Today, it is likely that most high school students will apply to college in order to gain some concentration in higher education. Students do this with the hopes of acquiring a dream job, or even just a stable job. However, the four years (and sometimes more) we spend in college will, ultimately, help define and shape us as young individuals. I am sure some of the current college readers can recall the stress of choosing a school that best fit your needs. So, one could say that the pressure to choose the 'perfect' school is pretty high.
When most high school students are narrowing their options for college they appear to focus on aspects such as major, location, social life, student-professor ratio, school size, etc. Now, while all of these aspects can influence one's decision, most students seem to forget about the specific focus the university puts on professors. Now, I realize that probably doesn't make much sense at the moment, but in time it will.
To start, I am going to give you an overview of the overall professor ranking. If you are already in college, you are probably thinking, 'aren't they all just professors?' (p.s. if you are a high school student, never call a professor a teacher-they hate it). And you would be right to think so. While they are all professors, they each are at a certain level within a ranking. There are three levels of professors; assistant, associate, and full. Many schools also have part-time or adjunct professors, but for this brief explanation the three will suffice. An assistant professor is an entry level position. An associate professor is typically appointed once the professor has worked at the institution for some time and has also contributed some meaningful research. A full professor is when professors acquire the golden ticket, tenure. For those who don't know what tenure is it's guaranteed job security at a specific institution. Of course, if the professor decide to commit a felony, tenure can't save them.
Phew, now that was a long and winded explanation, huh? I bet you are now thinking, 'why does this matter?' Well, I will tell you why. The process of moving up in ranking is based on a combination of three things; teaching, researching, and service. Professors are required to encompass these three aspects into their job. However, most promotions depend on which of the three the university values most (teach, research, service). If a professor works at an institution that is research-oriented (typically Ivy League schools), and publishes several articles in a journal, then they are more likely to climb the ladder to tenure faster. So, why is this all important when applying to college?
If you choose a research-oriented institution, the professors are most likely going to be more worried about producing excellent articles than teaching their students. If you look at many Ivy League schools you will notice that there are many student teaching assistants that instruct class. So, you have to ask yourself, if your professor is going to be focusing on their research, will they be able to provide you the education you are looking for? Most of the time, student's opinions of professors are skirted under the rug in research-oriented institutions. Why? Because the university is more concerned with the research they produce because it increases the image of the school.
On the flip side, if you choose a teaching-oriented school (typically small schools, i.e. Stonehill College) your professor is prioritizing teaching students first, and researching second. Thus, you are the professors main concern, even though the chant "publish or perish" is echoing in the professors mind. So, for those who go to a school with student course evaluations, do you ever wonder to what extent they listen to you? Typically at teaching-oriented schools, they do listen to the students. So if you give a professor a D, they will most likely be submitting their resume elsewhere. So at these universities, you have some control and say in who is teaching you. You are given a voice in your education.
Overall, one should take into account what the prospective universities prioritize. For some it may be research, for others it could be teaching. Since professors are trying to reach the end goal of tenure and promotion, they will likely attempt satisfy the universities desires (research, teach, service). However, your goal as a student is to gain a higher understanding in your desired field. So, it is important to try to align your goals with those of the professor and institution. Thus, I strongly recommend investigating what is going on under the hood of your prospective professors because when it comes down to it, they are the one's who will be teaching you the skills to accomplish your dreams in goals. So, don't you owe it to yourself to know that your professor and you have the same mentality?
Lastly, I want to echo that the professor is not evil for focusing on research instead of the student. Their work is contributing to the our large database of knowledge. As scholars, we could end up examining their work. So, no one institution is worse or better because it focuses on one aspect over the other. But, picking a college is a personal choice, and it is important to be completely informed before you make a life-altering decision.
So go forth, and think!