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Pros and cons of attending a large college

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Alternate sources

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About.com Small College or Large University? 10 Reasons Why Size Matters When Choosing a College

Pros

The larger a college, the larger the pool of students, professors and coursework that you have access to.

Students

  • Attending a large college can improve your prospects of finding your "niche" within the college. For example, if you're an international student and would like to spend time with people from your country, going to a larger college will generally improve your prospects for doing so. Some people go to a small college because they want the intimacy of being in a small community. This may be an important consideration for some people, but it's important to note that you can find intimacy in a larger college by finding small groups of people who share your interests.
  • All else being equal, the larger a population of students, the larger the number of exceptionally talented students. Even when a large college has less talented students than a small college on average, the best students at the large college may be better than the best students at the small college

The countervailing consideration is that such people may be difficult to find, depending on who you're looking for.

Faculty

Large colleges have faculty working in a diversity of research areas, so you're more likely to find faculty who you have interests in common with.

Coursework

Going to a larger college can also offer you more options for courses to take. For example, a large college might offer honors discrete math in addition to a standard discrete math course. Large colleges also generally offer a greater number of highly specialized electives than smaller colleges do.

Cons

  • It can be hard to get to know people because there are sufficiently many courses and sections of each course so that you may not take multiple courses with many students.
  • Introductory lecture courses are often huge, such that there's little opportunity to engage with the professor. This is counterbalanced by the fact that large lecture courses are often accompanied by smaller discussion sections.

Our verdict

Making the most out of a large college requires that one take initiative in creating friendships, finding people who share your interests, and connecting with professors. For people who are willing and able to take initiative in these respects, we tend to think that the pros of attending a large college outweigh the cons. If you have a strong aversion to doing these things, you may do better at a small college.