Feb. 3, 2002
There are many quality colleges and universities in America. The problem for high schoolers is not to find one, but rather to select one from among so many worthy candidates.
My personal list of college quality points begins with faculty quality and access. The relative prestige of an institution will do an undergraduate little good if the senior faculty is not available in full force. If freshmen are not taught by senior, tenured professors, then I feel something is lacking.
The emphasis on research today has led to a significant number of senior professors migrating to the graduate level in universities. Relatively inexperienced Teaching Assistants (TAs) are too often given responsibility for instructing full-priced undergraduate courses. Accordingly, you should ask the TA situation at the schools on your candidate list before investing a lot of time and consideration in them.
Physical resources are also important. Remember, you'll be spending the better part of four years of your life at your undergraduate institution. Find out how new the equipment is in the area that you're interested in--lab equipment, computer clusters, and related hardware.
What about the library? Is it substantial enough to support serious research, or will you have to use interlibrary loans all the time? How about housing? Are the living accommodations acceptable? Don't use a viewbook to judge a school's physical plant. Go there, and investigate the facilities that don't have their pictures published.
In addition to the quality of the faculty and the resources, the quality of the students should be examined also. What is the profile of the undergraduates who attend the schools on your list of candidates? A quality student body should have a high graduation rate. Some of the very best schools graduate 90-some percent of their freshmen in four years. There should also be a strong percentage of freshmen who ranked in the top tenth of their high school classes. Forty-to-50 percent is a good benchmark. And, of course, there's always the average SAT score for incoming freshmen (if you consider that to be a reliable index). Scores averaging in a range starting with 1050-to-1100 indicate a competitive student body.
These are just a few quality criteria. There are many colleges who meet or exceed these three. Your job is to find the one that is right for you.
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