Many of our students come to us believing they want to attend a large university. Others insist they could only be happy at a small school. Often, their impressions are based on incomplete or inaccurate information. That’s why we spend a lot of time helping our students create best fit lists that go beyond the things they thought they knew. Here are some myths and facts about large versus small schools. We bet you’ll see some that sound familiar.

 Myth 1: Everyone Attends the Same Schools

Students at top high schools learn from a young age that there are certain schools that "everyone" goes to. For some of them, these become the only schools they will consider. Others want nothing to do with the large schools; they think “everyone” from their school goes there. The truth is if 12 students from a high school graduating class attend a particular college of 30,000 students, it is very easy to meet new and diverse students through different clubs, activities, etc.

Myth 2: Big Schools Always Feel Big

Some students are anxious to get away from the “big” scene and believe that they only want small – the smaller the better. The reality is that college is much different from high school. Those who say they want smaller schools are generally looking for a more intimate setting and greater interaction between student and professor. With some effort, it is very possible to contribute in class and get to know professors, even at a big school. Students who prefer discussion classes as opposed to lectures can find their place at a big school through Honors colleges, living and learning communities and other specialized opportunities.

Myth 3: The School My Parents, Brother or Cousin Loved Will be the Best Fit for Me

Just because you were raised in maize and blue onesies and your first memory is of a University of Michigan football game, that does not mean U of M or a school of comparable size is the best for you. We encourage our students to dig deep during their research and learn about what different colleges offer. We also encourage them to visit different types of schools closer to home, not because they will necessarily attend those schools, but because it’s too easy to generalize based on online research and word of mouth. It can be helpful to visit a large state university, a small liberal arts college and other types of campuses just to get a sense for how they feel before investing time and money in travel. 

Myth 4: Small Schools are the Best Place to Build Community

Smaller campuses may feel like more of a community right off the bat, but big campuses also offer opportunities to connect. At a smaller school, you are more likely to see people you know as you walk to class each day, and it can be easier to start out as a big fish in a small pond. However, it is easier than you might think to build community at a large university, through dorm and dorm floor activities, through sororities and fraternities or extracurricular activities, or with students in your major or Honors college.

Consider these three examples of students who were surprised by their best fit schools.

Jesse: Large West Coast University

Jesse told us as early as ninth grade that she wanted to go to a small college. She attended a large suburban high school and felt that a state university would just reflect everything she wanted to get away from. Her initial college list mostly included small liberal arts colleges, but, as we always do, we included some outliers for her to consider as well. Jesse went online, read college search books, talked to people and watched videos, then narrowed her list to a manageable number of East Coast schools, which she visited during junior year. She called in a panic after her second visit, telling us that her experience opened her eyes and led her to realize that small colleges were not for her. She was afraid she had wasted her time researching and visiting small colleges, but we explained that it was just as important for her to learn what she did not like in a college as what she did like. She ended up at a large state university on the West Coast, loved every second, and had zero regrets because she explored all of her options before making a decision. 

Sammy: Med School Bound

Sammy knew that he wanted to be a doctor and go the pre-med route in college. He had decided, along with his parents, that the best and most successful route to medical school was through a large university. He had heard that a small college would not afford him the same opportunities and would make him a weaker medical school applicant. We created a personalized college list for him with many large universities, but also spent a lot of time talking about the benefits and advantages of a small college in terms of his future medical school applications. Sammy agreed to research some small colleges and try to keep an open mind. After spending his entire junior year researching colleges, both large and small, he determined that a smaller college would offer him more of the advantages and opportunities he was looking for, and he was pleasantly surprised to find that the small colleges we recommended had at least as much, if not more, school spirit and athletic focus as the large universities. He spent four years at a small East Coast liberal arts college, doing research, volunteering in a local hospital, job shadowing, interning each summer and excelling in both the classroom and the lab. Sammy also developed outstanding relationships with many of his professors and with his advisor, who guided him step by step through the medical school application process.

Ari: Vanderbilt, to His Surprise

Amy’s son, Ari, is currently a senior in high school. Both Amy and her husband graduated from the University of Michigan and are still huge fans. Much of Ari’s childhood was spent in Ann Arbor at football and basketball games and roaming the campus to see his parents’ favorite spots. Saturdays during the fall, the TV was always turned to the Michigan football game, and one of Ari’s first word(s) was Go Blue. In his mind, Ari was always going to Michigan; there wasn’t even a close second. He wouldn’t wear clothes from competing schools and “hated” Michigan’s biggest rivals. Yet, despite his declaration that he was only applying to Michigan, Amy made Ari go through the entire college search process and consider other options. He did his research and narrowed his list to a combination of huge and mid-size universities, with Michigan at the top of his list. He visited numerous colleges, and at the end of the day, including an official visit to U of M, Ari decided to apply early decision to Vanderbilt (which has approximately 6800 undergraduates), and is now part of the Vanderbilt Class of 2021. He happily withdrew his Michigan application as soon as he received his admissions decision from Vanderbilt, and never even learned if he would have been admitted to U of M. 

In all of these cases, fit was far more important than preconceptions. We visit colleges all the time, and check in with our successful students. Fit is our specialty! Contact us to find out how we can help find the best fit college for you.