The academics here are tough, but manageable. Again depending on your goals / major will greatly affect your experiences here. In the biological sciences it is a challenging experience with many opportunities to expand yourself beyond the courses. I say this because there are ample opportunities to work in a lab that suits your interests. The undergraduate department is very mixed in with the graduate departments both at the River campus (the main undergraduate campus) and at the UR Medical center and Strong memorial hospital (medical / biomedical research). Also when you enter your junior year (or earlier if you're special ;] ) you start taking classes that first year graduate students also take. The nature of the course changes from buying textbooks and memorizing all the details to looking at original papers and studying them in depth. You learn about how experiments are performed and how they have shaped the course of modern biological sciences. So the experience is really two fold, you get the academic knowledge of the results of the experiments but also the practical knowledge of how the experiments were done. Professors are usually trying to keep the class interesting and try to offer classes that are interesting to them and the student body. I actually am a double major in Economics and Microbiology + Immunology (that's actually one major), so I have taken a few classes that have bridged my interests. For example, Health Policies, which is an economics course geared at looking at the financial structure and economic consequences of the modern health care system. By the end of the course we had a discussion as to the benefits and costs of the current US health care system in comparison to other nations. On the biology side of things there are several new courses that are interesting such as "Biology of Aging" and "Biochemical differences between Male and Females." Now getting to know your professors is really up to you. A majority of the professors that I have met are really approachable and are genuinely trying to help you learn. Plus there's a plethora of additional academic support if it's needed. You'll probably hear this from the UR people, but the curriculum at UR isn't as rigid as most schools. The only real mandatory class is the freshman writing seminar, but with good enough English credentials you can usually opt out of it. The cluster system at UR is a way to allow students to try other courses to see if they have any interest in that area. There are three clusters to satisfy: Natural Science (Math..bio...chem...etc), Social Sciences (Economics, Political Science, psychology...etc) and Humanities (Art, Music, Literature, etc) For example I am a Microbiology + Immunology major (satisfies my Natural science "cluster"), Economics major (satisfies my social science cluster). So I need a cluster in humanities. In my case I take music classes which continues my long standing musical interest. Good times.
I still get surprised when my professor makes such an effort to learn the names of every student in the class. There are exceptions to this of course (classes of over 100 students) but I had a few teachers that remembered the names of 70 students in the class. This is a school where people go to class, even if there is a crazy party the night before so needless to say there are close relationship with the teachers here. Students study alotttt. This was quite intimidating when I first got here because it is so competitive. With the exception of some easy classes, most grades are on a curve and therefore you are competing with your classmates and when most students study 15-30 hours a week, it is intimidating. However, this is not a school where students try to succeed by stepping on someone else's back (a friend of mine got their textbook stolen at another University of the week of finals just so they wouldn't do well on the final exam.) Every class offers support from TA's and from the professors (office hours) and I found that in most classes the students come together to form large study sessions which can be very beneficial. I am a double major in Math and Economics. It is very common for people to choose that double major so I ended up taking many of the same classes with the same people. That is even more true with other majors that have less flexibility such as Engineering where there is a strict class schedule and so you are likely to take almost all your classes with the same people throughout your four years. Economics and Math are both very flexible not only in terms of what classes to take, but when to take them and so you are rarely faced with a situation where you have to take a class that you absolutely don't want to and that brings me to my next point. The lack of academic requirements are my favorite part of the academic life here. Some people choose a liberal arts education for a reason but if you choose to go to a non-liberal arts school I feel that you shouldn't have a liberal arts-like education and that is what rochester does. Outside of your major, there are almost no requirements and that leaves students with the ability to choose what they want to learn and for those that have only one major, that leaves them with plenty of room to explore the curriculum and study some interesting things they've always wanted to learn.
The classes at UR generally range from academically stimulating to downright difficult. You'll surely end up taking a few 'easy A' courses (depending on your major, possibly a couple more than your friends), but in generally speaking, expect to do a good amount of studying and writing -- there are no easy majors. One of the most unique aspects of UR's academics is how we handle required courses. Get this: there are no gen ed requirements at UR! Instead, we take clusters -- groups of courses geared toward some interest outside of our major -- to fulfill something akin to gen ed's. I'll spare you all the details in this brief description, but suffice to say it's definitely a unique system. One of the things that drew me to UR was my major. It's called Brain and Cognitive Sciences, and in my experience it's a pretty rare major. It's a flexible degree that basically falls somewhere in between neuroscience and psychology. My work is closer to the neuroscience side of things, but unlike a neuro major, I get to spend my time learning about how the brain works, rather than how individual synapses and protein channels work. Pretty cool stuff! My favorite class, and one of the more unique ones I've taken at UR, was called The Intelligent Eye. We got to learn about the anatomy of the mammalian eye, learn about how the brain processes several aspects of the visual world, and go on several lab visits to see firsthand how researchers are studying this stuff. My least favorite class was probably Calculus 162 (if you took AP Calc in high school, this class would be your next step), but this class is pretty much the same from university to university; I'm just NOT a math person. It's tough to make generalizations about professors, since at any school the range of personalities will be vast. Overall though, I've found my professors to be very personable, knowledgeable and most importantly, willing to help. My advice would be to build a rapport with few of your profs, not all of them. I've even shared a beer with one of my favorite professors (don't fret, I was over 21). Students are competitive, but more importantly, they're engaging. I've stumbled into conversations about everything from astrophysics to what it means to appreciate art, and I love that there's that type of ambiance around student conversation at UR.
Well, in my major (psych) it starts out that all your classes are huge but then as time goes on the get smaller and smaller. most of the psych department has at least a vague idea of who i am and maybe 4 professors know me personally due to me going to talk to them or having a smaller class with them. our psych department is really stellar as far as the professors that are on staff but less and less of them are actually teaching the undergrad courses now and theyre having their phd students do it which really isnt as good. what inspired me most was my 181 class. it was taught by Rich Ryan who is pretty much the awesomest man around and i learned a lot, had a good time and was inspired to continue doing psych. however... now a ta teaches it and its far less awesome.. in fact all accounts ive heard are that its boring. all that aside... rochester has a really good support system for serious psych students who want to get a phd after undergrad/ do research. you can work with a grad student as an ra your freshman year and the "honors degree" in psych has a course regiment that leads you into doing your own research one step at a time. you end up knowing the whats hows and whos of research and completing an experiment of your own. its great for networking and such. oh and the cluster system is awesome. no gen ed except for a singular writing class. and as long as you do at least 3 courses of your choosing in each of the three subject areas you have completed the req. like me.. i am a psych major (that takes care of the social sciences area) and music minor (that takes care of the humanities req) and i'm doing 3 classes of brain and cognitive science (that takes care of the hard sciences req) and thats all the gen ed i have to do. really the academic system and quality of education is rochester's biggest selling point. i love the way its set up and i love about 80% of my classes which is more than anyone could ask for.
This one is sort of hard, because it really depends on your major. This year, as a freshman mind you, I have a literature class with 6 people in it. It's completely amazing. However, I also have a logic lecture course with about 50 people in it, and it's probably second only to the 6 person class. And then there are a lot of classes in between. Obviously the Natural Science courses are larger- the Humanities division is much more likely to have small classes. But I've never heard of a class here with over 200 people, which is really small compared to some schools. Class participation is encouraged by all the professors I've encountered, but obviously I can't speak for all. The curriculum is Rochester's number one draw. There are three divisions, Humanities (think English, Women's Studies, Philosophy, etc), Social Sciences (Anthropology, History, Political Science) and Natural Sciences (sciences and math). You obviously need to major in one of these, and your major will have certain requirements based on what it is (English and History are probably the two most flexible; some of the sciences leave virtually no extra time for other classes), and you need to complete a "cluster" of three related courses in the other two divisions. It's really relaxed, and I love it. General education sounds absolutely terrible, and I'm so glad we don't have it here. Students are competitive, but not in a bad way. We don't attack each other to make ourselves look good. It's more like "let's have an intellectual conversation". I've heard a few intellectual conversations going on in the halls and on the quad, but I don't think they're really common. Then again, I doubt they are at many universities. There's a pretty large amount of work that goes into our classes, and once the homework is done you need a break.
The best thing about the academics at Rochester is the fact that you don't have to take any prerequisites except for a writing course your freshman year. Other than that, you only have to take the courses for your major and 'clusters'. Clusters are sets of three related courses that have to be in the two fields that are not in your major. For instance, if you were majoring in psychology, that is a social science, so you would have to take two clusters, one in the humanities and one in the natural sciences. They can be any three courses of your choice as long as they have some relation to each other. The professors, at least in the biology and math departments, are incredible people. They are always willing to answer questions and make themselves available. The best class I ever took was Organic Chemistry, which sounds crazy, but because of small groupwork called workshops, I was able to master the material without ruining my sophomore year. Group work is very common and we have many communal studying centers in Rochester, and one is even open 24 hours. The one problem about academics at Rochester is that I think people study too much and don't know how to study correctly. People are constantly in the library, and in the end may not do as well. This is probably typical of every school, but many people will sacrifice their social life completely at Rochester for the sake of academics. Getting an education from U of R looks great in the professional world and will set you on the right path to a great career.
We get a rep for being a science/engineering school here, so English majors sometimes don't get the respect we probably deserve. I'm personally on the English Lit track and intend to become a college professor myself some day, but I've also gone through almost all of the Creative Writing classes, not to mention my brief stints in Computer Science and Psychology. I can't speak for professors in other departments, but the English professors are top notch here. They win all sorts of teaching awards and are nationally recognized as researchers. I've been to academic conferences (that the college has completely paid for for me to attend) at which the heads of international academic societies have expressed their extreme regrets that my adviser could not be there. Even better: if and when this happens, it will be the absolute FIRST time you realize how professionally important your adviser is. My adviser had always struck me as a brilliant academic and professor, but he wasn't at all arrogant about it. I've been to dinner at his house multiple times. He's driven me to off-campus events, introduced me to out-of-town scholars, spent summers helping me conduct my research for no benefit to him whatsoever. I know his wife, his kids, his grandchildren, and his favorite desserts. He is not the only professor for which these things are the case. That's what you get here, down-to-earth professors who take the utmost interest in their students' lives and progress... who also happen to be academic rock stars.
Academics are the driving force behind the University, and they are top notch. Students are very very involved in various academic activities and intellectual conversations all year long. The University recently won the Collegiate Quiz Bowl National Championship among other national achievements in academics over past years. But on a more, day to day level, UR students are very supportive and helpful of one another. We constantly are pushing each other to do better, while rarely ever putting anyone down. Its a very positive atmosphere, to have a bunch of young adults living some of their greatest years together striving for the same goals, with constant help and support wherever you turn, its very rewarding and mind boggling. However at times, you may want to kill yourself with the amount of work you will have, regardless of your major. It si all about time management. If you don't study enough, and enough is not HS enough its serious study time, one will either fail out due to apathy or in serious distress all semester, and will not take in the complete experience and opportunity at hand of being around such great people in college. However is one studies too much, one might want to throw themselves over the Genesse Bridge or completely unhappy with life, due to lack of social interactions. TIME MANAGEMENT..PROCRASTINATION WILL DESTROY YOU. I've been on both extremes of the spectrum and neither is fun at all. Once one develops that collegiate time management, the sky is the limit.
The classes at UR vary greatly. Most of my classes are lecture halls, and for them I sit way in the back and rarely participate. But for the few classes that are small for me, the teachers do know my name and I usually participate more than anyone else in those classes. I love my American Sign Language class because I have a lot of fun doing that and you really always need to be paying attention and participating. I hated Chemistry because there were about 400 people in the class and the professor read straight from his power point. I actually stopped going to that class and just going to the recitations because that is where we learned all of the math, and the math was the only thing on the tests. I wound up doing pretty well in the class so I'm glad I stopped wasting my time. A lot of UR students talk about classes outside of class, I am definitely not one of them; once I'm out of the class, I don't want to think about it until the next class. I also never talk to the teachers except my sign language teacher.. well I sign to him so. He was my favorite teacher and we signed a lot outside of class, I always enjoyed it. I actually only can think of a few jobs that I would like to do, and Rochester does not have the majors required for them, but Rochester will give me such a good education and is respected so much by people that I definitely want to stay. Also the fact that I may be able to create one of these majors really helps.
I am a BME and my major is very competative and challenging, my major has approx 40 kids so the professors of my BME specific classes know my name but other than those classes im just another face in the crowd. My classes require a great deal of hw, more so than all other majors other than other engineers. So most of my time is spent doing homework, or labs, kids typically do the pretest cramming, not unusual, and unless I have something thats urgent, I typically dont really do anything productive. What 20 year old kid wants to talk about the shit that they spend all their time on during the week, when they have free time. Personally for the most part I dislike the other kids in my major, they are a bunch of brown nosers and are completly uncapable of socializing in a normal fashion, they seem to enjoy hanging out with the professors and faculty. Rochesters "cluster" system is essentially the only graduation requirement outside of your major, being an engineer I only have to take one cluster where as normal students have to do 2, but ,my cluster was spanish, and outside of my engineering classes and spanish, it has taken til my senior year to be able to even take a single class that was of my choosing. The schooling that I have done so far has really just taught me to learn how to deal with doing alot of meaningless shit at once, and dealing with stress involved, through what ever means needed.