Looking at colleges is like finding the perfect pair of shoes. Do you go for the inexpensive tennis shoes, or the stunning name brand heels? Do you choose the bright yellow rain boots or those docksiders that are perfect for the beach? Do you get the bigger size that give your feet some room to grow, or do you pick the perfect fit and hope your feet remain the same size for the rest of your life? Decisions decisions. Colleges are just as varied as shoes. Will you be happier at the inexpensive state school or the ‘sell your organs to afford tuition’ private school that has the gorgeous campus? Do you go where all your high school friends will be or do you venture out on your own? And most importantly, do you go to the huge school with more students than Kim Kardashian has instagram followers, or do you pick the small school with perfect class sizes?
As my father told me when I was looking at colleges, “It’s better to be a big fish in a small pond then a medium sized fish in a huge pond.” I’m not a fishing expert, nor do I particularly like fish in general, but my dad’s metaphor is one that I completely agree with. Going to a smaller college is better for a few key reasons. The first is exactly what my dad was getting at: it’s easier to stand out in a smaller arena. In high school you competed with your classmates to get into college, but in college you’re competing with them for jobs. The real world is a scary place and adulting is hard. It’s much easier to stand out to employers when you’re up against fewer people. Small colleges also create a better learning environment. At giant state schools you’ll probably be in classes with a few hundred other students for your first two years. If you don’t understand the material talking with a professor, who cares more about his research than the undergrad class he’s required to teach, will probably end up not being very helpful. At a small school on the other hand, with a class size of twenty people or less, you’ll babysit your professor’s kids and chat about the lecture material over lunch.
The final two advantages of small schools are the most important ones. Making new friends in college is a daunting task to even the most extroverted person. At a large school with ten thousand students or more, making friends outside of your freshmen year hall can be a serious challenge. You can meet another student you really click with out at a party and then never run into them ever again. At a smaller school, you’re almost guaranteed to run into at least one familiar face walking across campus. As time goes on and you meet more people you’ll have to leave for class ten minutes early because of all of the friends you’ll inevitably have to talk to about last night. The final reason that small schools are the best is the very intense alumni network you become a part of. The point of college is to try and prepare for the real world. Attending a smaller school means that members of the university community are very close, and that bond will only grow stronger after graduation. Having strong alumni connections is everything when you’re trying to get a job out of college, and when it comes to getting internships from an alum, it’s much easier when there are three applicants instead of three thousand. Despite what people say, size isn’t all that matters.
- Sloan Ellis Washington and Lee University '18. Sloan is a finance and economics double major.