Large vs. Small Colleges–Which Size Is Best For Me?

Goldilocks had a problem with size.  She tried the large ones, she tried the small ones, and she eventually found the ones that were “just right.”

You can find the “just right” size, too, when it comes to colleges.  But you really need to think about what size means, especially when it comes to academics.  That is, after all, the most important consideration in choosing a college:  academics.  You are selecting a school where you can succeed academically.  So thinking about how size has an impact on your learning is super important.

Have a look at this quick video that I filmed at Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio.

Mark Montgomery
Educational Consultant in Denver, Colorado


If you  prefer, you can read the transcript below.


I’m here right now on the campus of Ohio State University which is in the heart of Columbus, Ohio.  And it’s one of the largest campuses in America.  Ohio is a state in contrast because there are so many colleges and universities, lots of large public universities, several large private universities, and then many small liberal arts colleges and religious affiliated colleges; a huge number of institutions.

What I want to talk about right now though is this idea of large versus small.  Obviously, this campus is just ginormous.  So many different opportunities, so many different programs with well over 50,000 undergraduates; there is something here for everyone.  When I’m trying to explain the difference between a small school and a large school many students come to me and they say I want a large school because I want to have all kinds of opportunities.  I want to have everything there.  I liken that to a buffet table.  Think of it like a buffet table that is miles and miles long; so many different opportunities, all of it tasty and delicious.  But you can’t even see the end of the table.  It’s such an enormous table.  It has, you know, Russian studies, East European languages, Neuroscience, nursing, business – just absolutely everything you could ever imagine at a place like this.  But when you’re an undergraduate you’re only going to be able to take advantage of a small part of that table.  It may be very tasty, all the way down to the end.  But you’re really going to have to have a strategy when you get there about which part of the table you are going to take advantage of, academically as well as socially.  I mean you’re; there are so many people and so many different opportunities you really have to figure out where are you going to start in this great big huge buffet table.

A small college like a Kenyon or an Otterbein or a College of Wooster.  Those colleges are certainly; everything on the table is as delicious and as tasty, but you can see the ends of the table.  You can see exactly what’s on there.  And if you know that you want to sample particular dishes from that table, well there’s everything you ever wanted there.  What’s the issue here?  Knowing what it is you want.  As you go to select a university, don’t think large versus small automatically.  Think what is it I want.  What are the things, what are the opportunities I want?  Yes, Ohio State has bazillions of opportunities, but which of those opportunities are most relevant to you.  If you’re saying well I want an English major, well certainly a place like Kenyon or Otterbein or anyplace else will have that major.  If you’re looking for something more specific maybe that’s when you need to be looking at Ohio State.  Or, if you want the bustle, the level of independence that is required at a place like Ohio State well then it could be perfect for you.

But don’t think first of what, of large versus small.  Think what do I want, what do I need, what are the things that I want to study, what is tasty to me, what do I find delectable.  And then go out and find that.  It may be on a huge table like the one at Ohio State or it might be at a smaller one like at the College of Wooster.  Know what you want, go look for it.


Published by Mark Montgomery

Mark is a leading educational consultant. His experience as a professor, college administrator, and youth mentor help him guide students from around the country and around the world.

Join the Conversation


  1. Hi!
    I am currently a sophomore at Miami Palmetto Senior High, and was wondering if you have any advice for me? My grades aren’t the best currently, (3.1 unweighted GPA taking 2 honors classes and one AP), but I still have plenty of time until then end of the semester. I want to get into a good business school such as Wharton.
    My grades are as follows:

    Business Law and Management: A

    Algebra II: B

    Honors English: C

    Multimedia Tech: A

    Honors Biology: A

    AP European History: C

    I know I can up my Algebra II grade to an A, my English to at least a B and eventually an A, and possibly even my AP Euro to a B. Any study tips?

    I plan on taking 3 APs next year, (Social studies is not a required class, so I have 3 electives) but I also want to take Spanish II (the class was full this year, I registered late due to my move from Alaska to Florida). I can’t decide whether to drop an AP or take Spanish II. Which is the better option?

    Finally, what classes should I take if I’m planning to major in Accounting? I do wish to get a professional degree after my undergraduate.

  2. Hello,

    You have some great questions! With regards to Spanish, you probably should consider taking Spanish 2 since most colleges recommend 2 to 4 years of a foreign language. For accounting, schools will look closely at your math courses. You more than likely want to try to be in pre-calculus or higher your senior year. Choosing courses can be tricky. While it is important to challenge yourself by taking AP classes, you should make sure you are not getting in over your head.

    Katherine Price
    Senior Associate
    Montgomery Educational Consulting

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