Which College Size is Right For You?

Starting your college search and don’t know where to start? We recommend starting with size.

Colleges are typically broken up into three different sizes: small, medium, and large. “Small” colleges commonly have less than 5,000 students, and are most of the time private institutions. Some examples are CalTech, Williams College, Reed College, and Vassar College. “Medium” colleges have student populations between 5,000 and 15,000. “Medium” colleges are a mix of both public and private universities, some examples being Johns Hopkins and Georgetown University. “Large” colleges have over 15,000 students -- some examples are most of the University of California schools, Big 10 Schools, and USC.

So, which school size is right for you?

The best way to truly know is to visit one of each kind. Even if you may not be interested in applying to them, it is still worthwhile to visit nearby universities to shed some light on what a small, medium, or large sized college might feel like. However, while you begin creating your college list, it is still helpful to consider the pros and cons of each, and what you are willing to sacrifice and what you definitely need to have.

Small Colleges:

The benefits of attending a small college is that they have the smallest class sizes, so that you have more hands-on professors and better guidance in your classes. You also have access to a tightly knit community. You see faces more often, making it easier to get to know everybody in a small school. The drawbacks are that there are fewer clubs and student organizations to choose from, less people to meet and interact with, and thus a smaller alumni network. Smaller institutions also tend to have less financial resources for undergraduate research.

Medium Colleges:

Medium colleges are attractive to students who want a mix of both. You reap the benefits of easily finding friends and partaking in social activities, but the school is not overwhelmingly large or too small. On the other hand, you might find them to be not as diverse as you’d like, or not as intimate as you’d like. As such, it’s key to visit several medium colleges to get a sense of which size is right for you.

Large Colleges:

While large colleges may appear impersonal on the surface, they allow you to meet more people that share common interests with whom you can create a smaller community within the larger one. Large colleges have more social opportunities, and also are likely to host extensive research and graduate programs that can enhance your education. Some cons of large colleges is that it is easier to feel “lost” in them. Classes are more lecture-oriented, the campus is bigger, the faculty is less hands-on. You, as a student, have to be more independent and take control over your own education and opportunities.

In conclusion, size is one of the most important factors of selecting the colleges to apply to. But it’s not the only one. Other college qualities may be more of a priority to you than student body size. Factors such as location, urban or rural, academic rigor, sports, Greek life, and others may play a more crucial role in your personal college experience. If that’s the case, you might want to have a mix of small and large colleges on your application list. However, if having a small, intimate community, or having a diverse and expansive list of opportunities at your disposal matters to you, then put it among your top college requirements. But first and foremost, be sure to visit small, medium, and large campuses so that you truly understand which size is right for you.