Advantages & Disadvantages of Big & Small Colleges

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Choosing the right college for yourself can seem like an impossible decision. When there are so many colleges and universities to choose from, it can be difficult to narrow your choices to a few colleges that you are interested in applying to. One of the first things you can do to narrow your search is to decide if you want to attend a small or large university. Class size, choice of majors, faculty, sports and extracurricular activities in small and large schools vary and are important factors to consider when making the decision about which colleges are best for you.

Class Size

  • Class size, or the ratio of students to professors, is one of the main differences between small and large colleges. At small colleges you can expect classes to be smaller, with anywhere from 5 to 30 students. Some introductory lecture courses may be larger, but small colleges tend to have smaller classes than large universities. At larger colleges, you may have introductory freshman classes with hundreds of other students. A small college class allows more participation by students. This can be great if you enjoy participating in class because participation is often a part of your grade. There is a greater sense of community at smaller schools because students and teachers get to know each other on a more personal level. At a large university with big classes, you can easily be lost in the sea of faces, and your professor will probably go the entire semester without associating your name with your face. This is an advantage for students who do not feel comfortable participating in class, but a disadvantage if you need special help from the instructor. In big classes at large schools, there are more opportunities to join a class study group or receive tutoring if you are struggling in a class.

Choice of Major

  • One of the benefits of a small college is even though they have fewer options for majors, the programs that are available are usually more focused, with greater access to faculty help and mentoring. Small schools usually only have undergraduate programs, so professors are not spending the majority of their time helping graduate students with thesis papers or final projects. A disadvantage to a small college is that it might not have your area of study, or if you want to change your major, the program you want may not be available. Larger colleges have a wide variety of majors and are more likely to have the area of study you want to pursue. A large college is also a good option if you don't know what you want to major in. You have the chance to take a variety of courses in different disciplines and can change majors, if needed. This could also be a disadvantage if you become overwhelmed with choices or have too much freedom to change your major.

Professors and Other Faculty

  • The amount of face-to-face time spent with professors and other faculty members is another difference between small and large colleges. A small college generally has smaller classes, so it is easier to get to know your professors. They are also less likely to be swamped during office hours and will have more time to meet with you. It is easier to find a mentor and to ask for recommendations for jobs or graduate studies if you are able to forge a more personal connection with your professors. It is also unlikely that the majority of your classes will be taught by graduate students completing teacher assistantships. If you are an independent learner who doesn't need much help from faculty, then a large college may be a good fit for you.

Sports and Extracurricular Activities

  • Smaller colleges have fewer extracurricular activities for you to choose from. Small universities also generally do not have many clubs, intramural sports or Greek life to choose from. Small colleges are also the home of NCAA Division II or III sports teams, so there may not be much support or enthusiasm for college sports. A large college generally has a variety of clubs, sports, activities, parties and fraternities and sororities. Since the student body is so large, you also have a diverse student population, including international students. This provides a great opportunity to meet people and broaden your horizons. Most large colleges are also very involved in athletics. Important football or basketball games may be sold out or grossly expensive to attend. However, a large campus is more likely to feel like a community when attending one of the games or tailgating before the game with thousands of students showing their school spirit.

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