What should students consider when choosing between a small and large school?

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What should students consider when choosing between a small and large school?

Wendy Andreen, PhD
College & Career Planning

Which school is the best 'fit'?

No doubt you've heard this word used a lot but it's true! It's all about the right 'fit' and that can include academic fit, financial fit, geographical fit, cultural fit, and, of course, size. One of our children elected to attend a major state university of around 50,000 students. Our other child decided a smaller private college around 1,000 students with plenty of activities was a better fit. Talk about extremes! However, each school was the right fit for their personalities. Interestingly, academically they could have switched schools and each would have still received an excellent education but the environment made a difference to each. You definitely need to visit the campuses of the colleges where you are applying especially if they are radically different in size. Despite all your college research, you will get a 'feel' for the best campus for you. However, some criteria to consider when deciding on the best fit for size... 1. Are you comfortable with large classes or would you prefer smaller groups and the assurance that the instructor/professor will notice if you are absent from class? Also know that even on extremely large campuses, once you begin taking classes in your major, the class sizes are significantly smaller and your major professors will know you. 2. As a student on a smaller campus, opportunities may come your way a little faster because faculty and administration will know who you are more quickly. On a large campus you may need to be more of a self-advocate to be sure your strengths are recognized. 3. Large universities will have an abundance of majors, minors, and programs. Smaller colleges offer a variety of majors and minors but they may be 'packaged' differently. Also, smaller colleges often offer more opportunities to self-design a major. 4. Outside of class will you feel swallowed up by large numbers of students everywhere or does the thought of this energize you? Do you want the raucous tailgating experience of Division I football or are you just as happy to attend a Division III game that still has lots of excitement but on a smaller scale? Do your research but pay attention to your instincts, personality, strengths, and needs. Enjoy the journey! Consider the possibilities!

Suzan Reznick
Independent Educational Consultant The College Connection

What is your learning style?

Are you comfortable sitting in large rooms (with over 500 hundred students) listening to lectures and taking note? Or do you prefer more discussion-based classes, where the professor knows your name? In general, smaller schools offer smaller classes with more accessible faculty where you feel part of a community rather quickly. While you can gain a wonderful education at a larger university, you may have to work harder to find your place there. At a big school, there will be more majors, more clubs and of course more students; so you need to be more aggressive in navigating the system in order to receive the type of educational opportunities that you desire. Whereas smaller schools may prove to be more supportive and nurturing.

Erin Avery
Certified Educational Planner Avery Educational Resources, LLC

Size is Often Ethereal

A rule of thumb is to ask yourself: would you like to know and be known by few, some or all of your classmates, few, some or all students in your year or few, some or all of the students in your entire college?  Another way to unpack what size means is: when you enter a dining hall, would you like to know no one, someone or everyone?

Penny Deck
Owner Champion College Counseling

Size of school makes a big difference in your college experience

Schools of all sizes have their pros and cons and they offer very different learning environments as well as social and cultural experiences. Visiting campuses is crucial to find out which is right for you. As a rule, small colleges are going to offer smaller class sizes and more personal relationships with faculty. You will feel part of a smaller community and may have more opportunities to take on leadership roles and be more involved in research, etc. At a larger school, chances are you will be exposed to a bigger variety of sports programs, academic subjects and a larger variety of clubs and activities. Only you can decide which environment is better for you both academically and socially.

Nicholas Umphrey

Small vs. Large Colleges

I personally experienced both. I attended a small college near home the first two years while I grew up a little and got used to the academic demands of college. After I felt like I had a handle on it, I transferred to a larger state university. Oddly enough, I felt like I got more attention from faculty at the larger school which I was very surprised by. In defining a small school, I am going to say it is a school less than 5000 students. Socially, this can be a lot of fun and often these schools are tight knit communities. They can also be cliquey like high school is cliquey. You know everybody within the first year. You want to find out if the students in this school stay there during the weekends. If it turns into a ghost town during weekends, it will not be fun. Some people enjoy and find comfort in that coming out of high school, but some want no part of it. Large schools have the advantage of a variety of different people from different places in the world. They also have the advantage of having many different academic major options. In smaller schools, if you want to change your major and your school doesn't offer this major, then a lot of times students will transfer to a school that does. Finally, this is often a question of your own personal values and preferences. That is why it is important to visit schools your are interested in.

Bill Pruden
Head of Upper School, College Counselor Ravenscroft School

Size Is in the Eye of the Beholder

Whether a school is truly big or small is a personal determination. The numbers are what they are, but the perspective is an individual one. You can shrink a large school by focusing your energies on a smaller area--your major, a sorority, or a particular activity. In doing so you may fail to take advantage of the wider array of opportunties usually associated with large schools. Meanwhile, wide ranging involvement in things at a small school can make it seem bigger than the numbers say it is. In the end, you will define and create your experience--or at least the truly meaningful aspects of it--regardless of what is offered by the school.

John Happs

What should students consider when choosing between a small and large school?

Class size, help from professors instead of graduate assistants, distance from one class to the next, how many students will you know, and learning styles. It's the comparison of living in New York City or Gunnison, Colorado.

Patty Finer

What should students consider when choosing between a small and large school?

Who they are! What are they looking for.

Rebecca Joseph
Executive Director & Founder getmetocollege.org

What should students consider when choosing between a small and large school?

You can make a large school smaller but you can't make a small school bigger. This rule is fairly true. At a large school, you can take advantage of a myriad of resources and have all kinds of academic options. You can join activities and social organizations to help make the university smaller. You can also run the risk of having graduate students teach some classes and may not be able to live on campus all four years. Small colleges are perfect for someone who wants a truly personalized education. You can get access to professors and intense programming. You most likely can live in the dorms as long as you want. You will know pretty much everyone on campus and have an amazing time. So make a list of what you want and see what each campus has to offer.

Kris Hintz
Founder Position U 4 College LLC

What should students consider when choosing between a small and large school?

Usually size is related to whether the school is public or private, and the choice of public or private is driven by affordability. If your family's financial situation requires that you attend a public university, you may still be able to find a small campus environment. For example, the SUNY system (State University of New York) is comprised of small to medium-sized campuses throughout the state, as opposed the typical model of a huge flagship campus with a few less selective satellites. Generally, small schools offer a better learning environment for students, because they facilitate more intimate classroom settings and more personal connection with faculty. Many high school students believe they want a large school because of spectator sports, but that does not mean they will thrive in such an environment---many freshmen feel lost in large, anonymous lecture-hall classes and consequently flounder and fail. In fact, many small and medium sized schools offer great spectator sports, "school spirit," and all the benefits of a large school. If affordable, I would encourage a student to consider a small to medium size school to gain the most transformative college experience.