How big are college classes typically?

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Marguerite Dennis, Higher Education Consultant

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Looking at average college class sizes can be tricky. Most of the information on class size gives the average class size for all four years. That means that the 300+ freshman lecture is averaged along with the 25 students in a senior seminar in advanced statistics. What you want to know is the average class size for all first-year courses. That will give you a better idea of the attention you will get in the first year of college.

Samer Hamadeh, Former Vault.com CEO. NYC Volunteer, Stanford Alumni Interview Program.

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College class size differs dramatically from college to college and even within classes at the same college. As Marguerite also points out, class size depends on whether you're talking about an undergraduate pre-requisite, a class for only college seniors within a specialized major, or a graduate course that allows undergrads to audit. At UC Berkeley, for example, freshman chemistry may have 2000 students enrolled. At Stanford, the same class may have 100-150. An English literature 200-level course at either school may have only 10-20 students. Check out the stats on most college websites for a general sense of class size, and note that the larger the overall school enrollment, the more likely the larger the class size.

Dave Nguyen, Education Consultant, College Lecturer, PhD

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Classes can be as small as 3 students to be large as 600 students. It depends on the university, the department, and the purpose of the class. Each school boasts a certain faculty to student ratio. Private colleges can afford to hire enough faculty such that the ratio is 1:8. Public schools have fewer resources and often require students to be or to learn to be independent enough to seek out the attention of a faculty member. Lower division courses, which are taken during the first two years of college, tend to be the largest classes. These lectures can have up to 600 students in one room at one time. Even though a university has large lectures, they will also have smaller courses designed specifically for students to have a cozy environment of one instructor to 10-15 students.

Kazuya Shiba, Bodybuilder, Personal Trainer, Gamer

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 It depends on the course you are taking.  Even in smaller schools and community colleges, classes which have high demand can have up to 400 students (or however big the biggest lecture hall is).  These are classes in the General Education category or a very popular major.  
 But, as you further your college career and take more specific courses, that number will drop significantly to less than 20.
Anonymous, Biomedical Engineer who loves to teach and help others.

The size of college classes really varies depending on the size of your school. Typically, you can expect 200-400 people for your general and introductory classes (general chemistry, general math, etc.). In the later years of your college major, however, your classes will start to become more focused and your classes will begin to consist of only those in the same major as you. For these classes, the class size can range from a few people to maybe around 50 students.

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ambreen khan, May it's helpful.

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Yes, you said right that each school boats a specific staff to understudy proportion. Private schools can stand to contract enough personnel with the end goal that the proportion is 1:8. State funded schools have less assets and frequently expect understudies to be or to figure out how to be sufficiently free to search out the consideration of an employee. May edubir would be the additional source which helpful for us.

Lukas, college

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College class size differs dramatically from college to college. 192.168.1.1 router IP address

Brittney Miller, College graduate, current graduate student

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College class sizes depend on many factors as the other Noodle Experts have addressed. Typically, small liberal arts colleges have smaller class sizes all around, with general education requirement classes having between 25 and 40 students and senior seminars with 3 to 20 students. Large research universities with large lectures could have up to 500 students that have smaller recitation or discussion sections of 25 to 40 students, and higher-level undergraduate courses may have 25 to 40 students.

No matter how many students are in a class, it is possible to be successful in that class by developing proper study habits, being prepared, and communicating with your professors, instructors, and/or teaching assistants.

Colleen Clemens, College Professor, Writer, Editor, Tutor & Parent

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Since many of these answers are focusing on who is teaching the class, I will add a bit more about that and then talk a little about students as well. The one piece of advice I would add is that often there is a teaching assistant in a larger class. Use that person! She is getting paid to work directly with the students and will give you time and attention the professor--who has other demands such as research--cannot give you. There is also a good chance the teaching assistant is grading your work, so making contact with the point person in a large class is a good idea.

Being a student in a large class means you might not be forced to work with another student. Don't let that stop you from making connections. Having a friend in the room can help you with missed work and studying/writing. I find the loss of making connections with other students the most significant drawback of such a large class that probably won't be student-centered. So you will have to make the extra effort to find a friend in the class so you can support each other.

Tedra Osell, PhD, Parent of 2e teen, former homeschooler and college professor, SENG Model Parent Group Facilitator

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As others are saying, that varies widely from school to school and even from department to department within a college or university. A broad generalization is that introductory courses are larger than more advanced courses ("lecture" vs. "seminar"), humanities courses tend to be smaller than courses in science departments, and "colleges" (which focus on teaching) are likely to have smaller classes than "universities" (which focus on research)--though this varies greatly. An introductory lecture course can have thousands of students (though most universities will break the class down into multiple smaller "discussion groups," usually led by graduate students, so that students have a chance to ask questions and get more focused instruction on key topics. On the other hand, I've taught seminars that had only four people in them (which is unusually small; the more usual seminar size is anywhere from 10-30 or so).

The questions you want to ask of a prospective college, if you want smaller classes (which most students do) are:

  • How big is the typical introductory class in (whatever department/field you're most interested in)?
  • How big are the general ed (i.e., non-major) courses?
  • Are there seminars for first- and second-year students? Are those seminars open to majors only, or are there seminars for general ed courses?

Keep in mind, too, that undergraduate courses, especially for first- and second-year students, are increasingly being taught by non tenure-track faculty; research universities and community colleges, in particular, may rely on graduate teaching assistants, adjuncts, and temporary or part-time faculty to help them offer smaller classes. While these non-tenure-track faculty can be great instructors, there are some disadvantages, from the point of view of students, to having most smaller classes taught by adjuncts: temporary faculty may not be around to write recommendation letters later on, they may not have offices where you can find them if you need help, they may not be familiar with the resources and support services that the college offers. So it's worth adding an extra question to the list above:

  • How many first- and second-year seminars or discussion-based courses are taught by tenured or tenure-track faculty?
Anonymous, Sam Museus is a professor of Higher Education

I echo everything that was said here, and add that community colleges and small private liberal arts colleges tend to have smaller classes (on average) than large research intensive universities. And, while some students choose larger classes so that they can get lost in the crowd and do not have to engage, it is important to realize that smaller classes might lead to better learning and greater success in college. Although there is some mixed evidence about the relationship between class size and student outcomes, quite a bit of research has found smaller classes to be correlated with more positive outcomes in college.

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