I went to a small school with fewer than 2,000 students for undergrad and I'm often asked--or decide on my own--to give advice about the choice that I made. The question: would you go to a small school again if given the choice?
My answer is always absolutely.
The main concern in choosing between a small university and a state university seems to be the cost. Apparently, a college degree isn't worth much these days in terms of how much graduates will make in future careers.
But anyone who espouses that idea certainly views a college education as a piece of paper, a pulp-and-ink version of a social mobility device with the purpose of opening doors to the big bucks. As someone who has such a piece of paper and does not make much money, I understand education to be something entirely different.
At the age of 18, most official adults are still children. They haven't lived apart from their parents; they have never been far from the friends that they'd known their whole lives. They are still full of child-like expectations for their futures, overcome with what their parents, teachers and friends have wanted from and for them.
Full of hope for the future and youthful notions of immortality, they are thrown into a community of young people expected to go to class, choose a major, gain independence and form intellectual identities that are different from their parents'.
That's a lofty expectation for any 18-year-old. Almost every freshman that I knew in college turned to drinking, partying, random sex and sleepless nights of deep discussion to cope. In that first semester, classes and impressing professors were certainly secondary to exploring life and bombing papers.
These commonplace freshman fumbles are where I think that small schools pull ahead of state schools. With drop-out rates for students who enter college at more than 50%, students who go wild during their first semester or year at big schools are certainly less likely to have the help and support systems that students at small schools do. Essentially, students at small schools have not only a built-in support system, but also opportunities for more chances, if they fail the first time around.
Even more important to me now that I'm applying for graduate school are the relationships I formed with professors in my undergraduate studies. I can't imagine making myself stand out in a classroom of 400 students, with my professor lecturing at the front of the room. I would have been intimidated beyond belief with that class size as a freshman, and I can guarantee that I wouldn't have grown under the tutelage of my professors the way that I did.