Close your eyes. When you think about college, do you picture a compact campus where you run into friends between classes? Or do you envision big Saturday afternoon football games, with thousands of fans cheering on your college’s team? Are you participating in small-group discussions or listening carefully to your professor lecture in a large room?
There are no right answers to these questions, only what feels right to you. A college’s size affects many aspects of the college experience, from your classes and extracurricular activities to your social life.
A college’s size often affects the size of its classes. In general, larger schools tend to have larger classes, especially at the freshman level. You may find yourself taking notes along with a hundred other students in your introduction to psychology class. If you prefer being somewhat anonymous in class, large lecture courses are the way to go.
At smaller colleges, you may find fewer lecture courses and more courses that emphasize class participation. These types of classes facilitate closer contact with faculty and other students, which is attractive to some students, but not all.
Of course, smaller colleges may still have some large classes, and large universities may offer a variety of small classes (especially in upper-level courses). But if you have a definite preference for a particular style of learning, look more closely at the colleges that offer more classes in that style.
Interactions with Faculty
Who teaches your classes can also depend on the college’s size. Large universities often have many professors who are considered senior-level in their field of research. Undergraduates may not have much contact with these professors; instead, teaching assistants (graduate students) may do the bulk of the teaching and grading, while the professors only lecture.
At smaller colleges, particularly those with no graduate programs, you may not run into as many big-name research professors, but you will likely have far more interaction with the faculty. Many small colleges pride themselves on fostering mentoring-type relationships between professors and students.
Size can have a big impact on extracurricular activities. In general, the larger the college, the more variety of activities offered. If you’re interested in a relatively obscure activity, you’re more likely to find it offered at larger colleges. On the other hand, it can be more difficult to break in to popular activities on a larger campus. After all, the more students there are, the greater your competition.
At smaller colleges, students may find it easier to get involved and stand out in extracurricular activities. But small colleges usually can’t offer the variety of activities that a large college can.
Larger schools have a greater variety of social options, and small colleges may have fewer options but wider student participation in any one event.
You may find that smaller colleges seem friendlier, if only because you’re likely to run into the same people more often. On the other hand, once you make a few friends, even the largest campus begins to feel like home.
Finding the Right Fit
The best way to figure out what size of college appeals to you is to visit a variety of colleges.
College is what you make of it no matter what campus you choose. Keep in mind that your personality, interests, and choices will make your college experience different from anyone else’s. This is your journey, you decide the way.