there is a great variety of large, medium, and small class sizes. i've taken some typical college intro classes in large lecture halls with 200 or so people, and i've also taken smaller lecture/discussion based classes with 30 people. both of them suit their purposes. while rochester is definitely known for the sciences, i am not a science major and have taken some great classes. my favorite class was a european history course; the professor was incredible, gave great lectures, assigned interesting readings, and kept the class captivated for the entire semester. there are some lacking departments (apparently our economics department is ranked highly, but the professors that i've had are very below average). i do really like the academic freedom at rochester, which you will probably hear about over and over if you are interested in rochester. when i came on to campus, i really didn't know what i wanted to study, and the great variety of classes and minimal requirements gave me the ability to try out many different subjects to see what i liked. depending on what major people have, they may be very driven and focused on getting a job (pre-med, engineers), but not everyone is like that at all.
I am a double major in English and Political Science. Our political science department is one of the best in the country and I have enjoyed every class I have taken so far. English is smaller, but still a great department as a whole. I did take one class in the English department that I hated. The professor was visiting and ultimately was not asked back though, so I am hoping that it was a fluke. In Rochester, we have an open curriculum, so you do not have to take any classes that you don't want to. We have a cluster program instead. You must take 3 classes that work together in 3 categories: Natural Sciences, Arts/Humanities, and Social Sciences. However, you major in one of these categories, so you end up taking classes in two of the categories. I am double majoring, so both my arts/humanities and social sciences clusters are covered by my majors and I only have to do a cluster in natural sciences. I think this is a better program than just having to take a class in science, a class in math, an art class, etc. because you truly learn about a subject instead of just taking "rocks for jocks." I would rather not have to take anything that I don't want to, though.
Lots of students are very type A and they work for good grades. It's a friendly competitive most students wouldn't hesitate to help each other out. Classes range widely in size I've taken a large 101 class with 90 people and a 200 level English class with 4 people. The cluster system is awesome. There's only one general education requirement a writing class, taken during your freshman year. After that you need to take 3 related classes in each field Humanities, Social Science and Natural Science. Your major covers one field and after that it's up to you. It's hard to end up taking many classes you don't like. Designing your own major or minor is really easy. Unless you are in engineering there's plenty of time for electives or going abroad. There's lots of cool classes on the history of rock, porn, fairy tales which can serve as a break in a science heavy schedule. There's lots of opportunity for internships and my resume is much better for having attended a research university. Professors in the Natural Sciences aren't easy to get a hold of and aren't that helpful. Every other area my professors have been really easy to talk to whenever I had a problem.
The Rochester name continues to gain more prestige each academic year. It is an excellent school. However, many of the professors do not seem involved with the students. Some are there to do research, and teaching takes the back burner for these professors. Students study quite often, especially those with hard majors (BME, Biology, Math, Poli Sci, Economics). As an Economics major, I did not study as much as I could of or should of. However, it is the easiest of the harder majors. All this studying results in a lot of library time. Usually, students go to the library in groups of two or more and camp out for a while with their books, food, etc. It's almost a social event, which almost makes library time fun. But not quite. The career center is a joke. After they helped me revise my resume and cover letter, I sent both to several companies, hoping I would score an internship for the summer. I only had one interview, during which my potential boss told me that the format of my resume was sloppy and needed work. As a college grad, I could not get an internship.
I really do like the freedom in the academics at the university and the classes themselves are quite good. I have not had that much personal interaction with my professors which I would like to improve upon, but many of my classes so far have been big lectures. It's also a little hard to find your way in that area as a freshman who is undecided because you really have no idea what to take. The advisors are as helpful they can be but they are just general advisors, the real ones come when you have settled on a major and picked a department. Also, the professor really makes the class. I have had some classes that could have been a lot better had I been more enthusiastic about the professor. I also really like the writing class requirement, for it's help with essay-writing, but even more so for the interesting theme's they come up with. It's a great break from everything else that you're studying, and for me, it really gave me a hint as to something I was passionate about and maybe should look more into, because for the first time I enjoyed writing essays!
The Cluster system is awesome. It's the main reason that I came to Rochester, and sort of the reason that I couldn't leave it. How is works is there are three sections of subects, Natural Sciences, Social Sciences and Humanities.... i think that's how it's broken up. If your major is Natural Sciences (like if you were a chem major like me) you pick one subject from each of the other two and take three courses in them. As a chem major i got to take three creative writing classes (which were excellent) and I will complete my psych cluster soon, both things that i am very interested in. However, i tried to transfer once and because no other school has this system, i more of less would have been back to square one if i left. Oh, you also have to take a writing class, but there are a million subjects that these are on, i took one on Punk Rock, which is also something i'm interested in. Along with an generally excellent Chem Faculty (and most people in other subjects have been great as well) this is an excellent school for academics.
The academics at University of Rochester are great. However, due to significant amount of research the professors have to do in this school, sometimes they are not as focused about teaching their classes, or put 100% into their lectures. Students here study quite a bit, I know some people who study on Friday and Saturday nights, and that is challenging. My major is chemical engineering and our department is on the small side, mostly because of the number of students who are part of it. The department has its own building and several laboratories, that are open to undergraduates and graduate students. Students who choose to interact with their professors, do so. Similar thing happens to intellectual conversations outside of class. Some students are not as focused on interacting with others about intellectual topics, while some are extremely passionate, and get into some big debates regarding variety of topics.
Most of my professors know my name, but it's harder when you're in intro level classes that are huge. Favorite class was Speaking Stones in the Mt Hope Cemetery, where we toured and learned about the people buried there. It was amazing, not creepy as you may think. We researched people and did presentations. Chemistry classes are the worst here...they are HARD! MANY intellectual conversations go on outside of class, everyone here is so smart. Students are not competitive here, I don't believe. I am a philosophy/pre-law major and I love all the professors in the department. They are all always willing to help you with anything! I don't really see them outside of class or office hours. Rochester's academic requirements are amazing. The clusters are great to do and choosing your own plan is so much better! The education here couldn't prepare you more for the real world.
Rochester is top notch academically and depending on the department there is some grade deflation actually. Poli Sci is known to be the major for probably a third of greeks because it's easy, but there are also greeks who are biomedical engineering majors too so it varies. 70% of students are very serious about school and work really hard during the week and maybe relax one day on the weekend. I've had countless intellectual discussions out of class but for the most part you're too busy studying. Most students are genuinely interested in learning things although some classes people just try to get by in. Education at Rochester is geared toward learning not getting a job and the career center isn't very helpful there so be prepared to do a lot of work to land a good job or internship.
The biggest departments are in the sciences, which has its pros and cons. You never get to know the professors, but you have literally hundreds of student resources if you are having trouble or need a study partner. With that said, some of the departments are certainly lacking as far as variety or funding is concerned. Study Abroad is a must, as the University makes it easy to fit into really any schedule. The cluster system here has replaced a set of core requirements but makes it hard for transfer students, because all that credit must be taken at Rochester. Regardless of the department the classes will be challenging. Students aren't cut-throat, but rather dedicated to their own work. I have never met someone unwilling to help someone else out.