This article is published in the 2014 I’m First Guide to College.
What Size College Is “Right” For You
By Karen Gross
How can you know whether you are better suited to a larger university or a small liberal arts college? Well, instead of looking at size as the central dividing line among colleges, think instead about who you are (and who you will become) – as a person and as a learner. Think about what makes you most comfortable, what energizes you, what environment will enable you to thrive over the next four years. Let me share with you three prominent myths about college size.
MYTH ONE: YOU MUST GO TO A COLLEGE THAT IS BIGGER THAN YOUR HIGH SCHOOL. FALSE!
The critically important differences between college and high school are NOT based on size. Colleges, whatever their size, are engaged in a different enterprise than high schools. At colleges, the number and breadth of courses is vast and unlike most high school curricula. You will have lots of opportunities over your college career to select among the courses and to specialize in what most interests you. At college, you get to focus on what most interests you, what most captures your imagination. This can happen in many academic settings, large or small.
MYTH TWO: STUDENTS GET LOST AT LARGE UNIVERSITIES AND BECOME A NUMBER, NOT A NAME. FALSE!
All colleges, regardless of size, work very hard to help their students find niches within their communities. For some students, that “small” feel comes from athletics where student-athletes bond with each other and with the coaching staff. For other students, closeness comes through clubs and organizations. For some, it appears through shared academic interests where students connect with others in courses and projects. Rather than the size of a college, the more important thing is for you to find ways to connect to other students, to faculty members, to the community. You can do that at all colleges, large and small.
MYTH THREE: SMALL COLLEGES OFFER LIMITED OPPORTUNITIES. FALSE!
Small colleges and large universities all offer amazing opportunities—more opportunities than one student could experience fully in four years. What is important in assessing the opportunities on a college or university campus is not size but the philosophy and vision of the college and its leadership. So, visit campuses. Walk around without an admissions guide for a while. Make sure you sit in on a class or two. Speak with students in the halls and in the dining facilities. Listen to what is happening when students interact with faculty and staff. Meet coaches. See if you can sense and feel the college’s ambition and goals.
Think about selecting the size of a college this way: If you were shopping for clothing, it is likely that there are many choices, many things that fit at many prices, with many styles, in many colors. But, some of the items selected will just feel right to you. They may not feel right to your friends or parents. But, you will find something you can see yourself wearing. The same is true for colleges. There are many, many choices. The goal is to choose the places that feel right to you.
Karen Gross is the President of Southern Vermont College, a small private liberal arts college located in Bennington, Vermont.