Welcome to College Confidential!

The leading college-bound community on the web

Sign Up For Free

Join for FREE, and start talking with other members, weighing in on community polls, and more.

Also, by registering and logging in you'll see fewer ads and pesky welcome messages (like this one!)

As a CC member, you can:

Share your LAC experience(Do major focused people get bored at LACs)?

eltanineltanin Posts: 137Registered User Junior Member
edited November 2012 in College Search & Selection
Hi.
My question is a little vague.
I'm pretty focused on majoring in Physics and Computer Science. I've been told many times that people with a specific major in mind(and especially if they have AP credit) soon run out of classes/work at small LACs, as they don't offer graduate/advanced/challenging classes.
So is it true?
How was your LAC education experience if you were/are like me(not necessarily focused on Physics, but on any other one major)?
Please share what you can. It'll help me take some important decisions in the long run.
Thanks.
Post edited by eltanin on

Replies to: Share your LAC experience(Do major focused people get bored at LACs)?

  • M's MomM's Mom Posts: 4,562Registered User Senior Member
    Take a look at the course catalog to check the breadth and depth of coursework offered in your areas of interest at those LACs you are considering. Some schools will have more in your particular depts of interest than others. No LAC offers graduate coursework because there are no grad students - but many offer independent study/research and directed reading one-on-one with faculty if you are interested in pursuing something in depth that isn't otherwise offered. Realize that not every course in the catalog is offered every year: some are only every other years. Check too on how the school handles it if you are shut out of a course - small class sizes make that a real possibility. Do you get preference the next time the course is offered? If you are majoring in an area, do you get preference for enrollment in a course that isn't offered every year?

    And yes, you can run out of courses to take in your area. Usually its not because you've taken every class the department offers but rather because the courses offered less often fill up. You might end up having to take a few courses in other fields - for better or worse.

    I won't bother reiterating all the positives - there are many - since that's not what you asked. But realize that there are always trade-offs between a LAC and a larger school and this is one of them.
  • annasdadannasdad Posts: 4,822Registered User Senior Member
    To add to M's Mom's response, each LAC will have departments they're strong in, with plenty of course offerings for even the most advanced student, and others that get barely a lick and a promise.

    For example, one of the LACs where my daughter was admitted (not the one she's attending) had neuroscience offerings the equal of a respectable research university. The same school's math offerings were exceedingly weak. Every LAC will be like this, with some strengths and some weaknesses.

    If you know what you're going to major in, look for LACs that offer many advanced courses in your area.
  • LoremIpsumLoremIpsum Posts: 3,470Registered User Senior Member
    I'm pretty focused on majoring in Physics and Computer Science.

    In addition to a possible limit in the number of available courses, both these fields require a fairly significant investment in near state-of-the-art equipment, which is harder to do in a smaller school or LAC.

    My son's interests were computer science, math and physics in that order. When he started the college application process, we thought he would be a good fit for an LAC because he's pretty quiet (introverted). By the time acceptances were over, he had to choose between Williams, Amherst, Northwestern and Brown. While these are all very fine schools, he decided on Brown due to its LAC-like feel, combined with a much larger selection of classes and more extensive lab facilities. He had also become more confident and more comfortable working within a slightly larger environment.
  • ByeByeSavingsByeByeSavings Posts: 74Registered User Junior Member
    ^^ But speaking of Amherst and Smith, both are members of the Five College Consortium and students can also take classes at U Mass, Mount Holyoke, and Hampshire as well as each other. Shuttle bus running between all five campuses, pretty cool arrangement.
  • M's MomM's Mom Posts: 4,562Registered User Senior Member
    Good point about the LAC consortiums - there are several where the campuses are sufficiently close together that you can take classes at the other schools if you run out of options. For example, the Claremont Consortium (Pomona, Harvey Mudd, Scripps and Claremont McKenna) are on continguous campuses so it's an easy walk between schools. If you attend Barnard, you are across the street from Columbia. Swarthmore, Haverford and Bryn Mawr form another consortium. These schools give you that LAC experience but the wider range of classes to choose from.

    Keep in mind, though, that you really don't have that many slots to fill in 4 years. Assuming you are on the semester system and take 4 serious classes per semester, that's 32 in your entire college career. If you go abroad for a semester, subtract 4. If you have distribution requirements, subtract another 4. Your major will often require you to take classes outside of the dept. so in reality, you are very unlikely to have 'maxed out' on everything your school offers unless the dept. is very small.
  • eltanineltanin Posts: 137Registered User Junior Member
    Thanks a ton for your answers!
    @M's Mom: How can I find information on how classes work, seat availability, allotment and other dynamics?
    @LoremIpsum : Thanks for providing an example that I could relate to. How would you find out information about how good a department is, what their facilities are like etc when all the college websites seem to promise the same thing? The problem of lack of information is aggravated if you're looking at a department that isn't the one for which a certain college is known for.

    Do consortiums really work well? I mean, if I'm a student at LAC X and if I have to take classes at college Y, won't college Y first fill in the class with it's own students and then offer any seats to students of LAC X? Further, will the faculty of college Y be as accessible?
    Further, is there equitable distribution of resources between different colleges of a consortium? For instance, if 5 colleges jointly own an observatory/nuclear reactor, will students of all 5 colleges get equal time at that facility for UROPs etc?
  • M's MomM's Mom Posts: 4,562Registered User Senior Member
    These are questions that won't generally be answered on the schools' web sites. You need to ask the school.

    Some consortia work better than others. At the Claremont consortium (for example) the five campuses are contiguous and the weather is good year round, so it's easy to attend classes at another campus - but there are limits to how many courses you can take (annually? in total? I can't recall). You raise a good point about preference being given to the students of their own school for their courses - again you'd have to ask at each school about their policies. My guess is that faculty are equally accessible to any student in their class or a student who expresses a serious interest in their subject - but this too is something to check out with the school specifically. I'm less excited about consortia that require lengthy bus rides between campuses in lousy weather - I'm betting that in practice, few students avail themselves of the courses offered elsewhere under these conditions. Carleton and St. Olafs do some course sharing, I believe - but because of the weather, I'd be interested in knowing how often it actually happens. I believe that is also an issue at Swarthmore/Bryn Mawr/Haverford - all three schools are not equally easy to access. Worth doing some extra research if this is important to you.
  • LoremIpsumLoremIpsum Posts: 3,470Registered User Senior Member
    How would you find out information about how good a department is, what their facilities are like etc when all the college websites seem to promise the same thing?

    You can explore the course catalogs. Look at what classes are offered in your areas of greatest interest, read the descriptions, link to each class's website, if it has one. Is the material interesting? Is it presented dry or does it incorporate some multi-disciplinary creativity? Your course catalog is what's "on the menu" for a 4-year-long buffet; shouldn't you first see if it's to your taste before you make a final commitment?

    Look at the lists of professors who teach in your areas of greatest interest. What sort of research topics are they working on? Is there something there you'd really like to get involved in later?

    Post specific questions to current and former students on the CC individual college forums. You'll generally get honest answers without the sales-pitch filter.
  • ucbalumnusucbalumnus Posts: 31,956Registered User Senior Member
    But speaking of Amherst and Smith, both are members of the Five College Consortium and students can also take classes at U Mass, Mount Holyoke, and Hampshire as well as each other. Shuttle bus running between all five campuses, pretty cool arrangement.

    Yes, the strongest of the five for CS is the state school that seems to get little respect.

    On the other hand, an out-of-state student who wants to take CS courses at UMass - Amherst may find that one of those small private LACs is cheaper after better financial aid.
  • cltdadcltdad Posts: 937Registered User Member
    One caveat about checking courses listed in the catalog - just because a course is listed doesn't necessarily mean that the course is offered every year. So, if for example you want to take a class on string theory, but it is only offered once every other year, then you could miss out if it is only offered once during the window that you have completed the prerequisites and you happen to be doing a semester abroad.
  • LoremIpsumLoremIpsum Posts: 3,470Registered User Senior Member
    One caveat about checking courses listed in the catalog - just because a course is listed doesn't necessarily mean that the course is offered every year.

    Yes, that's true. I would not chose a school on the basis of one or two high-level courses which might be discontinued if the professor retires or goes on sabbatical. Rather, look over the courses as a whole to gauge the breath and tone of the offerings.
Sign In or Register to comment.