My college decision was simpler than most — I had two main criteria I was looking to satisfy. The college had to take academics seriously, and it needed to have a Christian standing. I narrowed my selection to my two favorite schools and chose between them. If you’re like the majority of high-schoolers, however, your search probably hasn’t been so straightforward. And if you’re interested in a STEM (refers to the academic disciplines of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) major, things just get more complicated. Will you be selling yourself short if you don’t go to a large research university? Is a degree from a liberal arts institution “second class”? Let me give you 5 reasons why I have found that studying College Chemistry at a Liberal Arts college actually makes perfect sense.
- Smaller student to professor ratio.
I don’t think many students can say they know and are known by all of their Chemistry professors — however I have. A smaller student to professor ratio means that you can stop by your professor’s office hours and get one-on-one attention. It means you actually have the opportunity to ask questions about course material. In some cases it may even mean higher standards and more rigorous study than at a larger research university. Let me explain, a smaller ratio allows professors to devote more time per student to provide quality feedback and thoughtful grading on complex lab write-ups and assignments.
Personally, I have reaped the benefits of knowing and being known by my professors. I have visited two of my professors’ houses for department or class-related dinners. I have mingled with my chemistry professors and fellow chemistry majors once a week during a time of ‘chemis-treats’ (One such time when we made liquid nitrogen ice cream is pictured above).
- Access to great research opportunities.
Yes, it is true that liberal arts colleges don’t typically have the same magnitude of resources and funding for research found at large research universities. However, that doesn’t mean that research isn’t done. I encourage you to ask professors about their research when you visit; I have found they enjoy sharing it. Often, small liberal arts colleges don’t offer graduate programs in the sciences. This means that undergraduate students performing scientific research on campus get to receive mentorship from and work directly alongside professors rather than graduate students. I have seen several friends thrive in such a research environment with my professors at Wheaton College.
In addition to the research opportunities on campus, it is important to remember that off-campus research internships abound! I spent my last summer in a respected undergraduate research internship program at a government lab. In this experience, several of the other interns I interacted with came from faith-based and/or liberal arts colleges as well. As a result of the time I spent in that internship and the connections I made there, I will be returning to that lab to accept a post-baccalaureate research position following graduation this year.
- More opportunities to TA.
During my time at Wheaton College, I have had the opportunity to work as a teaching assistant for Genetics, Organic Chemistry, and Biochemistry labs. These roles have involved lab prep, answering student questions and explaining concepts, grading, and ensuring a smooth lab experience. Through these jobs, I have gained valuable teaching and leadership experience, and these positions don’t look too shabby on my resume either. At a large research university, however, working as a TA probably would have been out of reach for me, as these jobs are typically reserved for graduate students.
- Pursuit of subjects outside your major.
When you study science at a liberal arts institution, it’s perfectly normal – expected rather – for one to take classes ranging from anthropology to theology to history to literature to sociology, etc. The pursuit of a degree in Chemistry does not mean that you have to give up your side interests. During my time at Wheaton College, I have dabbled in such subjects: taken a drawing class for fun, earned a Spanish minor, and participated in a summer study abroad program for Spanish in Costa Rica.
This variety is not only fun, but it forces you to interact with people from all sorts of disciplines. The skills these interactions breed are invaluable to any sort of real-world work after college. Thus, when it comes to future employment, a liberal arts education may actually give you an edge over students who haven’t had the chance to build significant cooperation and thinking skills outside of their science disciplines.
- Exploration of the intersection of between faith and discipline.
This has been a significant blessing for me personally. Today’s culture tends to posit faith and science in utterly separate categories. To study at an institution that blatantly conforms to culture can prove rather disconcerting if your faith is something very important to you as mine is to me. My education would have been worlds different had I not studied College Chemistry at a Liberal Arts institution. Bottom line: I will leave Wheaton College and graduate with an increased ownership of my faith, an increased enthusiasm for science, and increased respect for my professors.
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