Consider these small-school perks and options in the Carolinas

Size can really make a difference in a student’s college experience.

Lots of students are wishy-washy about a variety of factors when they consider which colleges will represent a good fit for them. But size is consistently the one factor where many students believe they know exactly what they want. Most students are clueless about potential majors, multidisciplinary opportunities, availability of internships and co-ops, etc., but they “know” they either don’t want a college that is smaller than their high school or they are certain, based on their high school experience, that they want the nurturing that comes with attending a smaller college.

It’s fascinating to see these same students make an abrupt 180 turn after they’ve had the chance to visit a college that they assumed wouldn’t be of interest. I’ve seen “big school kids” be enamored by the small class sizes offered at smaller colleges and I’ve seen “small school kids” feel excited by the challenge of making a name for themselves on a big college campus.

What are the benefits of smaller colleges and universities?:

There are a variety of obvious benefits to attending a smaller college or university such as smaller class sizes and typically a closer sense of community.

Here are a few of the less obvious reasons a smaller school might be a good fit:

  1. The professors actually do the teaching. Most small colleges only grant undergraduate degrees. That means there aren’t grad students on campus and more importantly, grad students (many of whom have no interest in teaching) won’t be teaching any of your classes.  Inexperienced teaching assistants (TA’s) can make acclimating to the academic life on a campus even more challenging.
  2. More focused, direct feedback. You’ve heard the expression, “you’re just a number.” Think about the volume of homework, quizzes and tests that need to graded and evaluated in a Biology 101 class with 450 students. In larger schools, when they’re not relegating grading to computer scanning; professors, TA’s, and/or graders have to rush through huge stacks of papers and exams to grade so they don’t have much time to offer feedback and suggestions on individual pieces of work. Students can count on more thorough feedback at small schools. The class size is smaller and the professor will have more time to read a student’s work and offer detailed comments.
  3. Research opportunities. Students at small schools are able to develop relationships with professors more easily since there is a smaller critical mass of students. Most professors know their students’ names and count on them to participate in their research.
  4. Development of stronger writing skills. Since classes tend to be more student-centered at small schools, the homework and projects are oftentimes more writing-based. Enhancing your writing skills, along with your critical thinking skills are two of the most important take-away skills you should develop during college.
  5. Greater commitment to teaching.“Publish or Perish” is an old phrase that means that professors, particularly those at large research institutions, need to get their research or academic work published or they face losing their jobs. When it comes time for tenure, a large part of the evaluation procedure is focused on their published work. Again, generally speaking, at smaller schools there is a more concentrated focus on professors being there to teach undergraduate students. This means that professors are typically more “present,” more accessible and put more effort into each classroom lecture. Of course there will be fabulous professors at large schools and disconnected professors at small schools.
  6. Less “Red Tape.” It’s just easier to get things done at a small school; professors, staff and administrators have more flexibility and there are fewer regulations. Class registration is usually a breeze as is getting into the classes you want. One of the biggest frustrations at large schools is that students are closed out of pre-requisite classes and that forces them to either take courses over the summer or stay an extra semester.

Overall, at a smaller school there is just a great sense that the individual student matters more.

Sampling of colleges and universities in North Carolina with undergraduate enrollments of less than 5,000

  • High Point
  • Brevard
  • Warren Wilson
  • UNC School of the Arts
  • Lee’s McCrae
  • Catawba
  • Johnson C. Smith
  • Mars Hill
  • Belmont Abbey
  • Queens
  • Davidson
  • Guilford
  • Gardner-Webb
  • UNC Asheville
  • Campbell
  • Wake Forest


Sampling of colleges and universities in South Carolina with undergraduate enrollments of less than 5,000

  • Anderson
  • The Citadel
  • Converse
  • Presbyterian
  • Limestone
  • Wofford
  • Furman
  • Francis Marion
  • Charleston Southern
  • USC Beaufort
  • USC Aiken