By Lee Bierer
Not being certain of your college major or your future career path is neither a cause for concern nor a free pass to assume you don’t need to think about academics as you research colleges. Here are a few questions you should ask every college on your list:
1. What are the distribution requirements, if any? Columbia University’s “Core” curriculum has a requisite set of courses in contemporary civilization, literature, writing, arts, music and science. Compare those prescribed requirements with Brown University. Brown’s “new curriculum” – adopted in 1969 – requires very little; students have the wide-ranging freedom and the responsibility to design their own curriculum. After being bogged down with so many requirements in high school, many students fantasize about the luxury of only taking classes of interest. Other students are intimidated by too much freedom and opt for more structure. Figure out where you sit on this spectrum and then evaluate colleges accordingly.
2. What about the way courses are structured? In high school you participated in team projects, lecture classes, had a few hands-on interactive experiences, and completed individual papers and reports. You’ll need to recognize your optimum learning style and find out, department by department, how different majors define their “learning/teaching culture.” The likelihood is that you’ll have a combination of the above formats – but if you find out that you’ll have to wait until junior year to have a class with less than 75 students and that doesn’t suit your learning style, that school is not a good fit.
3. Do you need or want actively engaged professors and lots of interaction? Check out the Princeton Review, Fiske Guide to Colleges, and College Prowler descriptions and ratings for “Professor Accessibility” as well as the average class size and the student-to-faculty ratio.