One of the most important factors of picking a college is size. There are hundreds of large research universities in our country with upwards of 20, 30, 40k students. However, I’d like to make a case for the small liberal arts university to be considered in your college search as well.
We’ve all heard that class size is important. No one wants to be considered just a number in a class with 350 students. But attending a school that boasts small class sizes and a small student to professor ratio goes so much further than that! Not only does it rock to be able to actually have the opportunity to ask questions and get to know your professor personally, but it’s super helpful to be taught by actual professors instead of legions of graduate assistants that haunt larger schools.
In the same category, having smaller classes ensures that professors are both committed to teaching students instead of just conducting research, and have time to help each student personally as needed. At smaller schools, professors advance and gain tenure through their usefulness teaching, not their accomplishments with their research.
However, this definitely doesn’t mean they won’t be just as, if not more, knowledgeable than a professor who is invested in their research. They just have more time to commit to their students to ensuring that you succeed, which is why you’re paying a small fortune to go to college after all. You can meet your professor for coffee or stop by their office and get to know them better personally, as well as get help if you don’t understand something. Knowing your professors well will come in handy when you need letters of recommendation for graduate school and/or employment, as well as make sure you get more beneficial advising.
Another great opportunity that having smaller classes provides is the ability for professors to evaluate your work more carefully. They have time to give you detailed comments on your papers and assignments to help you actually learn for the next time, rather than just marking it wrong and moving on to the next stack of 300 papers. This will be very beneficial in helping you progress your education further, especially as you begin taking your major classes that have similar assignments and content.
You also might get the chance to do work on undergraduate research with your professors [something virtually unheard of at larger schools]. You’ll have less of a struggle with registration, more flexibility with general education requirements, and above all, feel like you really matter to your university community.
If the academic advantages aren’t enough to convince you to look into applying to a smaller school, you may also want to consider the social aspects that a small school provides. Smaller schools often times have the largest sense of community. Students want to know you individually and what you bring to campus. You’ll get to know people in your classes and clubs and then actually see them again while walking around campus, rather than having them disappear into the crowd of thousands. You’ll make connections with your peers that will help you feel like a much bigger part of your campus community.
You might be worried that a smaller school wouldn’t have the hearty social scene that you’re looking for, but that’s not always true. Small schools usually still have several hundred clubs and organizations, as well as greek life of some form as well as academic societies. The location of the school also plays a large part in the social life of a campus, so you may also want to consider what is available to do off campus.
Overall, small schools have a lot of significant pros that shouldn’t be overlooked in your college search. I would encourage you to research the school to see what social and academic opportunities they offer before jumping to conclusions just based on their size.