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Choosing a Large or Small College: Weighing the Benefits

Updated on July 11, 2012

Many people who are scouting for colleges to attend often ignore the size of the universities they are considering. However, the size of the university is an extremely important factor in the decision making process. It can in fact make the difference in not only a student’s experience in college, but his or her overall success as well. There are numerous benefits to attending both a small or large university. The decision really depends on what the individual hopes to get out of the education, and the type of experience sought after.

Benefits of Small Colleges

Small college can mean different things to different people. The University of Texas has over 50,000 undergraduate students, so a small university to a student there might mean a college with 20,000. The fact is, there are too many colleges of too many sizes to establish a true average size university. This article will consider a small school one with 3,000 to 10,000 students. Anything beyond this typically does not have the characteristics of a smaller school. Colleges with less than 3,000 will have even stronger characteristics of the small schools discussed here.

  • More Personal Attention: Most large universities contain some classes that have well over 100 students. While this is necessary simply because of the size of the college and number of students, it prohibits professors from giving students more personal attention. Personal attention can really help some people learn. Large classes usually prohibit students from asking questions and clarifying lecture material. With smaller classes, students have more time to grasp concepts and get a better understanding of what is being taught. They are encouraged to ask questions and not move on until they fully understand. This is a hug benefit to smaller schools.
  • Better Class Discussions: This is related to the above benefit, but still unique. Most large classes at large universities use nothing other than a lecture type class wherein the professor speaks the entire time and students are to take notes. While small college classes may also do this, they will more often incorporate a discussion class format. This enables students to speak their mind and to get various perspectives from other students. When students engage in discussions, professors are forced to answer and address all concerns that arise in the discussion. This is what truly helps the students learn
  • Small Community Feel – Large colleges can be overwhelming. There are so many buildings and so many students that it is often hard to get a sense of belonging in the school. This can be achieved in a smaller university. A small community feel is an important benefit to many. It enables students to better get to know people in their own majors. It makes it easier to navigate the school and find their buildings and rooms more quickly. It also reduces the stress caused from being in a large group of people moving at a fast paced throughout the day. This feel obtained from a smaller college helps many students clear their mind and better focus on their education.


Benefits of Large Universities

Larger colleges are often the preference of many students. These universities enroll many thousands of students. Some will thrive in these places. While the downside of these colleges is the fact that they do not typically have any of the qualities of the smaller size schools, they do have their upside. Many will consider these benefits more important than the benefits derived from a small school.

  • More Options - Within the business department at a school like Ohio State, there will be nearly 15 different majors in business to choose from. A smaller school may only have 4 or 5. For those that have a really good idea as to what they want to specialize in, a larger college is more likely to have a program to fit that student’s needs. If a student can find a college that offers a degree specialization such as hotel management or astronomy sciences, that student will learn a great deal more about the topic at the larger university that offers the program. Large colleges are advisable for a student in this type of situation.
  • More Prestige – Colleges that have a good reputation are a good choice simply for that reason. Attending a university that has a solid reputation will show that you have what it takes to complete the best of the best programs available. This is not to say that smaller colleges do not offer superb programs, but a degree from a well-known university will often be a good asset when applying for a high paying job or prestigious position. Still, many colleges can be considered prestigious and have a good reputation without being large (like Purdue), but in general, the reputation of well-known schools has the ability to aid in obtaining career goals.
  • Superb Faculty – Larger universities have large amounts of revenue. Thus, they can afford to hire the best professors that are available. This will help ensure that a student receives a top notch education from professors that have been hand picked out of many applicants for that reaching position. Again, smaller schools also have good faculty, but the fact that larger schools have the financial means to hire top of the line professors can often make the university a more viable option in selecting a school.


It Depends on the Person

It is highly advisable for any student wishing to pursue a college degree to consider his own personal learning style. Many may thrive in a large classroom setting with hundreds of students. Many not be able to learn unless they are engaged in discussion and all of their questions are answered. Some may not be able to obtain a good experience unless the college gives off a small community feel (or just the opposite for some).

The point is, there is no right or wrong in selecting a university to attend. One must take all of the points mentioned here into consideration. Still, the decision should be based on nothing other than the preferences of the person who will be attending the college day in and day out. I suggest a future student make a checklist of things that he or she considers important to having a good college experience. This will aid in deciding the right size college to fit his or her particular needs.

Would you rather attend a large or small college?

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