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Advantages/Disadvantages of Small Schools/Larger Schools

SvenskanFiskSvenskanFisk Posts: 191Registered User Junior Member
edited July 2010 in College Life
I have been busy compiling my thoughts about my various college visits thus far. I realized that the majority of schools I visited have a student population of <2,000. My intent was not to search for small schools, but I ended up finding several which I like. However, I have friends who currently attend small schools, and they are dissatisfied. One transferred out because she felt "stranded" on the weekends, another felt that her department had inadequate resources/she did not like the fact that she was stuck taking classes from the same few professors over and over again. These experiences are obviously not typical of all small colleges, however, they are more common than at a large university, generally speaking. While I am attracted to the idea of having discussion-based classes and value a highly-participatory experience, the idea of seeing the same student/faculty faces repeatedly within my chosen department seems as if it could be limiting. I'm sort of a shy person and while I like the idea of being in a close-knit atmosphere, I'm worried there won't be many alternatives should I not mesh right away with other students. Another concern of mine is the extracurricular scene at smaller schools--while all of the small colleges I looked at had a variety, it seemed as if activities didn't receive as much financial support/weren't taken as seriously as at the mid-sized universities I had visited. I also think it's limiting to only have one dining hall and a library of a modest magnitude (as was true at all small colleges I visited, thus far). By the way, the small colleges I visited/are visiting include: Arcadia University, Ursinus College, Muhlenberg College, Lafayette College and Gettysburg College, if anyone is attending/has visited these institutions and would be willing to share their experiences. Despite the fact that the majority of these are well-regarded, and I was overall impressed, I still wonder if the size would be confining. There's a certain buzz that I like about larger schools (though not gargauntuan ones), and I feel as if it would be more difficult to become bored.

I would like to hear both from students who attend small colleges (<2,000-ish), and those who attend midsized universities (I'm not interested in schools much over 10,000-15,000), about the advantages and disadvantages of attending a school of that size. Upon googling this issue, I have found mostly stereotypical remarks such as class size and the level of bureaucracy in the administration, but I would like to hear a more personal perspective about academic quality, social life, faculty relations, extracurricular possibilities, and the overall level of opportunity.
Post edited by SvenskanFisk on

Replies to: Advantages/Disadvantages of Small Schools/Larger Schools

  • icedragonicedragon Posts: 2,170Registered User Senior Member
    My school is about 8k give or take, most are commuters. There are about, eh, 200 that stay on campus full time (like me :D).

    Pros:

    Smaller classes
    The profs get to know each student (!!!)
    beautiful campus
    Better dorms
    New classrooms

    Cons:

    Less class selection
    Smaller library
    parking lots are bad


    We have clubs and such that do events (i didn't really go to any) and there is normally something going on every week.

    My school is ranked among the best for engineering and the other acedimics aren't too far behind.

    hope this helps
  • matokmatok Posts: 416Registered User Member
    and the other acedimics aren't too far behind.

    Clearly...
  • AtomicCafeAtomicCafe Posts: 867Registered User Member
    I know it's not the size of school you're even considering [so I won't go into the pros and cons], but I go to a university of about 38k. You're probably expecting me to say all of my classes are massive, none of the professors know my name, and everything is crowded. On the contrary, most of my classes are under 20 people [only intro science classes and freshmen gen eds seem to be lecture hall sized], all of my professors so far have known me personally, and it's practically empty three days of the week. For being acknowledged by your professors, school size doesn't really matter; you could be unnoticed in a class of 10 or known in a class of 500. It's up to you to shine for them.
  • speedsolverspeedsolver Posts: 1,886Registered User Senior Member
    ^I agree with AtomicCafe.

    Granted, I'm still eagerly awaiting my 340 person CSE lecture, 75 person MATH lecture, and 300(?) person CHEM lecture for freshman fall quarter... but the upperclassmen I've talked to said that none of them have had any issues making close friends, coming in contact with the professor, etc. Large class sizes arent an issue if you take initiative and go find the professor and actually talk to him/her. Those who complain about the huge class sizes expect to be coddled by the school system and that's not what happens in the real world.
  • Emaheevul07Emaheevul07 Posts: 5,924Registered User Senior Member
    I think my school (and my program at my school, specifically) are kind of the best of both worlds. I go to umich, so it is a giant school-- more than you want, but I think my point will still hold. I am majoring in political science and my lectures are gigantic. But for any lectures larger than 20 or so people, we have one or two small group discussion sections a week that are anywhere from 10-20 students. Lectures are generally professors, discussions are graduate student instructors. I could easily drop in for office hours or make an appointment with any of the GSIs OR the professor, I've never had a professor that didn't make himself available and the GSIs are really useful for making complex information more accessible and relatable. I really love it. I get the benefits of both a small and large university in terms of academics. It has much less to do with the size of the school than the structure of the program within the school and the overall culture of the school. That concept, I think, will apply to mid-sized schools as well.

    I personally would never want to go to a small school. I went to a large high school (>5000) and it was a fantastic social situation to be in. You can't beat having endless different social niches to experiment with and having too many people to worry about getting locked down into a reputation you don't like. You are free to do whatever you want with little to no fear of being judged, because if you don't want to see the people around you again chances are you never have to. But at the same time, I do see familiar faces in my major courses and there is still some social continuity. It just works out great. And because my school is so large, the extracurriculars are awesome, too. I have been able to start two completely esoteric student organizations, because though the particular interest area they involve is rare, I have a much larger pool of students to work with.
  • AtomicCafeAtomicCafe Posts: 867Registered User Member
    ^ I like what Emaheevul07 has to say. Which reminds me: even though I go to a big school, I actually come from a high school with a graduating class of TWENTY students. The largest school I've ever been to was about one thousand students in K-12. I'm used to teensy tiny schools, but I wouldn't ever consider a small university. Like the OP said, they lack so much funding for ECs and class selection that I would be bored out of my skull.
  • tiff90tiff90 Posts: 1,370- Senior Member
    There's between 4,000 and 5,000 at my school. Most people are science majors. My classes are tiny- I've been in a grad/undergad split level class with only 4 other students, who were all grad students. My typical classes for POSC are between 13-15 people. The intro classes are between 25-30 (2). I've had several HSTY classes with less than 10 people.

    The nice thing with small classes is you see familiar faces. The bad thing is because they are familiar faces, meaning you kind of figure out their viewpoints rather quickly.

    Clubs are relatively small, meaning you can take a leadership role quickly.

    You know a lot of people around campus.

    Less competition for internship grants or internships on campus.

    You won't have long waits to get food.

    Easier to know Prof's.

    Easier to play a sport.

    Dorms are smaller.

    You get to know the security guards (trust me, this will come in handy).

    Easier to get to know people at parties. You'll see a lot of familiar faces, meaning you won't feel out of place. Also, you'll run into a lot of people you know, which is nice.

    I just like knowing a lot of people, it makes the campus feel closer. I always run into people on the way to class or in class.

    Prof's can get to know you.

    It's easier to take part in discussion and voice your opinion.

    I write for the paper, and started second semester freshmen year. Halfway through first semester soph year, had my own column, that I still have. That would have been more difficult at a large school.

    Things aren't as overwhelming.

    Campus concerts are smaller, meaning it's easier to get a good place.

    Overall, I love the size of my school.

    Bad:

    Since my departments are smaller, there is only 1 time slot for classes except intro classes.

    There will be required classes with only 1 time slot.

    If you don't like a Prof, it's hard to avoid them.

    Campus activities are smaller.

    Lack of school spirit (at least at my school, but I guess not always a bad thing).

    Some smaller schools may not have national name recognition. A lot of people never heard about my school, but business people have.

    If you are a social science major at a liberal arts school, you may not get much notice, since so many people are social science majors. The science programs may not be as strong as some bigger schools, and there can be a lack of funding (again, not at my school, we're in the billion dollar endowment club).

    If you get into trouble with the administration, they will have the time to check up on you, and will personally know your case. But avoiding trouble with them is ideal.
  • tiff90tiff90 Posts: 1,370- Senior Member
    Another bad thing, is a lack of privacy. You have a lot of mutual friends, so if you do something unconventional or whatnot, people will find out. However, if you have good friends, it won't matter.

    For example, I sent out an email asking if people could pick up my lease (didn't know if my FA package would be better). My roommate tells me people were coming up to her saying I wasn't coming back to school. Obviously that's not offensive or anything, but that kind of stuff happens.
  • pierre0913pierre0913 Posts: 7,559Registered User Senior Member
    ^for some reason, there was a rumor last year that I was transferring and like 50 people came up to me and asked if I was transferring which was awkward because I definitely had no plans to leave (Go Tigers!). Definitely happens at large schools too if you know a lot of people.
  • SingDanceRunLifeSingDanceRunLife Posts: 1,787Registered User Senior Member
    My school has about 2700 undergrads.

    Pros:

    - Small classes (no class on campus has more than 64 students, and that is a HUGE and RARE class)
    - All classes are taught by professors and not by TAs (at my school and some others at least)
    - It's easy to get to know professors
    - It's easy to get to know other faculty and staff members
    - There's a great community feel
    - Less competition
    - More opportunity to get involved and make a real difference in the school

    Cons:

    - Less sports (not a con IMO, but I know it is to others)
    - Less variety in classes offered
    - Harder to avoid people you don't like
    - Not as many on campus events

    When I first started the college search and selection process, I was sure that I wanted to go to a big school. So sure in fact, that I didn't have any small schools on my list until the fall of my senior year when I started applying places. As time went on, I started seeing the benefits of a small school, so I applied to a couple of them. I got into most of my schools, and I ended up choosing a small school that I had originally disregarded because I deemed it to be too small.

    I'm now only 2 1/2 weeks away from starting my sophomore year, and I'm insanely happy that I chose a small school! Even though I was sure that's not what I wanted, it turned out so well! I can't imagine going to a big school.
  • pierre0913pierre0913 Posts: 7,559Registered User Senior Member
    Personally, I think a mid-range school is better for me (5,000-14,000 students) such as Clemson which I decided on. It's big enough to feel like a large school and has the resources and activities that a large school has but on the other hand its small enough that you can get to know mostly everyone in your department as well as get to know professors on a personal level without having to worry that 40,000 other people want the same kind of personal touch as well.

    If you want the best of both worlds, small and large, go with a mid-sized college.
  • fa-la-la-lenafa-la-la-lena Posts: 2,844Registered User Senior Member
    I go to a massive university but I feel that I avoid a lot of the pitfalls of the large university by also being in a residential college within the university. There I get smaller class sizes, a ton of individual attention (one of my professors not only invited us to lunch but also invited us to her house at one point) and am able to get to know a ton of kids within my major, but also get the benefits of a zillion classes and clubs to choose from (not to mention the sports). If you are interested in going to a medium-sized/larger school I'd look into finding a program that has a "residential college" or "living-learning community" of sorts, it sounds like that might be a really good fit for you.
  • Cuse0507Cuse0507 Posts: 4,519Registered User Senior Member
    Spooooorts. Small schools have them, but large schools are better at them.
  • Emaheevul07Emaheevul07 Posts: 5,924Registered User Senior Member
    I can't imagine having a rumor about me go around. Maybe I have never been important enough to talk about! I haven't gone to a school with fewer than 5k students since middle school, though, so it's easy to be unimportant to the masses.
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