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Articles / Applying to College / How do I compare larger universities and smaller colleges?
Sally Rubenstone
Written by Sally Rubenstone | Feb. 11, 2002

How do I compare larger universities and smaller colleges?

Question: What differences should I take into consideration when looking at larger universities and smaller colleges?

One of the fundamental decisions that high schoolers have to make during their college selection process is that of big school or small school. By big school we generally mean a large state university such as Penn State University at University Park, Ohio State University, or Michigan State University. These are truly big schools with student bodies in the 25-to-35+ thousand range. Their campuses are very large and they offer an overwhelming number of degree programs and courses.


A small college, on the other hand, typically has a student body of anywhere from 1000-to-3000 students. Their campuses are much smaller than the big universities and can be quite visually attractive because of the unified style of architecture and landscaping. Of course there are mid-sized colleges and universities also. But let's stay with the issue of big versus small.

If you are someone who values a personal approach to the classroom experience, small colleges will tend to satisfy your need better than large universities. Class size is an important issue. Some introductory courses at big schools can have 500-to-600 students or more. These massive gatherings are very impersonal and lack the opportunity to interact with faculty. A small college's introductory course might have as few as 25 or 50 students. This allows for getting to know not only your professor but also your classmates. Some small-college faculty even hold discussion sessions in their homes once in a while and offer an occasional semester-ending dinner party.

Usually the big universities offer a relatively limitless array of resources and entertainment options. The libraries are often open into the wee hours of the morning and there's usually never a lack of someone in the lounge areas with whom to play air hockey or pool. Small colleges tend to have fewer physical resources, smaller libraries, and a social scene that turns in early. Of course you'll always be able to find a small school that rocks day and night, but schools tend to be like cities

Written by

Sally Rubenstone

Sally Rubenstone

Sally Rubenstone knows the competitive and often convoluted college admission process inside out: From the first time the topic of college comes up at the dinner table until the last duffel bag is unloaded on a dorm room floor. She is the co-author of Panicked Parents' Guide to College Admissions; The Transfer Student's Guide to Changing Colleges and The International Student's Guide to Going to College in America. Sally has appeared on NBC's Today program and has been quoted in countless publications, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, USA Weekend, USA Today, U.S. News & World Report, Newsweek, People and Seventeen. Sally has viewed the admissions world from many angles: As a Smith College admission counselor for 15 years, an independent college counselor serving students from a wide range of backgrounds and the author of College Confidential's "Ask the Dean" column. She also taught language arts, social studies, study skills and test preparation in 10 schools, including American international schools in London, Paris, Geneva, Athens and Tel Aviv. As senior advisor to College Confidential since 2002, Sally has helped hundreds of students and parents navigate the college admissions maze. In 2008, she co-founded College Karma, a private college consulting firm, with her College Confidential colleague Dave Berry, and she continues to serve as a College Confidential advisor. Sally and her husband, Chris Petrides, became first-time parents in 1997 at the ripe-old age of 45. So Sally was nearly an official senior citizen when her son Jack began the college selection process, and when she was finally able to practice what she had preached for more than three decades.

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