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Size Matters: Should You Pick a Large or a Small University?

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In the process of narrowing down your list of potential colleges, you’ve probably considered just about every factor in the book – reputation, location, cost, academic specialties, extracurricular activities, athletics, and student-teacher ratios. But if you’re like a lot of prospective college students, you might not have given enough thought to the one thing that will probably have more impact on your university experience than any other factor – the size of your school.

In many ways, university life is pretty much the same no matter where you decide to go to school. But the differences between a student’s daily routine on a small, rural campus and a sprawling, urban campus can be staggering. Neither one is necessarily better than the other, but if you wind up on campus whose size isn’t a good fit with your needs and expectations, you could be in for a big disappointment.

That’s why it’s particularly important for you to take school size into consideration when you’re choosing a college. Here are few key questions to help you make the best decision.

Which fields of study are you most interested in? Small schools are fine for basic degrees, so if you’re planning to pursue a widely available course of study such as accounting, criminal justice, or education, you should be just fine no matter where you end up. On the other hand, if you’re looking for a very specialized degree, a larger university might be your best bet.

Do you live for athletics? Generally speaking, the larger the school, the bigger the role that sports play in campus life. Whether you’re a fan or an aspiring student athlete, larger schools usually offer more in terms of better equipment, up-to-date facilities, and high-caliber teams. However, if you’re a middle-of-the-road athlete who is counting on a scholarship to help you foot the bill for college, you might have a better shot at a smaller school.

What kind of social scene are you looking for? Larger schools tend to be surrounded by party-friendly communities and college towns, so if you like to paint the town red in a city full of like-minded peeps, a mega-campus might be right for you. On the other hand, some smaller schools boast a very active social scene that’s centered right on campus. If you prefer all-night college parties on Frat Row, a smaller school might fit the bill.

When it comes to learning, do you need one-on-one help? Larger schools may be able to score the hotshot professors and the top names in each field, but their thousand-seat lecture halls can feel a bit impersonal. If you need a more personal approach to make the grade, consider a smaller college with student-teacher ratios to match.

Are you a city slicker or a country mouse? If you’re a small-town guy or girl who opts for a large urban campus, you might end up feeling lost and overwhelmed. On the other hand, if you’re a city dweller who chooses a small, rural school, you could wind up with a chronic case of cabin fever before the first week of classes is over. Still, if you’re salivating for a total change of pace, you should be fine at either a small or a large school, as long as you’ve carefully considered all of the implications ahead of time.

Are you leaning towards a smaller, picturesque campus or a sprawling urban behemoth? Give us your take on the campus size debate in the comments.


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