It’s that time of year again. Students are receiving acceptance/denial letters, making last-minute visits to campuses, weighing up financial aid offers, poring over websites, and talking endlessly to advice-givers.
I’ve been thinking about this question since 1975, since I made my first applications for university, and I’ve been around universities and colleges ever since. So perhaps I can tell you how to know where the best teaching is.
Alas, I actually can’t.
Presuming that you’re putting first things first—and many students don’t: I remember hearing once that the top criterion for American high school students in selecting a college was “appearance of the campus”—you want to get the best education you can, which means, if nothing else, being taught by the best scholars. Despite all the published guides, however, finding out where the best scholars are is nearly impossible.
The usual criteria of “good teaching situations” are worth considering: low student/faculty ratios and class sizes; high percentage of courses taught by full-time faculty; the reputation of the school in various surveys; and so on.
A small class taught by a bad teacher is still, however, a bad class. Many sessional instructors, relatively inexperienced and terribly harried as they usually are, often teach better than do their tenured counterparts.
What about school reputation? Can’t we at least be sure that the better schools have the better people?
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