Cheering students at the 2013 homecoming basketball game
Jubilant Anteaters cheer on the men’s basketball team during the 2013 homecoming game. Steve Zylius / University Communications

Disneyland may have dibs on “The Happiest Place on Earth,” but UC Irvine can claim happiest campus – or at least pretty high up there. According to U.S. Department of Education statistics reported recently, UC Irvine ranks 11th in the nation among public universities for student happiness, based on freshman retention rates.

Almost 95 percent of the 2012 freshman class will return this fall as sophomores. The rate is far higher than average for public universities, and it’s important because students who transfer out of originally chosen schools are much less likely to graduate in four years. Only 31 percent of full-time students attending state universities nationwide graduate in the traditional four years. At UC Irvine, that figure is about 68 percent.

So is it the cool Anteater mascot, great weather, pretty campus, proximity to the beach, NCAA championship-winning men’s volleyball team or excellent academics that make students here so happy? All those things and more, they say:

“We get to use what we learn in class to engage in our school space. At a lot of campuses, it’s really easy to become susceptible to distractions, but UC Irvine has this unique quality where if you want to be tranquil, you can find quietness anywhere. That’s really important for me, as an artist. Our campus is clean, it’s quiet when it needs to be, and that’s necessary for any college student.”
– Jesus Zerpa, 20; junior, art and digital media

“The people are what make me happy. I’m really involved in the fencing club, and I’ve made some of the best friends I’ve ever had in it. Also, UCI is the only UC with a criminology program. Both of my majors are in the same school, which means I can double-major fairly easily and still get done in four years.”
– Amelia Holm, 19; sophomore, criminology, law & society and psychology & social behavior

“It comes down to the people I know and the relationships I’ve built that bring me back to the campus. It’s also just a really chill environment. I have time to do my schoolwork, hang out with friends and stay involved in campus organizations. It’s a really cool place to go to school.”
– Jessica Venegas, 20; sophomore, social ecology

“This might sound superficial, but the weather is good. It’s sunny, and it gets my spirits up. The people here are nicer than back home, and I’ve met some of the greatest people here. I think it’s also because the campus culture is pretty chill and laid-back. We have our competitive side, but we don’t let it get in the way of friendships.”
– Lucy Zhang, 20; sophomore, criminology, law & society and psychology & social behavior

“I really like UC Irvine because of the friends I’ve made here. The people I’ve met have been the best friends I’ve ever made. It’s just fun here. We’re in the middle of a big, unique city, and there’s always something going on. It’s diverse. And there are a lot of good places to eat on campus and nearby.”
– Gerardo Castellanos, 19; freshman, computer science