Size Does Matter

Or, perhaps more accurately, I go to a small college in a rural part of the country and I love every second of it.

For a long time during the college search process, I pictured myself making it big at a contemporary city school. I imagined myself, a budding writer, surrounded by stimulating sights and interesting people that would pretty much launch my career before I even finished a semester.

But that’s not how it actually turned out for me. When it came down to it, I was accepted to several schools, and narrowed it down to two: A Big City University Where Important Things Happen and a Small Liberal Arts College Where Everyone Knows Your Name. When I was making this nail-biting decision, most people advised me to pick my school based on the size I preferred. The thing was, when I was applying to and when I was deciding what school to actually attend, I had no idea how I felt about size. I knew I wanted to major in Creative Writing, and that was it. My final decision rested on the fact that I could major in Creative Writing at the Small Liberal Arts College while I could only minor in it at the Big City University and hope that I could find another major to pair with it. My decision came down to practical details, not prior preference for size.

After spending a year at the Small College, I’ve fully accepted that a small school was exactly what I needed. While I can’t step out of my dorm and jump onto a train for the next Broadway show, there’s still so much small school life offers me that is perfect for my personality and personal growth.

Now, this post is not meant to be an advertisement for my unnamed college, nor is it meant to be a long brag about how I successfully navigated a major life decision. It’d definitely not meant to be a declarative statement against large schools and city schools. This is meant to help the next Rachel figure out what she wants in a school. It’s very hard to know how school size will specifically impact your life unless you live it, so let me be quite clear about my personal experience and what I find best about attending a small school, and about living far outside the city.

I can focus on going to school. At a city school, you’re right in the middle of everything. Theatre, restaurants, art, culture, nightlife, classes? Wait, do you still have to go to class? But there’s so much to do an see, and so many neighborhoods to explore! While all of these are amazing reasons to live in the city, they are reasons that I am wary of going to college in one. Many of the students will scatter to the far corners of the cultural mecca that the campus sits in, and it’s harder to focus on getting a Real College Experience when it’s intertwined so tightly with the Big City Experience. At a small school, there aren’t as many options for things to do off campus – so that adds to the appeal of events on campus. I don’t have to feel bad for going to a lecture or club meeting instead of checking out that hip new art exhibit downtown. I’ve found that living in a relatively more isolated campus means there are more students on campus over the weekend, which helps create a real sense of community. The view out of my dorm window may be of a herd of cows rather than a glittering skyline, but it makes me appreciate the people in the dorm with me, and the campus my dorm is a part of, a little bit more.
I have exclusive access to everything. And I mean everything: classes, clubs, professors’ time and attention. When there are less students to sign up for things, there’s less competition for access, and a lot more resources to go around. If I wanted to audition for a play, there’s a very good chance there are enough spots for me, even including our group of theatre majors. My largest classes cap at thirty students, so my professor knows my name and has plenty of time during office hours to talk to me more. I can even do research on campus over the summer that many schools only offer to graduate students, simply because there are no graduate students here. I really like knowing that I don’t have to limit my options because too many other people are interested in the same thing as me. Now, as far as prime study spots go, no school ever has enough of those to go around…
I am more than a number. When I went to accepted students’ day at the Big City University, I got a nametag sticker that read “Class of 2018.” When I went to the same event at the Small Liberal Arts College, I got a sticker that had my name, hometown, and class year. I spoke to professors and administrators, and generally got the sense that they cared whether I went to the school and that they wanted me to be there. Now that I’m here, when I’m in class I know the professors recognize me and would notice if I didn’t go to class or if my grades started dropping. When I walk across campus, I always end up saying hi to a friend or two on my way, no matter how short the walk. For a relatively introverted person like me, this is perfect. I feel that I am a real part of my college community, while at a large school I would likely feel invisible. This is a time for me to build my identity, and I love seeing it reinforced by the (many) people who know me on campus.
The views are stunning. The city will always be there. For four years, I get to live in an area cut off from society at large without being isolated to a small farmhouse in the middle of a field. I’m still surrounded by a vibrant college community with organized events to attend and fascinating people to meet and learn from, but I’m also surrounded by trees. And wildflowers, and rolling hills, and unobstructed sunsets…. FullSizeRender - Copy

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Like I said, the city will always be there.For me, it can wait.

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