What makes a school large or small and what are some advantages and disadvantages of each?

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Our counselors answered:

What makes a school large or small and what are some advantages and disadvantages of each?

Jolyn Brand
Owner & CEO Brand College Consulting

Size does matter...

Students should consider the size of the colleges or universities that they would like to attend. Smaller schools tend to have fewer degree choices, fewer courses, fewer professors and fewer student activities. Smaller schools also tend to have better (lower) student to faculty ratios and it’s generally easier to connect with classmates. Larger colleges have broader choices in regards to classes, scheduling and professors and more student activities to choose from. However, some students may feel lost in large schools they don’t recognize anyone in their classes. Students should carefully weigh the size of their selected colleges carefully to determine the right “fit” for them.

Craig Meister
President Tactical College Consulting

While size matters to some, your priorities are most important...

A student population of 10,000 at one college could feel much more manageable than a student population of 10,000 at another college because of other variables such as a college’s advising system, average class size, or campus environment and location. With this in mind, the sooner you start visiting college campuses, the sooner you will be able to determine the ideal combination of characteristics that your college campus should possess. While size is important to some applicants, others don’t prefer big, medium, or small because to them other factors are far more important.

Ralph Becker
Owner & Director Ivy College Prep LLC

Many small campuses have deceptively vast resources and opportunities...

Attributing campus size to available resources might prove deceptive. Pomona College, for example, has only 1,500 undergraduates, smaller than many high schools. Yet, as part of the Claremont College Consortium, containing 5 undergraduate and 2 graduate schools, Pomona has a 2,500-seat concert hall, numerous art studios, interscholastic athletic teams, and a 1.9 million volume library. Pomona students can cross register for over 2,500 different courses, study abroad, participate in exchange programs with Swarthmore College, or a 3-2 engineering program with Cal Tech. Consequently, it pays to investigate a college regardless of size. You might find vast resources among small dimensions.

Wynne Curry
College Advisor Seven Hills School

Advantages to attending a small school...

High school students often make the assumption that a certain kind of campus (large vs. small) offers a certain kind of education or community, and so often, they find their assumptions off the mark. Large campuses can appeal hugely to students from small public or independent schools; small campuses can offer a lot to students who come from huge high schools. So much depends on the student and how he or she envisions life beyond high school. And until students actually get onto a large or small campus, it’s hard for them to know what life is really like on a given campus

Patti Demoff
Co-Founder College Circuit

Community and involved faculty made a small college right for me...

I admit to a small college bias. My college had 750 students, the same number as my high school class. It never felt too small. For one year I attended a large university and, while I enjoyed the spirit of the place, I disliked the anonymity. At the small school, I was encouraged to form my own opinion, find my voice and try it out. For me, the close community, the relationships I had with faculty who cared about me as a person, and the opportunity to have my independent research encouraged, was more important than anything the large college offered. 

Laura Miller
Director of College Guidance North Shore Hebrew Academy High School

Super-Size Me! The BIG advantages of attending a large university...

Big things come in big packages too! Attending a large-size university has many perks, including more college classes in a wide variety of academic disciplines. Expect campus libraries to have the resources you need. Plus, there’s a strong bet your professors have conducted plenty of research. Want to get out of your high school fishbowl and enjoy a much-needed dose of anonymity? A large school attracts students from all over the map, including international students. Socially, think: diverse clubs and activities, Division I sports teams, and even cool speakers and rock bands to hit your campus. So think BIG!

Jeannie Borin
Founder & President College Connections

Size of the college is one variable to consider in your college search...

Larger universities (over 6,000 undergraduates) offer some advantages over smaller colleges, and are good for students who can advocate for themselves. If a student wants personal relationships with professors and smaller classes then a smaller college would be a better match. Larger public universities can be state funded and therefore charge less tuition. However, smaller colleges may have large endowments with more money to distribute in grants and aid. More students and more alumni can mean more money. That gives large universities a multitude of resources, the ability to hire top faculty and sustain state of the art academic programs and recreational/athletic facilities. Smaller colleges may have more of a “community feel” and great resources as well.

Francine Block
President American College Admissions Consultants

One size college does not "fit" all students...

You have to decide what you specifically want from a college and then make sure that size can offer you those requirements.  If you are going to be a science major, you need to make sure you will be guaranteed a science research slot BEFORE your senior year, that work will be important for you to have when doing grad school applications and you also need to know before senior year if you like lab work.  Thinking about med or law school? Make sure you will be in small enough classes where the professor will know you so she can write you a letter of recommendation.

Marjorie Shaevitz
Admissions expert, author, speaker www.adMISSION POSSIBLE.com

Top 10 advantages of smaller colleges over larger ones...

Using David Letterman’s “Top Ten List” concept, here are the “Top 10 advantages of smaller colleges over larger ones:” #10) smaller classes, #9) closer relationships with professors, #8) more personal attention, #7) greater mentoring, #6) a finer sense of family and community, #5) a collaborative rather than competitive atmosphere, #4) larger emphasis on student research projects, internships and job connections, #3) better advising, #2) more seminar and discussion classes, and #1) a much higher record for getting into graduate school. By comparison, larger colleges offer more students, majors, courses, access to graduate programs, activities, sports and bureaucracy, rules and regulations (aka, red tape).

John Carpenter
Founder AskJohnAboutCollege.com

S M L XL XXL--Shrink to fit?...

I think many people consider SIZE as a reliable factor when, in fact, it doesn't really mean that much in choosing a college.  The real factor should be how you learn best, and many people learn better from individualized attention.  It's easier to get that at a smaller college, but even at huge universities, you can find smaller learning communities that give you exactly what you need.  My advice is not to get hung up on size.  After four years, it won’t matter anyway. Look at how you learn best instead, and find a community that matches that.