What’s a Research University?

In-Depth Guide on What is a Research University? Ivy Central

In a previous article, I wrote about the many types of colleges and universities to be found across the United States. In this article, I am going to provide a more in depth look at one of those types, the research university. I will explain just what distinguishes a research university from other types and suggest what type of student best fits that environment.

What is a research university?

Research universities can be found all over the world. In the 2021 QS World University Rankings they identified just over one thousand research universities, the largest number were in Europe, followed by Japan with the US and Canada in third place. In the United States, research universities are considered to be those universities that are identified as having very high levels of research activity amongst the doctoral universities, as classified by the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education. These colleges and universities award the most doctoral degrees, receive high levels of Government funding for research and offer a broad range of degree options.

 In the current list, there are 131 universities, both public and private, listed in this highest group. Some research universities that are popular with Ivy Central students include:

·      Stanford

·      Carnegie Mellon

·      MIT

·      Brown

·      UC Berkeley

·      Rice

·      Georgia Institute of Technology

·      University of Michigan-Ann Arbor

 Research, first and foremost.

It should come as no surprise that research is the top priority for research universities and is what draws the majority of faculty and students to campus.

 Each year billions of dollars are pumped into funding research conducted at top research universities, the research conducted spans natural sciences, technology, social sciences and just about any area of knowledge you can think of. The funding these colleges and universities receive supports the work of professors, enabling them to undertake ground breaking research in their field, hopefully leading to publication and worldwide recognition. These opportunities draw the best researchers to the universities and in turn, tend to attract still more research funding.

 The benefits of this funding filter down to students studying for degrees or post graduate qualifications at these colleges. Students have access to state of the art equipment and materials while pursuing their studies, they also get to hear lectures from the professors, as one student attending a top research university said ‘We get to hear outstanding lectures, from the professors who wrote the books we read’

 Undergraduates are not the priority.

Many colleges, particularly the small liberal arts colleges, make a great play on the emphasis they place on the teaching of undergraduate students. In most research universities undergraduate students come after research and graduate students in the list of priorities.

 While professors might deliver lessons in a large auditorium they will spend the bulk of their time on their research projects, it is graduate students, working as teaching assistants, that are often tasked with the teaching and support of undergraduate students. Many research universities do however provide opportunities for undergraduates to participate in research projects with their professors while still in their Freshman year. Such opportunities not only help the student to gain a stronger understanding of the area of study but also enable them to build a relationship with their professors and the experience will be helpful when it comes to applying to graduate school or a job.

 Size matters.

Many research universities are large and as a result, the standards of education and the student experience are not consistent across all of the academic disciplines. This means that it is particularly important that, prior to applying, students thoroughly research not just the university, but the school or department that will lead their course. In nearly all cases there are some areas where a university will provide a first rate education, while in another it can be weaker.

 The size issue also plays out with regard to the student experience. You will probably have read stories about classes at research universities that have hundreds, and in some cases thousands, of students in them. While that can be the case, it is normally restricted to the introductory courses in popular subjects such as computer science. As students progress through their studies the class sizes quickly fall, it may be that lectures don’t provide opportunities for discussion or individual interaction but they will be supported by smaller discussion groups or lab sessions, providing opportunities to check understanding and explore concepts in greater depth.

 Many research universities also offer ‘honors colleges’ for high achieving applicants. These colleges provide for a more personalised educational experience through smaller classes, additional lectures from visiting speakers and sometimes special housing options.

 Is a research college right for you?

Research colleges are not the right fit for everyone but if you love research and want to pursue that during your undergraduate education, a research university could be for you. This is particularly important if you wish to continue your education by going onto graduate school, particularly in the sciences, where it will be expected that you have conducted research as part of your undergraduate studies.

 This article can only provide a general overview of what attending a research university can be like. Within the definition of research university, there are some that are smaller, providing greater opportunities to meet professors, some larger institutions work hard to ensure professors have time to get to know their students or provide greater support for their undergraduate students.

 Whatever experience you are looking for from your undergraduate education, you are likely to find a research university that is worth adding to your college list

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