By Carly Schuna
Student, Grinnell College
They're competitive, selective, and liberal arts oriented. The price tags can
add up to much more than state and public institutions, and the resources
available are often less numerous. Are smaller colleges really worth it? Here
are a few reasons why they're a cut above the rest:
Faculty / Student Interaction
At large universities, it's common to find professors who may be well known for
their research or academic backgrounds, but not necessarily for their teaching
abilities. At smaller colleges, however, there are generally no teaching
assistants and most of the professors genuinely enjoy teaching. Moreover, the
professors in a small college environment are those who crave student
interaction, both in and out of class. "Most professors and most staff at small
colleges have chosen these places because they want to interact with students,"
said Jim Sumner, Dean of Admission and Financial Aid at Grinnell College.
Studies suggest that one of the key factors in a good college experience is
interaction with faculty—not just inside the classroom, but outside. "At a
[small college like] Colorado College, this is the norm," said Kathryn Mohrman,
past president of Colorado College. "Students see their professors on campus;
the professors know students' names. Some professors invite students to their
homes for a meal." That added interaction between faculty and students
strengthens relationships and helps to make the students' overall experiences
Increased Opportunities for Students
"[Something] that is really overlooked is the research opportunities at the
small colleges," said Sumner. "Students can do more with our two astronomy
professors and our observatory [at Grinnell] than undergrad students can at
virtually any larger place in the country, and we don't even have an astronomy
Though large universities may have access to buildings, resources, and
equipment that smaller schools don't, their research opportunities are nearly
always limited to graduate students only. A smaller undergraduate institution,
on the other hand, has resources that are much more accessible to any student,
unrestricted even by major.
Mohrman agrees. "Undergraduates are at the bottom of the food chain in
a big university," she said. "In an undergraduate institution, students get a
chance to do all sorts of exciting things that would be given to grad students
in a bigger place."
A more intangible benefit of a small college education is a feeling of
connection and community with both students and faculty. "You are part of an
academic community 24/7," said Mohrman. "At larger places, students often go to
campus for classes, and that's it. Their primary community is outside—family,
jobs, and so on."
At some small colleges, it's nearly impossible to be anonymous, whether in
classes or on campus. For some students, that's a definite advantage. "You can
never discount knowing your fellow students, knowing the faculty, [and] knowing
the administration," said Sumner.
About the School
selective, independent residential liberal arts college set in the heart of the
country, dedicated to the education of a student body made up of about 1,450
undergraduate students. The primary mission of the College is to provide
students with a broad, deep, and life-enhancing education that includes not
only professional success, but also personal growth and social responsibility.
For more information about Grinnell, please visit