudest student sections with ZonaZoo. There is also Spring Fling, the largest student carnival. Students who live on campus enjoy the convenience offered by campus housing and dorms, as well as the complete amenities provided in the form of recreation, dining, and transportation.

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Pennsylvania State University

Having consistently ranked among the top one percent of the world’s universities, Pennsylvania State University spans 24 campuses and an online World Campus that brings education to anyone globally. Penn State has awarded financial aid to more than 68% of its students, be it in the form of loans, grants, scholarships, or employment.

While each Penn State campus is unique, one thing remains the same – students are provided with a vibrant and ideal learning environment where opportunities to expand their horizons are readily available. They can choose among hundreds of clubs and organizations, including an award-winning student-run newspaper and student-run philanthropy. Students can also get in the game, either as a competitor or a fan. Penn State has more than 75 competitive NCAA Division III teams.

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Cornell University

In 2020, Cornell University was awarded a total of $281 million in undergraduate grants. This is part of their commitment to providing quality education to deserving students through their robust need-based financial aid program. Even better, their Graduate School supports 97% of on-campus students in research Ph.D. programs. The aid packages include tuition, fees, living allowance, and even a stipend.

At Cornell, critical thinking and self-discovery are valued and encouraged. Students can join hundreds of diverse clubs, groups, and activities, all of which are designed for them to gain an understanding of, appreciate, and practice diversity. Students interested in the arts and culture can take in an art exhibit, start a dance troupe, and other ways to nurture their creativity. Some of the facilities that help support this include Johnson Museum of Art, Schwartz Center for Performing Arts, and Cornell University Library Collections and Exhibitions.

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Columbia University

Columbia University houses some of the world’s important centers of research. Their comprehensive array of academic programs means that students have a wealth of options. But beyond classroom education, the university also provides plenty of opportunities for learning and improvement. Students can participate in various clubs, resources, and activities spanning cultural, academic, and athletic interests.

Recognizing health as a part of students’ academic and personal development, the university offers an array of student services and initiatives, including Alice! Health Promotion, Counselling and Psychological Services, Disability Services, Gay Health Advocacy Project, Medical Services, and Sexual Violence Response. Arts programs and resources are also available, whether one wants to explore literary arts, film, music, dance, or visual arts, among others.

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University of North Alabama

For more than 185 years, the University of North Alabama has been home to thriving artists, entrepreneurs, scientists, and educators. The university has one of the most affordable tuition in the country. They offer several ways to avail of financial aid, including student loans, scholarships, work-study, and student employment programs, grants, private and alternative loans, and more.

University of North Alabama students have access to Student Counseling Services, University Health Services, and University Event Management, among others. Fitness and Recreation programs are also widely available. One of them is the Personal Training program with varying services, including fitness equipment orientation, personal consultation with a trainer assessing one’s current workout program, and nutrition consultation assessing dietary habits and goal setting. The is also an organized group exercise for the spring term, yoga, cycling, cardio, hip hop, and Zumba. 

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