How to Choose the Perfect College

Your Ultimate 6-Week Application Navigator

Week 5: How to Choose the Perfect College

Selecting the Perfect College Size

Choosing the right college is one of the most important decisions students will make, and a key factor to consider is the institution’s size. The campus size, make-up of the student body, and range of academic programs and opportunities can greatly shape the college experience. Understanding the differences between large, medium, and small colleges will help students make informed decisions that align with their goals and preferences.

Small Colleges

Small colleges, typically with fewer than 5,000 students, offer an intimate and personal environment. Schools like Claremont McKenna, Swarthmore, Reed, and Cal Tech provide a tight-knit community where students frequently see familiar faces. The smaller scale offers small class sizes and mentorship, fosters strong connections with classmates, and leads to a more personalized educational experience. However, small colleges might have fewer academic and extracurricular options, and the close-knit community might feel restrictive to some students.

Medium-Sized Colleges

Medium-sized schools, with student bodies ranging from 5,000 to 15,000, offer a blend of both worlds. Institutions like Loyola Marymount, Stanford, and Boston College offer a sense of community while providing a broader range of academic programs and social activities. These colleges offer the intimacy of small schools combined with some of the diversity and resources of larger universities, making them an attractive choice for students seeking balance.

Large Colleges

Large universities, such as UCLA, Arizona State, and the University of Oregon, boast over 15,000 students and offer diverse and vibrant experiences. They provide extensive academic offerings, research opportunities, and a wide network of alumni. The large student body and numerous activities create a dynamic college environment. However, the large often comes with larger class sizes, less personal interaction with professors.

College Size Can Be Deceptive

It’s important to look beyond the numbers. A large university might have an honors college option, Living and Learning Communities, and first-year seminars, which can provide a more intimate learning atmosphere. Smaller schools might offer cross-enrollment opportunities or 3+2 programs with larger institutions. Colleges of all sizes may offer large lecture classes, especially for introductory courses. Students can review class size distribution and the availability of small discussion or lab sections to better understand the academic environment.

Finding the Perfect Match

Selecting the right college size is a personal choice that depends on a student’s preferences for the social and academic environment. Students can reflect on whether they prefer the intimacy of a small college or the diverse atmosphere of a large university. They can consider their high school experience as a guide for their preferences.


The ideal college size is one that aligns with a student’s academic objectives, fosters personal development, and feels like a second home. College size is just one aspect to contemplate. Students can reflect on what aspects of a college matter most to them and use those criteria to steer their search. Whether it’s a small, medium, or large college, the right choice should resonate with the student academically and personally.


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