Last week I discussed why big is better, the best things about going to a large state universities. Today I’ll discuss the disadvantages.
Admissions officers make no bones about this: Out-of-state students pay higher tuition and fees to help subsidize costs for the state residents. Non-residents are not eligible for scholarships that bring their costs closer to those that s/he would pay by staying home. A private college or university is likely to offer a larger discount. There are exceptions; a 1400+ (out of 1600) SAT/4.0+ GPA student can get a free ride at many schools, including state universities outside of their home state. But those opportunities are few.
It’s very easy to pass on classes or preparing for classes and exams to become involved in extracurricular and social activities. No one is telling you to go to the class and no one is telling you not to have fun. Students who cannot manage the balance fail miserably. Large state universities, with few exceptions, have lower four-year graduation rates than the best private universities and many private liberal arts colleges.
There’s no way of getting around very large lecture classes for the first two years. Take these classes and will not get to know the professors. They also keep limited office hours to devote more time to research. You are totally responsible for learning the material. Yes, you can join with friends, bug your recitation instructor or find a tutor. But the lead lecturer does not care about how hard you tried. S/he has probably not seen your exam or paper; the grading has been delegated elsewhere. One exception: honors programs that have much smaller classes.
Aside from math and science courses, where you’ll need to solve problems faster than you ever did in high school, the big lecture courses rely on memorization more than anything else. If you don’t go to class, it’s very difficult to learn a subject by memorizing a text book. Unless you’re willing to live with a very low grade.
Faculty were hired for their contributions to scholarship in their field and their continuing research. It’s not uncommon for large state universities to have “rainmakers” on their faculty, professors who are extremely effective at attracting funding for their department and their research. None of these skills have anything to do with teaching. But they do have a lot to do with covering wages and other costs. A tenured professor with consulting contracts or privately-sponsored research and sabbatical awards may live a very good life. Sadly, there are fewer and fewer such people. And, if you find that a large state university relies heavily on adjuncts, consider other schools. The best ones invest in a permanent faculty. Some can become a part of your network for life.
Larger schools are often organized to allow faculty more autonomy. The leadership of each school sets its own academic requirements. This includes general education courses they will accept towards a degree. The calculus course, for example, that you took through the college of liberal arts might not be accepted by the college of engineering or the school of business if you want to change your major.
Yes, this is also true at Ivy League schools. But it is more true at large state universities. The athletic department wants to put the best possible teams on the field. They want to earn a profit to funnel back into its operations. Athletes are being recruited for their athletic abilities, not for their academic transcripts. If you feel that the star point guard or running back should have the same academic credentials as you do, you will be quite disappointed.
They’re as large as small cities. But 18-to-22 year old students make up the majority of the citizens. It’s harder for a shy person to make friends in a large community than a small one, unless you make the large community smaller. One suggestion: check out schools that organize students into learning communities by academic or personal interests. The experience at a large state school will be far more pleasant if you can find one or two small groups where you’ll fit in.
Listen to my talk, College Is A Learning AND Living Community, hosted by Dr. Cynthia Colon from Destination YOUniversity on Voice of America Radio!
Listen to my talk, What Exactly Is a Good College? hosted by test-prep experts Amy Seeley and Mike Bergin on Tests And The Rest!
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