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Common Questions - Academics

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What are Reed's academic requirements?

At Reed there are general academic group requirements and departmental requirements that students must fulfill before graduation. General requirements include participation in a yearlong humanities course, a junior qualifying exam, and a senior thesis with an oral defense before a committee of the faculty. Humanities 110, taken during the first year at Reed, focuses on the literature, history, art, and culture of ancient Greece and Rome. This common experience serves as a tool for developing critical thought and advanced writing skills, and stimulates communication among Reed students even after graduation. For more information, take a look at the course catalog.

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How challenging is the academic environment?

Reed is consistently described by others as providing one of the nation's most intellectually rigorous undergraduate experiences, which demands dedication from both the students and the faculty. From this experience, however, creative and confident ideas emerge, as does a lifelong devotion to learning. Students who are organized and self-disciplined, and who find a balance between their academic and social activities, will enjoy the challenges at Reed and appreciate the far-reaching results of their achievements.

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What kind of advising and support is available at Reed?

student with test tubesNumerous resources at Reed can help a student adjust to the social and academic community. Students can find guidance about anything-from computer troubleshooting to roommate difficulties to how to start a new group on campus-from a student house adviser (HA) as well as upper level students who serve as "dorm moms" and "dorm dads." Several resident directors (RDs) are on staff to support an HA in assisting students. These trained professionals live on campus and are knowledgeable, helpful, and friendly. Students can also receive free drop-in counseling and medical care at Reed's health center.

Every student is assigned an academic faculty adviser who teaches a subject in which the student has expressed interest. This professor advises students on what classes to take as well as any other academic issues. Students can change academic advisers whenever they wish-the system is very flexible. The goal is to match students and advisers who are compatible and comfortable both personally and academically. This becomes especially important during the senior year when students are choosing a thesis adviser-a professor with whom they will meet weekly to discuss the progress of their senior thesis. Other resources for academic support include a writing center, a math center, a science center, a quantitative skills center, free tutoring in almost any subject, and foreign language scholars.

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What about grades?

Students at Reed earn traditional letter grades that are recorded on a traditional transcript. But Reed de-emphasizes grades. Students do not see them unless they specifically request them on individual assignments or at the end of a course. Rather than assigning a grade, professors write extensive comments on papers, exams, and lab reports. The registrar's office does not routinely distribute grades to students, provided that work continues at a satisfactory (C or higher) level. Of course, student work is closely observed and evaluated by professors, and students receive frequent written and oral comments regarding their progress. They know how they are doing
and learn to evaluate their work in a way that will serve them for life.

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Are professors accessible?

Yes, Reed professors are among the most qualified and accessible teachers and scholars in the nation. Their dedication to teaching does not end when the class period is over. Reed has a 10-to-1 student-to-faculty ratio and "faculty" means just that-there are no graduate teaching assistants. This is as true for first-year students as it is for seniors. After every paper a first-year student writes in Humanities 110, the student meets with a conference leader one on one to discuss the paper and how the class is going. Such contact with professors continues throughout the student's time at Reed. Graduating seniors confer with their thesis adviser on a weekly basis. Many students also design independent study projects with professors and assist them with their scholarly research.

This close student-faculty work relationship is evident in the detailed evaluations and recommendations that faculty members write for their students and the all-faculty discussions of any student who is struggling academically each semester. And students and professors also get to know each other informally. Reed encourages students and faculty to interact socially by giving professors funds to spend on their students. Professors often invite their conference group for dinner to celebrate the end of a productive semester. In student satisfaction surveys, close contact with faculty is almost invariably cited as one of Reed's great strengths.

Click here to find a more detailed breakdown of faculty, students, and academic interests.

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Is Reed stressful?

College-level learning isn't always easy, but adapting to it need not be daunting. Reed prides itself on stretching the minds of its students, and has developed an accessible and responsive support network to help students succeed. The academic program at Reed is rigorous and challenging, and freshmen spend much of their first semester learning how to navigate assignments that require depth of analysis, creativity, and active engagement. Professors, the student services staff, and student peer mentors are available and willing to help your student make a successful transition. And because Reed is a place where cooperative learning is encouraged, students often help each other to succeed, working on problem sets together and reading each other's papers.

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What types of academic awards do Reedies receive?

Reed is second only to one other college in the distinction of having produced the most Rhodes Scholars of all colleges of the liberal arts and sciences. In addition, during the past year Reed students and recent alumni have received Watson, National Science Foundation fellowships, Goldwater, Mellon, and Fulbrights. For a list of all Reed award winners, visit our awards and distinctions pages.

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