How to Gauge a School’s Academic Prowess

academic prowess

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You know a great college atmosphere when you see it. Vibrant student life. Proven athletic teams. Lively events. But when it comes to the quality of education, how do you quantify a school’s academic prowess?

Look for these features—even if you have to dig a little bit—to discover schools that strongly value academic prowess among both students and professors.

Honors program

Not all honors programs are created equal. Of the schools on your list, compare the requirements and benefits of each honors program. Some programs are highly selective; others admit all applicants over a given GPA. Virtually all programs have minimum expectations for honors students, which should also be a consideration. Your own eligibility for the programs may also play a factor in your choice.

Pay attention to honors programs that offer courses exclusive to honors students. Also, keep in mind those that offer honors students the opportunity to contract a regular course for an honors designation. While both methods supply honors students with a well rounded intellectual challenge, consider which approach will suit you best.

Courses exclusive to honors students are useful for students in the honors program. They are surrounded by people with a similar approach to education and success, which makes for invigorating conversation and lasting results.

Regular courses contracted by honors students give everyone an academic edge. The honors students have the opportunity to interact with minds that may not think as they do, while non-honors students can benefit from a new academic angle.

Centers & Institutes

Many schools fund centers and institutes dedicated to certain areas of research—politics, publishing, business, etc. These centers and institutes can offer research and internship opportunities for students and are an indication of the school’s thirst for intellectual inquiry.

For your own purposes, find schools that fund or support a center or institute relevant to your career goals. You will benefit both from potential employment opportunities and from a concentration of experts in your field who are closely accessible.

National Merit Scholars

Look at state rankings for National Merit Scholars. Schools that land near the top of those rankings attract some of the brightest minds in the state.

Consider what a school does to attract National Merit Scholarship Finalists. Recognition and scholarships signal a high value on academic rigor and eagerness for a student body prepared for formidable scholarly work.

Goldwater Scholars

The Goldwater Scholarship is the most prestigious undergraduate science award in the United States. Each year, 300 sophomores and juniors are selected from an applicant pool that can include up to four nominees from each college and university nationwide.

The Goldwater Scholarship is highly competitive. Several recent Goldwater Scholars indicate a school’s strong science program, a value on student research, and high regard for academics. Schools with more than one Goldwater Scholar at a time are of particular note.

Fulbright Scholars

Available in 160 countries to 8,000 students and scholars, the Fulbright Grant offers opportunities for research, graduate study, lecturing, and teaching across the globe. Generally, Fulbright accepts 15–25% of U.S. applicants.

Institutions with recent graduates and current or retired professors enrolled in the Fulbright program have an international reputation for academic excellence. Fulbright grants scholarships for virtually every field of study. Note especially those schools with Fulbright scholars affiliated with your personal academic goals. Professors returning from Fulbright grants do so with a renewed perspective on their research and the world at large; recent graduates on Fulbright scholarships indicate a strong academic base from which they were selected to continue the study.

If academic prowess is a high priority in your college search, take the time to look into these less obvious aspects of a school’s academic reputation. Commit yourself to study at a school that is as dedicated to your scholastic achievement as you are.

Gwyneth Findlay is a student at Calvin College, a Christian liberal arts college in Grand Rapids, Michigan, that is home to 11 centers and institutes, 12 faculty with Fulbright scholarships since 2009, and two Goldwater scholars in the summer of 2016.

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