Shortly after transferring to a top-ranked public university, considered a public Ivy League, from a far less ranked university in the mountainous portion of North Carolina, I soon found how different these two worlds really were.

The university I transferred to had a long history of academic excellence, but I soon found out that may be less to do with the teachers, and more to do with the students that come in.

The teachers at the top-ranked university pretty much expected you to teach yourselves. I had one professor that did nothing but read the lecture notes in class the entire time. He gave no effort to help his students understand the concepts, he threw the material at you, and hoped that it would stick.

In contrast, the professors I have experienced at the lower-ranked university took the time to explain the material in such a way so that everyone could understand it. They openly appreciated questions and encouraged discussion. They were a guide on your academic journey.

Additionally, the environments of the two universities are also different. The environment of the lower-ranked university was much warmer and friendlier. You could tell that the people at the university cared about the students. It was also in a small mountain town, so it still had a small-town vibe. The professors that you would see in class, you’d also see after class at the bar having fun just like everyone else. That sort of small-town atmosphere may have helped cultivate that climate of personable teaching.

In contrast, the general atmosphere of the top-ranked school is along the lines of “you’re on your own kid.” In classes of 400 students, it’s naturally much harder to cultivate a personal relationship with your professor. The largest classroom I experienced at the lower-ranked, more personable school was 120, and the professors still generally knew who you were.

There also seems to be a environment of not caring when it comes to the top-ranked university. This is a university that competes with Duke, Harvard, and Yale – they are used to getting the best and brightest, and being told that they are top dogs. Their ability to compete with such other top-ranked schools has less to do with the quality of the school – which is marginal among other big state universities – it is the quality of students they take in. This feeling of “they got it” or “they’re smart” leads to a relaxed environment, and complacency creeps in. This may further explain the discrepancies between the top-ranked school and the lower-ranked one.

Who is really winning? The student at the lower-ranked school that had teachers that cared and got way more out of their education than the students are the higher-ranked school or the student at higher-ranked university that learned less but graduated with a particular school name on their diploma?

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