Last Updated: Dec 7, 2020
When choosing your future college or university, size is an important factor. While it might not rank as high as the quality of your program or the cost of tuition during the decision-making process, the campus size and student population of your school can affect many aspects of your college experience. Choosing between a campus that takes less than five minutes to walk across and a campus that has its own postal code should definitely be "up there" in the things that you factor into your final decision. Often you'll find that living with 2,000 people rather than 20,000 can change the way you experience college entirely.
When you first begin applying to colleges, you might feel the push to attend large flagship universities—if practically everyone you know (plus that famous football player) went there, then why shouldn't you? But small, unique universities have their perks as well. As someone who came from a very small school system, I first looked at large universities with excitement. But after applying to and visiting several schools of varying sizes, I realized that a small university was where I belonged. So, with all of my small school experience, here is a list of perks that might help you with the size aspect of your college decision:
1. Individualized education is a priority
Many colleges like to boast about close student-faculty ratios, but at a small school, you can be sure that you'll get to know your professors personally. Small class sizes are the norm, and theater-style classes are unheard of in a small college setting. While it is still up to you to make an effort, professors' office hours are generally more available, and in turn, you have greater access to resources that can help in making your college education your own.
2. Access to campus services and administration is much simpler
At small schools, you really are known as a person, a student, not just a number in a database. Being known by name makes working with college administration and utilizing campus services that much easier. At large universities, things like registering for a class or getting approval for an internship is often a complicated, multi-step process that can take over a week to complete. Because small colleges deal with a much smaller population, a quick e-mail or simple meeting usually settles these and similar matters in a day or two.
Related: The College Administration Hierarchy
3. Scholarships, awards, and general support are available
Knowing school administration personally helps in a multitude of other areas as well. A smaller student population usually means more money is available. Especially at small private colleges, this can sometimes mean more scholarship opportunities in general—see endowed scholarships. You may find that it's also easier to contact the financial aid office, and if they know you by name, they're usually more understanding if you can't make a payment right on time or need some extra assistance. Additionally, smaller colleges can give you more opportunities for awards and recognition within your program and across the school.
4. Participation in school activities is easier and often more meaningful
A small population equates to even smaller clubs. Don't worry about being cut, wait-listed, or sitting in the back of a room for your first two or three years. At small colleges, you can easily join in and be an active member of just about any club or board you desire. Most clubs want all the members they can get, and it's a great way to meet students outside of your classes (and have a ton of fun, too). Not finding your niche? You can always start your own group as well!
5. Collegiate athletics are more within reach
While you might not get as much airtime as someone playing for a Division I team, it's almost guaranteed that you'll get more playing time. Small colleges often accept more student-athletes than larger universities. It is much easier to contact coaches and get scouted by Division II and III schools than it is from Division I schools. And although you won't get to play in big stadiums or renowned gyms in front of thousands, with smaller teams comes a greater bond and more training time with coaches that may make your college sports career more meaningful.
6. School traditions are more personal
You've probably seen or heard of the wild and sometimes strange school traditions of big universities across the country—they could have been what attracted you to the school in the first place. And while sharing these traditions with hundreds of thousands of students and alumni can be plenty of fun, just because the world doesn't know the traditions of smaller schools doesn't mean they're not there. Small colleges and universities have a life and culture all of their own, and while you share the traditions with only a few others compared to larger schools, this fact can make the traditions more special to you personally. It can sometimes feel like a secret club.
Related: Weirdest College Traditions
7. Everybody knows everybody
Sometimes people feel this isn't much of a perk, but the environment at small schools allows for a close-knit student body. Sure, you might have to see that one guy or girl you don't like from time to time, but knowing what's happening around campus and knowing the people in your dorm and in your classes can enhance your college experience overall. While you can create lifelong friendships no matter the size of the school you go to, at a small college or university it's likely you'll know most of the people you attended school with for a lifetime.
Are you attending a small college? What do you love most about it? If you're looking for even more articles and advice, check out our College Search Process section!