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Small Schools

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 more positive.

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 major."

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

Grinnell College is a 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