Student Comment Prompts

NSSE Student Comment Prompts: Options, Data and Using Results

At the end of the survey, students are invited to express their opinions about their college learning experience in a space for up to 5,000 characters.

Institutions may choose one of four open-ended prompts, the fourth being a default for institutions that did not choose a prompt. To illustrate the flavor of these comments, below are the four prompts with each followed by an actual student comment in response.

New in 2021 - in addition to choosing from among the four prompts, institutions may submit a customized prompt to invite student comments on the topic most useful to the campus.


“I would like to see more proactive academic and career advisers. I also feel my education would be improved with more communication and collaboration between faculty within [my major], instructors are often surprised by what we have or haven’t been taught in prerequisite courses.”

“The most satisfying experience I have had at this institution thus far would be just the overall ability to participate in higher education where the faculty and staff seem to be passionate about their role at the university and to enjoy working with the students. The most disappointing experience so far would have to be realizing that university can at times feel lonely.”

“Various friendships with professors —conversations outside of class, being referred to different books, getting to know leaders on study abroad trips, etc. I’ve learned the most from interacting with my professors outside of class, where we can talk in more of a mentor way than a strictly professor-student way.”

“Onething that should not be changed is the number and quality of majors offered. I think it would be good to implement more faculty-student research opportunities. Many students have never even heard of them (or claim they haven’t) and my experience has really helped me grow.”

Tips for Using Student Comments


Students’ confidential, candid reflections on their own college experience can be an asset in survey research and assessment. Taking the time to review student comments gives voice and agency to students at the institution and recognizes the time and energy put into providing a thoughtful response. Student comments also complement quantitative results and expand assessment to include what students view as important in their own lives.

Depending on the reason for choosing an open-ended option, the information gathered can be analyzed and used in a variety of ways, for example:

  • Use software such as NVivo or RapidMiner to conduct qualitative or text-mining analysis
  • Analyze the data for sentiment—discover whether responses are positive, negative, or
  • Share student comments with offices that can do their own focused analysis. For example, housing staff may be able to review for feedback on various living situations, or by student
  • Use student comments to complement quantitative findings. If student-faculty interaction is an area of concern for you, scan the comments for feedback on experiences with
  • Use student comments as a springboard for conducting focus groups or individual interviews, whereby you can learn more about positive experiences worthy of promotion or about struggles students are having that need to be
  • Add student comments to promotional materials to demonstrate that student opinions are

Your Student Comments Report and Data File

NSSE provides a Student Comments report (MS Excel) and a separate data file (SPSS) of all responses exactly as the students entered them (which may not be suitable for distribution without prior review). Responses are provided for up to three open-ended questions. Two such questions appear in Topical Modules (such as Civic Engagement; First-Year Experiences and Senior Transitions) and the third appears at the end of the survey after any module or consortium questions.

The report contains separate tabs for each source, as appropriate. Each tab contains the wording of the corresponding question. End-of-survey comments are provided in separate tabs for first-year and senior students. Module comments are sorted by class, enrollment status, and sex; End-of-survey comments are split by class and sorted by overall satisfaction, enrollment status, and sex. The report also charts the overall satisfaction of your students, comparing those who left a comment with those who left no comment (Figure 1).

The data file includes the same information plus the student survey identifiers. For this reason, we urge discretion when using, storing, and disseminating the
report and data file.

Evidence-Based Improvement in Higher Education

Center for Postsecondary Research
Indiana University School of Education
201 N. Rose Avenue
Bloomington, IN 47405-1006
Phone: 812.856.5824