Finding schools with great professors is an essential part of the college search, and it goes far beyond just asking if classes are taught by teaching assistants or actual professors. Most students consider the size, location, and academic offerings of a college, but they fail to think about the essential people leading them to a college degree: the professors.
Define what makes a good professor
To find colleges or universities with great professors, you must first define what "great" means to you. Do you want to really get to know your professors and possibly work side-by-side on a research project? Then look for smaller liberal arts colleges where each professor’s main focus is teaching undergraduates. Do you want to learn from professors doing groundbreaking research and publishing articles in the most prestigious journals related to their fields? Then look for larger research universities where their focus is contributing to their academic discipline.
Consider average class sizes
One factor you can use to determine how great professors are is the average class size of a college or university. This is a statistic that’s announced in just about every admission data presentation. However, just because a class is small doesn't mean that it will be a good experience. Also, there’s often little information behind that statistic. For example, does the college offer small classes in every major or just certain ones? Are the programs with small classes challenging to get into? Do you have to wait until you’re a junior or senior to take smaller classes? These are all important factors to consider. The best way to determine what the "average class size" means at a college or university is to ask a current student about their class sizes and the atmosphere of each one.
Look into student-faculty ratios
Another statistic often cited when determining the quality of the professors is the student-faculty ratio. Similar to class size statistic, this can vary from department to department. For example, an obscure major could have a smaller ratio, while a more popular major could be much higher. It comes down to determining how many students have been admitted to the program you’re interested in and then looking at how many full professors (not adjuncts or teaching assistants) there are in that department. Student-faculty ratios can also be skewed by the type of professors in the department. Adjunct professors tend to be temporary lecturers who teach one or two classes a semester. If the school calculates adjunct professors into their numbers, then the ratio can vary from year to year, and it’s good to consider if adjunct professors are what you want.
Talk to current students
My favorite way to determine how great professors are is to ask the students, but you must be specific to get the answers you really want. Who’s your favorite professor and why? Ask them to tell you about a time they interacted with a professor outside the classroom and how it went or why it impacted them. By asking for specific examples, you’re more likely to hear stories of how professors truly interact with students and get an idea if they’re the kinds of teachers who care about the people in their classes.
Research special programs
Another way to learn about professors is to ask about special programs. Schools with majors or courses that are integrated across departments show that professors are willing to go the extra mile to provide a high-quality education. Teaching within your area of expertise is one thing, but sitting down with another professor and creating a curriculum covering two or more disciplines is no easy task. Students can benefit from learning about a topic or issue from multiple perspectives. Also, colleges or universities that offer programs where professors travel abroad with students or take students to the nearest metropolitan area to learn about an industry firsthand show they have professors invested in their education.
Finding the right college with the right professors can mean gaining lifelong mentors—people who’ll not only educate you but change the way you see the world. Professors can also be integral in helping you navigate your career path. Determining how you can connect with professors at the colleges and universities you’re researching may seem like an obscure concern, but it could make all the difference in the world when you get to campus.
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