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Overhyped Statistic 1: Student-Teacher Ratio

Here and there over the next few weeks, I want to take a look at some statistics that I feel are overvalued by prospective students, as well as a few statistics that are undervalued. The first one that comes to mind is student-teacher ratio (or average class-size).

Over the last twenty years the trend has been for colleges to increasingly laud the classroom experience. Big research universities want students to know that they will not just be stuck in 500-person lecture halls and working with TAs. Small colleges will tell you about intimate classroom environments where students get to know their professors, not to mention the professor’s spouse, kids, and dog.

I know that when I was applying to college a small classroom that encouraged discussion and where I would get to know my professor was on the top of my list. So I looked no further than the student/teacher ratio. I believe this was misguided.

First of all, large classes are not as terrible as they sound. Would you rather be in a 100-person class with an exciting teacher, or a 25-person class with a boring teacher? Both classes will most likely be lecture-based, so there is little difference besides the number of questions you might get to ask. Routinely, the classes that everyone at my college said “you have to take!” were large lectures.

Furthermore, small discussion-based classes, while touted by the schools marketing materials, rarely lived up to expectations. While the best classes all have a discussion component, it is frustrating being in a class that is driven solely by discussion every day. For me at least, I’d rather listen to a teacher that knows what he’s talking about than another student that thinks he knows he is talking about.

This is not to say you should go to a school where you’ll be another number and never meet your professor. On the contrary, what is really important is professor interaction. Sadly, this is not as easy to quantify as the number of students divided by the number of professors. Do the research to find out what the relationship is like between students and professors. Where I went to college, if students brought their professors in to the campus bar on Thursdays, they all drank for free. Opportunities like this allowed us to forge bonds outside the classroom. Even more important is finding out about the culture of office hours. Do all professor’s have office hours? Or is it just a TA? Are they usually helpful, or are they dismissive?

When looking at your prospective schools, think about what you really want in your classroom experience. Student-teacher ratio will give you some knowledge of what to expect, but it is far from the whole story.

This post is titled, “Overhyped Statistic 1: Student-Teacher Ratio” It was written by Jon B., a writer on Top Test Prep’s team.

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