I'm a rising senior at a small private high school. I've only focused on small colleges for my list, but now I'm wondering if this is a mistake. I don't want to limit myself - how do I determine if I could handle a bigger school?


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You've already received some great advice, but one more item to make note of is this: if you can, visit a large college or university in your hometown (or close to your hometown). Take a campus tour, and if the school allows it, sit in on a class. How do you feel when surrounded by 100+ students? If you attend a large college or university, a portion of your classes will be this way. Will you feel energized or overwhelmed? Will you have all the resources you need to succeed? You might also wish to speak to other students who have graduated from your high school and gone on to large schools.

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In addition to what has already been said, one of the most important things to consider when picking a college is finding an institution that fits. A great way to start that process is to visit campuses of various sizes in person; seeing them will help you to get a better feel of what your comfort level may be.

Keep in mind that going to a larger college or university has its advantages. It gives you the opportunity to meet and interact with a lot of new people from differing backgrounds and various beliefs, some of which will be dissimilar from your own. You will also have access to a number of resources and the opportunity to engage in a variety of activities, more so than you would at smaller institutions.

Regardless of the institution you decide to attend, your college experience will be what you make of it. Therefore, I agree with Nedda; you certainly should consider taking a look at larger colleges and universities.

Nedda Gilbert, MSW, Educational Consultant, and Author

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I applaud you for performing some self-assessment here. Many students enrolled in a small high school automatically assume they will want more of the same - a small, intimate environment for college as well. I'm glad you're thinking more deeply about this. Because what feels like your comfort zone now, is something you may grow out of in two to four years.

It's important you anticipate that who you are today, may not be who you are tomorrow. You're going to grow. You're on the cusp of adulthood. You're going to change. More importantly, college should be both discovery and adventure, and a time to step out of your comfort zone and challenge yourself.

I don't want to bash small schools, but at the college level, smaller schools can sometimes feel incestuous after a year or two. It's one thing to attend a small high school where by design, the benefits are pretty obvious: small classes, lots of personal attention, close relationships with teachers, and in general getting to be a bigger fish in a smaller pond.. But a small, college campus where everyone lives side-by-side and knows each other's business can be, well cozy, or depending on the person, claustrophobic. Social options can dry up pretty quickly.

With this in mind, you may want to add some mid-size schools to your list. That's generally a college with 5000 - 8000 students. You may also want to look at bigger schools, and focus in on unique programs within these schools that turn a large experience into a smaller one - what I call a school within a school. For example, many colleges offer honors programs - and from special living residences to smaller classroom cohorts - these honors tracks may give you the best of both worlds. You get an intimate learning environment within a larger school. What I like about this is that it makes a very large campus feel more manageable, and yet you still have multitudes of social layers to peel away. My feeling is that it's better when three years in, a student can still say, "I have not met everyone here" versus, "There's no one left, I know everybody."

Whatever you ultimately decide, I think you owe it to yourself to take a risk and step out of your comfort zone. That could mean picturing yourself at a larger school.

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