Student governments at colleges and universities across the U.S. offer students unparalleled opportunities to develop leadership skills and participate in policy-making. Students with a passion for student government can explore many ways to get involved. At small private schools, students govern themselves and remain fully integrated in campus decision-making, while at large public universities, student leaders manage multimillion-dollar budgets autonomously. The schools ranked below stand out for the trust they place in students.
College student governments typically allocate funds from student activity fees to student groups and events, speak on behalf of students to the administration, and inform students about available resources. At the schools listed below, students perform these tasks exceptionally well and often assume additional responsibilities, including participating in campus-wide committees, creating campaigns to improve student lives, adjudicating honor code violations, and advocating on behalf of students at all government levels. Students maintain a voice and wield the power to make real changes on campus and beyond. These schools consistently produce graduates who go on to become political leaders and changemakers in their fields.
What Colleges Have The Best Student Government Programs?
A private liberal arts school founded in 1793, Williams College lists among its alumni a disproportionately large number of political leaders for its size, including diplomats, Congress members, and foreign leaders. Home to just over 2,000 students, Williams is located in the rural northwestern Massachusetts town of Williamstown and boasts a 98% retention rate.
The Williams College Council allocates funds to student groups, entertainment, charity events, and other student-led activities. The group also serves as the student voice to the administration, passes resolutions, oversees student clubs, and supports student initiatives. An honor and disciplinary committee hears cases regarding honor code and code of conduct violations, determining the final outcome of both academic and social misconduct cases. Through meetings with administrators and trustees, Williams student leaders advance student concerns about issues such as financial aid, mental health, sexual assault, and divestment from fossil fuels.
University of California-Berkeley
Located in northern California's Bay Area, the UC Berkeley boasts a strong tradition of student activism. More than 30,000 undergraduates participate in about 1,000 registered student groups and countless unofficial causes at this flagship public university founded in 1868.
The Associated Students of the University of California (ASUC) claims to be one of the country's oldest and most autonomous student governments. The group operates as an independent nonprofit, separate from the university. A 20-student elected senate serves as a board of directors for the ASUC. The ASUC manages millions of dollars as it funds student organizations and oversees programs that serve students, including entertainment and free computing. The group also assists students with grievances against the university, ensures that students play a role in university governance, and advocates for student interests not just at the university level, but at the local, state, and federal levels of government.
Florida State University
Located in Tallahassee, Florida State University offers a variety of academic and extracurricular opportunities to about 33,000 undergraduates each year. International relations and political science remain popular majors among the school's diverse student body.
FSU's Student Government Association (SGA) consists of executive, legislative, and judicial branches and class councils. The executive branch manages a freshman leadership institute, maintains agencies focused on the needs of student identity groups, and oversees student appointments to university committees focused on topics such as transportation, admissions, and student fees. Eighty student senators write and vote on legislation each month, while a student supreme court hears cases on violations of the student body constitution, SGA ethics code, and student code of conduct. With a $3 million budget, FSU's SGA funds hundreds of student organizations, provides students with resources and information, and advocates for student needs on issues including diversity and inclusion, mental health, and safety.
A highly selective Ivy League school founded in 1746, Princeton University admits only 6% of all applicants into its undergraduate population of more than 5,000 students. Located in New Jersey about halfway between New York and Philadelphia, Princeton claims many notable alumni, including President Woodrow Wilson, namesake of the school's famed school of international affairs.
Princeton's Undergraduate Student Government (USG) organizes campus events, funds student organizations, and collaborates with faculty and staff on university policy changes. The USG holds weekly meetings and submits referendums for student approval on issues such as changes to the honor code, divestment, and mental health. Student leaders work in project teams on issues that impact student life, including textbook costs, sexual misconduct, female leadership on campus, and transparency of USG actions. Princeton students impact school policies through their active participation in USG, campus-wide committees, and student-faculty task forces.
|St. Paul, MN||
Founded in 1874, Macalester College offers a private, liberal arts education to just over 2,000 students in Minnesota's capital, St. Paul. With its focus on multiculturalism, internationalism, and service, Macalester attracts students from nearly every U.S. state and about 90 countries. Notable alumni include Kofi Annan, former secretary-general of the United Nations.
The Macalester College Student Government (MCSG) invites all students to attend its weekly Legislative Body (LB) meetings where students debate sponsored bills and resolutions. The LB consists of an executive board, cabinet, and representative committee. Each member of the executive board specializes in specific student issues and chairs a standing committee on matters such as academic affairs or financial affairs. At Macalester, student leaders impact campus policy-making by serving on campus-wide committees and through their liaison to the board of trustees. MCSG also manages the allocation of student activities fees to student groups, activities, and events.
University of Chicago
Founded in 1890 by John D. Rockefeller, the University of Chicago now serves 6,000 undergraduates on its urban Hyde Park campus. UChicago offers 52 majors and more than 450 recognized student organizations, as well as an atmosphere for learning where the top-stated values include free expression and diversity.
The university's Student Government (SG) allocates more than $2 million annually to student organizations, activities, and initiatives. The group also makes statements on local and national issues of interest to students and puts forth referendums for student approval. An executive committee makes policy recommendations and executes SG decisions. A student liaison to the board of trustees advocates for student interests. Representatives from each graduating class form a college council that plans events and makes spending decisions. SG initiatives include sexual assault and mental health awareness, and providing local business discounts for students.
The University of Texas at Austin
Located in the capital city of Austin, the flagship campus of the University of Texas serves as the collegiate home of just over 40,000 undergraduates. Founded in 1883, UT hosts 18 colleges and schools offering more than 150 undergraduate degrees.
At UT Austin, students run more than 1,100 student organizations and three legislative groups, including UT Student Government (UTSG). Student leaders from UTSG represent Texas college students not just to the university and board of regents, but also to local, state, and federal governments. UTSG executive priorities include expanding legal aid for undocumented students, preventing interpersonal violence, promoting inclusion and diversity, and improving mental and physical health. UTSG agencies specialize in policy areas such as civic advocacy, health advocacy, and service. Any student can submit a resolution, and the UTSG encourages students to submit ideas for implementation. The group provides resources, assistance, and funding for many such proposals.
Located in the small city of Ithaca, Cornell University's expansive main campus commands views of the Finger Lakes region of upstate New York. A large Ivy League school founded in 1865, Cornell serves about 23,000 students, nearly 15,000 of them undergraduates. Cornell's notable alumni include many U.S. legislators and diplomats, as well as numerous foreign leaders.
Cornell follows a model of shared governance through The Assemblies of the University. As one of six governing bodies, the Student Assembly (SA) represents undergraduate students and proposes university policy changes. This elected body of 20 students holds authority over some university policies related to students and determines how to disburse student activities fees to student organizations. The SA operates 16 standing committees which students may join, focusing on issues including diversity, financial aid, and dining services. Undergraduates also directly elect one student to serve on Cornell's board of trustees, as do graduate students.
University of Michigan-Ann Arbor
|Ann Arbor, MI||
Located in Ann Arbor, the University of Michigan's flagship campus serves close to 30,000 undergraduates. Michigan students claim a longstanding history of student activism. Michigan alumni include numerous activists, nonprofit leaders, legislators, governors, ambassadors, and judges, as well as one U.S. president, Gerald Ford.
Today, Michigan students may join more than 1,400 student organizations, including many political, social, and service groups. The Central Student Government (CSG) operates independently from the university as a nonprofit. The CSG assembly includes representatives from all of the university's colleges and schools. The group meets weekly to pass legislation and resolutions. Also, representatives from each degree-granting institution at the university collaborate on initiatives and debate issues through a university council. Recent CSG initiatives include increasing voter registration, improving technology access, and making textbooks more affordable. The CSG's judiciary hears cases involving election disputes, constitutional issues, and club conflicts.
Located in Claremont, California, Pitzer College is one of the Claremont Colleges consortium. With a student population of just over 1,000, Pitzer combines all the benefits of a small, private college with the resources and opportunities of the consortium. Pitzer students regularly work as activists on social and political causes, and engage in community service projects.
Pitzer students participate in the school's overall governance by serving on the college's primary legislative body, the College Council, and its standing committees. Students, faculty, and staff make policy decisions together through these governing bodies. The Pitzer Student Senate coordinates student involvement in college governance, advocates for student interests, and funds student organizations. It consists of an executive board, legislature, and judicial council. The Senate holds meetings open to all students and organizes initiatives on matters relevant to students, such as a campus ban on bottled water and bringing prominent speakers to campus.
|New Haven, CT||
A private, Ivy League university located in New Haven, Connecticut, Yale University admits only 7% of all applicants into its undergraduate student body of 5,700 students. Since opening in 1701, Yale has educated many political leaders from around the world, including four U.S. presidents.
Yale College Council (YCC) consists of an executive board and council of representatives and associates. It operates under a project-based model where individual student leaders pursue policy initiatives. Under this model, the YCC opened up opportunities for students to live in mixed-gender housing and expanded student mental health services. Examples of recent YCC initiatives include expanding the use of dining halls as study spaces, providing more resources and support for students experiencing mental health issues, increasing sexual assault training, and scheduling meals with professors. A funding committee allocates funds to more than 600 student groups. The YCC also provides and publicizes student discounts to local businesses and online services.
Located in the heart of California's Silicon Valley, prestigious Stanford University admits only 5% of all applicants to join its 7,000 undergraduates. Boasting one of the country's largest college campuses, the school claims many notable graduates, including numerous elected and appointed U.S. leaders and foreign dignitaries.
Every student is a member of the Associated Students of Stanford University (ASSU). The ASSU funds more than 500 student organizations and advocates for student interests through its undergraduate and graduate legislative bodies. The group provides essential services to students such as equipment lending and legal aid. The ASSU's executive branch leads initiatives aimed at improving student life and access to resources. A constitutional council ensures that the ASSU acts per its constitution and keeps students' best interests in mind. Stanford class presidents appoint cabinets to help them lead programming for each graduating class.
Nestled on 300 acres in Vermont's Green Mountains near the town of Brattleboro, Marlboro College offers a highly personalized education to fewer than 500 undergraduate and graduate students. With an average class size of eight, Marlboro promotes a culture of egalitarianism and civic engagement through its courses, programs, and operations. Marlboro students create their own majors, called plans of concentration.
Marlboro offers a unique opportunity for all students to participate in direct democracy, a form of government rarely found outside of New England small towns. As a self-governing community, all students, faculty, and staff may attend town hall meetings to discuss and vote on campus-wide issues. Nine elected community members form a selectboard responsible for organizing the town meetings. All Marlboro community members may also participate in self-government by joining committees that oversee areas such as housing, dining, curriculum, and faculty hiring.
University of Wisconsin-Madison
Founded in 1848, the University of Wisconsin offers more than 200 academic programs and 900 student organizations to its more than 31,000 undergraduates. Located in Madison, UW's flagship campus emphasizes service, boasting 37,000 volunteer hours completed by students in 2015-16.
As part of the Wisconsin state government, the Associated Students of Madison (ASM) allocates more than $50 million in university fees in consultation with the university chancellor. Through direct-action campaigns, ASM won 24-hour libraries, tuition caps, and student seats on the board of regents, and registered thousands of voters. In addition to funding student organizations and services, ASM administers the distribution of student bus passes and manages the student activity center and a nonprofit print shop. ASM consists of a representative student council, a finance committee, a judiciary, and numerous committees and boards. Through shared governance, student representatives participate fully in campus-wide committees.
Located in Rhode Island's capital, Providence, Brown University offers an Ivy League education to nearly 7,000 undergraduates. Only 8% of those who apply to this exclusive school get in, yet those who attend Brown tend to stay. The school boasts a retention rate of 98% and a graduation rate of 95%.
Brown's Undergraduate Council of Students (UCS) has advocated for student interests since 1893. Today, UCS operates eight standing committees and sends representatives to university committees, including a financial aid advisory board and the college curriculum committee. Through these committees, student leaders advance student needs and work collaboratively with faculty members on campus issues. Each year, the UCS' undergraduate finance board allocates more than $1.5 million collected through student activity fees to Brown student organizations. Many Brown students remain politically active after graduation. Brown alumni include many notable activists, legislators, and political advisors, dating back to the 1700s.
The University of Alabama
Founded in 1831, Alabama's flagship public university sits on a 1,200-acre campus in Tuscaloosa. The University of Alabama offers nearly 90 majors and more than 500 student organizations to about 33,000 undergraduates.
Alabama's Student Government Association (SGA) represents students and advocates for their interests. The SGA's executive branch consists of an executive council and cabinet that oversee financial affairs and student organization funding. A student senate of representatives from every college meets weekly at sessions open to the public. A student judiciary decides cases regarding football tickets, parking tickets, and non-academic honor code violations. Members of the student judiciary also serve as leaders and role models on the school's honor code, the Capstone Creed. At a football-loving school, one of the SGA's main initiatives remains running homecoming activities. The SGA also connects students with resources related to mental health, sexual health, and safety.
|New York, NY||
Founded in 1754 and located in Upper Manhattan in New York City, Columbia University serves more than 30,000 students, about 8,000 of whom are undergraduates. This private Ivy League school has turned out many notable alumni, including U.S. presidents Alexander Hamilton, Barack Obama, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Theodore Roosevelt.
Due to Columbia's size, several governing bodies represent students. Each of Columbia's four undergraduate colleges runs a student council to advocate for student needs, viewpoints, and interests. These councils work together to fund student groups and events for undergraduates. Also, the 108-member Columbia University Senate includes 24 students. This group represents students, faculty, and other stakeholders, and decides university policies. Founded after the 1968 student protests, Columbia's Student Governing Board represents the interests of student organizations. Representatives of more than 90 student organizations vote in town hall meetings on initiatives and the selection of executive board members.
Located in northwest Washington, D.C., American University offers students interested in politics a front row seat to the inner workings of the U.S. government. More than 8,000 undergraduates attend this private university, where international relations and political science rank among the most popular majors. The school boasts many alumni who enter politics, including elected leaders in the U.S. and abroad.
For some AU students, a career in public service starts with involvement in the American University Student Government, consisting of a senate and judicial board as well as the Center for Advocacy and Student Equity (CASE). CASE assists students involved in conduct reviews and advocates for student rights and safety. Through its other programs, AU's student government brings noted speakers and entertainers to campus, advocates for programming that is inclusive regarding gender and sexuality, and funds student organizations and activities.
University of California-Los Angeles
|Los Angeles, CA||
Serving 31,000 undergraduates, the University of California, Los Angeles receives more applications than any other school in the U.S. UCLA encourages students to get involved locally by working on environmental issues, joining a mobile health clinic, tutoring low-income students, and advocating for workers' rights.
UCLA's Undergraduate Students Association (USAC) runs community service outreach programs, brings entertainment and speakers to campus, and supports a variety of wellness programs and social justice campaigns. The USAC leadership includes 14 elected student officers and non-voting faculty, alumni, and administration representatives. A judicial board ensures compliance with the organization's constitution and by-laws. An accounting office manages one of the country's largest student government budgets and oversees the organization's funding of more than 700 student groups. UCLA students also impact school policy-making through service on campus-wide committees.
Located in central New York State overlooking the city of Syracuse, this private university founded in 1870 serves more than 15,000 undergraduates. Syracuse University graduates hail from all 50 states and more than 170 countries. Notable alumni include Joe Biden and Pat Moynihan.
SU's Student Association advocates for student interests as their political representative to the administration. It does so through standing committees tasked with issues such as academic affairs, diversity, and community engagement. The group is organized into a student assembly of representatives from each school or college, a cabinet, and a judicial review board. A finance board oversees the Student Association's allocation of funding for student organizations and events.
SU students also play key roles in school governance. They serve as members of the University Senate, the university's academic governing body, alongside faculty, staff, and administration. Student representatives also sit on the Board of Trustees.
Bryn Mawr College
|Bryn Mawr, PA||
Nestled in the Main Line suburbs of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, this liberal arts college for women founded in 1885 exists as part of a tri-college consortium with nearby Haverford and Swarthmore. Once on campus, Bryn Mawr's 1,600 undergraduates become steeped in a tradition of social and political activism that draws on the school's Quaker roots and Seven Sisters status.
While attending the nation's first college to allow students to govern themselves, Bryn Mawr students agree to adhere to an academic and social honor code. In return, faculty trust students to behave with integrity, as seen in the school's tradition of self-scheduled exams. Bryn Mawr's Self-Government Association runs an honor board that adjudicates honor code violations and allocates funds to student clubs. Through appointments to college committees, students participate in joint discussions with faculty on important campus issues, including curriculum and faculty appointments. Any student may propose a resolution for student approval at twice-annual plenary sessions.
More than 6,000 undergraduates attend Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, where public policy and political science remain popular majors. Duke emphasizes civic and global engagement and service learning. Duke alumni include diplomats, elected leaders, appointed government officials, and military leaders.
Duke Student Government (DSG) includes legislative, executive, and judicial bodies. Standing committees of student senators work on a variety of academic, campus, and community issues on topics such as voter registration, sexual assault, and diversity. DSG elects a Student Organization Financing Committee to allocate funds to student groups. DSG also provides services to students, such as student discounts at local businesses.
Duke student leaders seek to integrate technology into their work. Student leaders may submit and track legislation and view student government records through an internal online hub. DSG also started a unique effort to gather and use data to inform and support its policy proposals.
Earlham College, a small, private, liberal arts school, stands in the small city of Richmond, Indiana, near the Ohio border. The school serves just over 1,000 students, many from countries outside the U.S., and boasts a 10-to-1 student-teacher ratio. As a Quaker school, Earlham's programs and policies emphasize equality, social justice, and community problem-solving, and all campus groups seek consensus during decision-making.
Earlham Student Government (ESG) advocates for student interests through engagement with faculty and university groups that includes nominating student representatives to these groups. ESG also holds weekly student senate meetings open to all students, funds student clubs, and hosts regular events such as service activities. ESG facilitates conversations among students on issues about which they feel strongly and may disagree through regular student forums and discussion sessions. Examples include forums on the smoking policy and student code of conduct.
University of Georgia
Close to 29,000 undergraduates attend the University of Georgia, among the nation's first public universities, located in the renowned college town of Athens. Georgia's flagship school claims one of the nation's largest public service and outreach programs.
Student involvement at UGA revolves around participation in more than 700 registered student organizations. UGA's Student Government Association (SGA) protects and advocates for student rights, organizes community-building programs on campus and with rival schools, and provides student services such as legal aid. Student senators advocate on behalf of the schools or student groups they represent at weekly meetings. The SGA's judicial branch ensures that all decisions adhere to their constitution. Executive initiatives include actions on issues such as sexual assault, substance abuse, and late-night transportation.
About 2,800 students attend Oberlin College, a private, liberal arts college and music conservatory located in Oberlin, Ohio. Boasting a long history of advocating for equality and civil rights, Oberlin became the first co-ed college in the U.S. to admit African Americans and women in the 1830s. Oberlin's most popular majors today include political science and environmental studies.
Well-known for their political activism, Oberlin students take advantage of numerous opportunities to express their views and advocate for important causes. The chief vehicle for student participation in the school's governance remains the Oberlin Student Senate. The senate develops legislation and provides open forums for student dialogue. All students can attend weekly senate meetings where students work in groups to tackle issues such as sexualized violence and financial accessibility. Each senator must serve on at least one faculty committee and hold at least one officer position.