Big School vs Small School: Pros & Cons

As someone who has spent time at two completely opposite schools, I often find myself comparing the two. I am currently a junior at Siena College, however, I started my college journey at Michigan State University. Naturally, the two schools do things completely differently given their difference in size, surrounding area, student body, and essentially every other character trait. Siena’s undergraduate population is about 3,100 students, while Michigan State’s undergraduate population is about 38,800 with an additional graduate population of around 11,000. Although I often find myself missing certain aspects of MSU and the things a massive sports & party school can provide, I have found that both schools have pros and cons.

  1. 1. Number of People

    When I was at MSU I was 12 hours away from home, which naturally made me feel isolated and stranded upon arrival. On top of that, being surrounded by 50,000 other students was exhausting. Whenever I leave my room at Siena I run into multiple people I know. At MSU, I almost never ran into anyone I knew, except on the rare occasion that I ran into a friend at the dining hall close to our building or something along those lines. Some people like the idea of knowing tons of people around campus, while others like the ability to just disappear into the crowd

  2. 2. Campus Size

    To say MSU has a large campus is an understatement, that campus is huge. Everything at MSU was SO. FAR. AWAY. I frequently had to make 35 minute walks to class because despite their being a bus system, it often took even longer. A quick trip to office hours for a single question made me question whether or not it was “worth it." An hour long club meeting quickly turned into a 2 hour commitment, and having a couple classes spread out throughout the day quickly turned into an all day affair. When I left for the morning, I was frequently out for the entire day simply because there was no point in making the trek back to my dorm when I would have to leave shortly after. It was easier to just sit in the building of my next class and work on homework or catch up on emails. At Siena, I can run to office hours, ask a quick question and be back in my room in 20-30 minutes if everything goes as planned. 

  3. 3. ​Resources

    Having a smaller campus makes resources seem much more accessible, which motivates me to use those resources. So - even though a bigger school often has more resources in number, resources at smaller schools are more likely to get taken advantage of (at least in my case). I personally am more likely to squeeze in an appointment when I have an hour and a half break than I am to schedule an entire afternoon around a trip to an advisor.

  4. 4. Class Size & Professors

    Professors did not have nearly as many office hours at MSU as they do at Siena. I once reached out about meeting with a professor outside of office hours and she directed me to meet with her TA. A small school means smaller classes and a greater focus on students, which allows students to foster relationships with their professors. I absolutely love that my professors at Siena not only know my name, but take time to get to know me on a personal level and support my academic aspirations. However, smaller class sizes typically means a greater likelihood of group projects, student presentations, attendance being taken, and being called on in class. Those are relatively infrequent things at Michigan State, particularly in more general/lower level classes that can have over 200 students.  How could 200 students all possibly present a project within a one semester span? It’s possible, but tricky. I loved having the ability to disappear in class and just focus on lecture, but it was unfortunate that I was unable to get to know professors on a personal level.

  5. 5. Sports & Partying

    Both the sports and the party atmosphere at MSU are not even close to being on the same level to Siena’s sports and partying. Michigan State is one of the top party schools in the country, but if you find a house to party at, you most likely won’t know the majority of the people around you. Typically you know the people you go with and then maybe the people who are hosting. The sports are unimaginable, hearing 75,000 people cheering in the stadium at a home game is an unforgettable experience. However, you don't know the players, while at Siena you are likely to know many people on each sports team. At Siena you are essentially guaranteed to know a greater percentage of the people around you, especially after being there for so long, which is a pro for some people and a con for others.

Choosing whether to attend a big or small school is something every person attending college has to think about, and the reasoning behind each individual choice is different and complex. Each aspect of a school can be a huge pro to some and a total downside to others. I still find myself missing things a big school can offer, but I don’t miss leaving for class 40 minutes (or more) before it started. I have found many things to love about Siena that I would’ve missed out on had I stayed at MSU. I urge anyone interested in attending college to visit schools of all sizes to determine what size is right for them before making a decision