What's a Student-Faculty Ratio and Why Does It Matter?

You'll read a lot about student-faculty ratios during your college search, but do they even matter? Find out what it means and why you should care here!

As you research colleges, you’ll discover that most schools include “student-faculty ratio” in their statistics. You may be wondering what that is, what it means, and why it matters. Here’s what you should know about student-faculty ratios and why you may want to pay attention to this figure during your college search.

What is a student-faculty ratio?

A student-faculty ratio is exactly what it sounds like: a ratio of how many students there are at a school for every one faculty member. Every college is going to have a different ratio, but you’ll find that the major difference is between large schools and small schools: smaller schools will have a smaller ratio than larger schools. For example, Brandeis University has an undergraduate population of about 4,000 students and a 10:1 student-faculty ratio. This means there are about 400 faculty members on campus. On the other hand, the University of Texas at Austin has around 37,000 undergraduate students and a 19:1 student-faculty ratio. This equals just under 1,950 faculty members to help those students. 

Related: Comparing Public Colleges: Big vs. Small Schools 

Low vs. high student-faculty ratios

A college may promote its student-faculty ratio to prospective students, especially if it’s in the single digits. But this number ratio can be more or less important depending on what you’re hoping to get out of your college experience. Lower student-faculty ratios usually mean smaller class sizes. If you want to develop close relationships with your professors and conduct research with them, you should look for schools with low student-faculty ratios. A lower number also means you’ll have increased opportunities for support should the need arise. Because there are fewer students, faculty members will know you better, be more available, and will likely offer you the support you need, whenever you need it. If opportunities like these are important to you, student-faculty ratio will likely be much more important in your search.

If you’re planning to use college as a means of making new friends and connections and are more focused on the experiences you can have outside the classroom, student-faculty ratio may not be as important to you. A school with a higher ratio provides some reassurance that there will be plenty of students to meet and spend time with. You may also prefer to be just a face in the crowd in class and on campus. If so, look for schools with high student-faculty ratios. You can still make great connections with faculty members—you’ll just have more students to compete with over office hours.

Should I care about this number?

Ultimately, student-faculty ratio is only as important as you think it is. If conducting research with professors and forming relationships with other faculty members is something you desire, then a low student-faculty ratio is something you’ll want to look out for. If you’re more interested in having larger classes and lots of new people to meet (or more anonymity), a high student-faculty ratio will probably be a better option for you. When looking for colleges, you should keep in mind that smaller schools will almost always have a smaller ratio than larger schools. 

Related: Video: Advantages and Disadvantages of Small Schools 

One last important thing to keep in mind when looking at student-faculty ratios: a low or high ratio is not necessarily indicative of the number of opportunities on campus. Each school is going to be different, so it’s important that you research all aspects of a college before deciding where to go. Good luck in your college search! 

Find schools with the student-faculty ratio that fits you best using our College Search tool.

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