When I pictured myself leaving my tiny, 2,000-person hometown for college, I originally thought of myself in a big city. I had this idea in my head that I should branch out, start off my adult years in a bustling metropolis where I would be meeting tons of new people and getting a different perspective and a fresh start from the tired, slow-paced town I grew up in.
However, when it came to actually choosing a college, I decided on one that’s known for its smaller community and beautiful campus — Bemidji State University, located in the heart of northern Minnesota.
The town exceeds my hometown’s population by about 13,000, with college enrollment at about 5,000. While I could’ve gone to a big university, I consciously chose one that would have more of a small-town vibe.
There’s no doubt about it — the size of the college you choose will affect your experience in one way or another. Here are a few reasons why you might want to look into a small-town college.
If you’re a student, you already know how aggravating it can be to find a decent parking spot on campus. While this affects students at small and large colleges alike, living in a bigger city can make getting to class quite the challenge.
If you live off-campus, you’ll probably have to drive through morning traffic and struggle to find a parking spot that’s even remotely close to the building your class is in. Even if you’re in the dorms, you might have to drive or take a bus from class to class.
This can increase the time it takes to get to class, and you’ll need excellent time-management skills to ensure you won’t be late. Parking can also be a huge stressor when it comes to finances. A parking pass might be your only option on a huge campus, and it could be pretty expensive.
In a smaller town, free street parking is usually available, which can help you save a lot of money. In the category of travel, a small-town college is the way to go if you’re looking for a stress-free experience.
Connection With Professors and Classmates
In a larger college, you may be in mostly lecture-based courses that involve a lot of sitting and listening, with less hands-on education. While this can work for some students, learning in a smaller group can have many benefits.
One perk is that smaller classes have the tendency to encourage student participation. In a class with fewer people, you may feel more comfortable actively participating and engaging in academic conversations with your classmates and professor, or even just asking questions without feeling overly anxious.
It’s also important to be able to have an open line of communication with your professors. College can be scary, and there’s nothing more comforting than knowing that your professors want to help you succeed in any way possible. At larger colleges, you may be able to visit your professors only during limited office hours or have to schedule a meeting to ask them questions or talk about issues.
With smaller class sizes, it’s way easier to have one-on-one time with your professors. Since the professor-to-student ratio has a smaller gap, professors have the time to be more invested in their students’ success. They also have the opportunity to get to know you on a more personal level, which can help them know how you learn, and what you struggle with and excel at academically.
Another benefit is that professors at a small-town college may be able to evaluate your work more accurately and carefully. Since professors at large universities are teaching courses with higher attendance, sometimes they’re forced to put quantity above quality. This often results in a faster grading process, meaning that you might not be getting the in-depth feedback you need. Professors with smaller classes often have more time to leave thoughtful and detailed comments on your work.
Smaller class size is also an important benefit for students who suffer from social anxiety or get anxious in a large crowd of people. In a huge lecture hall, it’s easy to feel like there are a million eyes on you at all times. In a smaller class of 10 to 50 people, odds are you’ll feel more comfortable seeing the same classmates every day.
Sense of Community
Sometimes, being in an area with more people doesn’t necessarily equal less loneliness. It can be overwhelming to be constantly surrounded by thousands of unfamiliar faces. With a smaller student body, you can feel a sense of community with your classmates, professors and campus staff.
It’s easier to develop friendships with your peers when you see the same group of classmates frequently. This is especially true once you start taking courses for your major; creating bonds with other students in your field is great because these people can end up being your lifelong friends and maybe even your future colleagues.
When your college makes you feel like you’re an important part of a tight-knit community rather than just another face in the crowd, it can enhance your college experience and allow you to feel more comfortable in your new town.
Another thing that can be a tough adjustment is dealing with homesickness and missing your high school friends. When you’re at a small college where it’s easier to build friendships, you’re less likely to feel homesick or lonely because you’ve created strong bonds with classmates or people you’ve met around town.
While choosing a small-town college definitely has its perks, it’s important to remember that it’s not the perfect choice for every student. Small colleges can feel friendly, welcoming and homey, but sometimes they can have the opposite effect. Specifically, small-town colleges are not known to be very diverse, so if you’re a person of color, member of the LGBTQ+ community or another minority, choosing a larger college may help you feel more comfortable and included.
There are definitely pros and cons for choosing a college of any size, whether it’s small, large or somewhere in between. No matter where you think you’d fit in best, it’s necessary to weigh out your options and make a careful and well-thought-out decision because the size of your college will affect your overall academic and social experience.