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Dr. Kat’s List: Best Colleges for Future Professors

If you’re passionate about learning, colleges will not only want to accept you—they’ll want to hire you! A career as a college professor means flexible hours, sharing your discoveries with eager young minds, and opportunities to study, research, and become an expert in your field. Not to mention those four special syllables: sabbatical. If you think you want a career in academia, there are top-notch opportunities to be found across the country.

Four-year colleges and universities usually require professors to hold a doctoral degree, or PhD, in their field. However, schools may hire master’s degree holders or doctoral candidates in some cases. Master’s degree holders often populate teaching positions at two-year colleges. A doctoral program varies in the number of years required, and the United States government reports that the average is six years of full time study in addition to the bachelor’s degree. Obtaining a position as a graduate teaching assistant (TA) is a great way to gain practical teaching experience. Some colleges offer TA positions to undergraduate students; check with the faculty in your major to see if you can be a TA. In addition to teaching, faculty members regularly conduct research in their field. Publishing innovative research findings is one yardstick by which professors are measured, in addition to their work inside the classroom.

We’ve looked into the undergrad origins of doctoral candidates, the academic atmosphere, and the opportunities for conducting undergraduate research and having a faculty mentor. Don your wacky academic graduation regalia and read on: these are great schools for future professors.

Reed College, Portland, OR
Deliberately free of fraternities, secret societies, eating clubs, and varsity sports, Reed promotes an egalitarian atmosphere in which all types of ideas and people are respected. The college encourages a focus on learning rather than grades, by evaluating students using extensive teacher comments and refraining from using an honor roll, a Dean’s List, or Latin Honors at graduation. the in-depth review style of the curriculum can help, students foster academic connections with professors. Academic networking is just as easy with fellow students, as Reedies incan partake in small conference-style classes with an average of 15 students. On-campus work experience at Reed offers students options that extend beyondthe norm. Not only is Reed College the only liberal arts college in the world with a nuclear reactor, its also mostly staffed and run by undergraduates. Students from all majors can obtain a license and perform experiments using the reactor! It looks like they put all that research to good use, as Reed has produced more PhDs in the life sciences than any other college. To top it off, the intellectual prowess of Reedies comes to a head during its annual Paideia, or “festival of learning.” For this week, both professors and  students are encouraged to teach unusual classes such as “underwater Basket Weaving” or seminars on martial arts.

Swarthmore College, Swarthmore, PA
Swarthmore academics are not for the faint of heart. This small liberal arts college has so strongly resisted grade inflation that students wear t-shirts that say: “Anywhere else it would’ve been an A. In fact, the school’s online list of things to do before you graduate includes: #7 “Use the word ‘hetero-normative’ during lunchtime conversation” and #62 “Go to a lecture on ‘”The Element of Surprise in Egyptian Art just because you can.” Students in Swarthmore’s Honors Program are particularly brave, as their course work culminates in an oral examination at the end of senior year. Students are tested on the knowledge they’ve gained at Swarthmore by a committee of outside examiners that represent some of the top minds in their respective fields. Luckily, students have many opportunities to broaden their knowledge, with a course catalog of over 600 classes and more than 50 courses of study. Swarthmore shares an enormous library system with Bryn Mawr and Haverford—the three form the “Tri-College Consortium,” and Swatties can register for courses at all three, as well as cross-register at the University of Pennsylvania. Lastly, students will never take a course taught by a TA, and nearly every professor at Swarthmore has either a PhD or the highest degree in their field. Talk about intense!

Grinnell College, Grinnell, IA
With only one required core class (First-Year Tutorial), Grinnell students can take nearly any and all academic classes that suit their strengths and interests. This means students have the ability to design their own majors, which only a few schools in the country allow. For those thinking about becoming a professor, this approach to learning can be a great foundation for establishing research interests – a must for any faculty member. The college’s key phrase is ‘self-governance,’ a principle applied in both the classroom and in residence hall life. Barring unique circumstances, all Grinnell students are housed on campus, in dorms where they share “a great deal of freedom and responsibility” AKA no RAs. But that doesn’t mean Grinnell students are without guidance. In fact, Grinnell students have the opportunity to develop close relationships with faculty through small classes and the senior year Mentored Advanced Projects, in which a student and faculty member team up to conduct research or create works of art. Grinnell combines academic freedom with a tight knit community. This liberal arts college is home to 1,600 students in a town of 9,100. Grinnell embraces both small-town roots(the college’s Center for Prarie Studies celebrates the nature and culture of the region through science and art) and the wider world—Scholars’ Convocations bring leading international scholars to campus. The school also emphasizes and supports international learning opportunities, and works with over 70 different programs. As for financial freedom—Grinnell is still one of the few schools remaining with a completely need-blind admissions policy, a definite plus in a recessionary economy.

Carleton College, Northfield, MN
Carleton College has been called “A Hothouse for Female Scientists,” due to the rates at which its female grads go on to get Ph.D.s in the sciences—which is exactly what you’ll need if you want to teach there. The students, ‘Carls,’ as they call themselves, are uniquely enthusiastic—they build shared-interest living communities like the Science Fiction House, Culinary House, and CANOE house (for outdoor enthusiasts), as well as participate in clubs with interests ranging from the promotion of mustaches and science fiction to the production of experimental theater and robots. The oldest student-run pub in the nation sits in the basement of a residence hall, and the Princeton Review recently ranked the radio station, KRLX, as one of the best in the nation. However, as much as Carls love their campus, with its 1,040 acres in a river town 45 minutes from the Twin Cities, they also love to travel. By having ten-week trimesters, Carleton has made it possible for 70% of its recent classes to study abroad.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA
Students at MIT can do more than just learning in the school’s classroom, they can teach. In fact, “Teach Anything, Learn Anything” is the motto of the Education Studies Program (ESP), which enlists MIT students to teach self-designed classes to high school students. The results include classes like “Cooking isn’t Kraft,” “How to Get into the College of your Choice” (uh-oh, competition for us!) and “Geek gurls, where are U?” Of course, MIT students are still learning—and “learning by doing,” which is an MIT academic philosophy. For even more of a career boost, MIT offers the Scheller Teacher Education Program (STEP) , which places MIT undergraduates in urban schools, and helps participants get their teaching certificate in one to two years. Also available to students is the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP), where undergrads can work on faculty research projects or develop their own, earning academic credit or pay while developing research skills in areas like genetics, finance, cancer research or educational innovation. Entering students don’t have to worry about nerves impacting their first semester grades. Freshmen are eased into the university by a pass/no-record grading system in their first term with only passed classes appearing on transcripts. Small learning communities are also available to facilitate studying. So fear not, there are many opportunities to thrive in this learning-intensive atmosphere.

While the road to becoming a professor may be a long one, paved with additional years of study and research, it can also lead to a rewarding career. The opportunity to work with eager young students and be on the leading edge of research in one’s field can be exciting. These five schools, and many more around the United States, can serve as an excellent training ground for budding professors.

Hopefully, you’ve been busy the past few months, researching colleges, creating and finalizing a balanced college list. Now that you’ve narrowed down the list of schools to which you will apply, it’s time to create your application strategy – deciding when and how you will apply.

Throughout your research, you’ve likely come across terms such as Early Decision, Early Action, and Rolling Admission, among others. These are application options that differ based on the application deadline, response date, and your commitment to attend the school, if accepted. It is important for students to understand the different application plans, the potential outcomes, and the choices that are available. Feeling overwhelmed? The expert counselors at IvyWise have compiled a quick list of the different application options:

Early Options
Does the early bird really get the worm? Usually, but it depends. While there can be an advantage to applying early, you should only apply early if you’re ready. Being ready means you have visited and researched your school(s) extensively, your grades through junior year are indicative of who you are as a student, you have taken all necessary standardized tests (and do not plan to retake them), and you have completed all application components, including essays. The following early options may be offered:

Early Decision (ED)

Application due: The application and all supporting documents must be submitted early in November, usually between November 1 and 15 of your senior year.

Notification: Applicants usually find out about ED decisions in December.

Early Decision is ideal for students who have identified a college as a definite first choice.We encourage students to apply Early Decision only if they are ready and if they will definitely enroll if accepted. You may only apply to one school ED and the application is binding; if a student is accepted under ED, he or she must withdraw all applications to other schools and he or she is committed to attending that school. Dr. Kat says that by applying ED, the student is “essentially telling the college that it is your first choice; and you may be rewarded by a higher admit rate during this period.”

Because of the ED application deadlines, junior year grades are extremely important for ED applicants. However, first semester senior grades are often submitted later on as well. Watch out; don’t start slacking off second semester senior year, as schools can rescind their offers! [AW ONLY: If you are looking for the best financial aid offer, ED may not be the plan for you. You do not have the flexibility to compare financial aid packages and must accept the financial aid offered by the ED school.]

Early Decision II (ED II)

Application due: Usually between January 1 and February 1 of your senior year.

Notification: Applicants usually find out about ED II decisions in March.

Some universities provide two ED dates; the second date is for students who are sure about the school being their first choice, but aren’t ready to apply by the November deadline, or for students who were denied from an ED school. This is often called ED II and these deadlines are usually closer to the RD deadline. Like ED, ED II applications are binding, and students may have an advantage by submitting an ED II application. Because students are committed to attend if accepted, the college can more easily determine their yield. Bowdoin College, Tufts University, and Pomona College are some example of schools that offer the ED II option.

Early Action (EA)

Application due: The application and all supporting documents must be submitted early in November, usually between November 1 and 15 of your senior year.

Notification: Applicants usually find out about EA decisions in December.

EA is similar to ED but you are not required to attend the school if accepted. This option is great for students who have decided their EA school is one of their top choice schools (if not their number one), and they are ready to apply, but do not want to be obligated to attend the school if accepted. Like ED applicants, EA applicants receive acceptance decisions in December, though have until May 1 to decide if they will enroll. You can apply to more than one EA school, even if you are also applying ED to another university. Some schools with EA plans include University of Chicago, Notre Dame, Georgetown, and MIT.

Single Choice Early Action (SCEA) or Restricted Early Action

Application due: The application and all supporting documents must be submitted early in November, usually between November 1 and 15 of your senior year.

Notification: Applicants usually find out about SCEA decisions in December.

SCEA is similar to EA in that you are not bound to attend if accepted. However, with the SCEA restriction, you cannot apply early to any other school, be it EA or ED, until you have heard back from your SCEA school. After you receive the school’s decision of acceptance, deferral, or denial, you may apply to other schools [AW ONLY: and compare financial aid offers] before deciding where to enroll by May 1. This is a good option for a student who is ready to apply to a school they really like but don’t necessarily want to be bound by the decision of the school. However, be sure you do not want to apply early elsewhere, as you will not be able to do so. Harvard, Princeton, and Yale have SCEA or plans, while Boston College and Stanford University have Restrictive Early Action plans. Note: Boston College’s Restrictive Early Action Program permits candidates to apply to other Early Action programs, but not Early Decision programs.

Other Options

Regular Decision

Application due: Regular Decision applications and supporting documents must be submitted to the school by a set date in your senior year, which varies from November 30 to March 15. Applications to most selective schools are due January 1, 15, or February 15.

Notification: Applicants usually find out about Regular decisions by April 1.

Looking for some regularity? Regular Decision is one of the most common application options, as you can apply to as many schools as you want under this option. Once the college has received all applications, they are reviewed and all applicants are notified at the same time, during the spring of senior year. If accepted, you must notify the college by May 1 of your intent to accept or decline their office of admission. Applicants who are deferred in the early round will be reconsidered during the Regular Decision round. Regular Decision acceptances are non-binding, which means you can choose to enroll in that school or another school that has accepted you.

Rolling Admission (RA)

Application due: Usually anytime between September 1 and May 1, though it is best to send in your application as early as possible – in September or October of senior year – as RA schools continue to accept students until they reach their enrollment capacity.

Notification: Applicants are notified of admission decisions as soon as the file is complete (usually within weeks of receiving the application).

Looking forward to acceptance letters rolling in? Once the RA school receives your completed file, they immediately review and act on your application. The college generally notifies the applicant with an admissions decision within several weeks of receiving the application. Schools such as Rutgers University, University of Pittsburgh, and University of Tampa use rolling admissions.

IvyWise counselors help students craft a strategy to determine which application options they will use for each of the schools on their list. You should prioritize completing your standardized tests and finishing your essays based on those deadlines. You can find out your schools’ deadlines and policies by visiting the schools’ websites and reviewing the admissions page.

Best of luck from all of us at IvyWise!

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