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Small Colleges vs. Large Colleges

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The size of the college or university you choose is important, and both offer their own advantages and disadvantages. Below is an overview of some of the major differences between small and large schools, but keep in mind that these are not cut and dry facts. Each school is unique, with its own pros and cons, and, ultimately, your college experience is what you make of it, regardless of the size of school you attend.

Class Size

At small schools you will rarely in class of more than 50 students, often with classes as small as 20 or fewer. This increases your opportunities to participate and interact with other students and the professor, ask questions, and give your professors a chance to get to know you. Also, it means your work may be evaluated more carefully; since there are fewer students the professors will have more time to read your work, offer suggestions, and leave comments, which is an important part of the learning process.

At a large school, you will likely end up in at least some classes, especially early on, with hundreds of other students, which also means less attention from your professors. However, for those students who prefer some anonymity this can be comfortable. Usually, as you become an upperclassman, your classes will tend to get smaller.

Professors and Faculty

At a smaller school you will usually be taught by professors instead of Teaching Assistants (TAs).  Many small schools do not have graduate programs and thus they do not have graduate students who need the experience of teaching college level courses. Undergraduates, therefore, are the ones professors turn to to help with research and experiments. In addition, there is less of a “publish or perish” mentality among professors, and with less of an emphasis on research, professors have more of a focus on teaching. Many smaller schools also desire to foster mentor-type relationships between professors and their students.

Large universities often attract professors who are renown in their fields, though as an undergraduate you might not have much contact with them. Instead, your classes, especially early on in your college career, are likely to be divided up into large lectures given by a professor, and smaller seminar style classes led by TAs. Having courses taught by TAs can be beneficial, as TAs might have more time to work with you and, since they are students themselves, know the material thoroughly.


While there are generally fewer majors and degrees offered, smaller schools are often able to be more flexible in regards to requirements and are more likely to encourage students to create their own programs. While this means you are able to take more the classes you are interested in and less of the classes you are simply required to take, it also means further developing relationships with professors and advisors as they help you design your program.

Large schools offer a wide variety of majors and programs, often with dual-degree programs which allow you to graduate with not just your bachelor’s degree, but also your master’s. Because there are so many options, large universities are a great place to explore many areas of study to see where your interests lie.

Campus Life

Large universities are often located in  cities and offer many social activities and diversions, both on and off campus. It is at these larger schools you can find NCAA Division I sports teams, a huge variety of clubs and organizations suiting just about everyone, and a greater diversity of people. But because of all the choices it can often feel like there is not much of a campus-wide social life and it can be lonely, at least until you find your niche.

You might find it easier to get connected at a smaller college. Because of the size, you will likely see the same faces again and again. Especially if the school is more isolated and there is nowhere close to go, students spend more time together, developing a rich campus-wide community.