undergraduate research

Best Practices of a Student-Focused University

Though heavy research and publishing demands might constrain faculty teaching efforts, many universities are becoming more effective at encouraging undergraduate learning by implementing ‘best practices.’

Research into best undergraduate educational practices by the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AACU)  yielded a list of ten: 1st Year Seminars; Required Common Courses; Learning Communities; Writing Intensive Courses; Collaborative Projects; Undergraduate Research; Global Learning; Community-Based Learning; Internships; and, Capstone Projects. The full list, along with a quick synopsis of each practice, can be downloaded at the AACU website: http://www.aacu.org/leap/documents/hip_tables.pdf.   

When researching a college, a rule of thumb is the more ‘best practices’ offered, the more engaged its undergraduates are and the better prepared they will be upon graduation.    

Of the ten best practices, five, which might be considered the paramount ‘best practices,’ are frequently found at many schools, at least many of the schools I have researched over the last year, and warrant more detail:

First Year Seminars: While some first year seminars might cover orientation or study skills, most are geared towards small seminar classes consisting of fewer than 15 students, taught by a professor, featuring specific topics or readings that require close examination, discussion, analysis, and extensive writing assignments. The small size encourages participation, frequent encounters with the professor, and again, lots of writing that is carefully developed and critiqued. The 2009 National Survey on First-Year Seminars notes over 87% of universities currently offer 1st year seminars. Brown University, for example, has dozens of 1st year seminars for its freshmen. Many state universities, especially Honor’s Programs such as Barrett’s Honors College at Arizona State University, offer first year seminars as well.

Writing-intensive Courses:   The importance of learning to write well, and extensively, cannot be overemphasized. Richard Light, a professor from Harvard’s School of Education, draws a direct correlation between the amount of writing in a course and its level of student engagement.  Student writing doesn’t need to be restricted to just a course, but can and should be interdisciplinary. Most universities also have writing centers that supply aid to all undergraduates in need: Swarthmore College’s writing center will assist in anything from a 5-paragraph essay to an esoteric physics research paper.

Undergraduate Research:  If you’re planning to apply to medical school, or most graduate programs for that matter, conducting undergraduate research is essential. Learning how research is funded, conducted, and published is fast becoming the rite of passage in many undergraduate schools. Most of the departments in Boston University offer numerous opportunities for undergraduate research. Pomona College and Swarthmore require all undergraduates to conduct independent research with a faculty mentors before graduating.

Internships: Gaining internships with companies or institutions prior to graduation is also fast becoming the rigor at many schools. Over 86% of Clarkson College’s (NY) recent graduating class participated in internships. Some, such as Northeastern (MA) and Kalamazoo (MI), have full-fledged coop programs that integrate work experience into their curriculum. In departments such as communication at Northwestern and Boston College, working in the media is expected by majors before the end of junior year. The more internships/work experience students gain, the better.

Capstone courses and projects:  Mastery of a subject is best demonstrated through an honor’s thesis, comprehensive exams, and independent projects requiring application of core concepts of a discipline. Reed College requires most its undergraduates take a comprehensive exam in their junior year followed by a capstone research thesis that is presented and defended before a panel of professors from Reed and outside universities. In essence a bachelor’s from Reed signifies capabilities similar to those of PhDs.

The more rigorous the ‘best practices’ offered by universities you have under the microscope, the better prepared you will be to meet and surmount the challenges encountered beyond college

Best results arise from best practices: they’re worth looking for in any college under consideration.

Tips for Successfully Transitioning to University

How does a fledgling student spend her time within a university to gain a better education?

Andrew Roberts, an assistant professor of Political Science at Northwestern University, addresses this very question in his The Thinking Student’s Guide to College, 75 Tips for Getting a Better Education, He begins by explaining how a university works,  how to best approach professors, and how to work within the university to derive the best education.

If you are about to launch your undergraduate career, read it. The tips surrounding ‘Choosing a Major’ alone are worth the price: sample a lot of departments, choose a major you love, preferably one of the smaller majors, make sure the major is well structured, write a senior thesis, and attend a departmental lecture weekly. Solid advice abounds. Here are a few choice portions warranting review.  

The first question all students need to know is ‘How does a University Work?” I suppose a mission statement is vaguely helpful, but to discover the true mission of anything is to follow the money. At many universities, that money is being spent on research. The reason is research, through awards (such as the Nobel Prize), publications, citations, peer reviews (p.11 Roberts) is easy to track and prestigious. As Professor Roberts makes eminently clear, universities have an insatiable thirst for ‘prestige.’ Teaching is not discounted, but it’s very difficult to measure its efficacy, or assign it prestige.

Teaching undergraduates is something most tenured professors perform, and some make considerable efforts to do it well, yet, most professors aren’t trained in teaching. Professor Roberts cites a survey indicating “only 8% of professors have taken advantage of research on teaching methods.” (P.15 Roberts)

Regardless of how attentive a university might be to undergraduate education, Professor Roberts tips you off on how to gain the most from the class offerings. During the class shopping period (usually the first two weeks of the semester) visit multiple classes and trust your gut on your impressions of the syllabus and professor. Search among the classes by taking a variety of subjects and venturing into areas that initially might not appear of interest. Steer clear of the big lecture classes (they’re often a bad value) and take smaller, seminar like classes with hefty writing requirements. Also, fill your schedule with as many upper division, or graduate level classes as you can handle. That is where most of the high quality teaching and learning takes place. One other piece of information offered by Professor Roberts is to ask some of your professors what classes they recommend: they know where the gems are hidden.

It’s important to get to know at least one or two professors well during your college career. You’ll invariably need a recommendation whether you go on to graduate school or join the workforce. The best way to get to know a professor is to show an interest in the professor’s field of research and study. Visiting each of your professors during office hours is one good way to build credibility among a department. Surprisingly, few undergraduates do this, and even fewer are prepared to chat about the subject material knowledgeably when they do show up. Doing this will show you have initiative and intellectual curiosity, two attributes always in short supply.  

A professor’s existence is her work. If you take an active interest in knowing portions of her research, and show a capable understanding and appreciation of her specialty, that will help you gain credibility and improve your chances for being mentored in independent research projects, getting recommended for internships, or even working with a professor as a research assistant. A lot builds upon getting to know your professors; besides, many are brilliant and intriguing individuals—making their acquaintance that much more appealing.  

Understanding a university, and how it works, and in particular how to develop a working relationship with some of its professors is probably more valuable than most of the courses you’ll attend. In any field of work, knowing the institution and the people is never an easy matter. Learn to do this as an undergraduate, under the tutelage of Andrew Roberts, and you’re likely to gain a better education in university and life.

UC Davis, the UC System’s Pearl of the Sacramento Valley


  • UC Davis Applications Rise 2012
  • The Bike Culture
  • Challenging Academics
  • UG Research Emphasis
  • Run by Students for Students

Despite the buffets of budget cuts, the UC System is more popular than ever. This year, UC applications hit over 161,000, up 13% from last year. UC Davis, located just 15 miles west of Sacramento, best known for its biology, agriculture, and engineering programs, was up 5% from a year earlier with slightly more than 62,000 applications. This in the face of the ill-conceived Davis police pepper spraying of students protesting student tuition increases. The steady rise of applications-despite the pepper spray gaff-speaks to the resources and boundless educational opportunities Davis offers.

Davis is a large campus of over 23,500 undergraduates, yet, it has a much smaller and personal feel. Some of this can be attributed to its ‘bike culture.’ The campus consists of 5,300 mostly flat acres—including a 100-acre arboretum and over a thousand buildings webbed together by an extensive network of bike paths. A bike is essential student transportation at Davis. To keep the paths safe, there is a bicycle police force empowered to write tickets for infractions-even for issuing BUI (biking under the influence) citations.

Chances are the academic workload will not allow for many BUIs, as the 10-week quarter system, and the usual load of 3-4 classes, will demand the full sober attention of most students. If this academic pace doesn’t challenge, then possibly an invitation to Davis’s Integrated Learning Program, which is by selection from the incoming freshman class, or the Davis Honor’s program, which any ambitious freshman or sophomore might elect to enroll in, will ratchet up the challenge.

Davis is demanding. The College of Engineering, offering 15 majors, from biomedical to optical engineering, enrolling over 5,000 students, has a national reputation. The College of Agriculture has one of the top pre-veterinary medical programs in the country, and the best viticulture (winemaking) program; it also offers pre-professional programs in Landscape Architecture and Managerial Economics (reminiscent of Cornell U:niversity’s College of Agriculture with its variety of applied economics degrees).

If the rigors of a major are not enough of a challenge, or, to the contrary, are too overwhelming, changing majors, or even colleges, can be done with relative ease. Davis acknowledges that over three-quarters of its students will change majors at least once, and it seeks to accommodate. Within majors and departments there are faculty advisors, though most of the best advising comes from peers who are familiar with the structure of majors, the professors, and the challenging courses, and helps an advisee plan accordingly.

Davis places an emphasis on undergraduate research and internships. Davis’s ICC program assists students in obtaining research and internship positions. Over half of the UC Davis undergraduates work on research with a faculty member before they graduate; annually, more than 5,000 perform internships. Furthermore, to abet research efforts, Davis’s library system has over 3.5 million volumes, making it the 48th largest college library collection in the country and, through the UC Melville System, a student can access all books and resources from any UC library collection. A bus even runs regularly to UC Berkeley’s 27 libraries and 10.1 million volumes (the 5th largest library in the country) should a personal search there be required.

UC Davis, in many areas excluding its police department, sports an air of great efficiency. One key reason is it is a college that is run, to a great degree, by students for students. The campus’s Unisys bus system, which contains a preponderance of double decker British buses, is completely composed of student bus drivers. The Davis fire department consists of UC student volunteers. The COHO student union, which houses in its basement 18 bowling lanes, is almost completely run by students.

Davis, like many large public universities, is what you make of it. There is no reason a student cannot attain a Rhodes Scholarship, play on one of Davis’s 27 Division I teams, and become a volunteer fireman while majoring in viticulture, and minoring in chemistry or classical studies. Davis has the tools, departments, and people to enable unparalleled intellectual growth; the rest is up to you.   

Ralph Becker, Ivy College Prep, LLC, is a resident of Long Beach, he has been counseling students for the last 7 years. A former Yale Alumni Interviewer, he has a college counseling certification from UCLA Extension, and is the author of SAT Vocab 800 Books A, B, C, & D.


UC Davis, Sacramento Valley 위치한 UC 진주

  • 2012 application 접수 증가
  • 자전거 문화
  • 우수한 Academics
  • UG 리서치 강조
  • 학생자율 차지제도

엄청난 예산삭감에도 불구하고 UC대학들은 여전히 인기를 누리고 있다.  올해는 지난해 보다 원서가 13%상승하고 161,000개나 쌓였다.  UC Davis는 Sacramento에서 15마일 떨어진 곳에 위치하며, 생물학, 농학, 공학이 유명하다.  올해 원서는 5%가 상승한 62,000장이 접수되었다.  이번에 Davis경찰이 등록금 상승에 반대하는 학생을 향해 pepper spray를 뿌린 상황에도 원서의 꾸준한 상승은 Davis가 제공하는 우수한 교육기회와 자원을 증명하는 것이다.

Davis는 23,500명의 학부생이 있는 큰 캠퍼스임에도 불구하고, 작고도 개인적인 분위기를 갖게 한다.  이것은 ‘자전거 문화’때문이다.  캠퍼스가 5,300에이크의 평지로 100에이크의 식물원과 1000개가 넘는 빌딩이 자전거길로 연결되어 있다.  이 길을 안전하게 하기 위해 담당 경찰은 BUI (biking under the influence:음주금지) 티켓을 주며 지키고 있다.

위반자들은 10주간으로 이루어지는 쿼터제에서 3-4과목을 신청하기 어렵다.  정말 맑은 정신으로 공부해야 한다.  그래도 더 집약적인 공부를 원한다면, Integrated Learning Program을 신청하거나 Davis Honor’ program에 들 수 있다.  정말 도전을 하게 될 것이다.

Davis는 쉽지 않다.  공학대학은 15개의 전공으로 biomedial에서 안경공학까지 다양하며 5,000명의 학생이 있다.  농과대학은 전국에서 가장 우수한 수의학 예과와 비티컬쳐 (포도재배학)이 있다; 조경학과 경영경제학도 제공한다(Cornell 대학 농과대학의 다양한 응용경제학과 유사하다).

여기서는 공부가 너무 도전적인지 아니면 힘들든지 쉽든지, 전공 바꾸기가 상대적으로 쉽다.  ¾의 학생들이 적어도 한번 전공을 바꾼다.  그래서 전공 상담교수가 있어서 상담을 하여 가장 적절한 전공으로 안내하고 있다.

Davis는 학부의 리서치와 인턴십을 강조한다.  ICC프로그램은 학생들이 이런 기회를 갖도록 돕고 있다.  ½의 학부생이 교수와 함께 졸업 전에 리서치 기회를 갖는다; 또한 매년 5,000명이 인턴십을 가진다.  더욱이 이것을 돕기 위해 도서관은 전국에서 48위에 해당하는 3.5million의 책을 보유하고 있으며, UC Melvill system으로 학생들은 모든 UC 도서관의 책을 빌릴 수 있다.  더욱이 UC Berkeley의 27개의 도서관(전국 5위)과 10.1million의 책을 볼 수 있도록 왕복버스가 운행되고 있다. 

UC Davis는 경찰부서를 제외하고는 정말 효능적이다.  중요한 요인은 학생에 의해 운영되어 진다는 것이다.  캠퍼스의 Unisys버스체계는 2층의 영국스타일의 버스로 학생에 의해 운영되어 진다.  소방소는 학생들의 자원자들로 구성되어 있다.  COHO학생회는 18개의 볼링라인을 갖고 학생에 의해 운영되고 있다.

Davis는 다른 큰 공립대학들과 같이 여러분이 원하는 것을 찾을 수 있다.  포도재배학을 전공하면서 화학이나 고전을 부전공으로 택하면서, Rhodes 장학금을 받을 수도 있고, 27개의 운동부서에서 활동할 수 있고, 소방관으로 자원할 수 있다.  Davis는 가능한 도구와 전공부서를 갖고 있고, 비교할 수 없는 지성을 쌓을 수 있는 곳이다.  나머지는 여러분에게 달려 있다.

Profile of the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities


  • A good value in the face of California’s rapidly rising tuition costs
  • Over 150 majors across its 7 colleges
  • Two campuses spread along the Mississippi River
  • Undergraduate experience with Honors Program, Research Opportunities, and Study Abroad Program

If you’re willing to sacrifice the Mediterranean climate of California for the seasonally snowy plains of Minnesota, the University of Minnesota (Twin Cities) might warrant a review. The Twin Cities campus is, with 33,000 undergraduates, greater than Berkeley, UCLA, or Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. For out of state students, its cost of attendance (COA) is less than the in-state price of Berkeley or UCLA.  As part of the Big Ten, and with its seven colleges offering over 150 majors, ranging from Russian to Kinesiology, the University of Minnesota might be worth weathering the winter storms.  

The campus is actually two campuses with one in St Paul, where the agricultural school resides, and the other in Minneapolis, about five miles away. The two are connected by bus, but soon will be by light rail. The Minneapolis campus is split, east and west by the Mississippi River. The university also contains a 695-acre arboretum, which is used for research projects. Each of the freshman admitting colleges has its own library, with the entire library system containing over 5 million volumes, making it the 14th largest in the nation.

One concern many parents might have about any big state university is its four-year graduation rate.  46% of this year’s undergraduates finished their bachelors in four years. Though better than Cal Poly San Luis Obispo’s 26%, it is well below UCLA’s 68% and Berkeley’s 69%. To address this issue, the university has instituted a ‘Four Year Guaranteed Graduation Plan.’ http://www.academic.umn.edu/fouryear/ Should you join the plan, accept guidance from your counselors (all undergraduates are assigned both an academic and career counselor who will meet and advise you throughout your career at  Minnesota), pull together a plan for achieving your degree in four years, and fail to get the classes necessary to graduate on time, the University of Minnesota will provide these classes to you at no cost, until you attain your degree.

The University of Minnesota is sensitive to the needs of its undergraduates and has implemented a number of programs, in addition to the guarantee mentioned above. First, week long orientation programs are offered by all the colleges to their entering freshmen. Additionally, an Honors College offers opportunities in interdisciplinary study, along with special research opportunities, and special housing for members in the program.  Further, the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP) gives stipends to 450 students each year to assist faculty or propose student research projects under faculty supervision.

The professors are noted for being accessible and focused on teaching undergraduates.  Most have open office hours where they are willing to meet and explain concepts or elucidate points. Distinguished teaching is rewarded by bonuses of up to $15,000. Moreover, you might actually get to know some of your professors as 80% of the classes have fewer than 50 students, and even the larger lectures break down into manageable discussion groups of 15 or fewer students.

One other area worthy of mention is the Study Abroad program, which features over 300 programs across 60 countries: it is the largest program in the nation. The College of Management requires all its students spend time abroad in one of the programs which can be for as little as a month, or as long as a year.  

All told, the University of Minnesota has features that might attract discriminating students who are searching for alternatives to the UC system. Certainly the cost of attendance is appealing. The school has the advantages of a big school: an extensive range of majors, huge libraries, and an extensive Study Abroad Program, coupled with features of a smaller school with its colleges, first year orientation, honors program, attentive counseling, and undergraduate research opportunities. If you’re interested, the application fee for California residents is waived for this year, and there is no essay on the application. Applying is a no-risk venture. The University of Minnesota has rolling admissions with a deadline of December 15th.  But, be prepared to buy a parka.

University of Minnesota, Twin Cities 소개

  • 캘리포니아의 등록금 상승에 비할 때 좋은 대안
  • 7 단과대학에 150이 넘는 전공
  • Mississippi 강을 따라 두 개의 캠퍼스로 나누어짐
  • Honor Program, Research Opportunities, Study Abroad Program이 우수함

여러분이 캘리포니아의 지중해 날씨를 버리고 눈나리는 미네소타의 평지를 갈 수 있다면, University of Minnesota (Twin Cities)는 고려할 만 하다.  Twin Cities 캠퍼스는 33,000명의 재학생이 있으며, Berkeley, UCLA, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo보다 더 큰 학교이다.  Big Ten에 속하며, 전공은 러시아어 에서부터 신체운동학까지 150이 넘는 전공을 7개의 단과대학에서 제공하는데, 이 대학은 겨울의 눈보라에 시달리더라도 갈 만하다.

캠퍼스는 농과대학이 있는 St. Paul과 5마일 떨어진 Minneapolis의 두 군데에 있다.  두 곳은 버스로 연결되어 있으나, 곧 경철도가 운영될 것이다.  Minneapolis 캠퍼스는 미시시피강 동서로 나누어져 있다.  대학은 695에이커의 식물원이 있어서 리서치 프로젝트에 사용된다.  모든 신입생은 전국에서 14위인 500만권이 넘는 도서관을 즐긴다.

학부모들이 염려할 졸업률을 살펴보자.  올해 학부의 4년졸업률은 46%이었다.  Cal Poly San Luis는 26%이고, UCLA는 68%, Berkeley는 69%로 높다.  한편, 이 대학의 ‘대학 4년에 졸업하기’(http://www.academic.umn.edu/fouryear/)에 가입하면, 카운셀링을 받을 수 있다 (모든 학생은 academic and career카운셀러가 지정되어 지도함).  4년에 졸업하도록 최대한 도움을 주며, F학점을 받으면 비용없이 수업을 들을 수 있다.

University of Minnesota은 프로그램에 매우 민감하다.  첫째, 모든 신입생들에게 1주일간의 오리엔테이션을 제공한다.  또한 Honor College 프로그램은 학문간 연구를 제공하며, 특별 기숙사도 제공한다.  Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program(UROP)은 매년 450명의 학생들에게 교수 조교나 리서치 프로젝트를 주고 비용을 지불한다.

교수들은 항시 면담이 가능하며 학부생을 가르치는데 주력한다.  대부분의 교수는 시간을 오픈하고 학생을 면담하고 수업의 질문이나 개념을 설명해준다.  우수한 교수는 $15,000의 보너스도 받는다.  더욱이 학생들은 교수와 친분을 가질 수 있다.  80%의 수업이 50명 이하이다.  대규모 수업은 15명 정도로 토의 그룹으로 나뉘어 진다.

또 다른 우수성은 Study Abroad 프로그램이다.  60개국의 300여 프로그램이 있다.  전국에서 가장 큰 프로그램이다.  College of Management에서는 모든 학생이 한달, 혹은 일년 동안 한 프로그램에 가입하여 외국으로 나가게 한다.

University of Minnesota는 UC에 대응하는 대학을 찾는 학생에게는 매력적인 여러 가지를 갖고 있다.  물론 비용도 매력적이다.  이 학교는 큰 학교의 장점을 갖고 있다: 수많은 전공, 큰 도서관, 폭넓은 해외유학 프로그램, 각 단과대학이 작은 대학의 특징을 지님, 첫 오리엔테이션 프로그램, honor program, 밀착된 카운셀링, 리서치 기회 등.  만약 여러분이 흥미가 있다면, 올해는 가주 주민에게는 응시비용이 면제되며, 또한 에세이도 없다.  정말 위험하지 않은 도전이다.  12월15일이 마감일이다.  그러나 파가를 꼭 준비해야 한다.

Questions for a College Visit

Questions for a College Visit

US News and World Report recently published an article “36 Questions to ask on a College Visit,” by Lynn O’Shaughnessy, who is the USNWP college counseling maven. This list of questions is pretty good, but it stops short of the mark.  (The article from US News and World Report can be found at http://www.usnews.com/education/blogs/the-college-solution/2010/10/19/36-questions-to-ask-on-a-college-visit)