Whether considering public schools, private day or boarding schools, colleges or universities, the debate never ends. Some parents don’t even want to discuss sending their children to a large school or college. There won’t be enough structure. My child will get lost in the shuffle. Big schools are too impersonal. I want my child to be more than a number.
How big is too big? Although a better argument can be made for choosing a smaller school when the applicant is younger – possibly entering the eighth or ninth grade – there is almost no compelling reason to limit choice by the size of a school’s student body. Here are some points that may shed light on the big school/small school debate:
School size is less important than the organization of the school community.
Is the school organized by smaller residential or grade-level units? Does the school offer age-appropriate structure and supervision? (It is certainly true that some large schools are free-for-alls; yet it is also true that some small schools can be limiting.)
Larger scale brings greater diversity, more options.
Four years can be a long time to spend in one school, especially for the able student. The smaller the school community, the greater the likelihood of running out of opportunities in language study, sports, AP courses, student government, and elsewhere. Larger schools use scale economies to create more variety and, therefore, longer sustained interest from each student. Greater interest leads to greater achievement.
Parents tend to choose smaller schools; kids prefer larger.
Generally, parents have more influence on younger children and often prefer a smaller school at that level, for its greater perceived safety, structure, and supervision. Older students consider themselves more mature, more able to handle freedoms that are often associated with larger school communities. When parents choose, smaller schools often win. When parents defer to their kids, larger schools tend to prevail. (When the student has a voice in the decision – genuine input into the choice – the probability for success in that school increases significantly.)
Smaller schools (and colleges) tend to be specialists.
Whereas smaller schools and colleges tend to be known for a department or two, a sport or two, or special traditions of one type or another, the enrolling student must be sure of her interests, because a change of heart could result in less distinguished opportunities elsewhere on campus. In a larger school or university, there is more of everything – a perfect smorgasbord for the generalist interested in sampling from a wider range of departments, courses, sports, clubs, even food. In the post-secondary realm, larger colleges and universities absorb more research funding, too, which frequently translates to stronger faculty positions and, sometimes, to more undergraduate research opportunities.
Larger schools offer greater choices of friends, more “communities.”
Small town or big city, the size of one’s community does not dramatically alter the number of friends and acquaintances we choose to be within our circle of influence. The same applies to school and college communities. We will have our three or four good friends, ten or twelve more casual friendships, and several dozen other acquaintances wherever we find ourselves. The only difference: In a larger community – or in a larger school – there will be more choices from which to select those friends and associations.
- How to Find a College That Fits You (bigfuture.collegeboard.org)
- 25 tips for choosing a college (cbsnews.com)