Insights & Media

Insights & Media

The Big or Small Decision: Choosing the type of college that’s right for you.

March 23

Carlie Cattelona is a student at University of Massachusetts Amherst and is currently on exchange at East China Normal University in Shanghai. She is currently studying international business and slowly but surely learning Mandarin Chinese. In her spare time she is a language tutor and DJs at her university local radio station.

If you have begun the process of researching colleges in North America, you most likely have a lot of ideas about what a big or small school is going to be like. You’ve done the research, seen the numerous lists of pros and cons about school types, and it’s time to make a decision about which is right for you. The best way to do that is to arm your self with a list of questions to consider.

College visits are a great way to visualize yourself at a certain school. If not possible, check out websites like and that provide reviews by students for students. These will help you get an idea of a schools social life, the feel of the campus, dining hall food, and so much more you couldn’t just read on a college’s website. If you do get a chance to visit schools, make sure to check out one of each kind; you’ll never know if it’s right for you until you try it on for size. Talking to students will give you the first hand knowledge you need to better see yourself in the campus environment.

Once you’ve gotten a real idea of what a big or small university is like, it’s time to start asking yourself some questions. After all, this will be your experience, and you want to get the most out of it. Here’s a few examples of how to get started thinking honestly about what is going to be best for you.

Do you like the idea of having options, or having the freedom to change your plans? Large universities offer a plethora of choices, from interdisciplinary educational programs to every social activity you can think of. If you’re not sure what you want out of your degree, being surrounded by a student body with diverse passions could be helpful in figuring that out. Maybe instead, the choices overwhelm you, or you already know what you want out of your education. In this case, a smaller or more specialized school might be more appropriate.

Once you can start to visualize your academic track, it’s important to ask yourself this: How do you learn? A big school means big classes where your grade is largely determined by your own initiative. Do you like independent study? Putting in the extra effort to learn the material and finding classmates to study with will be a big part of your success. Smaller schools offer smaller classes, where the help from professors might be more accessible. Smaller classes also mean your attendance, participation, and study habits will not go unnoticed.

At schools in North America, social life is a priority for prospective and attending students. It might be good to keep in mind how you socialize. At large universities, you will be surrounded by a large and likely more diverse group of people, most of whom you won’t know. Is this exciting to you, or perhaps a little daunting? Attending a small school means passing friendly faces everyday. Will this make you feel at home or under a microscope?

These are just a few questions to help you begin learning about yourself and what you truly want. Take some time to reflect on what is going to be best for you, whether that means writing your thoughts down, talking to some friends, or just giving yourself the time to really think. Figuring this out does not have to be stressful, in fact, it can often be fun! It’s important to be honest with yourself. The truth is there is no ultimate “College Experience.” Whatever you choose, your college experience will be your own. This will allow you to have a better understanding of yourself and grow in an environment that’s best for you.

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