3 Differences Between a Campus Visit to a Big and Small College

Big Campus Visit vs. Small?

You'll hear it a thousand times as you wind your way through junior and senior year of high school: what type of college do you think you want to attend?

As part of your research, you may plan campus visits to a variety of schools (for our advice on a stress-free trip, check out "Campus Visit, Conquered.")  For example, you might go see both large and small colleges.

Before you get to campus, find out about the differences you can expect between these types of schools.


Whether you take a formal campus tour or guide yourself around, you'll want to get a sense of what life is like at the college. A big part of this experience is where you spend your time.

The size of a campus can affect how people meet up. For example, you may be more likely to bump into friends on a small campus as you cross the main quad, run into one another at the dining hall, or see each other on the way to class. On a big campus, students may have certain common areas where they hang out, such as the student union or library.

On a big campus visit, you may notice that your activities are more formal. With so many high school students and parents coming to the college, large schools have to structure their programs so that people aren't walking through the residence halls or library at all times. Alternatively, with advance notice, small colleges may tailor a visit program to your needs.

Pros of a Big Campus

  • Orientation, your residence hall, and other resources can help you to make friends. Finding your own group on campus can make a large college feel small.
  • Many large colleges divide up their academic programs and residence hall pairings to create smaller groups and a stronger sense of community.
  • Becoming involved in extracurricular activities can help (see below). Putting on an event, organizing a fundraiser, or supporting a team can let you feel a more personal connection to the overall student body.

Pros of a Small Campus

  • Chance encounters around campus can make you feel like you are part of a tight-knit community.
  • Small colleges can often provide more personalized support and attention, both during your visit and as a student. When you attend a large college, you need to be somewhat independent and proactive, especially with administrative or course-related issues.

Our Advice

During your campus visit, notice how and where students socialize and study. Ask the students you meet where people usually hang out. Also, learn about extracurricular programs, special academic opportunities, and residence halls to see how they create a sense of community.


If you attend college classes during your campus visit, you may notice that there is a huge variety of majors, programs, and courses at large colleges. Class sizes may also be bigger and may be held in a lecture hall; they typically become smaller as students reach more advanced courses. Also, a teaching assistant may lead certain classes instead of a professor.

Small colleges typically offer smaller class sizes and settings. When you sit in on these classes, the professor will likely be an integral part of the lesson, and students will often have the opportunity to ask questions, debate topics, and interact with one another.

Pros of a Big Campus

  • By having larger classes, students can usually take a wider variety of courses and choose from a host of majors (though getting into the courses they need may require careful planning.)
  • Professors typically hold office hours, so you should be able to meet with them as a student, especially if they are your academic advisor.
  • During your campus tour, you may also learn about research facilities, libraries, and laboratories that tend to be available at larger universities.

Pros of a Small Campus

  • Small classes may make it easier for you to interact with professors.
  • Though small colleges may not have the variety of majors that a large college offers, they may allow you to design your own area of study.
  • Small colleges may have research facilities that rival a large college, though they may only specialize in one or two areas of study.

Our Advice

During your campus visit or in preparation for your trip, check out the university's majors and courses in your intended area of study. This will give you an idea of whether the college is an academic fit. Then, use our College Trip Planner to schedule your classroom visits.

Student Activities

Both small and big colleges offer a variety of extracurriculars. While on campus, you might stop by the student union, be introduced to Greek life, check out the athletic facilities, or attend a game, a performance, or an outdoor festival.

Pros of a Big Campus

  • Big campuses may have more facilities for student organizations: state-of-the-art theaters, offices, conference centers, and fields. They may also have more funding for you to start your own organization.
  • Because big campuses have more students involved in more activities, you may find greater opportunities to socialize through extracurriculars.
  • If you want a college experience with a nationally-recognized sports program, big schools often trump small colleges and offer a wider variety of athletics.
  • If Greek life is important to you, big campuses tend to offer more options and a bigger social scene.

Pros of a Small Campus

  • You may find it easier to become part of or lead organizations because there is less competition from other students. Small colleges often encourage students to start organizations if their passion isn't already represented on campus.
  • Some small campuses still excel in specific athletic programs and compete at the national level. You can still get a game-day experience as the whole college throws its support behind the team.
  • Greek life may still be an option on a small campus.

Our Advice

Before your campus visit, contact students who are in leadership roles within the organizations you might want to join. Meet with them on campus and try to attend an event so you can get an inside view of what to expect. It's also a great chance for you to ask other questions about college and begin to envision your life on campus.

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