St. Edward’s University is home to around 2,800 undergraduate students. To put this into perspective in terms of what a small and big university looks like, just across the river the University of Texas at Austin has about 42,000 students in their undergraduate class. Choosing to attend a small school like mine was my greatest early life decision I have made. I always gravitated towards big universities and thought I would indefinitely attend one. However, when it came down to decision making amongst schools I was accepted to, I chose St. Edward’s and am very happy I did so.

I come from a very small town and went to a very small high school, so having a close-knit feeling was more important to me than I realized. I am a senior now, so for the past four years I have been experiencing the endless privileges that students have at a small university from access to experiential learning, real relationships with professors and other mentors, and comfortability and familiarity with most of my peers in my major which personally benefits me in a classroom setting. In a pool of tens of thousands of students it is challenging to stand out and have fair availability to resources, and you have to seek out and be willing to build the confidence in going and getting help and opportunities. These things do not fall into your lap at small universities, but they are much more apparent and attainable.

Access to experiential learning is hard to gauge and find by yourself, especially being young, unknowledgeable, and not really having guiding advice from your parents who you have looked to for instruction your whole life. At my university, we hold career fairs, involvement fairs, and nonprofit and volunteers fairs a few times each year for students to explore what is attractive to them. At these fairs, instead of the organizations seeing upwards of a few thousand students each time, maybe they only interact with a few hundred or less. This has given me the chance to feel like the organizations can remember me, and are actually interested in my attraction to them. After the fairs when I have contacted them about further information every organization has indicated that they remembered me with a reference to some piece of our previous conversation. It feels really good to be seen and on a radar, which is something you may not get outside of a small university unless you make a grand first impression or happen to already have some connection.

In a classroom setting there are typically 20 or less students in each of my classes. As my classes have progressed farther into my major and away from general education classes this number has decreased to an average of 15. Every professor knows my first and last name, and a little bit about me. Some I know on a deeper level, and when I see my current or previous professors we greet each other and sometimes have a little catching up conversation. This feels very special to be so familiar with my professors when with most of them I have just taken a single class with them. I know that whether they are my current or previous professors, I can ask them just about anything and rely on them to give me great insight and advice. I have gone to previous professors for help with a class, asked for letters of recommendation, had conversations about my future and which steps would be best for me, and overall built relationships that I know I will sustain after graduation. In comparison with my friends who attend large universities, this is seemingly unique and very hard to come by and you are lucky if you have made the professor remember your first name. The ease of having a great, dependable, and trustworthy contact is something so many first generation students could really benefit from. Additionally, knowing my peers and having the same people in so many of my classes throughout my four years has really become an advantage to my education that I did not see coming. Taking classes with same people and eventually becoming acquainted with most of everyone allows class time to feel very safe and I always feel comfortable to raise my hand and comment or question in lecture. The anxiety of being wrong or feeling like you are asking a dumb question is mitigated by the community that builds every semester. I personally still could not imagine wanting clarification or answering a question in a class of over 100 people. Always feeling like my voice will not be judged during class has helped me strengthen and deepen my knowledge by not letting something go when I do not understand — one of the worst mistakes you can make in college. Putting myself out there and feeling comfortable to participate in lecture has accounted for so much of my growth of knowledge.

I am so happy about the choice I made in coming to school at St. Edward’s University, and am grateful for the opportunities I have been given along the way. I would heavily consider putting small universities on your list no matter what you think you want.