When students reflect on the purpose of higher education, they often define college as a place to learn—something that’s easier when you have cutting-edge resources at your disposal. National leaders and officials view financial support for research universities as a long-term investment, as they are not only putting money behind today’s students but also those who will come after them.
Research universities, or higher education institutions that offer graduate as well as undergraduate programs and place a high priority on research, see research not only as an extension of teaching, but as a way for classroom learning to make an impact on society. Research universities receive millions of dollars in federal and private funding because, according to the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, “in terms of its impact on product and process development in U.S. firms, the social rate of return from investment in academic research is at least 40%.” Students at these universities play a role in research that can affect everyday life, all the while developing academic and professional skills that will shape the future.
To help guide the college search, NerdScholar asked the experts for the top five reasons to apply to a research university.
1. More experimental courses and extracurricular offerings
Research universities have the size and the funding to provide options for students both inside and outside the classroom. “Research universities tend to be large, resulting in more academic disciplines being offered for study, as well as the resources to support them,” says Keith Southergill, director of admissions for Barrett, the Honors College at Arizona State University. “This doesn’t just mean more majors and minors, but also more chances for inter- and trans-disciplinary work.” Students are able to take more tailored courses, and within a single field, such as biology, there may be multiple specializations.
In terms of extracurricular activities, research universities have “the variety of a small city,” says Steven Brint, vice provost for undergraduate education at the University of California, Riverside. “They include a range of student clubs and organizations that could not be supported on smaller institutions for lack of a critical mass of interested students.”
2. Access to top facilities and funding
Students at research universities have access to state-of-the-art laboratories and equipment, benefits that, at other colleges, are generally reserved for graduate students. “Especially in STEM fields, upper-level courses often involve using different instrumentation, whether it is an infrared spectrophotometer or a tensile-tester,” says Sue Ramlo, professor of general technology at the University of Akron. “These types of equipment are often very expensive, but research universities seek and receive grant funding for instrumentation.” The facilities are of the best quality, as graduate students and professors also use them. Research universities are “more likely to allow students, especially upper-level undergraduates, to have experiences on up-to-date versions of this equipment—the type and level of equipment that graduates would be most likely using in their future careers.”
3. Opportunities to conduct supervised research
Research universities owe their name to the groundbreaking findings that occur at these institutions, and students can contribute to major discoveries. Research universities attract some of the brightest faculty minds, and “in many cases, undergraduates also have the opportunity to conduct research under the direction of these world-class researchers, many of whom have industry experience,” says Lynn Stichnote, director of admissions at the Missouri University of Science and Technology.
Supervised research has many academic and professional benefits for students. Christine Clark, public relations representative at the University of California, San Diego, says that students can “work one-on-one with internationally distinguished faculty, participate in cutting-edge research with far-reaching impact, and make significant contributions to a field they care about.”
4. Collaborate and network with leaders in the field
Research universities allow students to collaborate with professors on research, but they also open doors to a network of leaders in a particular field. Dr. Mohammad Khasawneh, professor of systems science and industrial engineering at New York’s Binghamton University, says that “research-intensive universities have partnerships with national labs, centers for excellence, industry leaders, et cetera, which can enrich the students’ overall research experience and potential.” Through these partnerships, students are able to connect with potential future employers and develop their professional interests. “Students seeking advanced opportunities should investigate what projects the school is presently working on and with whom,” recommends Khasawneh. “The ability to contribute to meaningful projects in collaboration with major partners can be priceless.”
5. Hands-on training and career development
As collaboration and networking with experts increases, students at research universities are prepared for success in their professional lives. In addition to the training students receive when conducting research, “they have opportunities to co-author papers as undergraduates and to attend professional conferences,” says Karen Long, director of undergraduate admissions at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York. Research universities encourage students to apply their classroom education to real-world projects, which establishes work experience and skills. Career development is an important aspect of life at a research university, as demonstrated by research and networking opportunities, and students see real benefits when they apply to graduate schools and enter the job market.
Keith Southergill is the director of admissions at Barrett, the Honors College of Arizona State University.
Steven Brint is the vice provost for undergraduate education at the University of California, Riverside.
Sue Ramlo is a professor of general technology at the University of Akron.
Lynn Stichnote is the director of admissions at the Missouri University of Science and Technology.
Christine Clark is a public relations representative at the University of California, San Diego.
Mohammad Khasawneh is a professor of systems science and industrial engineering at Binghamton University.
Karen Long is the director of undergraduate admissions at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.
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