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?

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.

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.

Rebecca Joseph
Executive Director & Founder getmetocollege.org

These ones  are just right: designing your college list...

Goldilocks found the perfect porridge, chair, and bed. And you can find the perfect colleges to put on your list. A good place to start is Steven Antonoff’s book, College Finder. It lists colleges under every conceivable category. Look at the categories and then go explore the colleges. You can start in your own area to see whether you like city, suburban, or rural locations. Think about size and cost. Think about closeness to home and weather. Think about the match to your academic and extracurricular strengths. You can develop a great list and go from there.

Nola Lynch
Independent Educational Consultant Northwest College Search

A small college may be the perfect fit for you...

Small colleges have distinct personalities. Are you quirky, free-spirited, intellectual, religious, conservative, or highly social? You will be able to express yourself in a welcoming environment where you are likely to make friends for life. Are you serious about academics? Your professors will get to know you (and challenge you), and you will not compete with graduate students for their attention. Do you have varied interests? You will be able to participate in and even lead many activities. If the school is a good fit for you academically and socially, your college years could be amazing.

Moira O'Riordan
College Counselor St. Ignatius High School

Size and personality shape your experience...

Don’t equate size with opportunity. Your personality determines your experience. Large schools have myriad resources and can be made smaller, if you seek out opportunities and make connections. However, the bells and whistles of a large school matter little if you choose not to access them. Anonymity then would be yours. On the other hand, small schools have less competition for resources, especially if there are no graduate students, so research with professors happens with greater ease. You may co-author papers, travel to conferences, present papers. If you like discussion and the exchange of ideas, small class size is important.