24 May 2012

Should I go to a large university or a small college?

As the 2011-2012 academic year draws to an end, many high school juniors are beginning the process of narrowing down their college application lists. Deciding which colleges to apply to can feel like a daunting task. Not only must you think about such mundane factors as price and admissions criteria, but you also need to think carefully about why you wish to pursue higher education, how you learn, and what you want out of life.

Asking yourself a relatively benign question–“Should I go to a large university or a small college?”–might help you begin thinking about these larger issues. Last May I graduated from a diminutive liberal arts college. I loved some aspects, and hated others. Below, I discuss four features of small colleges that stand out to me based on my experiences as a student.

Whether you see these features as pros or cons really depends on your goals and who you are as a student/social animal. I hope that considering the differences between small colleges and large universities will help you begin to examine yourself and find a school that is a perfect fit!

Four Features of Small Colleges:

1.) Small, seminar style classes – In my experience, seminar style classes were the best part about attending a small college. Usually with 20 or fewer students, these classes made for a tremendously enriching learning experience—replete with discussion, debate, and personal attention from professors.

However, small classes also mean one must maintain good attendance and work habits throughout the semester. Participation is crucial, and professors will notice if you’re chronically absent or unprepared. By contrast, because large universities offer mostly lecture classes, in which final grades are based mostly on exams and papers, consistent attendance and preparation is less important. Know yourself, your work habits, and your style of learning to decide what class environment is best for you.

2.) Strong sense of community – Small classes really allowed me to get to know my classmates and professors. In addition, campus-wide events and traditions bring all students together and help everyone feel like they belong. The community’s closeness can also be a con. It can be hard to meet new people at a small college, as most people meet friends during freshman year and rarely branch out after that. However, if you’re outgoing or plan to join many clubs and activities, this shouldn’t be a problem.

3.) More opportunities to write papers – This is related to small colleges’ small class sizes. Grading papers can be very time consuming, so professors with large classes often opt to assess students via exams instead. Small class sizes mean teachers assign more written work. Writing papers not only helps students improve their writing skills, but it also facilitates deeper, more nuanced, thinking about a topic. Furthermore, small colleges allow more students to write theses—yearlong research and writing projects done under the close supervision of a professor.

4.) Lack of vocational majors – Many small colleges specialize in the liberal arts, so they don’t offer vocational majors like business, journalism, nursing, or engineering. If you’re considering a vocational major, make sure this major is offered before applying to a small school.

Although there are many more differences between large universities and small colleges, I hope the above-listed features help you begin to think about which type of school is right for you. Good luck forming your college list!

Glossary
These Key SAT Words are Expertly Identified by Sentia Tutors

mundane: common; ordinary; banal
benign:
kind; gentle; harmless
diminutive: very small
replete: well-filled

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