What is a Research University?

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What is a Research University?

As the name implies, a research university is a university that has a strong or main focus on research by professors and graduate students. They might be in some way less oriented towards teaching at an undergraduate level, but the experiences provided will always be excellent for any student that is willing to take advantage of the resources offered by these institutions.

So what are some of the aspects that set research universities apart?

Interaction with Graduate Students

Every research university offers graduate programs, so undergraduate students will have a lot more chance to meet and interact with graduate students. This can be a great experience and can help you gain insight into your future as well as participate and collaborate on research projects that are led by graduate students.

State-of-the-art Facilities

In order for a university to conduct meaningful research in any area, it’s important for them to have up-to-date and quality equipment so that its students and professors can actually advance in their discoveries and research. For those students that are interested in the hard sciences, this is a major advantage, because it usually means that large research universities will have the latest technology.

Many Majors to Choose From

Because these universities tend to be large and have plenty of diversity, the majors it has to offer are also wide and broad. This is also a double-edged sword because it means that while you will have plenty to choose from at first, it might be more difficult to change major or create your own major because it normally has to go through a lot of bureaucracy.

Less Individual Attention from Professors and Larger Class Sizes

Large classes, especially in the introductory levels are quite common. They usually take place in lecture halls with a large number of students, sometimes more than 100, which can make personalized feedback more difficult.

However, to counterbalance this, these large classes are divided into smaller discussion sections that are overseen by graduate students, so you’ll get to interact with them on those occasions too. But, as the lessons get more advanced, the classrooms will also shrink. Many research universities offer honor programs to some students who qualify, where the environment is more like a small college.

Distinguished Faculty Members

Due to the resources and opportunities offered by research universities, these tend to attract well-known faculty professors. Students will get the opportunity to interact with top professionals and research in their fields. You may even have the chance to work with them on projects and co-author on published research.


The global reputation of research universities is normally better than smaller colleges, mainly because big breakthroughs in science often happen in research universities, so the recognition they get abroad is bigger than colleges that might also have excellent undergraduate programs.

Advantages for Graduate Students

If you get your undergraduate degree in a research university, you might have an advantage already for admission to graduate programs. Since you might have had the opportunity to meet and maybe even work with researchers in your field, you can get letters of recommendation from them and improve your chance of entering these graduate programs.

It’s important to know that the learning experience will be different in a research university than a smaller college, but that doesn’t mean that one will be necessarily better than the other, it all really boils down to your expectations and your needs.

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