Every college student wants to know how to make the best of his or her experience, and every applicant wants to a find a school that will facilitate a great experience. Students often worry about the size, location, programs and cost as determining factors for their four years.
Daniel Chambiss, a sociology professor at Hamilton College, and Christopher Takacs, a graduate student in sociology at the University of Chicago, began a study to determine what makes for a positive college experience. In their recent book, How College Works, Chambiss and Takacs reveal their research.
“What really matters in college is who meets whom, and when. It’s the people, not the programs, that make a difference,” says Chambiss. Chambiss and Takacs found that interpersonal relationships are huge determinants in a college experience: peers, roommates, professors and friends will shape the four years of college.
Furthermore, Chambiss and Takacs explore major choices and what determines a student’s interest. Despite suggestions that future salaries or tuition incentives might affect one’s selection, they discover that a student’s view on a subject is almost entirely determined by his or her experience with a teacher.
“Undergraduates are significantly more likely to major in a field if they have an inspiring and caring faculty member in their introduction to the field,” writes Scott Jaschik for Inside Higher Ed. “And they are equally likely to write off a field based on a single negative experience with a professor.”
The first year of college is extremely formative based on this research. It is clear that the people and professors you meet will not only shape your four years at college but also beyond.
"Faculty determine students' taste for academic fields by acting as gatekeepers, either by welcoming them into an area of knowledge, encouraging and inspiring them to explore it, or by raising the costs of entry so high so as to effectively prohibit continuing in it," according to Chambiss and Takacs.
So, with this in mind, what can students do to make the most of their time, money and energy?
Chambiss and Takacs suggest, “As a freshman, live in one of the old-fashioned dorms with the long hallways, multiple roommates and communal bathroom, where you’ll have to bump into a lot of different people every day.”
Even though students at Boston College may prefer the privacy, meeting and talking with other students is crucial.
The researchers continue, “Try to get to know a lot of people your first year, when everyone is looking for friends. Most students don’t make their friends in classes. It helps to join a large high-contact activity, like a sports team or choir, where people see each other at least twice a week.”
In terms of the classroom experience, Chambiss and Takacs stress the importance of the “teacher over the topic.” It is also important to recognize how much the introductory and CORE classes can shape one’s understanding and appreciation of a subject.
One bad professor in a writing or calculus class might determine your views for the next four years. So, for those unsure of majors, seek out professors who will make the subject stimulating.
Taking the time to meet new people in your dorm or researching a professor can completely alter your experience at college. Although the research was conducted at Hamilton, a small, liberal college, Chambiss is adamant that his findings are applicable anywhere. College isn’t about the location or the size; according to Chambiss and Takacs, it's about the people.