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Small College or Big University? 10 Questions to Help You Decide

Posted By Suzanne Weiss On February 28, 2015

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I attended a large university where classes were often held in big auditoriums, and I found it hard to connect with my instructors and classmates. It was difficult for me to meet new people and make friends.

Truth be told, I had a tough time during my freshman and sophomore years. If I’d thought about how college size would impact my experience before I went off to school, I might have made a different choice.

One of the first decisions you will make when you select a college is whether you prefer a small college or a larger university. Everyone is different! Different personalities and different goals all figure into the decision of choosing the size of the college you will attend.

I worked with Jamie Grant, Executive Director of Enrollment Management at Silver Lake College in Manitowoc, WI, to come up with the following questions to help you when looking at colleges:

1.  Do you find large classes at large universities intimidating or exhilarating?

Smaller classes tend to offer the chance to interact with your professors, ask questions and get personalized attention while larger classes offer anonymity. Typically, introductory classes at large universities have 100-200 students, while more advanced classes are much smaller. This means that you may be in all large classes until your sophomore or junior year of college — so keep this in mind!

2.  Do you like the large city or small town the college is located in?

You should check out not only the school, but also the surrounding community. Are there off-campus opportunities for jobs or internships? Does the community offer the kinds of activities you like in the way of sports, art, music or theater?

3. How important are sports?

A large university typically offers more sports teams and more fans coming out to cheer for the team. A smaller college might give you a chance to play the sports you love.

4.  How well do you deal with red tape?

Larger universities typically require multiple approvals for changes to your schedule or class requirements. Smaller colleges may be more flexible in allowing you to adjust your schedule and design your own studies.

5.  Do you know what subject area you are interested in pursuing?

Don’t sweat it! The most popular major for freshmen is “undecided.” Larger schools may offer more class choices, but classes at smaller colleges might be easier to get into.

6.  What kind of high school did you attend?

If you attended a small high school and liked that atmosphere, you may want to continue the feel with a small college. Maybe you were able to carve out your own community at your big high school and want to do the same at a large university. Maybe you want the opposite of your high school experience! Draw upon that knowledge as you look at schools.  

7.  Do you make friends easily?

If not, a smaller college that offers a strong sense of connection and community may make it easier to connect. Look into smaller communities within large universities, too, like clubs, academic programs, and housing options.

8.  What can you afford?

The size of the school doesn’t necessarily coincide with its price tag. Don’t judge the cost until you look into financial aid, including scholarships, grants, and campus job opportunities.

9.  Can you see yourself living in the dorm?

It’s important to check out not only the size of the school, but also the size of the room you will be staying in as well as Wi-Fi availability and other amenities.

10.  Are you the independent sort?

At a larger university, it will likely be up to you to handle everything from enrollment to homework assignments. At a smaller school, it may be easier to form a bond with staff and faculty who can help you through the various processes and keep you on the right path toward graduation.

As you research and apply to colleges, keep these questions in mind. But remember: there are pros and cons to both small and large colleges, and the most important part is to make the most of the opportunities wherever you end up. Good luck!

Are you still unsure about which type of school you prefer? Get a feel for a small college by visiting Silver Lake.  

RSVP for Campus Visit Day

Topics: College Life

About This Blog

Deciding where, when and by what means to go to college can be a difficult decision process. We want to help! The Silver Lake Blog is intended to be a resource as you navigate these choices, from what type of school to choose to how to finance your education. Watch this space for helpful tips. 


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