Finding the Best-Fit School: Understanding College Sizes

By Eric Eng

By Eric Eng

Students sitting at a shared desk, busy answering questions during a school exam.

Finding the Best-Fit School: Understanding College Sizes

When you think of your ideal school, what do you imagine? What characteristics stick out to you as important when determining where to apply? Maybe you’re primarily focused on the academic offerings at colleges. Perhaps you’re determined to find a school within a particular area of the country. You might focus on the community aspect of the school culture.

All of these factors and more are essential when determining where to apply. But there is one aspect that many people tend to overlook because of its seeming insignificance. In reality, this characteristic has a massive influence on all of the other major factors you’re considering. What are we talking about? Size!

There are hundreds of universities and colleges in the US ranging in size from a few hundred students to tens of thousands. For some schools, maintaining a certain size is essential to promoting a certain atmosphere. This is true with many Ivy League and other highly selective institutions.

Other schools such as state colleges tend to have booming student populations that grow every year. At the face of it, it seems size is an insignificant part when compared to other college-related factors. Here, we’re going to take a deeper look at the various college sizes, why students should care about this factor, and how it impacts other elements of the college experience.

What are the different school sizes?

When talking about different college sizes, people are generally referring to the number of people attending the school, also known as the student body. There’s no official categorization for schools based on their student body, but there’s enough variety in school size to split schools into small, medium, and large groups. Here’s the breakdown:

Small Colleges

Small colleges have impressively low student populations. Generally, any school with under 5,000 undergraduates falls into this category. These universities are either extremely competitive, lesser-known, or highly specialized. If you’re coming from a larger high school, some of these small colleges might feel similar.

Medium Colleges

Any college with a student body ranging in between 5,000 and 15,000 students can be considered average size. Medium-sized colleges are some of the most popular in the country because they tend to offer a good balance between small and large colleges.

Large Colleges

On the higher end of the spectrum, you have large-sized colleges which cover any school with more than 15,000 students. Most state colleges that accept many students tend to fall into this category. They’re popular because of their wide range of academic offerings and ease of admittance but they fall short in other categories that we’ll discuss later.

Why does school size matter?

As mentioned before, when you’re thinking about which colleges to apply to, campus size isn’t normally one of the first factors to pop in your mind. So what makes it so important? Well, it’s an element that plays a role in all other characteristics of a university, making it an excellent and quick way to gain a better understanding of what it’s like to attend a certain college.

Students in uniform taking examination in a classroom.

For example, on the subject of academics, the size of the school can impact the faculty to student ratio, the size of the classes, the number of majors and minors available, and much, much more. Schools with only 1,000 students are going to offer much less in the way of academic flexibility when compared to larger schools.

However, smaller schools can offer more intimate classroom settings, more one-on-one time with professors, and other advantages. The campus size isn’t a unidimensional factor as it might appear at first glance. Considering the size of the college to which you are applying can shed light on other important characteristics of the school.

The size of campus doesn’t only matter when it comes to finding out what you want in a school. It’s important to note that admissions officers who are in charge of reviewing your application will consider your academic strengths, goals, and personality to determine whether or not you’d make a good fit for the school.

If your application makes it evident that you were looking for a larger school, the admissions committee at a smaller university will have trouble envisioning you succeeding at their school, increasing the likelihood that you will get rejected. The same is true in reverse.

As a result, it’s crucial to understand the campus size of a school in order to better understand the dynamics of everything else involved in the college experience. When you have a strong understanding of what the university offers and how it operates, you can custom tailor your application to prove to admissions officers that it’s the best place for you. Of course, honesty is key here as you don’t want to end up attending a school that’s not a good fit.

What size college is right for you?

Small College Medium College Large College
Academic Offerings A specialized focus on certain academic subjects, offering highly specific courses and majors, and actively preparing students for graduation. Greater academic diversity and flexibility than smaller schools, but still limited in many aspects. There tends to be a focus on liberal arts subjects. Offer the largest range of subjects sometimes with hundreds of potential majors and minors. A great choice for students who are still unsure of their major.
Class Size Intimate classes with a smaller student-to-faculty ratio resulting in more attention from instructors and increased student participation. A solid mix of small and large classes, making it easier for students to choose based on their preferences. Smaller classes tend to focus on higher-level material. Significantly larger classes usually held in large auditoriums to accommodate the larger student body. Classes tend to get smaller as students get into higher-level courses.
Activities Generally fewer extracurricular activities due to the smaller student body. However, there’s more room for students to make their own clubs or groups. There’s also a strong sense of camaraderie. 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. Plenty to choose from but too many options can be overwhelming for some.
Social Climate Smaller colleges tend to have tighter-knit student populations as there are fewer people to meet. If you’re someone who appreciates standing out and having a lot of attention from fellow students, this is a great choice. It’s easy to make good friends and there’s always something going on with fellow classmates both in and outside the classroom. Mid-size student populations offer a mixture of intimacy and anonymity. If you want to get involved and meet a lot of students, a medium-sized college is small enough to make that pretty easy to achieve. However, students who prefer keeping to themselves and having only a small group of friends won’t feel uncomfortable or pressured to engage at mid-sized schools. Large colleges are a great place to meet a lot of people. There’s never a dull moment on campus as there’s always a new event going on. You’ll have plenty of opportunities to meet new friends, but you’ll also have to put forth a bit more effort as there are so many students. You’ll have privacy and anonymity whenever you want it, though.

Tips for determining what university size is best for you.

Research, research, and research.

You’ll hear it a lot during your preparation for college; research is key to your success. Before you begin your college admissions journey, you might only have a rough idea of what college you want to attend, what colleges are like, and how different colleges can be.

Diving deep into online resources is one of the best ways to gain clarity on the various college sizes, how it impacts the college experience overall, and what size might be the best fit for you. Of course, it will take some connecting of the dots on your part, but the information is out there.

A great place to start is on the official website of colleges and universities. These web pages are usually overflowing with in-depth information about the school. There are two different bits of information you should be on the lookout for to help inform your decision on campus size.

The first is the hard data about the size of a school. This includes information such as the physical size of the campus, the total number of students on-campus, the number of undergraduates vs graduates, and other relevant numbers. This information will provide you with a concrete idea of how big a school is.

The second source of information you can find on these websites is the culture, community, and overall feel of a school. These important elements play a significant role in a student’s overall enjoyment of the university and are directly impacted by its size.

If the description of the university and campus life match what you’re looking for, it’s safe to assume that its size is in line with what you’re looking for. Official university sites will have the most accurate and up-to-date information, but there are plenty of other helpful resources online to supplement your research.

Speak with students currently attending college.

One of the most effective ways to get a better understanding of what it’s like to attend a university is to speak to students currently enrolled at that school. If you can find a handful of students attending small, medium, and large colleges, you can gain an accurate picture of what it might be like to attend each of those school sizes.

Group of students in a library with one student explaining while the others listen.

Reaching out to friends of older siblings, older cousins, or even directly to schools are potential ways to get in touch with college students at universities you’re considering attending. Here are some questions you can consider asking regarding campus size to better determine which school is the best fit for you:

  • What do you think about the size of your university?
  • Do you ever feel like the classrooms are either too crowded or too empty?
  • How difficult or easy is it to meet with professors and how long do you have to wait?
  • What is it like living in a dorm at your university and how many people live there with you?

These questions don’t cover everything you could ask regarding campus size, but you get the idea. Speaking with college students who have direct experience at schools of various sizes can give you some helpful insight when determining which school size is best for you.

Make college visits.

The closest you can get to experience a college firsthand – without attending – is through a college visit. Sure, you can visit the campus on your own but an official college visit gives you an immersive experience you won’t get anywhere else.

A group of university students studying together with one student standing in the foreground.

You’ll have an opportunity to attend classes, eat at the cafeteria, participate in extracurricular activities, and maybe even spend the night. Although specifics vary between each school, this firsthand experience can tell you what campus size you prefer.

To get a comprehensive and accurate idea, try to attend a college visit at schools of varying sizes. Of course, you should have an additional reason for wanting to check out these schools, but the size is an easy thing to get a feel for when you’re on campus.

Read on to learn how to make the most of your college visit.

Talk to a college entrance expert.

Online research and speaking to college students is only going to get you so far when looking for the ideal campus size for you. All of these resources are informative and insightful, but they’re missing a crucial element in the decision-making process: you! That’s where college admissions experts like AdmissionSight can help.

With an in-depth knowledge of top colleges across the country and over a decade of experience working with high school students, we’re experts at helping applicants determine the best-fit schools. We take your strengths, academic goals, and other personal preferences into account when recommending a university size.

A female student listening to an expert giving advice.

This personalized approach is the best combination between college expertise and personal assessment. As mentioned before, there are inherent advantages and downsides to schools of all sizes. It’s a matter of comparing these offerings with a student’s personal circumstances to figure out the best campus size. At AdmissionSight, we have the expertise and experience to help you make that decision.

What to do if you choose the wrong size school.

Whoops! It’s been a few months and you already feel like you chose the wrong school in terms of size. Maybe you’re at a large school, you feel too disconnected, and you’re longing for some closer connections. Or perhaps you opted for a smaller school and feel too isolated from the outside world or aren’t a big fan of the limited options available.

Regardless of the reason, you feel like the college size isn’t a good match, it’s an uneasy and frustrating feeling. Here, are some quick tips for students who find themselves in this position:

1. Give it time.

The first few months of college are usually rocky for high schoolers who just made a big life transition. You’re bound to face challenges or things you dislike. While it’s tempting to try and escape those issues as quickly as possible, you don’t want to confuse an adjustment period for a serious reason to leave. We advise students to give it at least a year to see how it pans out.

A female college student smiling at the camera.

 2. Transfer schools.

If after a year or more you’re still confident that the size of the college you’re currently attending isn’t a good match for you, you can always transfer to a better-fit school. Just keep in mind that the transfer process requires just as much if not more work as applying to college directly from high school. Make sure to do your due diligence when looking for the right school.

 Achieve your college admissions goals.

What if you were told there was a highly specialized expert who could help you throughout the college admissions process to get into the school of your dreams? You wouldn’t believe it! But, in reality, these experts exist!

AdmissionSight is a college entrance expert with extensive knowledge of the college admissions process and what it takes to get students into their top-pick school. We have spent a decade mastering college admissions and better understanding what admissions officers are looking for in applicants.

We’ve compiled this insider knowledge into a wide range of services designed to help students just like you improve their application and increase their chances of getting into the school of their choice. Is it effective?

Absolutely! In fact, 75% of the students we work with end up getting accepted into a Top 10 or Ivy League university. If you’re interested in learning more about what we offer and how it can benefit you when applying to college, feel free to contact us for a free consultation. You are closer to your dream school than you might imagine!






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