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Small liberal arts school vs big university


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#1 Janeway

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Posted 15 May 2017 - 03:26 PM

I really like the small liberal arts schools. I went to a huge state university. It was fine and ok. But, I knew people who went to the smaller schools and there seemed to be a real community feel with the profs and such. 

 

I know we are not needing to decide on anything now, I am just trying to get an idea to where to start. I know we do not even know what he will major in yet, and that is something that could dictate which direction he goes. 

 

But, I would love to hear the starting point, where everyone starts on all this. And when, what is a general time line, etc.



#2 dirty ethel rackham

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Posted 15 May 2017 - 05:14 PM

Have you read "Colleges that Change Lives" by Loren Pope?  This talks about the benefit of small LACs and choosing fit vs. prestige.  I personally prefer a smallish Liberal Arts College, even for STEM fields because of the closer interaction with professors.  I went to a Big Ten university and very few of my professors knew my name, even in my upper level classes which had smaller class sizes.  They rarely interacted with undergrads, and if they did, only the top 2 or 3 students in the program.  If you wanted to get involved in research, you had to be one of those tippy top students and you might be washing test tubes.  My oldest did research all 4 years, and got paid for 3 summers of research. 

 

My daughter is very torn on this subject.  She loves the energy of a bigger school.  She wants a larger school than her high school.  But, she loves the idea of the smaller schools where she gets personal attention and can get to know her professors.  We don't know where she will end up because it will likely come down to $$.  And, where we live, there are several smaller LACs that may be less expensive than our state schools due to the availability of scholarships at the LACs that are not available at our state schools. 

 

As far as the time line is concerned, people have differing opinions.  I think it is wise to start doing some interest and aptitude surveys during one's sophomore year.  I think doing a few college visits just to get an idea of size and feel early in the junior year and doing more second semester junior year is a good plan.  If you are traveling to an area that has a school you might be interested in, taking a few hours to visit the school can help the student visualize themselves at that school.    In our house, in order to maximize merit aid, we aim for all college applications to be done in early October.  Many of those merit awards are gone by December.  

 

ETA:  If you have a student who is scared of the process, I would schedule some visits at colleges that they definitely don't care about, just so that they get their feet wet in the process.  We did that with our oldest... we visited a nice school that wasn't high on our list but it was a good experience.  Meeting with the department head showed us that their program wasn't the best fit for ds (mostly pre-med, pre-dent biology department for an Evolution/Ecology/Behavior biology kid.) 


Edited by dirty ethel rackham, 15 May 2017 - 05:16 PM.

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#3 Margaret in CO

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Posted 15 May 2017 - 06:07 PM

I want to emphasize the previous post, that it's not uncommon for the small LAC to end up cheaper than the big uni! It's been that way for a number of my children! Several of my kids have done the smaller school for the undergrad and then the big uni for grad school. It's worked well. 



#4 happypamama

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Posted 15 May 2017 - 07:41 PM

Other people can talk about cost. I can only tell you my experiences.

I picked a very tiny liberal arts major at a huge university and loved every minute of it. I didn't really have any particular thoughts about big vs. small, and tbh, I first looked at the school because my boyfriend was there. (And he was there because he was originally in engineering, and they're strong on that.). So, the school would have had to be pretty unappealing for me not to want to apply there. But really, the first time his parents took me to visit him his freshman year, I fell in love with the school, and it felt right from the very beginning. I just knew. I never applied anywhere else.

I never really felt the sheer numbers of people (and DH and I are both very far from extroverts), except at football games. One really huge advantage for an introvert is that we could take easy, lecture-and-book only classes (no discussion or participation required) in our non major classes, leaving our energy for our major classes. Some of the big classes were taught by grad students, and some weren't, but even most of the grad students were very good. (Better than some of the head profs who taught intro level classes, anyway!). I had classes with 1000 students and one that had four (that was a graduate level seminar I took my last semester). It was really nice to be able to hide when I wanted to.

Being in a tiny major and also being in the small honors program helped get me the personal touch where I needed it. I got hooked up with my major's advisor my first year and maintained a close relationship with him the entire time. If I needed something, he or the honors department tried to make it happen. When DH was in engineering, they got him a research spot his second year.

So, big uni advantages and small LAC ones too. Best of both worlds. Otoh, my brother looked at the school because I was there, and he was totally overwhelmed with all the people from the first visit. He, a fellow introvert, was happy at a small LA school.

Now, twenty years after I chose the school, it became very apparent why it had been the right choice, but that has nothing to do with this thread at all.
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#5 JenneinAZ

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Posted 15 May 2017 - 08:44 PM

My daughter needs a university. She has potential interests as wide as civil engineering to astronomy to journalism, all of these are possible right now. Since she doesn't do change well picking a school that can support all those things was important. She is going to a smallish State University because it has everything and fits the money/selectivity/fit criteria.

My older son is a totally different kid. He doesn't need a small liberal arts school. He needs a small tech school. He knows exactly what he wants to do and more importantly what he doesn't want to do. He loves math and science and mostly computers. He is going to struggle to get through the general education requirements at any school. He needs to minimize the classes that he doesn't want to take and would do poorly in and take as many of the classes he does want to take and would do well in. We haven't found that school yet, but we are looking.
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#6 JanetC

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Posted 15 May 2017 - 11:04 PM

Small tech schools might include Rose Hulman and New Mexico Tech.
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#7 creekland

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Posted 16 May 2017 - 05:45 AM

Most kids start seriously looking at colleges their junior year of high school.  It's rare to see students younger than that on tours unless they are with siblings.

 

There are definitely advantages of large and small schools.  It's wise to consider and visit both to see which appeals more to the student.  Hubby and I enjoyed our large school experience.  Youngest and oldest have enjoyed their small school experience.  Middle has enjoyed his medium research school experience.  There really isn't a wrong choice overall.  It depends upon the student and what they want from a school.  Usually visits make the differences quite clear.


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#8 Gratia271

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Posted 16 May 2017 - 06:09 AM

Echoing what some others have said, we focused on fit and field of study. DD and I started exploring thoughts and ideas around 9th grade.  She got involved with a local university during the summers and stayed on campus several times, which actually helped give her a feel of campus life (at least somewhat).  Initially, she really thought she would want a smaller school, but as she advanced through high school she became much more attracted to a large university context.  Entering her senior year, she and I explored both types of campuses.  She enjoyed being with the students at all of the schools she visited but ruled out most schools on the basis of "fit" for her own reasons.

 

We were actually laughing about this recently when DD was telling people where she'd be attending this fall. In 9th and 10th grade, she would have sworn she'd be at a small to middle-sized school research uni. Now she'll be attending one of the largest campuses in the US.  So much can change.  I have two rising sophomores now, and we are kicking around ideas about what they think and they will be doing summer programs on campuses to get a sense of what they think of it. 

 

Depending on field of study as well as honors cohorts, students can have a close community within a very large context. 


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#9 Momto2Ns

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Posted 16 May 2017 - 09:58 AM

I'll add small, medium and large schools all have their own advantages. Ds attends a small private LA Univ, dd attends a medium (7,000-ish) State Univ. Dh and I also attended a medium size LA State Univ. None of us where big school people, but they have good points too.

 

I think the best way to get a feel for what your kids will prefer is to take a few tours. We toured small, medium and large. Ds hated large! He did DE at a large State U and didn't want any more of that. Dd thought small was too constrictive, but wanted to be in a small enough department to get to know people and not just be a number. Medium provided that for her. Some kids will see all the opportunities large provides and be in love. Let your kids find the answer for themselves.

 

 


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#10 Grantmom

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Posted 16 May 2017 - 04:16 PM

Now, twenty years after I chose the school, it became very apparent why it had been the right choice, but that has nothing to do with this thread at all.

 

Don't leave us hanging!   :lurk5:


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#11 Kinsa

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Posted 16 May 2017 - 05:16 PM

As others have said, there are advantages and disadvantages to both types of schools.  I can give you our experiences, if you're interested.

 

For myself, I went to a big city for college after growing up in a rural area.  I *thought* I wanted a small LAC so I wouldn't be overwhelmed with life in the big city.  It took me a couple of years, but I eventually learned that I didn't fit in at that school.  At this private LAC, I was "the poor" student (financially), and I could NOT relate to the lifestyle of the other students, nor they with mine.  I transferred during my junior year to a state university, and I was much happier there.  It caused me to graduate in December instead of the previous May like my friends did, but it was worth it to me.

 

My two oldest boys are introverted and not confident in themselves.  I knew that we needed small colleges for them.  They are both attending small private colleges (one @1500 students, the other @ 3000 students), and it has been a good fit for them.  They receive the individual attention they need to succeed, and they aren't overwhelmed with the huge student bodies.  However, the disadvantage is that the course offerings are limited.  For example, my rising-senior son needs a class to graduate next May, but the class he needs is offered only on odd-numbered years in the fall semester only.  Oops!  Still not sure what we're going to do about that one.  We will be calling the advisor this week.  (LOL)

 

My third son is very outgoing, "everyone's friend", and very confident in himself.  We knew he would HATE a college like his older brothers attend.  He is at a large state university (@30,000 students) and he is thriving.  He has found a niche in the honors program at that school, so in a sense he is in a somewhat smaller clique within the larger student body. 

 

Different strokes for different folks.  But I am convinced that there *IS* a perfect fit school for each and every student out there.  Colleges are so different from each other, just as different as students are different from each other.  It really is worth the effort to take time to find schools that fit the students.


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#12 happypamama

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Posted 16 May 2017 - 06:11 PM

Don't leave us hanging! :lurk5:

Ah, yes. So, I married that boyfriend after we graduated, moved around a bit, and had a bunch of kids with him, all low intervention, out of the hospital. It turns out that the top NICU/hospital in our area is our big university's teaching hospital (even though we're two hours from our uni), and their logo and mascot are splashed everywhere around the facility. So when things went badly with our sixth baby, I ended up at that hospital, way out of my comfort zone. It became apparent that as a seventeen year old, I'd needed to choose that uni because God knew that twenty-two years later, I would need to be okay with birthing and then leaving my one-pound 26 weeker in the hospital, and that was probably the one place I could handle it. I know it sounds crazy, but my brain really did think of it as an extension of one of my favorite places instead of a scary hospital, and it let me relax and realize that my baby and I were in as good hands as possible.

But yeah, I don't think I'd recommend that as a strategy for picking a college!

Edited by happypamama, 16 May 2017 - 06:12 PM.

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#13 Arcadia

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Posted 16 May 2017 - 06:57 PM

My kids have toured a few universities in a few countries and preferred big universities. They prefer big campuses that would take more than a day to walk around. Hopefully a few libraries too instead of one library for the entire campus.

It turns out that the top NICU/hospital in our area is our big university's teaching hospital (even though we're two hours from our uni), and their logo and mascot are splashed everywhere around the facility.
...
But yeah, I don't think I'd recommend that as a strategy for picking a college!


My university hostelmate had a lung collapse and was unconscious. He would have died if one of the resident fellows (lecturers) did not rush him to the university hospital down the hill next door (literally). An ambulance would have taken longer to make the round trip from hospital to hostel to hospital. He had emergency surgery.

I had always preferred a university which has a hospital on-site as I had continued vision therapy while in university. Also great for urgent care services when the university health services is closed for the day/weekends.
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#14 wintermom

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Posted 17 May 2017 - 09:08 AM

I was an introverted, shy youth, and went to a big university (at least by Canadian standards - there were over 30,000 students 30 years ago). I felt swallowed up in the huge classes of 300 students, but didn't necessarily "love" the smaller classes with my peers in my particular program, either. The classes I really loved were my foreign language classes. Those classes were never my major or minor, simply available options to fulfill my program. In the big university I could choose from masses of optional classes that would never have been available at a small college. 

 

Later, I attended a very small college in residence and felt completely claustrophobic. Too small, not enough variety of classes or people, not enough "real life" for me. 

 

For my dc, I'm going to have them explore a variety of school options, but ultimately it will be the program that they get accepted to which also has the most options. 


Edited by wintermom, 17 May 2017 - 09:10 AM.

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#15 Grantmom

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Posted 18 May 2017 - 04:32 PM

Great story, happypamama!  Glad it all had a happy ending!  It helps to know that we are often right where we are supposed to be!  (Even at times when we aren't so sure!)   :grouphug:


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#16 8FillTheHeart

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Posted 18 May 2017 - 05:02 PM

My Dd felt the same way as Wintermom. She thought she wanted a small campus but after visiting, sitting in classes, and doing overnights, she found the small campuses claustrophobic and much preferred large state universities over small privates. She thought the small privates had far less diversity (especially in thought) than the large campuses.
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#17 Penguin

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Posted 19 May 2017 - 10:07 AM

My DS just graduated from a very small campus. My only concern was that, if he wanted to change majors, there were only about five majors available. 

 

The school was located in Europe and students were from all corners of the world, so there was an abundance of diversity. The professors and the students really got to know each other.

 

He seems very satisfied with his undergrad experience. It really just depends on the student - different kids have different needs/wants.

 

ETA: I start taking my kids on campus tours in 11th grade. I am thinking now about my current 10th grader and where might suit him.

 

 


Edited by Penguin, 19 May 2017 - 10:39 AM.

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#18 J-rap

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Posted 19 May 2017 - 10:28 AM

My kids all ended up at smaller schoolers, some by choice and some more by chance.  They had good experiences there.  I think it really gave them an opportunity to shine, whereas at a bigger university some might have blended in too much to be noticed.  However, I think one or two of my children would have enjoyed the challenge and greater array of opportunities of a bigger university.  I guess there's pros and cons to both.

 

I went to a small liberal arts college and always wished I hadn't.  I absolutely loved the energy of a big university.  I think I would have thrived in that environment.  I felt a little stifled in the smaller college I went to, even though it was a really good one.


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#19 Attolia

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Posted 20 May 2017 - 08:10 AM

I haven't read other replies but I highly suggest that you visit the different types of campuses and see where your ds feels more comfortable.  DD visited the small schools, the medium schools, and the large schools and she by far liked the medium schools more (4,000-10,000 range).  She is a quieter girl so everyone was shocked that she didn't want a super small school. DD loves diversity and she loves being around lots of different types of people. She also didn't want a huge school either though.  The professor relationships at small schools are really cool and she almost chose a small school based solely on her love for the professors in the english department.  In the end, she wanted more going on around her and finances drew her to a medium sized private university.  


Edited by Attolia, 20 May 2017 - 08:11 AM.

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#20 angela in ohio

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Posted 21 May 2017 - 10:02 AM

I have a daughter at a huge state school (44,000+) and a daughter at a tiny school (under 400 students total.) It is definitely a different experience.

 

One thing I always hear people say is that you can make a big school smaller. I think that is nearly impossible, honestly. Dd is in a living learning community with just over one hundred students, but they don't all have classes together, so you still end up feeling like you are at a huge school all the time. It will get easier once the majors narrow down the class options, but for the first two years, it is definitely a huge school. And those first two years, the first especially, are when it matters the most.

 

In general, the daily tasks of life are easier at a small school. That's a big part of feeling comfortable. How much time, energy, and stress do eating, travelling on campus, dealing with administrative tasks, etc. take? We've seen that it is easier to do those things in a small school. That leaves more physical and mental space for academics.

 

There were many other things we thought we would be different (amount of opportunities, etc.) that just aren't as much of a difference as we thought they would be.

 

Each chose their school for their specific needs, but overall, based on what I have seen with my girls and friends' children, I will be recommending a smaller school to my youngest when he is looking for a college.


Edited by angela in ohio, 21 May 2017 - 10:02 AM.


#21 teachermom2834

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Posted 21 May 2017 - 12:39 PM

My ds is at a very small school (less than 1200 students). It is a good fit for him. I went to a Big Ten school and I marvel at the ease of day to day life and administrative tasks at the small school. My ds likes that he can walk into the cafeteria and know there will be someone there he knows. He likes that after one visit to financial aid the staff remembers him and his issues.

While there are definitely fewer opportunities at the small school, the ones that exist are easily accessible. He is an athlete and belongs to several clubs. Organizations can't be picky about their members because they need all the bodies they can get. Student govt understands if he misses for his sport. Intramurals directors schedule flag football games around sports schedules. People are flexible because they need the bodies. He has decided to join a fraternity but already told the guys (because he knows some of them) that he refuses to do ridiculous hazing and that he doesn't drink. They are fine with that.

So, for my ds the small school has allowed him to participate in lots of things. More than at a large university where no one would need his participation enough to work around his schedule. His small school is also in a major city which allows for spreading his wings more than a small school in a remote area.

There is the issue of fewer course offerings and there is a high school feel of everyone knowing your business. Ds had an old ex girlfriend show up unexpectedly at a game of his. He was the talk of campus for a few days. He didn't love that.
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#22 frogger

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Posted 22 May 2017 - 10:41 AM


My older son is a totally different kid. He doesn't need a small liberal arts school. He needs a small tech school. He knows exactly what he wants to do and more importantly what he doesn't want to do. He loves math and science and mostly computers. He is going to struggle to get through the general education requirements at any school. He needs to minimize the classes that he doesn't want to take and would do poorly in and take as many of the classes he does want to take and would do well in. We haven't found that school yet, but we are looking.

 

 

If you find one, let me know. :)  My boy doesn't want to use all his mental energy on learning a new language he will likely never be fluent in or similar endeavors. Especially if they only require one class!  He is super quiet though and I don't know how he would do in a big university. His world is so small now that it really needs expanded but he is soooooo comfortable in a small world. Right now he is most interested in Nuclear Engineering or Electrical Engineering. The E.E. isn't hard to find but the Nuclear is pretty restrictive.  



#23 Arcadia

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Posted 22 May 2017 - 12:32 PM

My older son is a totally different kid. He doesn't need a small liberal arts school. He needs a small tech school. He knows exactly what he wants to do and more importantly what he doesn't want to do. He loves math and science and mostly computers. He is going to struggle to get through the general education requirements at any school. He needs to minimize the classes that he doesn't want to take and would do poorly in and take as many of the classes he does want to take and would do well in. We haven't found that school yet, but we are looking.


University of Waterloo is our first backup. Older can deal with gen ed requirements in a grouchy get it done manner but younger is likely to flounder. Besides younger is very much a co-op kind of kid and has aeronautical engineering as first choice but would be happy with almost anything hands on. We are looking at touring UBC as well. My husband studied so hard for his financial accounting, economics, sociology and law modules when in engineering and still scored worse than me who studied three days before the exam and skipped all the lectures. He has permanent phobia of general education requirements :( He was "cruising" as an exchange student at U of Waterloo, the core modules were easier than our alma mater.

Edited by Arcadia, 22 May 2017 - 12:34 PM.


#24 RootAnn

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Posted 22 May 2017 - 05:10 PM

Right now he is most interested in Nuclear Engineering or Electrical Engineering. The E.E. isn't hard to find but the Nuclear is pretty restrictive.  

 

How big is too big? Is under 10,000 too big? (Missouri S&T) The Nuclear Eng BS doesn't look too bad as far as required non-eng. classes. I counted six total - including Econ, one Am. History class, one English class, and two more humanities/social science classes (on some list). Not sure where the sixth class comes in. Foreign language not required as long as you met the admissions requirements



#25 frogger

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Posted 22 May 2017 - 07:39 PM

How big is too big? Is under 10,000 too big? (Missouri S&T) The Nuclear Eng BS doesn't look too bad as far as required non-eng. classes. I counted six total - including Econ, one Am. History class, one English class, and two more humanities/social science classes (on some list). Not sure where the sixth class comes in. Foreign language not required as long as you met the admissions requirements

 

 

Wow, they have a decent merit scholarships too but it would still be a stretch.  We will have to look into this one further. I forgot to add the lack of money as a qualifier. It definitely makes a difference!  It is hard to beat University of New Mexico or Arizona State considering money but debt could be worth it. It is so hard to know. 


Edited by frogger, 22 May 2017 - 09:00 PM.

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#26 Bluegoat

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Posted 22 May 2017 - 09:24 PM

I went to a LAC of about 1000 students that is associated with a large research school with many professional programs.  It really was the best of both worlds.  I know the same thing can be fount at the University of Toronto - a big school, but students also belong to a smaller college within the university.  Perhaps there are some schools in the US with a similar set-up.


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#27 teachermom2834

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Posted 23 May 2017 - 12:11 PM

With the small LAC the lack of class availability is an issue. Definitely check with the school about their commitment to providing classes and getting the students what they need. My ds is dating a girl with a less common major. The school has promised that they would offer the classes she needed even if she was the only one that needed it. On our tour the guides said that it is not unusual to at some point end up as the only student in a class and then you have a one on one with the professor for the semester.

Now...that is obviously not ideal for everyone and for each situation but my ds would actually love a one on one course with a quality teacher as a mentor.

The small LACs surely vary in their commitment to the students and getting them the courses they need. My ds is in a major city so they also have agreements to cross register classes at other colleges in the area.
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#28 frogger

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Posted 23 May 2017 - 01:04 PM

I went to a LAC of about 1000 students that is associated with a large research school with many professional programs.  It really was the best of both worlds.  I know the same thing can be fount at the University of Toronto - a big school, but students also belong to a smaller college within the university.  Perhaps there are some schools in the US with a similar set-up.

 

 

An example of that in the US might be Barrett Honor College which is part of Arizona State University. 



#29 JanetC

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Posted 24 May 2017 - 05:34 PM

An example of that in the US might be Barrett Honor College which is part of Arizona State University.


Barrett has about 6000 students, so quite a bit bigger.

#30 frogger

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Posted 24 May 2017 - 08:20 PM

Wow, I was thinking of the college within a university bit and that is bigger than I expected.



#31 Ravin

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Posted 24 May 2017 - 08:40 PM

Shouldn't this be up to the student?

#32 SeaConquest

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Posted 25 May 2017 - 12:07 AM

With the small LAC the lack of class availability is an issue. Definitely check with the school about their commitment to providing classes and getting the students what they need. My ds is dating a girl with a less common major. The school has promised that they would offer the classes she needed even if she was the only one that needed it. On our tour the guides said that it is not unusual to at some point end up as the only student in a class and then you have a one on one with the professor for the semester.

Now...that is obviously not ideal for everyone and for each situation but my ds would actually love a one on one course with a quality teacher as a mentor.

The small LACs surely vary in their commitment to the students and getting them the courses they need. My ds is in a major city so they also have agreements to cross register classes at other colleges in the area.


I went to an LAC of 1000 people, and we never had an issue getting classes. But, I went to a school with a very large endowment. I wouldn't trade in my LAC experience for anything. It was fabulous.
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