Choosing the right size university can mean the difference between a wonderful experience…or an overwhelming one. Learn why small can be your best bet.

Sprawling campuses. Thousands of students. Massive dorms. Packed lecture halls. Big Ten and NCAA athletics. Fraternities. Sororities.

It’s all part of the large-university experience, and some students thrive on it.

But let’s be honest: large universities aren’t for everyone. Many students prefer a quieter, more personalized college experience, and for those students, small universities—sometimes called “liberal arts” or “teaching” universities—are exactly the right fit.

If you’re still torn between the two, here are five reasons why a small university could be the right choice for you.

  1. Small class sizes—Some days we just want to blend in to the crowd, and lecture halls are great for that. But if you’d rather have the opportunity to ask questions, get involved in interesting discussions and be taught by a professor who actually knows your name and would recognize you in the hallway, small universities are the way to go.

The majority of small-university classes tend to have fewer than 30 students, which allows for more individualized learning. Plus, it’s easier to collaborate with and get to know a couple dozen classmates than a couple hundred.

  1. Lower student-to-faculty ratio—According to the National Center for Educational Statistics, the average national student-to-faculty ratio is 18:1—in other words, one faculty member for every 18 students. Take a look at how three large universities and two small ones, all in Michigan, fare in comparison:
  • Large universities:
    • Oakland University, 20:1
    • Michigan State University, 16:1
    • University of Michigan, 15:1
  • Small universities:
    • Cleary University, 13:1
    • Rochester University student-to-faculty ratio: 10:1

The lower the ratio, the more time your professors have to evaluate your work and offer detailed critiques. You’ll also have more opportunities to get to know your professors on a personal basis and develop relationships that make it easier to ask for help—or even letters of recommendation when the time comes for grad school or job-searching.

  1. The professors are the teachers—At large universities, professors are constantly under pressure to research and publish so they qualify for promotions and tenure. As a result, graduate students do much of the actual teaching instead.

Since small-university professors don’t face that pressure, they’re the instructors you’ll find at the front of their classrooms, rather than teaching assistants. When you’re learning at a small institution, you’re learning from the source of real-life experience.

  1. More flexible curriculum—Smaller universities are often a bit more flexible about program requirements. In fact, they may even give you leeway to construct programs in a way that better fits your individual interests and goals, so you don’t have to sit through classes that have nothing to do with your major just because the administration says you have to. Keep in mind, though, that every university is different, so check with your advisor for details.
  2. You’re an important part of a strong community—If you think of larger universities as the big cities of higher education, small universities are the little towns where you know almost everyone, it’s easy to find your way around and everybody’s ready to help. It’s harder to feel lonely or homesick when you’re not lost in a crowd.

At a small university, because you’re not competing with thousands of other students you don’t have to settle for second-best. So, whether you’re longing for a spot on the school newspaper or to play goalie on the soccer team, it’s more likely you’ll be able to participate in your first choice of activities.

Many small universities are commuter-friendly, so depending on your choice you might even be close enough to live at home and commute back and forth to classes. Or, if you live on campus and your family’s close by, you’ll be able to see them on a regular basis.


If we spelled out all the good reasons to look at a small university, like…

  • Excellent financial aid options
  • More personal advising
  • Less competition for on-campus jobs
  • More opportunities to stand out and make a difference
  • A well-rounded education that prepares you for many different types of careers

…we’d end up with a book the size of which JK Rowling would envy. Which is why we’ll just add some links at the end of the article to help get the decision center of your brain warmed up—and encourage you to take advantage of all the great information and advising resources your potential choices will have available.

Also, keep in mind that your situation is uniquely yours; what works for your friends who are heading for university might not work for you. Your own personal future is out there waiting for you, and whether your university choice ends up being large or small, it’s going to be an exciting time for you. Good luck!

Looking for a small, personal university that will help you reach your potential and make a positive impact on the world? At Rochester University in Rochester Hills, Michigan, you’ll achieve the academic excellence, global awareness, character and leadership you need to succeed in a changing, exciting and inspiring world.

Visit us at  


Sources and Resources

Here are more good articles on choosing the right size university:

U.S. News & World Report has one of the most useful college profile sites we’ve ever seen:

And here’s a completely unscientific and fun quiz that won’t make up your mind for you, but it will get you thinking: