Benefits of large schools

To the casual observer, news from large colleges and universities is often more focused on athletic championships and unfortunate scandals. Big schools are frequently labeled negatively as institutions that are obsessed with sports and partying and/or factories that are pumping out more graduates each year, not places that are equipped to offer students a personalized educational experience.

But there are benefits of going big. Here are some reasons to consider attending a large college or university:

  1. More Choices.Large schools can offer students depth and breadth in their majors that would be unavailable at smaller colleges. Leighton Stamps, retired professor at both a large school (University of New Orleans) and a small school (Belmont Abbey College) shared that “students are more likely, at  a large university, to be able to take highly specialized majors, i.e., engineering, specialized areas of business and management (management information systems, finance, etc).  These majors are typically not available at smaller schools.”
  1. Better-known and larger faculty.Large schools can sometimes have faculty members who are better-known or leaders in their fields. Stamps said, “At large universities, especially during the junior and senior years, students are often taught by nationally-known experts who are doing cutting-edge research.”

This is not to say that small schools don’t have well-regarded and well-known faculty, but their size can impact the nature of the research being conducted. It may even help students in their interviewing process if they’re able to say that they took a class with a newsworthy or academic superstar. It just might be the banter that opens up a new conversation.

  1. Access to both Teaching Assistants (TA) and full professors. TAs get a bad rap – and large schools are often criticized for having courses taught or seminars led by TAs. While there is no question that the quality of TAs varies dramatically, getting to know a TA has often been the gateway for students to get involved in academic research, find meaningful internships and mentors.
  1. Resources. Everything is big at big schools including the availability of resources. Harvard University has over 60 libraries! As an undergrad at a large school you’ll likely be able to access the graduate school libraries for more in depth research.

5. Critical mass. While you may not have the intimacy and nurturing offered at a small college, students at larger colleges and universities have more people; that means more professors, more students in their majors, more diversity of opinions and more administrative support, etc. Whether it’s in the classroom or in your residence halls, the “Big School Experience” offers an enormous set of resources and perspectives. You’re more likely to have your views and values challenged and perhaps changed in ways you never anticipated because you’re surrounded by people from diverse backgrounds with different life experiences.

  1. Large alumni network. If you are thinking about your college education in terms of a return on your investment (ROI) – one possible perk for a large school is the sheer size of its alumni network. Some employers are very loyal to their undergraduate colleges and universities and recruit heavily, in part, based on that loyalty. Large schools make it easy to tap into their alumni network as you look for summer jobs, summer internships, or work during the school year.
  1. Endless opportunities.If you’re curious about life, you’ll never be bored at a big school; there are guest lectures, theatre performances, international and current event discussions, community service opportunities, museum exhibits, workshops, coffee groups, extracurricular clubs and organizations, meet & greets, seminars, sporting events, independent films and the list could go on and on. Big schools constantly offer experiences that can both supplement and complement what you’re learning in the classroom.

One last piece of advice – it is much easier to make a big school smaller than to make a small school bigger. That means that if you choose to attend a larger school, find your group, find your niche, find your people and make it YOUR small school.

All this and I didn’t even mention football or tailgating!

NEXT WEEK: Profiles on large schools in the Carolinas

Bierer is an independent college adviser based in Charlotte. Send questions to: lee@collegeadmissionsstrategies.com; www.collegeadmissionsstrategies.com

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