Students are passionate about their studies, and it shows. Professors in most departments care about getting to know students, even in large classes. That's definitely less true in some departments, but it is true of the majority. Clusters are a huge part of academics. We have NO REQUIREMENTS! Rarely are classes closed to only majors, so anybody can take any class they want. Clusters are the heart of our curriculum; basically, every student has to take 3 classes in the humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences. That's it! http://rochester.edu/College/CCAS/clusters/ for more.
Classes are small and there is definitely very good professor-stuent interaction. Most of the small classes are run in a workshop setting, where students are allowed to learn interactively. Students are very academically oriented and competitive. However, Rochester was one of the first places to run workshops, and students here respect that and reflect this environment by studying together and sharing knowledge. Biology, Optics, engineering, as well as economics and political science are some of the strong fields. Research in biology, psychology and optics are big in our school.
The academics at Rochester are not for the faint of heart. The school is undoubtedly known for strong engineering and science programs, but also has strong programs in the humanities. The academic requirements are pretty loose, which allows you to take almost anything you want. I have strong relationships with most of my professors which allows me to talk about the material outside of a classroom setting as well as other current issues. In order to succeed at the highest level, a large amount of time needs to be devoted to your studies.
Since I'm majoring in a smaller department at Rochester, professors know me by name and know my work, but the majority of students here would not be able to say the same thing. Many students are stuck in lecture classes and have more interaction with TAs that teach their labs or recitations than the actual professors. The work load is tough, but we're supposed to be smart students, so we should expect it. The graduation requirements do not include GenEds, which make many students happy and allows them to explore many fields.
The smaller the classes, the better. I wish I had had more seminar classes, which was a sacrifice I made when I chose to come to a medium-sized school rather than a teensy-tinsy liberal arts school. However, the resources at Rochester are definitely good for its size, and I feel that the professors do their best even in lecture classes to give a personalized experience.
Humor writing, hands down. We not only got to give presentations on our favorite comedy writers/shows/authors, but we learned how to write and be funny. It really make reading things like the Onion and the daily show an art-and I'll never forget taking that class.
Academics are obviously rigorous, but the open curriculum allows students to avoid classes they really don't like. So, students get to take courses they want to enroll in and actually like.
very very hard workers, classes not that hard
I love Rochester because students are, in general, pretty smart, but no one brags about it or acts competitive at all. Thats definitely a benefit over big-name schools like the Ivy's, people want to do well, but not at the expense of their friends. Honestly, I think I've participated in less than 5 "intellectual" discussions in my time here. I distinctly remember the first one, the spring of freshman year a bunch of us ended up talking about philosophy and religion for many hours into the night, and were then really excited that we had finally done something so "collegey." There are TONS of freshmen who are pre-med bio majors (pre-med is not a major of its own). By junior year, there are significantly fewer. The stereotypical progression is pre-med to econ to psych. I know several people who have made exactly those changes in their major. With all the people who think they want to do bio at the beginning, the intro bio and chem classes are pretty big. Of course, most all of the science classes I have taken thus far have workshops as well, so in addition to 3 lectures a week you have a 2 hour timeslot where you meet in small groups with an undergrad TA and generally do problems. Now all the science professors love these and constantly tell us how educational research shows how great they are, and it's true you often do learn a lot more in workshop than lecture, but they are usually in the evening and kind of painful to go to. College literature often emphasizes small class size and not having students as TAs, but it's really kind of nice to have someone not so intimidating you can ask questions and complain about the professor to in workshop. It's also a really good job/resume booster for people who did well in the class. If you get a 4 or a 5 on the AP biology test you can take an alternative freshman biology sequence, which I did and although the first semester is fairly difficult it was very interesting. The professor, Dr. Platt learned everyone's names within a few weeks (over 100 people). I had him again for biochemistry and he again, new the 250+ students' names. I got a job working as a dishwasher at the beginning of freshman year, which was one of the best things that ever happened to me. I have continued working there, moving my way up to doing research, and I adore the professor and everyone else at the lab. There is an annual lab holiday party at the professor's house, and I've gone out to lunch, the movies, and a bar with them on various occasions. I have not done this with any of my other professors, although I think people who are TAs for professors get to know them pretty well too. The school likes to brag that the only required class is the writing requirement, CAS 105, which is true. That was probably one of my least favorite classes ever, but I know some people who have taken fun ones too. Basically it depends on the professor and topic, because there are a lot to choose from. Prepare yourself for lots of BS writing assignments in that though. The whole cluster system for a liberal arts education is actually really cool. The college is divided into 3 groups: social sciences, natural sciences, and humanities. To graduate, you have to have a major, a minor, or a cluster in each of those groups. A cluster just consists of 3 somewhat related classes. I started a cluster in linguistics, which I knew nothing about, and now I'm minoring in that. Out of all the classes available in those groups, usually people can find three that interest them.
The biggest downside to the campus size, in my experience, is that we have fewer courses each semester than bigger schools. You won't necessarily be able to find that narrow speciality course on the one decade of Albanian history that really fascinates you or whatnot. For its size, though, the course offerings are pretty good, and the Rochester Curriculum gives you tons of flexibility. Speaking of the Rochester Curriculum... It's awesome! General ed requirements sound like a horrible idea, and they don't exist at Rochester. You have to take either a major, minor or cluster (3 related courses) in each of 3 broad thematic areas. Plus, you have to meet your major/minor requirements and take one freshman writing class. Other than that, it's up to you! With 32 classes in a normal full-time schedule over 4 years, and many majors taking less than half that many to complete (Poli Sci takes 12. History takes 10. Math/sciences usually take a lot more), there's usually tons of room (for Humanities/Social Sciences majors, anyway) to take random classes just for fun. There's a wide difficulty range between different classes. If you plan your schedule entirely around easy grades, you could probably get a 4.0 without too much difficulty with a moderate amount of work. In some classes, you'll be buried to the neck in work just to pull a B. It pays to ask around, or to use various online resources to pick profs and classes. As with the classes, students' grade consciousness varies a lot, too. There are a fair number of GPA competitive students trying to go to law school, grad school, etc. There are also a fair number of students who could care less so long as they don't get kicked out or lose their scholarships/grants. As I said, there's a wide range in class difficulty, so if you want a challenge it's there, but if you want to coast through you probably can do that as well. As with difficulty, classes range a lot in terms of quality of discussion. I've taken some classes with discussion that was, in my opinion, easily grad school level. I've taken some classes where, every time certain students opened their mouths, I began to fantasise about jabbing my pen deep into my eye socket to poke a hole in my brain and end the misery. Smaller, higher level classes are obviously more conducive to good discussion. There are a variety of classes in the Comp Lit department that are usually under 20 students with over half grad students. These classes are awesome if you like good discussions and knowledge for its own sake. They will also never help you get a job outside teaching ;) The Quest courses offered to incoming freshman are great. I took the one on Nonviolence, and it's one of the best classes I've ever taken. I've heard mostly good things about the other ones, too. If you find one that interests you, I highly suggest signing up for one.