College Sizes: Small, Medium, or Large? (2023)

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College Sizes: Small, Medium, or Large? (1)

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The size of a college or university – its campus, its student body, and its academic programs – can definitely affect your college experience. Here are some different aspects of large colleges, small colleges, and medium-sized colleges to keep in mind as you make your college list.

How do you know what size college is best for you? A large university can feel overwhelming to some students, and exciting to others, while a small college can feel friendly, comfortable, or isolating, depending on who you ask. You might want the feel of a large university with thousands of fans cheering on the school team, or feel more at home chatting with a few friends over coffee on a campus where you know most students by name.

There are pros and cons to the size of college you choose, and it’s important to understand the ways in which large, small, and medium-sized schools differ and which qualities appeal to you – or don’t. This article will discuss various aspects of college size and how to decide what’s right for you.

Which Colleges Are Considered Small, Medium, or Large?

  • According to the Carnegie Classification of colleges and universities, colleges considered "small" have fewer than 5,000 students.These are typically private colleges like Colgate, Grinnell, and Reed. Yet, it is entirely possible to find small public colleges, such as SUNY Geneseo and Delaware State University.
  • Many colleges fall into the "medium" category, between 5,000 to 15,000 students. For example, Yale, Brown, Howard, Duke, University of Arkansas, University of Montana, and Binghamton University are all medium-sized.
  • "Large" usually means more than 15,000 students.University of Southern California, New York University, and University of Pennsylvania qualify as large on the private side; UCLA, Michigan State, and University of Texas at Austin on the public side. A label of "huge" would be more accurate for those public universities that have more than 30,000 students, such as University of Michigan and University of California Berkeley.

You can look up the profiles of these and more than 2,000 colleges and universities using CollegeData’s College Search.

College Sizes: Small, Medium, or Large? (4)

SOME PROS and COns OF SMALL Colleges and Large COLLEGES

What are some of the classic advantages and disadvantages of small, medium, and large colleges? Smaller schools, as a rule, are known for their tight-knit communities. You can get to know many people in a small school and see familiar faces whether you are in the library, the cafeteria, the quad, or in class. Because the community is small, it can be easier to develop long-lasting relationships with professors and staff. This doesn’t mean you can’t develop relationships with professors or be part of a tight-knit community at a large university – but it might be easier to do these things at a small college.

(Video) Small, Medium or Large- Finding the Right Size in your College Fit - IACAC

However, a smaller college may offer fewer academic majors and programs than a larger school, as well as fewer social opportunities, activities, and events. In a small, tight-knit community, you’re likely to see the same faces frequently, and it’s not so easy to avoid people you’d rather not see.

Large colleges are more likely than smaller colleges to have a wide variety of majors, research facilities, graduate schools, well-known faculty and Division I sports teams, and they can connect students with a large alumni network.

You are also more likely to find lecture-style classes at bigger schools – some with hundreds or even a thousand students. In these classes, it can be harder to get to know or stand out to professors and you’ll have competition when it comes to speaking up in class. Some large universities might be more bureaucratic when it comes to changing majors, adding/dropping classes, taking classes outside your major, and accessing advisory and academic support.

Many students find that medium-sized colleges have it all. They can be small enough to easily find friends and participate in social activities, and big enough to offer a large number of academic options. Some will have qualities of large universities and others will have more qualities of small colleges. But just like small and large colleges, they can vary widely in other ways, so be sure to do your due diligence and visit a few medium-sized schools, if you can.

College Size can be misleading

Some aspects of “big” and “small” colleges can be misleading. For example, the size of the undergraduate population at a large university may be much smaller than you think. Harvard University has a combined graduate and undergraduate student population of more than 20,000, but the undergraduate college has only about 6,600 students.

You might find large classes at any size college, especially in introductory courses. It’s helpful to look at the number of super large or very small classes you might encounter as an undergraduate to get a more realistic picture of what you might experience. You can find this information in many of CollegeData’s College Profiles, which you can access with our College Search tool. The College Profiles present the distribution of class sizes across undergraduate courses offered at the college. Below is data for UCLA reported for the 2020-2021 academic year. While UCLA would be considered a huge college with more than 30,000 undergraduates, students there encounter classes of all sizes.

College Sizes: Small, Medium, or Large? (5)

How a small college can feel large and vice versa

Of course, it’s possible to find some of the advantages of a large college at a small school and vice versa. For example, universities featuring large lecture-style classes almost always include access to small-group discussions and review sessions where students, teaching assistants and professors can get to know each other. University honors programs may provide a small-class – and a small-college – environment as well. Smaller colleges might also feature large lecture-style classes, especially in introductory subjects.

(Video) Finding the Right Size College: Small, Medium or Large Campus?

Students often think that small colleges have limited social scenes, research opportunities or academic offerings. But some small schools join with other colleges and universities to provide more of these resources and experiences. For example, the seven Claremont Colleges in California, each with fewer than 3,000 students, and the 5 Colleges Consortium in Massachusetts, which includes the University of Massachusetts at Amherst with more than 24,000 students and four colleges with fewer than 5,000 students, share academic departments, cultural programs, research facilities, transportation, and libraries.

And when it comes to sports, big schools don’t have the lock on school spirit. Many small and medium-sized schools have intensely competitive rivalries with other colleges in their division and have students that passionately support their sports teams alongside the local community and alumni.

What’s The Perfect Size College for you?

Deciding among large, medium-sized and small colleges often comes down to the social environment you prefer. Knowing whether you feel more comfortable as "a small fish in a big pond" or a "big fish in a small pond" can help you decide. Do you like the idea of being known to a small community, or would you like to experience being anonymous among a throng of students? Your high school experience can also give you an idea of what you might like or not like in a small college or large college.

Other college qualities may be more important to you than student body size. If that's the case, you might put a mix of small, medium and large colleges on your application list. But if the number of students on campus or in a class significantly affects your comfort level, or certain aspects of a small college or big college experience appeal to you, put college size among your top college requirements. Then, if you can, validate your impressions by visiting colleges of different sizes, and keep an open mind. You might become more comfortable with a larger or smaller college as you explore and compare more campuses.

You can search for colleges by student body size with CollegeData’s College Search.

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FAQs

What size is a small college? ›

For both universities and colleges, a population size is considered small when it has under 5,000 students and large when it has over 15,000 students.

What is a medium in college? ›

Many colleges fall into the "medium" category, between 5,000 to 15,000 students. For example, Yale, Brown, Howard, Duke, University of Arkansas, University of Montana, and Binghamton University are all medium-sized. "Large" usually means more than 15,000 students.

How big is a mid size college? ›

“Medium” colleges have student populations between 5,000 and 15,000 students. There is a good mix of public and private colleges that fall in the medium-size category. Some examples of medium colleges include Yale, Stanford, and the University of Montana.

What is a normal college class size? ›

So, exactly how big are classes in community colleges? In community colleges the average number of students in a class range between 25 to 35 while a typical university lecture hall can have anywhere from 150 to 300 students.

What is considered a large class size? ›

What is a Large Class? Large classes are typically considered those held in large 'lecture' halls and often hold 75 or more students.

Is Harvard a medium sized school? ›

About Harvard University

The private, medium-sized, liberal arts university, offers 4 year undergraduate programs at it's college level. Harvard is located in Cambridge, Massachusetts - an urban setting across the Charles River from Boston. The college is coed, and most students live on campus.

What are the pros of going to a medium sized college? ›

Medium-size colleges tend to have a wide range of clubs and activities that meet students' interests. There's room to grow, but also plenty of established options to choose from. Large colleges tend to have hundreds of clubs and activities to meet any student's interests.

Are small colleges better? ›

With a smaller student body and smaller classes, professors and advisers are better able to get to know their students, so they tend to be more invested in their individual success. They also have more room to be flexible, which means classes and programs can often be tailored to better fit the needs of students.

How do you know if I should go to a big or small college? ›

How to Know if a Small College is Right for You
  • Typically private, liberal arts schools.
  • Less than 5,000 students.
  • A focus on undergraduate education.
  • Classes taught by professors themselves.
  • Smaller class sizes.
  • More individual attention from advisors.
  • More opportunities for leadership experience.
10 Dec 2018

Why are large colleges better? ›

Big colleges offer benefits such as greater name recognition, the chance for a larger social circle, and a larger selection of programs. Because of name recognition, larger schools are sometimes able to attract more distinguished faculty members. A larger volume of students also helps keep tuition rates low.

What is Harvard average class size? ›

Despite how big is Harvard University's enrollment rate, the average number of students per Harvard class is 12.

Is 7 classes too many in college? ›

Breaking it down further, most college courses at schools with semesters are worth three credit hours. So on average, you would expect to take five classes a semester. That's above the usual minimum, which is 12 hours, and below the maximum, which is normally 18.

What is the average class size at Harvard college? ›

Academic Life at Harvard University

The student-faculty ratio at Harvard University is 7:1, and the school has 70.6% of its classes with fewer than 20 students.

Why are smaller class sizes better in college? ›

Smaller Classes Provide Individualized Instruction

When there are fewer students in class, you get to know your professors and they get to know you—by name. They can provide you with individualized attention and personalized feedback on your academic performance.

Why small class sizes are better? ›

It has been proven that students learn faster and perform better in smaller classes. A class size of fewer than 20 students often results in more individual attention, increased participation, and better communication between the instructor and students.

How do you know your class size? ›

  1. Class size: Difference between the true upper limit and true lower limit of a class interval is called the class size.
  2. Class size remains the same for all class intervals.
  3. For the class interval 10 - 20.
  4. Class size is 10, i.e., (20 - 10 = 10)

What GPA to get into Harvard? ›

It is tough to get into Harvard. The university receives applications from more qualified applicants than they can accept, and most applicants have at least a 4.18GPA. Meeting GPA and SAT/ACT requirements (although these are now optional) will help you get through the first round of filters.

What GPA is average for Harvard? ›

The average Harvard GPA for the class of 2025 was 4.22, with most applicants scoring at least a 4.0. Simply defined, strong grades are required for admittance to Harvard, and the institution considers them “extremely essential” when making admissions choices.

What GPA is required for Harvard? ›

You should also have a 4.18 GPA or higher. If your GPA is lower than this, you need to compensate with a higher SAT/ACT score. For a school as selective as Harvard, you'll also need to impress them with the rest of your application.

What are the cons of a large college? ›

A high number of attending students could also make it difficult to obtain leadership positions you want, whether in clubs or in school government. If you come from a small town, a large school can also be intimidating to you. So many people can become overwhelming until you find your niche and friends.

What are the benefits of a smaller college? ›

Here are just a few of the advantages of going to a smaller college affords.
  • Smaller Class Sizes.
  • More One-On-One Interaction with Professors.
  • Less Competition for Financial Aid.
  • Stronger Sense Of Community.
  • Greater Curriculum Flexibility.
6 May 2022

Is it OK to go to a small college? ›

If you prefer to interact directly with your peers and professors, a smaller college is likely right for you. Small classes allow students to get to know their peers and professors. They offer—with their lower teacher-to-student ratios—a completely different learning environment than a typical college lecture hall.

Is a small college good? ›

With a smaller student body and smaller classes, professors and advisers are better able to get to know their students, so they tend to be more invested in their individual success. They also have more room to be flexible, which means classes and programs can often be tailored to better fit the needs of students.

Are small colleges better for introverts? ›

On the face of it, a small college would seem to be a more hospitable environment for an introvert, but small colleges can also be socially intense, especially if they're in small towns where everything interesting happens on campus. At a large university, there may be a greater array of extracurricular options.

How do I decide if I want to go to a big or small college? ›

How to Know if a Small College is Right for You
  1. Typically private, liberal arts schools.
  2. Less than 5,000 students.
  3. A focus on undergraduate education.
  4. Classes taught by professors themselves.
  5. Smaller class sizes.
  6. More individual attention from advisors.
  7. More opportunities for leadership experience.
10 Dec 2018

Are bigger colleges better? ›

Big colleges offer benefits such as greater name recognition, the chance for a larger social circle, and a larger selection of programs. Because of name recognition, larger schools are sometimes able to attract more distinguished faculty members. A larger volume of students also helps keep tuition rates low.

Why small colleges are better? ›

Small colleges and universities, or institutions with 1,000 students or less, offer students a more intimate experience. Classes are small and less likely to be held in large lecture halls. In fact, students are more likely to develop relationships with their professors and connect with other students on campus.

Are big colleges or small colleges better? ›

Small schools also tend to have fewer facilities than larger institutions — there are often less research facilities, resources and housing and fooding options for students. Because small schools generally have limited resources, there are often less extracurricular activities for students to choose from as well.

What are the pros of a small college? ›

Here are just a few of the advantages of going to a smaller college affords.
  • Smaller Class Sizes.
  • More One-On-One Interaction with Professors.
  • Less Competition for Financial Aid.
  • Stronger Sense Of Community.
  • Greater Curriculum Flexibility.
6 May 2022

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