Close your eyes. When you think about college, do you picture a
compact campus where you run into friends between classes? Or do you
envision big Saturday afternoon football games, with thousands of fans
cheering on your college's team? Are you participating in small-group
discussions or listening carefully to your professor lecture in a large
There are no right answers to these questions, only what feels right
to you. A college's size affects many aspects of the college experience,
from your classes and extracurricular activities to your social life.
A college's size often affects the size of its classes. In general,
larger schools tend to have larger classes, especially at the freshman
level. You may find yourself taking notes along with a hundred other
students in your introduction to psychology class. If you prefer being
somewhat anonymous in class, large lecture courses are the way to go.
At smaller colleges, you may find fewer lecture courses and more
courses that emphasize class participation. These types of classes
facilitate closer contact with faculty and other students, which is
attractive to some students, but not all.
Of course, smaller colleges may still have some large classes, and
large universities may offer a variety of small classes (especially in
upper-level courses). But if you have a definite preference for a
particular style of learning, look more closely at the colleges that
offer more classes in that style.
Who teaches your classes can also depend on the college's size. Large
universities often have many professors who are considered senior-level
in their field of research. Undergraduates may not have much contact
with these professors; instead, teaching assistants (graduate students)
may do the bulk of the teaching and grading, while the professors only
At smaller colleges, particularly those with no graduate programs,
you may not run into as many big-name research professors, but you will
likely have far more interaction with the faculty. Many small colleges
pride themselves on fostering mentoring-type relationships between
professors and students.
Size can have a big impact on extracurricular activities. In general,
the larger the college, the wider variety of activities offered. If
you're interested in a relatively obscure activity, you're more likely
to find it offered at larger colleges. On the other hand, it can be more
difficult to break into popular activities on a larger campus. After
all, the more students there are, the greater your competition.
At smaller colleges, students may find it easier to get involved and
stand out in extracurricular activities. But small colleges usually
can't offer the variety of activities that a large college can.
Larger schools have a greater variety of social options, and small
colleges may have fewer options but wider student participation in any
You may find that smaller colleges seem friendlier, if only because
you're likely to run into the same people more often. On the other hand,
once you make a few friends, even the largest campus begins to feel
The best way to figure out what size of college appeals to you is to visit a variety of colleges.
College is what you make of it no matter what campus you choose. Keep
in mind that your personality, interests, and choices will make your
college experience different from anyone else's. This is your journey,
you decide the way.
The Student Center column features articles from nacacfairs.org.
This article may be reprinted with the following credit line: Reprinted
with permission from the National Association for College Admission