I just watched a video that was referred to me by a friend on Facebook. I often ignore these links, but this one clearly had a college theme–and my friend thought it was hilarious.  So I clicked on it.

It was hilarious.  And you should watch it for the entertainment value.

But you should also watch it for an inside view of the lecture hall at the University of Rochester for Chemistry 131. This is the introductory course in Chemistry at University of Rochester.

When colleges advertise their “average class size,” they are obscuring a fact: many of the classes you will take as an undergraduate will be large lecture courses like this one. Just because a university like Harvard or Yale offers a lot of small classes does NOT mean that the average size of the classes an individual student ordinarily would take would be small. Or even that the majority of the classes will be small.

This noise about average class size is a way that colleges and universities inundate you with statistics to give you the impression that you will have a very personal, very intimate educational experience. At most places, this is malarkey. Most classes an average student will take at a medium-sized (like University of Rochester) or large university will be much larger than the average class size at their high school.

And if they continue to insist upon it, ask them to prove it. Ask to see the class schedules for a randomly selected group of students in freshman, sophomore, junior, and senior year, and let’s really see what proportion of the average student’s classes are large and what proportion are small (say under 25 students).  Not every college fibs, but many stretch the truth.

Why do they fib (or stretch, as the case may be)?  Because this statistic is a proxy for intimacy, personalization AND it is a vital statistic used by US News to determine its rankings.

If you want to read more about average class size, you might want to take a look at these links:

Student to Faculty Ratios:  A Bogus Statistic You Should Ignore

Adjunct Faculty and Student to Faculty Ratios

Student to Faculty Ratios:  Unintended (Negative) Consequences


Mark Montgomery
Educational Consultant

Published by Mark Montgomery

Mark is a leading educational consultant. His experience as a professor, college administrator, and youth mentor help him guide students from around the country and around the world.

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  1. Actually, this video should be required watching for any high school student thinking about medical school. Many students have unrealistic ideas about how hard it is to make it through the pre-med curriculum with strong grades. If you’re thinking pre-med you definitely want to ask about the average class sizes of required pre-med classes, the percentage of students who pass those classes, and the percentage of freshmen starting as pre-med who eventually apply to medical school successfully. Thanks for sharing this Mark!

  2. With all the mooc, you can see lots of videos with large lecture halls for intro classes including the Ivy’s. If you want an idea of how big the intro classes are, most colleges have their schedules online and you can look up the classes and see the enrollments. Of course, some colleges, will let you look at the class schedule but they won’t put the enrollment information on them. These tend to be the more “prestigious” colleges that wouldn’t want you to focus on such numbers.

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