Choosing a college is a complicated decision, made up of a lot of factors, and one of the things that every college-bound student should consider is the size of college they want. Going to a small college is a unique experience. It might not be what media and popular ideas would make you think of as “the college experience.” But is it worth it? For sure it is. As an alum of a small college myself, I would say the experience is in many ways better than what you might get at a larger school.
St. John’s College is smaller than many of high schools, with an incoming freshman class usually hovering around 140 students at our Annapolis campus and 100 in Santa Fe. The total student body, including both campuses, is usually just around 1000. In fall of 2022, we have a freshman class of 241 across both campuses, and a total student body of 981. With some of our students coming from graduating classes of upwards of 500 students, our numbers may seem shockingly small.
Many students are seeking freedom and new opportunities in college, including the freedom to reinvent themselves and be their authentic self, free from the expectations put on them by the people who have known them all their lives. This freedom can actually be found in any college environment – large or small. No matter the size of the new community, the people you meet at college aren’t going to be the same people you went to college with, especially if you leave your hometown or even your home state. (Which St. John’s, with its two campuses across the country from each other, makes easy.) You will still be in a fresh environment at a smaller school, still able to meet new people, make new friends, and redefine yourself as you want.
In fact, if you choose the right small college, you might have even better chances of finding the people you want to get to know in college. Small colleges are often friendly environments, with a better chance of getting to know the people around you, since you’ll be interacting with the same people more often. A small college might also have a student body that is more likely to be interested in the same things as you, if it’s a college that specializes in one thing.
St. John’s, for instance, has its own distinct social environment, which we find suits the people that come here quite well! You won’t find lots of big parties, fraternities and sororities, or large sporting events – other than croquet in Annapolis – here. Social life focuses more on interest clubs, study groups, and friendly intramural sports. In Santa Fe, there are also lots of opportunities to enjoy outdoor activities like hiking, skiing, climbing, camping, and more!
There are also academic advantages to choosing a small college. At St. John’s, none of our classes are bigger than 21 students, and we have a faculty to student ratio of 7:1. Our professors, or tutors as we call them, are available for lunch or coffee with students and discuss every paper with you in one-on-one meetings. At a smaller college, you will get more access to your professors, less competition for academic resources, and more space to talk in class. This gives you a better platform for good academic outcomes, and more of an opportunity to learn the things that are important to you.
St. John’s takes advantage of our small class sizes to provide better academic experiences across the board. For example, our preceptorials — our elective classes for juniors and seniors — are usually classes of five to eight students, studying topics nominated by students and selected by the professor running the class. The St. John’s approach, combining these small classes sizes, hands-on work like in our lab program, and enthusiastic faculty, is an excellent way to learn, better than a lecture or a textbook by far.
At a larger college, you might find your access to academic resources limited by availability. You might find yourself learning in overcrowded lectures, you might have access to your professors only during limited office hours, and you might receive grades decided on a curve. At a college like St. John’s, you won’t have these problems, in large part due to a smaller student body.
It can be intimidating to head out to college, and you might feel that you’ll be giving up opportunities by choosing to go to a small college. However, you’ll find other opportunities in their place. If you give up the chance to join a fraternity, you gain the chance to join a small art club that will help your talents flourish. If you give up the chance for large parties, you gain waltz and swing parties, and the opportunity to perform in Collegium (our annual talent show). If you give up football, you gain croquet or archery. You might also gain good friends, unique experiences, and a beautiful campus environment – like our Santa Fe campus, recently voted by Architectural Digest as the second most beautiful college campus in the U.S.!
Where you choose to go to college is always a personal choice. You shouldn’t, however, make that choice in fear of missing out on the so-called “college experience.” Don’t pass on a college that might just be perfect for you just because it’s smaller. Focus on the important things, like finding a place that will be a good social and academic fit for you, one that will help you succeed in your goals and learn what you want to.