Size doesn’t really matter (yes, I said it).


I periodically scan the Washington Post blog Admissions 101, and recently came across a ridiculous debate about school size. The author, my longtime acquaintance Jay Matthews, asserted that large schools offer more options, then noted that he received a ton of feed back that smaller schools do an even better job of helping students look at options.
That’s just hooey (that’s a technical term). I have worked and consulted for small and large schools, attended a medium sized school for my undergraduate and masters, and a very large school for my PhD. The reality is that there are very large schools where students can have very limited options, either because they have such structured programs that it is hard to explore more than one possibility, or because their programs are so “siloed” and slow to change that many are outdated – interestingly, you can find small schools with exactly the same problems. Of course, there are also large schools that give every bit of the depth and range of options Jay describes, but in fairness there are smaller institutions that give nearly as much if not more. The assumption many make is that smaller schools give more personal attention. That is surely true of many, but there are also plenty that fail thoroughly in that respect, just as there are large schools that do exceptionally well at giving personal attention.
Bottom line – the idea that the volume of students attending a school is the best indicator of options or attention is entirely misleading, a glaring logical misconception. The culture, programs, atmosphere, and policies of institutions are the source of attention (or inattention), as well as array of options (or lack thereof). Of course, Mason is the perfect example of the best of both worlds – giving personal service with a phenomenal range of options and cutting edge programs. All right…I may be just WEE bit biased. Be seeing you.

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One Response

  1. Dean — Thanks for the lead on the Washington Post blog. Is it possible that they don’t have an RSS feed?!?

    I really appreciate this post and your attention to the details. It seems that kids/parents/everyone buys into these generalizations about big schools vs. small schools, etc. In sports it’s DI vs. DII and DIII. Everyone seems to think that DI means “the best,” DII means “second best,” and DIII means “uh, not so good.”

    This couldn’t be further from the truth. If you’re interested, here’s a podcast we did on the topic recently: http://www.captainu.com/buzz/243-the-real-differences-between-division-i-division-ii-and-division-iii.

    I’d love to hear your thoughts. – Avi

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