What Life Is Really Like at a Big Public University

There are many types of schools to consider in your college search: large, small, public, private, etc. Here's what it's like to attend a big public university.

One of the most exciting things about your first steps on your college campus is the chance at a brand-new start. It’s exciting to know that you’re about to meet a bunch of new people, have a ton of new experiences, and take classes “actually matter” now and that you’re going to be a part of a school bigger and better than you ever imagined. But there’s an adjustment period! Here’s some advice for starting your college journey and specifically what to expect if you’re attending a big public university like me.

What we are here for: class

In a nutshell: we go to college because we need to take classes to earn a degree. College classes at large public universities are a lot different than high school classes. For most 100-level classes, you’ll typically be in a large lecture hall full of hundreds of students, a few TAs, and one professor. Each day you meet for class, the professor will pull up a PowerPoint and lecture you on the material. Depending on what type of professor they are, they may have a more conversational and interactive lecture, or they may just spit out information at you. Either way, it’s your responsibility as a student to get a good grip on the material come test time. As you progress more in your major, your class sizes will usually decrease. This makes it easier to form relationships with your professors and peers while focusing on your specific studies. 

Don’t be afraid to go to your professors’ office hours if you don’t understand something. Professors are typically very nice people who want to help their students! It’s always beneficial to introduce yourself at the beginning of the semester; that way if you’re close to a grade change, they may recognize the effort you put in and help you out. Another thing to note is you don’t meet for class every day in college; you’ll generally meet two to three days a week for each class. So it’s important to keep track of assignments and reading so you can be as successful as possible!

Related: How to Prepare for Your College Classes: 4 Genius Tips

The upsides to big public universities

A large university means a larger range of opportunities socially, collaboratively, and academically. Here are some of the upsides of attending an institution like this:

  • New people: One positive is the many different types of people on campus. At a big public university, you can truly be whoever you want to be. If you want to rebrand yourself, you can and will find people just like your new self.
  • School spirit: Usually stemming from competitive NCAA athletic teams, school spirit at public universities is a huge attractant for many students. Whether it’s football, basketball, soccer, or another sport, they all bring the student body together. Cheering on my University’s athletic teams is one of my personal favorite things about attending Florida State University.
  • Major opportunities: You’ll find that there are many majors and minors to choose from at a large public university. Public universities generally offer a broader curriculum to ensure students can find something that interests them.
  • Student involvement and campus life: With a big university comes a wide selection of ways to get involved. Honor societies, undergraduate research, and Greek life are just a few of the many student organizations and opportunities to join. There are usually a lot of events happening on campus, as there’s always something going on during normal times. Most universities have websites and/or Facebook pages with upcoming events ranging from free movie showings to Bob Ross–style painting classes.

Tuition affordability: Public universities are government funded and may be cheaper than private college or universities (they’re significantly cheaper for students who live in state).

The downsides to big public universities

A big public university can be a blessing and a curse; it really just depends on what you do with your time there. There may be a lot of things to get involved in, but there are also lots of ways to get overwhelmed. Here are some of the potential downsides and how to deal with them.

  • Fear of missing out (FOMO): This is something everyone deals with freshman year. Since there are so many people at big universities, there’s a lot going on. You may feel like you’re missing out on everything. The reality is, you’re not missing much. The sooner you learn to do what’s best for you, the better off you’ll be.
  • Getting lost: It’s easy for a small fish to get lost in a big pond. That’s why it’s important to get involved some way or another while you’re in college—join something that makes your campus feel smaller. The people I’ve seen who come to college and don’t get involved in anything are typically the ones who drop out before their freshman year is over. When you have a purpose, you have a reason to stay.
  • Class sizes: This is a con to a big university only if you let it be. At big public universities, general education requirement classes (gen eds) are usually taught in big lecture halls with hundreds of students. This can make it difficult to ask the professor questions after class because there’s usually a long line, or it may be scary for you to raise your hand to ask during class. If this worries you, talk to a couple students sitting near you on the first few days of class and ask if they want to start a group chat. It’ll be beneficial to you throughout the semester to have a quick way to contact a couple people who know what’s going on if you’re lost, and you may make some new friends too. 

Related: 7 Ways to Narrow Down Your List of College Choices

Common misconceptions about big public universities

Often, it’s a concern to rising freshmen that a bunch of their high school friends are going to the same university as them. They’re nervous because they don’t want to do high school all over again with the same people. From personal experience, it’s really not a bad thing to have your high school friends in college. When things get tough, when you get homesick, or when you need a ride home, your high school friends will be the first people you can turn to during your first semester. You also have to remember that once you all get involved in your own organizations on campus, it will limit your time together anyway. Just because your high school friends are going to the same university as you doesn’t mean you have to or will be with them every second of the day. On the contrary, another misconception about high school friends in college is that once you all join your own organizations on campus, you won’t be able to see each other at all. That’s absolutely not true; you’ll just have to work harder at seeing each other and make it a priority. 

Another common misconception about attending a big public university is thinking you’re going to go to college and easily make a bunch of new friends. You’ll make friends, but you’re not going to do it by just sitting in your dorm room. Get involved on campus and meet people with similar interests as you. In college, people are busy with their own schedules, and students aren’t just walking around campus asking to hang out. That’s why it’s so important to get involved so you can find your tribe.

Related: True or False? Clearing Up College Myths

There’s a college or university out there for everyone—you just have to sit down and ask yourself what you want out of your college experience and academics. There will be pros and cons for both small and large schools, public and private. The best thing you can do is be in tune with yourself and reach out to people you trust to get their opinions. You’re only an undergrad once, so make sure you do it how you want it! 

Can you picture yourself at a big public university? Start looking for great schools to apply to using our College Search tool.

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