Home > College, experience > Debate: Big schools vs. small schools

Debate: Big schools vs. small schools

As a college student, I am all wrapped up in the experience I am having. As I speak to other college students, I am coming to the conclusion that everyone is getting a different experience. I personally, go to Endicott College, a school with about 2,000 undergrads, while some of my good friends attend the University of Massachusetts (Amherst). The number of undergrads at UMass Amherst is about 25,000. Students enrolled there take classes with more than 500 students, which is the total number of students in my graduating class. Pretty crazy to think about.

Every student takes something different out of their college experience. Some can’t remember their four years, others can’t forget them. The main point is that the everyone decides what to take out of it through their own actions.The purpose of this post is to look at the advantages and disadvantages of attending a large versus a small school.

I have countless advantages of attending a small school. First off, on a social note, everyone is familiar with one another for the most part. The majority of kids in the grade know one another and there are large groups of friends. Attending parties means seeing a lot of your friends (depending on where the parties are) at a small school. A large school on the other hand is the opposite. It is difficult to go to parties without planning with your friends, and still see people you know. It is possible to meet a person on the first day of school and never see them again until graduation. The majority of people I have spoken to have found it more difficult to make close, tight knit groups of friends at big schools. Small schools force students to become friends because you see everyone everywhere. At the same time, larger schools have larger pools of students, which means that if you can meet enough of them you are bound to make some good friends.

Another benefit of such a large school is that there is always something to do. For people who are into partying, there is always a party to go to. College students are all wrapped up in the whole drinking and escaping from the real world concept. The result of this is that there is always a party happening somewhere, it just needs to be found. These parties, however, are often not very intimate, where people are constantly meeting simple acquaintances, rather than making good friends. Larger schools socially tend to lend themselves to lots of acquaintances, rather than the many friendships that are made at a small school, which has a tighter knit community.

With regards to classes, both choices and sizes, the opinions are differing. At a small school such as mine, classes range from having four students to having 30. Conversely, schools like UMass have classes with 500 kids or more. The benefit of attending a small school in this respect is the special attention with teachers. The majority of students are on a first name basis with the teachers. Since the teachers know the students in their classes, kids are more likely to attend. This can lead to a higher GPA and better attendance rates. Classes with 500 kids make it difficult for any student to build a rapport with a teacher, never mind try to get extra help. The extra help aspect is a great benefit of attending a small school. Teachers have office hours where students can attend and ask questions, however, at a large school there can often be problems in scheduling. With a small school there are fewer students, which lends itself to more one on one time with the teacher.

Sports are another huge pull for big name schools. There is a concept termed the “Flutie effect” in which excellence on the athletic field can actually lead to an increase in student applications. Although this is not necessarily completely true in all circumstances, some would argue that big sports programs are a very attractive factor which draws students to a particular school. Games are exciting at big schools, drawing huge crowds and lots of excitement. People who don’t even have affiliations with the schools often will attend. A small school, such as a Division II or Division III school doesn’t attract many people towards their athletic programs. A school such as the one I attend has facilities similar in size to those of many high schools I am familiar with. The games do not draw much attention, unless they have some importance to the school, such as a playoff game. Big schools have the ability to generate huge amounts of revenue from their sports programs, yet smaller schools do not have this luxury as the majority of attendees are parents of players or students.

Recognizability of big name schools is another huge benefit. It is not necessarily of utmost importance where an applicant goes to school, but at a job interview it is helpful to attend a school which is nationally recognizable. It can promote conversation and higher student rankings (with regards to GPA) is more meaningful at a school where the student body is so much bigger. At a big school, a person who is top of their class may be competing against around 10,000 other students, while at a smaller school they may only be competing against 500. Class rank would be more meaningful at a bigger school in that respect.

Larger schools generally provide more opportunities to students. This can be taken in several ways, such as with regards to extracurricular activities. At a school like UMass there are countless activities that students can participate in, such as hundreds of clubs and organizations. At schools with smaller student bodies, there are fewer organizations and less clubs to participate in. Career services are a great tool at both schools, however, larger professional organizations seem to be more inclined to give their services towards bigger schools. The reasoning for this could be that there is a larger student body to choose from. Smaller schools seem to get offers from less prominent organizations. I take this from my own experience, where I notice that the majority of jobs and internships present are from small, local organizations. Conversely, friends at big name schools say that the career services provide opportunities from huge organizations which are well known throughout the country.

I would be interested in hearing about the experiences that people are having (or had) at their own school, regardless of how big or small it is. Are there any after effects of the school you attended have had on your professional career (such as ability or inability to acquire a particular position you were going for)? I look forward to hearing your sides of the story.

  1. April 18, 2010 at 5:30 pm

    Well, it depends. I prefer the allure of the big school not only because of the benefits you mentioned in your post, but because of other reasons as well.

    At a big school, it is relatively easy to maintain a degree of anonymity because not everyone knows everyone. At a smaller school, people are more likely to know each other, especially all the freshmen. This can lead to some extreme rumors circulating among class and your reputation can go down the drain if you mess up. Infact, I wrote a blog post about this yesterday.

    Big schools are more representative of the public at large and usually have more diversity.

    Either way, big or small, I view college students(mainly freshmen) to be extremely cliquey.

    Good post.

  2. April 18, 2010 at 7:35 pm

    I agree. Freshman tend to group together in a big way. That can sometimes carry on as they get older, but I would agree that students find their social niche in their freshman year. Also, you are right with the small school aspect with rumors. People can build themselves a reputation in the beginning which will stick with them. At a big school you can move on to a new group of friends (depending on how social you are) and that is the end of it. Thanks for the comment, keep checking back.

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