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Class Sizes and Teaching Assistants at Northwestern University

On a recent trip across country, Mark stopped at the Northwestern University in Illinois and talks about the relatively large class size at the University. 97% of the classes have 100 or less students.  But a large percentage of courses have over 40 students, which means that a teaching assistant is assigned to help with the course.

Check this video out to learn how faculty members use the help of TAs to manage large classes:

Mark Montgomery
Educational Consultant

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You may read the transcription below:

I’m here now on the campus of Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, just north of Chicago.  It’s about 12 miles or so north of Chicago.  Great location.  If you get out towards the leg it’s, the campus is right on Lake Michigan, and you can see downtown from the campus.  So it’s another kind of, one of these campuses is like Tuffs, like the University of Chicago where you feel like you’re very much part of the city but you’re still enough outside of it that you can have this beautiful tree lined campus, green, especially now in the summer.  Probably not so great in the middle of winter.  But there are a few things to know about Northwestern.  Of course I can’t sort of in this short video tell you everything, but remember that first of all Northwestern is on a quarter system, so that means that you take only three classes at a time in ten week – three or four, maybe four classes – four classes a quarter in ten week quarters.  So it’s a little more intensive than at some other places where you might take five or six classes over a 15 week quarter.

A couple of other things.  There are about 8,000 students here, so it’s a little larger than some other private universities, the caliber here, but it’s not so large that it’s a great big huge state university.  Sort of a nice size in between.  This is a size that a lot of students are looking for that is difficult to find.  The Admission’s Office is telling us also that 97% of the classes have fewer than 100 students.  That’s an important figure to know.  That’s probably more important than the student to faculty ration, which is a 7 to 1.  Ignore that statistic.  It tells you absolutely nothing about the classroom experience.  The percentage of classes that are certain enrollment or less, that’s better.  So 97% of the classes here are 100 students or less.

However, if the class is over 40 students then there is a TA for the class that runs the discussion section as opposed to the professor.  So we were, our tour guide was from a double major, Bachelor’s in Music and Performance at the Venice School of Music, and none of those classes are large, and so there were no TA’s in that school.  But then she also is doing a BA degree in History, and about 50% of the student classes that she had taken in History were over 40 students, and therefore had TA’s.  Now of course it depends on the classes you pick.  You might be able to take History to find a lot more classes that have a lower enrollment if that’s one of your priorities, to find those classes that have maybe 15 to 20 or maybe even fewer students if that’s a priority.  But also remember that the more popular the class, the larger the enrollment and the more likely you are to have a TA.

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