A warning to high schoolers

Although most posts I previously wrote were related to the application process for graduate school, this time around I am talking about how to shop for an undergraduate education with a major in mind, It’s perfectly understandable that one might want to shop a college with a major in mind, provided one’s credentials and budget are accounted for. And one may very well be tempted to shop for an undergraduate education with a graduate guide. Again, I can understand why one would even do so, but, in my opinion, graduate guides are good gauges for only one aspect of undergraduate education: research internships.

There are schools who, without question, do a great job of educating both undergraduates and graduate students in a given field (my undergrad is one as far as physics is concerned), and others who do neither. But, quite often, there is a tradeoff being made: often, at research-intensive departments, the professors will be more preoccupied by research, they won’t put much thought into their teaching, even though many faculty teaching contracts have some stipulation that, in non-sabbatical years, they have to teach undergraduates. And, especially in the natural sciences and in engineering, undergraduate teaching labs may not stack up against research labs.

One could say that such a discrepancy between graduate and undergraduate isn’t usually so great because the professors know their subject matter (and said professors are the same for everyone), because the library collections are accessible to every student. Humanities and social sciences are usually not fields where discrepancies between undergraduate and graduate education are considered as either common or large.

So, in essence, if it’s possible for you to check whether undergraduates seem to get a great education or not, consider doing it prior to application; if a college requires a “Why X” essay, then you may use the contents of your communications with students.

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