I was thinking about the clear gap between institutional prestige and undergraduate educational experience that I’m seeing at UCLA. Yes, I know UCLA is a research university and the students tend to come second, but that shouldn’t stop me from thinking about it.
Because I have only experienced UCLA (and a little of Babson/USC,)I could go to other colleges and universities and take some classes there for a semester/quarter and come back to report on what the undergraduate experience is like but that’s impractical. I have asked some of my friends that do go to other universities how their education is shaping up and the results fall into two categories: If they go to a liberal arts or “elite” school, they generally love their experience so far and wouldn’t change it for the world. Otherwise (large public university/large private university), they either hate it, or don’t think about their educational experience that much (and to be fair, not everyone has to).
But I do think there is something ironic/tragic about one of the so-called “best” universities in the world (ranked #19 by US News and World Reports, whatever that means) giving the average student only a lackluster education. I would expect any university that’s good enough for Terence Tao is good enough for me, but I now know that’s bad thinking as Terence is one of the most brilliant mathematicians who have ever lived, and I am incapable of doing any type of academic research.
Personally, I think students (myself included) should stop falling for large universities. I understand they are a financial necessity for many and a great fit for some, but if you don’t want to spend the rest of your formal education sitting in lecture halls functionally taking MOOCs or having your papers read by TA’s, don’t come here. If you don’t want to have to apply to for nearly every undergraduate club, don’t come here. If you don’t want to go through entire classes never knowing the name of a single one of your classmates, don’t come here. If you really want to have to fight for the type of education that you want, do come here. I’ll do it with you.