Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Orange and Apples: UT Austin

If you are feeling the need to be somewhere a little larger today, have you considered UT Austin? David Lennington GS, a English, Spanish, and Classics major at the University of Texas Austin and English graduate student at Princeton, explores the differences between the two schools.

As a graduate student at Princeton who attended The University of Texas at Austin as an undergraduate, the most important piece of advice that I would give to a student in the process of exploring education options is that it helps to think about goals, and that at any institution, what students get out of their education is affected primarily by what they put into their education. If prospective students can narrow down what they want to study, then they can take a close look at the programs in that area in addition to examining schools as a whole.

Both The University of Texas and Princeton are excellent from an academic standpoint, but each has certain programs that tend to be particularly strong, and at each institution certain programs will tend to specialize more in some parts of the discipline than in others. In other words, programs at different institutions tend to have different “personalities,” so to speak, and this is in large part determined by the faculty in those programs at the different schools. If you know what you want to major in, a great way to find out about different schools’ programs in that major would be to talk to undergraduates currently studying that major at different schools. The same applies to extracurricular activities: both UT and Princeton have lots going on besides classes, and students find plenty that they want to do at both schools. However, if there is a specific extracurricular activity that is especially important to you, it would be worth looking into how you would likely participate in it at the different institutions that you're considering. For some activities, they can be enjoyed heartily at almost any university, for others, the school you choose may make a difference.

The main difference between Princeton and The University of Texas is the size of the student populations. Princeton has about 5,000 undergraduate students and about 2,500 graduate students; UT has about 39,000 undergraduate students and about 11,000 graduate students. While population size isn't important to all prospective students, it does make a difference to some, and while some students prefer a larger student population, others prefer a smaller student population. Climate is another difference between Princeton and UT. For many students, any climate will do, but some students may find Texas’ heat uncomfortable, and some students may find Princeton winters colder than they're used to. The key is to devote real thought to why it is that you want a higher education and in what ways it will be important to you, and then to see what institution fits well with your own goals and interests. A well-motivated student will be successful at essentially any school, but reflecting and planning before entering a university can help to ensure that the place where you study is conducive to the kinds of academic development which you prioritize most highly.