If you intend to take your college education seriously, and actually learn, do not forget to visit each college on your list once before making a decision. Check out when your prospective colleges will have an open session.
Do not simply listen to others’ opinions. Your friends will give you advice they’ve heard from their parents who have heard it from someone else and college seniors will usually give contradictory advice depending on whether they love/hate their college.
While great sports facilities and huge college reputation may be a factor in your decision, the deciding factor should always be: the professors. Before you visit a prospective college, be sure to check out its site to find the names and qualifications of the professors in the department you wish to join. Any self-respecting college will include a list of Research Interests of these professors.
Choose the ones you find most promising. Then, when you visit the College, talk to them.
Try to talk to them when they are at their natural self. If they are in a hurry, they’ll most likely ask you to come later or not answer your questions properly. But beware, the faculty has been warned to be at their best behavior, so they’ll always smile and answer your questions politely (well, most of them).
So, how do we pierce this metaphorical shield that the professors carry?
Ask them this simple question:
“What does teaching mean to you?”
(If you’re already in some school/college and want to know about a professor who has never taught you before, you can try out this trick too.)
The professors will be caught off-guard. They are trained to answer questions like, “Placements kaisi hai branch ki?” or “Package achha milega na?”, “Attendance ka scene toh nahi hai na?” They won’t be prepared for this.
It’s actually funny how a teacher is asked all sorts of questions about the College but is seldom asked about their views on teaching.
Why this works:
All colleges boasts of a world-class faculty with a vast knowledge pool that the students must pay (sometimes exorbitant fees) to get to learn from. But a highly knowledgeable person is not a great teacher by default. You are not handed a “World’s Awesomest Teacher” Mug when you complete your PhD.
A great teacher is a communicator who knows that “the mind is not an empty vessel to fill, but a fire to be kindled” (Plutarch).
A professor that hasn’t thought much about the art of teaching will most likely mumble at the unexpected question and state cliché lines or try to change the topic. Trust your instincts to figure out these “phony” teachers.
A great teacher, on the other hand, will talk about their philosophy of teaching and how they indulge in interesting tangential discussions during class -how students are always coming up to them with weird and interesting ideas for research projects- they’ll most likely ask you about your reasons for considering the field you’ve chosen as well. When they talk about their subject, you’ll notice how their passion changes the atmosphere around you and fills you up with energy and infinite optimism.
In case you’re going to College to learn, the professors are all that matter. Take your time and choose wisely. This will shape the next few years of your life.
But before you go around in this heat talking to college professors, there is something you must do first.
Answer this: “What does learning mean to you?”