How to Know if a Small College is Right for You

How to Know if a Small College is Right for You

When it comes to developing a college list, there are seemingly endless factors to consider. Academics, location and cost are often some of the first considerations a student will think about when choosing where to apply. However, one factor that is often overlooked is size.

Most of you are probably accustomed to the size of your high school and the classes you’ve taken there, but think about how the size of your school has affected you academically and socially. Perhaps your school feels too large and you want a smaller setting for college. On the other hand, perhaps your school is much too small and you can’t wait to experience the environment of a large university.


From my experience, most students apply to medium (5,000-15,000 undergraduates) or large (more than 15,000 undergraduates) colleges and universities. Larger schools tend to have more brand-name value and are easily recognizable, but that does not always equate to the best fit.

There are many advantages to attending a small college, so let’s explore how to know if a small college is right for you.

To begin, here are some of the characteristics of a small college:

  • Typically private, liberal arts schools

  • Less than 5,000 students

  • A focus on undergraduate education

  • Classes taught by professors themselves

  • Smaller class sizes

  • More individual attention from advisors

  • More opportunities for leadership experience

  • A tight-knit student community

As you can see, small colleges truly cater to their students because most of their resources are dedicated to undergraduate education. Larger colleges and universities tend to devote many of their resources to research and graduate programs, sometimes creating an academic environment where undergraduates are not prioritized. Classes are often taught by inexperienced teaching assistants instead of by the professors themselves, so the quality of instruction can vary widely.

Furthermore, the bureaucracy can make it challenging to sign up for your desired classes or switch academic majors. Small colleges offer much more of an opportunity to get to know your professors on a personal level. If you have close relationships with your teachers in high school, you may find it rewarding to continue developing those types of relationships in college.

You will also find more flexibility with the curriculum at a small college. Advisors who don’t have to manage a large student population are more available to work with you on a specific academic plan that meets your needs. It is important to take all of these considerations into account when deciding where to apply.


In addition to offering an individualized academic experience, small colleges may offer greater on-campus leadership opportunities. A smaller student community means less competition for extracurricular clubs and activities. Depending on your interests, you may find it easier to join organizations and contribute right away at a smaller college. Sure, larger campuses may have more activities to choose from, but rigorous guidelines often dictate membership for many of those clubs. Leadership positions also tend to be held by seniors and juniors who have worked their way up the ranks over the years.

Would you rather be a small fish in a big pond or a big fish in a small pond? There are merits to both, but consider your particular interests and goals to determine which option would be a better fit for you.

When you reflect on your high school experience, think about the qualities that have meant the most to you and have allowed you to be the most successful. Do you enjoy a close-knit community in which you know many of your fellow peers? Do you cherish the insights found in small class discussions with your teachers? Do you have varied academic interests and aren’t quite ready to pursue one subject for the next four years? If you value community, flexibility and individualized attention, then a small college may be the right fit for you.


Jon G. is originally from Houston, Texas. He holds a Bachelor's degree from Harvard University and is currently one of the resident English gurus at Elite Prep Los Angeles. Nothing makes him more proud and pumped up than watching his students succeed. When it comes to hitting the books, Jon recommends starting early and studying in increments to avoid burnout. He's a huge basketball fan, loves green tea, and his favorite vocabulary word is "seditious."