Natalie is a teacher and holds an MA in English Education and is in progress on her PhD in psychology.
Clarence is preparing to go to college. He's very excited, but he's not exactly sure what college to choose. He's found several colleges that are in his budget, and he knows that he wants a 'good' college, but what exactly does that mean? What makes a college good?
When most people describe a college as good, they are usually describing the academics of the college, which is the course of study at the college. Academics are basically the scholastic part of college, as opposed to the social aspect of it.
The quality of academics varies from college to college. But how can Clarence know how to spot a college that has good academics and one that has not-so-good academics? Let's look at two ways to evaluate the academics of a college: academic options and academic quality.
Clarence is trying to figure out which colleges have good academics and which ones don't. He knows that academics have to do with the course of study at the college, but what exactly does that mean? Looking at the academic options of a college involves examining how varied the academic opportunities are at a college. Usually, academics happen in the classroom or lab, and some schools offer lots of variety, while others don't.
Essentially, to judge academic options, Clarence needs to see which colleges offer the most chances for him to learn. He can evaluate the academic options of a college by looking at three things:
1. Number of majors
A school with many majors offered has a wide variety of academic options. For example, Clarence isn't sure what his major will be. At different times, he's thought about majoring in theatre, psychology, chemistry and political science. He still isn't sure which of those will be his major or if another subject altogether will become his major. At a school with many majors, Clarence has many options.
2. Breadth of classes
This is closely linked to the number of majors, but here, Clarence is looking at how many different classes are available to him. For example, if he decides to become a chemistry major, he might still want to take a class in theatre or a class in political science. But if his school doesn't offer theatre or political science classes, he can't take them!
3. Hands-on research
The third major thing to look at when evaluating the academic options of a college is to see what opportunities exist for research. Will Clarence only be taking chemistry classes, or will he get the chance to do some research, too? A school with many academic options will include hands-on research opportunities for their students.
So, Clarence is trying to figure out what 'good' academics are. And while academic options are a good place for him to start, they are far from the last word in deciding whether a school has good academics. In fact, some would say that the academic options are less important than academic quality.
Academic quality has to do with how well students will learn at a school, and it has a lot to do with the faculty at the school. When comparing schools, Clarence should ask three questions about the faculty.
1. What is the experience level of most faculty?
If possible, Clarence should evaluate this not just for the college as a whole but for his major department, if he knows it. Often, the more experienced a professor is, the more knowledgeable he or she is. A more experienced faculty at a college, then, can signal superior academics.
2. What is the research reputation of the faculty?
In the world of higher education, the most famous and well-respected professors are those that do a lot of research. Knowing how well regarded the research of the faculty at a school is gives Clarence a peek into how well regarded the university's academics are.
3. Do the professors teach?
This might sound like a silly question, but often the most famous professors don't teach very much. Instead, their classes are taught by teaching assistants so that the professors can focus on their research. Though this gives the school a high-profile, well-respected faculty member, Clarence will likely not benefit from the faculty member's knowledge.
The answers to these questions are not readily available, but with some online research, Clarence can find the general answers.
However, another measure of the quality of academics is easy to find. Accreditation is a process of evaluating a school to make sure that the academics and finances of a school are solid. Whether a school is accredited or not can be found on the school's website or by doing a simple online search.
Clarence and other students should not consider a school that is not accredited. Without accreditation, a school's students cannot use federal financial aid and the degrees from that school are not valuable. As a result, a student might go to a non-accredited school and spend a lot of money for a degree, only to find out that he cannot get a job afterwards.
Accreditation is essentially a yes/no option: either a school is accredited or it is not. As a result, it will not differentiate between the quality of academics of two schools that are both accredited. But it should be considered a minimum of academic quality, and students, like Clarence, should not choose a non-accredited school.
Where to go to college is a major decision. One way to compare colleges is by evaluating their academics. The academic options of a college include the number of majors, breadth of courses and hands-on research opportunities. Meanwhile, the academic quality of a college can be gleaned by evaluating the experience and research reputation of the faculty, as well as whether the professors actually teach or not. A minimum requirement for considering a school should be that it is accredited, which says that it meets some standards for academic and financial quality.
After you've reviewed this video lesson, you will be able to:
- Discuss factors to consider when looking at the academic options of a college
- Recall questions you should ask when determining a college's academic quality
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