I was on FaceTime with my friend who goes to a Big Ten school as she went to fill up her water in her residence hall. She went down a few flights, and my screen showed a gray ceiling or carpet whirling by in a hallway with doors crammed together. I sat comfortably in my room, on my floor of about 30 people and my residence hall of three floors, while she made her way through the flights of stairs numbered in the teens. Living in a cozy dorm where I know (most of) the people is just one minor perk of picking a medium or small school.
A year ago, when I had received acceptances from colleges across the country with big campuses and even bigger names, I thought the quality of the school or the experience could be judged by how well-known it was. I visited and fell in love with just about every campus I saw until it was spring, and I still wasn't wearing a T-shirt for a university or talking about the search for a roommate. My sister, who is two years older than I am, went to Miami University, but this made me overthink things even more. Should I go there because she does? Should I not go there because she does, so I can be my own person and have my own experience?
But come decision time, my attention turned to the finances of it all. The bigger schools were so much more expensive. They sent me letters and recognized my academics yet gave me zero scholarship money. I thought maybe if I made an appointment and tried to argue my case to the big, beautiful school they would help me out. But instead, we made the two-hour drive and couldn't find the right office. They redirected us from department to department, each sounding vaguely like they would do the same thing. After nobody could help us, and a solemn lunch in the downtown area that was begrudgingly delicious, I began to accept that I would not go to the school that has games on TV and alumni everywhere you go.
I was still unbelievably excited to go to Miami and in love with the school. I started to wear the shirts daily and make jokes about how we are not in Florida. I knew it was a good university with a beautiful campus, and ultimately every experience is what you make of it. Miami isn't necessarily small; it's classified as a medium school and got nods of approval from people from my hometown. In Illinois, everyone I mentioned it to seemed to know someone who went there or was currently there. I realized that even if it doesn't have hundreds of thousands of alumni, it was a community that reached far and wide. This has only been reaffirmed as I have been on campus and met people from every corner of the country.
I began to talk with other girls about being roommates, and though I did not end up being roommates with any of them, one of the girls I talked to sat next to me in my intro to religion class on the first day of school, and now we are good friends. That coincidence may not have happened had I been crammed into a lecture hall with hundreds of other students. I still run into people from my orientation group around campus. My small floor has game nights and watches "The Bachelor" together. I've even walked the president's dog, basically a celebrity.
I've taken classes with just 12 people, had an internship, and gotten involved in clubs I couldn't do at a university the size of a small city. Some people dream of being in a football stadium that could cause an earthquake, and that's perfect for them. But I love my professors knowing my name, running into friends at the dining hall and being able to get into sports games. Don't overlook the smaller school on your list, because it could be exactly what you need.