When my children were at the stage of comparing colleges, we toured several. It was fun! We saw lots of amazing facilities – colorful rock climbing walls, well-stocked weight rooms, even a lazy river.

Those things make great eye candy, and I understand why the colleges included them on the tour, but many students will never use them more than once or twice. If you want to know what your educational experience is going to be like, visit the classrooms.

Classrooms may sound dull, but every student will spend 15+ hours a week there, and what happens inside them is what determines whether your college experience is valuable. You don’t have to be an educational technology whiz to evaluate them either – just count the chairs.

The small classroom experience is completely different from the amphitheater experience.

As a student, I have been in classrooms with 300 of my closest friends. Let me tell you what it was like.

  • As the number of chairs in the room grew, student engagement dropped. From my Olympian perch at the top of the amphitheater, I could see most of my classmates were playing minesweeper, streaming ESPN videos, or doing anything other than focusing on what was happening at the front of the class.
  • I never got to know my instructors. Don’t get me wrong, I had some great professors, but I never met them.
  • I never wrote a paper, worked on a group project, or made a presentation in those classes. The only possible way we could be assessed was by multiple-choice exams graded by a computer. (Although, I remember one class where the school split us into groups of 20 and employed an army of teaching assistants to teach us. I wrote out some quizzes in that one.)

Education students working in groups

As a professor, I now teach classes of 15 to 30 at the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor. Education is very different in the small classroom.

  • With a smaller group of people, I notice when a student’s eyes are averted from the action in the class. Sometimes I invite them to join the discussion or offer them a relevant question. Sometimes I just walk over and make sure they are doing okay.
  • After a few weeks, I know all my students’ names. They drop by my office and wave when they see me on campus. Sometimes they ask me for recommendations for jobs or graduate schools. Getting to know the students is one of my favorite parts of being a professor.
  • I have never taught a class where the students did not work in groups, make presentations and write memos. I am a business professor, and I learned from my time in the financial services industry that no one will pay you to take exams. Sure, my students take some exams, but it just seems so important to make sure my students are also assessed on the skills that employers actually want.

Class sizes are not the only consideration for picking a college, and maybe for some students large classes can be effective, but don’t be fooled into thinking they won’t impact your education. When it comes to choosing a college, forget the lazy river. Ask your tour guide to let you sit in on some freshman-level classes. That is the part of the tour where you will find out whether your experience at that college will be amazing.

UMHB is known as a university where outstanding faculty members provide not only great classroom experiences but also the personal attention students need to learn and grow. Our student-to-faculty ratio is 18:1, allowing students the opportunity to know their professors personally. For more information, we invite you to visit our website, or stop by for a visit!