Student to Faculty Ratio: What Does it Mean?

Learn how this statistic will affect your academic experience in college.

One of the many things you’ll hear from campus tour guides and college recruiters is a school’s student-to-faculty ratio. While colleges hope that their ratio will encourage students to apply, many prospective applicants aren’t really sure of how this statistic will affect them in the long run. In fact, a student-to-faculty ratio can impact your academic experience in many ways. Learn more about what a student-to-faculty ratio is and how a low ratio can benefit your college experience.

When looking at student-to-faculty ratios, it’s important to consider your own personal priorities and academic background.

Interpreting the Ratio

When it comes down to it, what does the student-to-faculty ratio at a school really mean? In a literal sense, this term applies to how many faculty members there are at a college in comparison to the number of students. According to U.S. News and World Report, for example, the University of Missouri has a student-to-faculty ratio of 20:1. This means that there is one faculty member for every twenty students at the school. Meanwhile, Lawrence University has a student-to-faculty ratio of 9:1. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the national average for college student-to-faculty ratios is 18:1.

In a broader sense, a student-to-faculty ratio may also tell you a few things about the type of academic environment at that college. Schools with a large number of students tend to have higher ratios as well. Let’s look at the two examples from above; while the University of Missouri has nearly 27,000 students enrolled, Lawrence University has around 1,500 students. In addition, schools with high student-to-faculty ratios also tend to have larger class sizes. At the University of Missouri, 45.9 percent of classes have fewer than 20 students; at Lawrence University, that percentage goes up to 78.4. These factors will clearly influence what type of experience a student has in college, so it’s important to consider student-to-faculty ratio when looking for a college match.

How a Low Ratio Can Serve Students

Colleges don’t tout their low student-to-faculty ratios for nothing. There are several benefits associated with attending a college with a low student-to-faculty ratio, including:

• Smaller classes
When there are fewer students per faculty member, class sizes tend to shrink. You’ll have more opportunities to get involved in class discussion and ask questions. Students in the class will get to know you and vice versa. It’s also harder to slack off in a small class, which means that you may need to devote more time and attention to your assignments.

One-on-one attention
Students receive more individual attention when there are fewer students per faculty member. Instructors may actually learn your name (along with your weaknesses and strengths) in your classes. At schools with low student-to-faculty ratios, you’ll find it fairly easy to schedule a meeting with a professor outside of class time. Since the faculty members have more manageable workloads, they may also have more time to devote to helping you with questions and assignments.

Fewer students
If you look at the list of the smallest student-to-faculty ratios from U.S. News and World Report, you’ll see that most of these institutions have 2,000 students or less. While it’s not a hard and fast rule, it is true that colleges with low student-to-faculty ratios also tend to have a lower number of students enrolled. At a smaller school, you may get to know more people on campus and feel less anonymous than you might at a larger university. For some people, a smaller school also brings a sense of comfort and safety.

Making a Decision

When looking at student-to-faculty ratios, it’s important to consider your own personal priorities and academic background. While schools strive for a lower student-to-faculty ratio, it certainly doesn’t mean that you won’t get an excellent education at a college with a high ratio. In fact, a large university with a high student-to-faculty ratio may offer benefits that you won’t find at the small colleges with the lowest ratios. For example, large colleges and universities often have more resources and degree programs. They may also attract renowned professors and lecturers. Others have state-of-the-art facilities and world-class athletics programs.

To help you determine how important a low student-to-faculty ratio is to you, ask yourself the following questions:

• Will I benefit from lots of individual attention from my professors?
• Do I learn better when there is a high level of accountability (which is often found in smaller classes)?
• Do I value intimate classroom experiences over the experience of attending a large university?
• Is it important to me to have lots of resources available on campus, such as clubs, organizations, athletics, job fairs, etc.?

Asking yourself these types of questions will help you find a college match that’s right for you. When looking at student-to-faculty ratio, it’s important to see it as just one part of the equation. While it may affect your final decision, it doesn’t have to be a deciding factor for everyone.

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