As a tour guide, I meet a lot of prospective students on a daily basis who are trying to find the perfect college of university where they want to live and learn for the next four years of their life. It is a really big decision to make as it may affect the rest of your life. It is the place where you have the chance to become anything you want to be, re-invent yourself and master things you never thought you could and where you are responsible for yourself.
When I was a senior in school in Germany and was trying to find colleges in the U.S. that I wanted to apply to, I had no idea of the differences between big universities, state universities, private liberal arts colleges and so on. In Germany, we pretty much only have your standard big universities apart from a few private colleges which offer a limited selection of majors mostly related to business or finance. So I just applied to whichever places seemed to have a good reputation. With some luck and totally unexpected, I ended up at my lovely small private liberal arts college in the middle of cornfields in rural Ohio. Currently, however, I am studying abroad (actually closer to home) at University College London (UCL) for my whole junior year. UCL is a really really big school in a huge city and it does not have a campus but is spread out in one area of the city. When I applied, I thought it should not be a big difference going to school here than at my college in the US but I was wrong. While I enjoy it here, I wanted to share with you why I personally am really glad I made the decision to go to the College of Wooster instead of some big universities I was looking at.
First of all, living on campus with only roughly 2000 other students means that you get to hang out with your friends all the time, you don't have a 45 minute (1 hour during peak times) commute to your classes but can wake up 10 minutes before it starts and probably still make it on time. Also, if you go to a party, you don't have to worry when the last tube goes or how on earth the night bus system works because you can simply walk back to your residence or on-campus house. While dining halls may at first not seem as though they are the greatest option, they save you tons of time and you can simply go there and eat as much food as you want, whenever you want. You do not have to worry about grocery shopping on a budget, you don't have to cook and you can eat with friends whenever you want. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy cooking my own food and making decisions on what I eat, but grocery shopping is stressful and takes a lot of time out of your day and if you don't have a car, you have to carry everything back to your apartment, which makes you think twice about buying heavy things like butternut squash. When it comes to social events, yes, you may have a billion more choices in a city like London, New York, or Chicago but keep in mind that they are really expensive. On campus on the other hand, there's always fun things to do and you can join clubs and go to a movie night or go to a freaking musical festival or a concert without having to pay a single penny.
These are some pretty good reasons why I think prospective students are well off at a liberal arts college, but here are the more important reasons:
You do not realize how amazing small class sizes are with professors that teach you every week until you do not have that anymore.
You may complain about how there are 30 people in your one class but believe me, sitting in a class with 150 to 200 students is far worse. Not only is there more coughing (there is literally always someone coughing, I don't know why) but the professor or grad student comes in, lectures you on something and leaves. They might only be teaching that one lecture and you will never see them again. There are no class discussions, no real time for questions, no small class discussions or anything to make sure you understand the material. You simply go, take notes (or just stare at your phone or scroll through Facebook like some people) and leave. What if you have a question or something interests you and you want to know more about it? Too bad, guess you will have to find out by yourself. What if a grad student is teaching you may be really good at research but horrible at presenting and goes over new concepts far too quickly? Too bad, something about it will probably be on your exam and all you have is the powerpoint with barely any text. Also, there are no office hours and some of the people who hold lectures only work at the university one day a week and otherwise, for example, work in their own clinical practice. It is impossible to get a hold of them and quite frankly, I doubt they care about whether the students understood the material.
At a small college, you get to know people in your classes and you can work with them but at a big university, it's really hard to get to know others because everyone leaves right after class and all you do in class is take notes.
Professors at small liberal arts colleges are really great at teaching and genuinely care about their students and can act as mentors. I have walked past professors' offices and ended up chatting with them and formed ideas for possible research topics or for summer internships etc. They are also ready to help you any time and want you to learn as much as you can, which you really do, compared to a big university. Class discussions may seem a bit awkward at first but they are actually so useful in developing critical thinking skills and furthering your understanding of the topic.
Yes, small liberal arts colleges tend to be in rural college towns and yes, you may think you want to just party and have fun and not be "trapped" on campus but actually, going to a liberal arts college is the best thing you can do in terms of academics, personal development and social development. You have the support you need to become great and move on to changing the world in whatever way that may be. Big universities mostly get their prestigious reputation because they are really good at research, not because they excell at teaching. However, that kind of research really only happens at a graduate level and you are only an undergrad. You can still get into a PhD program at one of the top 10 schools in the world. When you apply with your degree from your liberal arts school, with all your experiences working one on one with a professor in research or volunteering or interning, your good grades earned by learning from good professors, and the stellar letter of recommendations you receive from people who actually got to know you in the course of 4 years, chances are that you be a promising applicant to whichever program or job you may choose.
So don't worry when people have never heard the name of your school before, you will impress them by the excellence of your training and education as well as knowledge of global issues and social injustices.