How Important is College Size?

I took my middle daughter on a college visit yesterday to a regional university a couple hours away.  It was a structured visit day.  During the opening presentation, they put a lot of focus on the question, “How important is college size?”

The presentation broke down three categories of college size:

  • Megaversities – 10,000 + students
  • Medium-sized universities – 4,000 – 10,000 students
  • Small universities – under 4,000 students

The general thought for college size is that large = options and small = personal attention.  The university we were visiting is a medium-sized university with just over 5,000 students. Of course their argument was that medium-sized schools offer the best of both worlds and I do find a lot of logic in what they said.

A medium-sized university is large enough to offer a lot of options, but small enough that you don’t get lost in the crowd.  

A medium-sized university can offer small class sizes and personal attention, but they can also offer lots of degree programs, lots of clubs and activities and lots of other options for making the most out of the college experience.

This all sounded great to me.  Who wouldn’t choose a medium-sized university? Apparently, a lot of students. According to this medium-sized university’s presentation, this is the smallest category of colleges in the U.S.  In fact, a quick search on collegedata.com showed me that out of over 2,000 schools in their database across the U.S., only 237 schools fall into the category of 5,000 – 9,999 students.

Despite all the selling of personal attention, my daughter says her top choice is still a school that falls on the large side of the “megaversity” category.

I think that college size is a category your student has to get right in order to be happy.

There is no “one size fits all” and students will gravitate towards the size that feels comfortable for them.  The only way to really understand this is through college visits.  In fact, overnight visits are the best for truly experiencing the feel of the school.  Make a point to visit schools of all sizes so your student can compare the differences.

Have your student start thinking about the right college size by asking these questions:

  • Which of my high school classes feel like the right size?
  • Do I have any classes that seem too big or too small?  If so, what don’t I like about that?
  • Is it easier for me to make choices when I have a large number of options or only a few options?
  • Is it important to me that lots of people know me by name?
  • Do I enjoy having a close relationship with my teachers?

One of the best ways for your student to understand how a college’s size will work for him or her is to talk to current or former students.  Ask them how they feel/felt about the school’s size.

Keep in mind that there are often many ways to make a large school feel smaller, but not many to make a small school feel larger.  If the school feels too small on the first visit, imagine how your student will feel about it after a few years on campus!

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