The College Search

How do I compare larger universities and smaller colleges?

Question: What differences should I take into consideration when looking at larger universities and smaller colleges?

One of the fundamental decisions that high schoolers have to make during their college selection process is that of big school or small school. By big school we generally mean a large state university such as Penn State University at University Park, Ohio State University, or Michigan State University. These are truly big schools with student bodies in the 25-to-35+ thousand range. Their campuses are very large and they offer an overwhelming number of degree programs and courses.

A small college, on the other hand, typically has a student body of anywhere from 1000-to-3000 students. Their campuses are much smaller than the big universities and can be quite visually attractive because of the unified style of architecture and landscaping. Of course there are mid-sized colleges and universities also. But let's stay with the issue of big versus small.

If you are someone who values a personal approach to the classroom experience, small colleges will tend to satisfy your need better than large universities. Class size is an important issue. Some introductory courses at big schools can have 500-to-600 students or more. These massive gatherings are very impersonal and lack the opportunity to interact with faculty. A small college's introductory course might have as few as 25 or 50 students. This allows for getting to know not only your professor but also your classmates. Some small-college faculty even hold discussion sessions in their homes once in a while and offer an occasional semester-ending dinner party.

Usually the big universities offer a relatively limitless array of resources and entertainment options. The libraries are often open into the wee hours of the morning and there's usually never a lack of someone in the lounge areas with whom to play air hockey or pool. Small colleges tend to have fewer physical resources, smaller libraries, and a social scene that turns in early. Of course you'll always be able to find a small school that rocks day and night, but schools tend to be like cities