School Size Pros and Cons

<p>Is there any chance to get to know your professors at Pitt? I would be coming from a very small private high school. Most seniors are itching to head to big ponds and I was one of them. But I am thinking about it more and more and I have found that I like smaller classes and the helpful relationships between students and students and teachers/administrators, etc. I not sure that being a number, in huge classes, would feel comfortable for me.</p>

<p>Also, what do you all see as the best benefits of a large university such as Pitt? I am think that the school spirits, availability of lots of activities and the ability to meet many different kids with varied interests.</p>


<p>My daughter attended a smallish (75 students in her graduating class) private high school where she interacted closely with her teachers. She continued that in college getting to know professors during office hours. I think that when you have gone to schools where instructors are accessible, that continues. </p>

<p>One thing you will find with Pitt, is that the people there are really nice. </p>

<p>Large universities do offer the things you have mentioned and being in a city also brings another element for things to do.</p>

<p>Not all of your classes will be large. Certain classes like foreign language are always small. Honors classes are often smaller. In addition your classes will get smaller as you are further along in your major. For larger classes, you can always talk with your professors during their office hours (all professors have office hours where they are accessible to students)</p>

<p>It is good to know that if you go to office hours and reach out, you still might have the chance to get to know your professors. I am a bit overwhelmed at the thought of sitting in an auditorium with 100+ students trying to learn. I don’t think that I have ever had a class with more than 30 students!
But there are lots of things I really like about Pitt, so I don’t want to dismiss it because of the size alone.

<p>Sit in front.</p>

<p>I’ve been on both sides of the lectern, and really, if you want to get to know your professors just participate and/or contact them outside of class, even for the big classes. Sitting in front does help, too, particularly if you participate in class. Go to office hours if you have a question. You’ll have a couple of big classes at Pitt, but most classes are not going to be the 100 student lectures. The large classes will mostly be introductory courses for the larger majors like biology, chemistry, psych, but these types of classes are pretty large at a lot of colleges, even at much smaller private schools. And really, in the scheme of things, 100 students is not large compared to some really big public land grant type of schools where you have several hundred students. Pitt is sort of medium sized, to be honest. Honors versions of those classes will be smaller yet.</p>

<p>But the professors that you’ll really get to know are the ones you end up working with. Undergrad research is big at Pitt, and those are the professors that you want writing your rec letters because they’ll really be able to get to know you for more than just a couple hours a week during one semester (and thus better help you on your path). This is an advantage of a “bigger” research school… not necessarily bigger in just size, but one that does a significant amount of research and really emphasizes undergraduate research, which Pitt does, because it facilitates not just learning and applying what you learn, but also fostering relationships between faculty and students. </p>

<p>Wherever you end up, do not be afraid to approach professors. There are there to help, and typically they’re teaching, at least in part, because they like to help students. Now, there is the occasional jerk, just like everywhere else in life, but I think you’ll find most professors will be willing to get to know you and help you when you need it.</p>

<p>I agree with everyone else. A few things to add:</p>

<p>–Go to office hours without any particular question in mind (just to introduce yourself). Just talk to the professor about whatever- football, your HS/background, etc. It helps them get an idea of who you are as a person outside of class. </p>

<p>–Speaking of outside of class: if you see your professors outside of class and they aren’t rushing somewhere, SAY HELLO. Even just a “Hi professor So-and-so” suffices. Acknowledge their presence and they will acknowledge yours. Sometimes you’ll stop and make small talk. It’s all part of being comfortable with them (I do this ALL the time with my professors)</p>

<p>–Participate in class. Answer questions. Ask questions. Make sure the professor knows you are in class and active. This helps them think highly of you.</p>

<p>My Pitt daughter also came from a small HS. She definitely did miss the intimate environment of her high school, caring teachers and small community. However, she mainly wanted a large school with lots of activities, variety of students, school spirit, etc. and was willing to sacrifice the intimacy of a small school. </p>

<p>There have definitely been some downsides like the large “weeder” classes designed to fail a certain percentage of the class by making the tests super hard. This applies particularly to pre-med and engineering students, but certain other science majors are affected because they have to take the same basic science classes. In these large lecture classes, it is pretty much sink or swim, and even taking the efforts of going to see the TAs or getting tutoring you may still not pass.</p>

<p>Honestly there are pros and cons in the small vs. large school discussion, I think for a large school Pitt does a good job, and provides weekly recitations for classes over 100 students (which is not the case at all schools, eg. Penn State).</p>

<p>My daughter is overall still happy with her decision. Good luck to you on your college search.</p>

<p>I honestly do not believe there are weed out classes in pre-med or the biosciences (I can’t speak for other majors or engineering, etc). For some, classes may be tough because the material is new or tough for some students, or it is their first exposure to college level material, but these classes certainly aren’t intentionally difficult or “designed” to fail people out of those majors. Frankly, if a student can’t handle basic biology, chemistry or similar classes, even after the student puts the requisite time and seek extra help for parts where they might struggle in, that student should probably be carefully considering whether med school or a similar goal is the right objective for themselves in the first place.</p>

<p>wgmcp101, I appreciate your perspective but its not that students “can’t handle” basic biology, chemistry, etc. Pitt admissions are selective enough so that students at Pitt are all “capable” of handling basic science material. What happens in large weeder classes is that the difficulty of exams is intentionally such that having a “basic” understanding of the material is not enough, otherwise most people would get A’s Bs or Cs. If a large percentage of the class is getting Ds and Fs (as in one course my daughter took, half of the class received a D or F on the first midterm) there is something wrong with the professor or the grading system is intentionally designed to fail people. Some of the courses that are known to be weeders at Pitt are are bio, o chem and calc 2.</p>

<p>There are very good points made on this thread. The only thing I will add is that it is up to the student to initiate the relationship with the professor. There is no hand holding, which is how it should be, but it’s something to keep in mind.</p>

<p>I thought bio at Pitt was curved so that half the class fails. Is that an urban myth? My DD was not pre-med, so she did not take bio. She suffered through chem and sailed through calc.</p>

<p>pamom59. I’ve taught at Ivies and some kids just aren’t able to get certain material. Some people just struggle with certain topics, for whatever reason, even with what I would consider basic material. And yes, there is a basic level of information in all of these intro classes that students are required master. That’s one of the points of taking a college course instead of just reading the Wikipedia article: to obtain certification of one’s mastery of material, typically as demonstrated through examination. But often students coming out of high school think that means just memorizing facts. That is often not the case in college, nor should it be. Some students get overwhelmed when they are instead asked to apply knowledge to novel situations instead of just regurgitating names and numbers. High school study skills don’t necessarily cut it in college, and this is often why students often struggle in these intro classes. In my experience, it has little to do with ramping up the difficulty level for higher admissions pools, but more with a general difference between high school and college. It certainly can have a lot to do with a particular professor, but I pretty much guarantee it is not intentionally done to fail kids in most situations. Normal professors loath to see students doing poorly. But, seriously, if someone can’t get through basic biology or chemistry, or similar intro level courses, they should seriously be asking about whether their intended majors are the correct ones. That shouldn’t mean they shouldn’t try to take them again, because it may just be an adjustment period from hs to college, but material and expectations don’t get easier after intro level courses. If you can’t handle a college intro to biology course, you’re not going to be able to handle biochem and cell biology, and you’ve got no shot at med school or a bioscience research grad program. Hey, I’m not a mathematician for a reason.</p>

<p>MD, when I was an undergrad at Pitt, that certainly wasn’t the case (bio being curved down to fail kids). I can practically guarantee that isn’t the case now either, although I haven’t been at Pitt for years so I can’t sit here and tell you that is an absolute fact. But I’ve never heard of any departments having their professors curving down to fail a certain percentage of kids, not in a biology/arts and sciences type of department. Maybe that happens somewhere, or in some fields, I’ve just never personally seen it or heard about it. Now professors may not curve up, but that is different story.</p>

<p>wgmcp, I usually agree with your commentaries on this forum, but this time I have to respectfully disagree. You admit that you haven’t been to Pitt in years but yet you say you can “practically guarantee” that there are no weeder classes at Pitt. That is an opinion you have, perhaps based on your experiences many years ago, rather than current experience, and I would guess that it represents “wishful thinking” on your part. </p>

<p>I think it is appropriate to caution prospective students at Pitt or other large state universities about weeder classes, better to be armed with knowledge than to go into these classes under false impressions. </p>

<p>I would also say, on a personal note, that my daughter went to a small independent school in the Philly area, where her classes were rigorous and she was well prepared for college level work. She achieved an “A” in Calc 1, but had to withdraw from Calc 2 due to failing midterm, and, as noted above, one half of the class received D/F grades on the test. She had to make up the course at another college in the summer, receiving a grade of “A.”</p>

<p>I, too, think things have changed.</p>

<p>here’s am article that explains about weeder classes, this phenomenon is not uniquet to Pitt…the comments are also interesting to read</p>

<p>[Experts:</a> ‘Weed Out’ Classes Are Killing STEM Achievement - STEM Education (](<a href=“]Experts:”></p>

<p>One, I didn’t say their were no weed out classes at Pitt, I said it was highly unlikely intro to bio or similar was used to weed people out, particularly by using negative curving or designing it to fail out a percentage of people or discourage a percentage from pursing biological sciences or related majors. Secondly, I think “weed out” is more misused term by students for classes that are just inherently more difficult for most. OChem is a “weed out” class at every school and has been forever. Classes were labeled “weed out” classes when I was at Pitt. but the truth was, as it is in most cases, they just include more inherently difficult material for students to master, like OChem or Neuroanatomy. Such classes topics typically just demand more effort from students to master. However, these weren’t designed to fail students and they actually curved up. Intro to bio classes designed to fail students is a notion that I find ludicrous, and I stick by that comment even though I haven’t been at Pitt in years. I will, however, check into whether Pitt’s intro to biology was redesigned for that purpose next time I run into some people there and I’ll be absolutely shocked if it has been. </p>

<p>In fact, I just looked at the course syllabus for Pitt’s Foundations of Biology I (Bio 150 for Fall 12) taught by Laurel Roberts. There is nothing out of the ordinary. In fact, there are four exams and a comprehensive final, all multiple choice. Each is worth 20% of the grade and lowest of the first four exams is dropped. The final 20% of the class grade is awarded for iclicker and on-line activities. That’s likely a free 20%. The course average is adjusted to 75%. You can get a 72.5% in the class and still have it count for a biology major.</p>

<p>Sorry, that is HARDLY designed as a weed out class, if you are going by your suggested definition of weed out students by design and increased difficulty. That isn’t even difficult by standards I’ve seen at other universities.</p>

<p>Yeah, and the article about weed out and stem classes is about as superficial as you can get on that issue. Scientists aren’t desperately needed in all fields. Biology is one where there is an overwhelming surplus of scientists, and frankly, they need to be weeded out more. There are flat out too many PhDs in biology and many are underemployed and even unemployed. Engineering is a different story as there is a shortage of engineering PhDs, and as I said, I can’t comment on weed out practices in engineering fields. </p>

<p>One thing that absolutely doesn’t need to happen is to dumb down classes to pass more students. That’s insane and won’t result in better students, and it certainly won’t result in any appropriately filling of some needed cadre of future scientists.</p>

<p>wgmcp, I am getting the feeling that you are not going to believe no matter what I say, but it is well known that intro bio is a weed out class at Pitt. Also Calc 2 and O Chem.</p>

<p>In terms of engineering, we don’t necessarily have “weed out” classes, but there are certain classes freshman year that, if you are not doing well, you should not continue with the program. Notably- Engineering 0011 and 0012 (the programming courses), plus Math, Chem, and Physics. Calc 2 is notoriously hard at Pitt, as pamom mentioned. I have heard Chem 1/2 can be easy or hard depending on the professors, but the lab reports are worksheets so the labs themselves are kind of a joke. Physics can be hard depending on your HS background. I took the honors version of Physics/Chem/Engineering and while they weren’t weed-out courses, we definitely had way less students sign up for the class in the spring compared to the fall. And a decent number drop out of engineering by the end of the first year (either after fall or spring semester). I think this may be more due to a rigorous courseload than a specific course itself though.</p>