The Big Benefits of Small Colleges

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Angela Della Croce ’15 is one of two Opinions editors. Angela is an Economics major.

Ms. Cook gave me an uneasy look as she scanned the final list of colleges I would be applying to.

“All small liberal arts colleges, huh? No larger research universities?”

She warned me that a small student body would be characterized by ‘cliqueness’; there would be a lack of diversity among the students. What if you don’t fit in? She was concerned that there wouldn’t be a wide enough selection of classes to satisfy my ‘intellectual appetite,’ not to mention poor dining options and little variety in the social scene on campus.

You would think a college advisor of her tenure would be a bit more open-minded, but then again, many of my peers were funneling into the larger research universities she thought so highly of. Despite her blatant disapproval, my college research had been extensive and my mind was set: I was going to one of those colleges on my list, and, looking back, I couldn’t have chosen a better time to follow my gut.

As a member of the Vassar student body, you’ve already made your wise decision to attend this incredible school. Your cost-benefit analysis already proved that Vassar is THE place to be. Those endless hours of viewing College Prowler and College Confidential paid off! But for those of you who were confronted by some form of Ms. Cook and are concerned some of the stigma that is attached to small liberal arts colleges is sweepingly true, let me be one to debunk some of those criticisms. While I can’t speak for all small liberal arts colleges, I can speak for the one we all care so deeply about—Vassar—and much of what my college advisor spouted is either overstated or simply untrue.

The notion that a small student body leaves a greater possibility to not mesh with anyone sounds logical on the surface but is certainly not the case at Vassar (and at several other small colleges). No matter who you are, where you come from, or what you believe in, you can and will find your niche somewhere on campus. Vassar students are not only diverse in their interests and backgrounds but, overall, are some of the most accepting, welcoming, and aware people I know. Reaching out to others on campus and getting to know them for the sake of friendliness and companionship is not uncommon. The small size and intimacy of the college provides a perfect environment for establishing new friendships. In fact, many of the people I know who go  to large universities have mentioned that they feel more isolated; it’s very difficult for them to make new friends, unless they are involved in Greek Life.

As for a small liberal arts’ lack of facilities in terms of classes, this argument is vastly exaggerated. Being on a smaller campus, with fewer buildings and professors than one that yields tens of thousands of students, there are bound to be fewer classes, but they are quite diverse, from a course on vampire literature to one about Environmental Economics; they suit the various intellectual interests of the students. Plus, the small class sizes and personal attention certainly make up any lack in the number of classes. Similarly, a smaller college will not have as many dining options, but Vassar has taken initiatives to offer healthier and more diverse foods. The University of Arizona, the college very close to my home, has many dining options, but most of them are commercial fast-food restaurants—certainly not the ideal meal plan for a healthy diet.

Ms. Cook’s last statement of these Vassar and Vassar-esque colleges having no social scene is simply false. There is usually so much happening on Vassar’s campus that most students have to prioritize what they want to do. We have lectures, a farmer’s market, The Mug, dorm house festivities, alternative programming in UPC, Tasty Tuesday, organization events, and so much more. The social life at Vassar is quite diverse and inclusive. I have never come across a college so adamant about making all students feel welcome, and I want to say it is because of its small size that we can attempt to personalize the college experience to almost everyone’s liking.

So to all of the Ms. Cooks out there: No college is perfect, and, as with any school, you will find your pet peeves about the institution. That being said, small liberal arts colleges offer much more than what many give them credit for, and in fact what some consider drawbacks are actually what make the college that much more attractive.

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