When I was looking for colleges three years ago, I had very little idea of what I wanted. I was the oldest (and therefore first) in my family to go to college in this new generation, so I didn't have any older siblings or cousins to look to for advice on the 2000s college experience. I also had the minor problem of hating the "college visit" experience. I was never a fan of the overly-peppy tour guides, the staged presentation of the university, and the long presentations about financial aid, student life, academics, and more.
Couple that with the fact that I was looking for colleges in the Midwest – which meant that it was almost always too hot, too cold, or too rainy to be outside taking a tour- and I was definitely NOT a fan. To try to cut down on the number of visits in light of having no idea of what I want, my family and I decided the best course of action was to look at schools of three different sizes first and then pick a school in that size range that I was interested in based on distance, academics, and/or student life.
And thus my college visit plan was laid out by the beginning of my junior year of high school. (Hard to imagine that it was already four years ago!) I knew fairly quickly just from reading that I didn't want a really small school so that limited me to either mid-sized or big schools. The first middle-sized school I looked at Bradley University in Peoria, Illinois. Wonderful school, but a little too close to home. I wanted the college experience of living on my own, but I couldn't economically rationalize paying for a dorm room when I technically drove a farther distance to my high school than I would have been driving to Bradley. I did, however, like the size of a mid-sized school and kept looking at similar institutions.
I also, per my parents' request, looked at larger schools. I took a tour of their alma mater, the University of Illinois, and I was certain about 15 minutes into the tour of the campus that this wasn't for me. This is nothing against the school itself; in fact, I had been visiting the U of I since I was a kid as my family made return trips for athletic events. (Yes, I was at the Wake Forest game in '05 season.) But regardless of how great those experiences had been, I couldn't wrap my head around the vast size of the school itself. I was used to a smaller grade school and high school environment, and the sheer number of people I saw walking around that day was too much for me to feel comfortable. It didn't feel personalized, and I didn't want to get lost in the sea of people. My brother goes to the U of I now and loves his experience there so far. So it is the best choice for some people, but it definitely wasn't for me.
So now that I had the mid-sized school decided upon, but ruled out the one closest to home, I started looking outwards from Illinois. After visiting a few different campuses, I settled on Butler University, a manageable 3-hour drive to Indianapolis. I couldn't be happier with this decision and wouldn't change it for the world. I love the personal atmosphere- the relationships I form with the professors and the fact that they actually know my name. I like the open atmosphere in the classrooms and the freedom to share my opinions without feeling like I am addressing (or actually addressing) an auditorium full of people. I like being able to walk from class to class and recognize and talk with the people I see. And I love that while Butler is able to have some of the big-school amenities (like an amazing basketball team to watch every year), it maintains a feeling of home that I don't think I would find at a larger school.
Like I said earlier, different size schools and better for different people. Some people like the anonymity, while others like attention. Some people prefer something in between. I would say, however, that a mid-sized school has a perfect balance of each, and I would highly encourage anyone struggling through the college selection process to give a mid-sized school a chance.