My daughter’s college search came down to a final four of 2 very large state universities and 2 small liberal arts colleges. Since before she started elementary school she had talked about going to a big school, and her top 2 seemed to be obvious winners: our state’s flagship university (of which I am a proud alum) and an even larger public school in a neighboring state (where she had played volleyball tournaments over 6 Memorial Day weekends).
But last summer we mixed in visits to a couple of smaller schools and she started re-envisioning college life. In the fall, several small liberal arts colleges found their way onto her application list. Her two smaller finalists included her mother’s alma mater (a small liberal arts college 3 hours from our home) and a liberal arts college over 6 hours away that we had never visited–but which she loved from her college guides and online research.
Over spring break my daughter and I visited that final school for the first time. Walking around in some of the heaviest rain I have ever seen, she was clearly on the campus she wanted to call home. Halfway through our visit she asked, “Can we stop by the bookstore before it closes?” I slowly replied, “Does that mean…?” and she confirmed: “This is the one.” At the bookstore she bought a sweatshirt and a lanyard, and then we finished exploring campus.
So WHY did she pick the smallest school on her list? Here are a few advantages my daughter sees:
- Value for humanities. Tour after tour of big schools last summer focused on science and engineering. But liberal arts colleges talked about their writing programs, humanities majors, etc. And she sees herself as an English or government major.
- Drama. My daughter loved her high school theatre experience, but she does not intend to major in drama. When she asked reps at the bigger schools, they told her theater majors had priority in casting. Reps at the smaller schools openly encouraged non-majors to audition.
- Sense of belonging. My wife attended a school of around 2,000. My school was closer to 35,000. She goes to reunions. I do not. She can tell you the names of everyone who joined the class after freshman year or who left before graduation. Impossible at my alma mater. If my wife runs into someone wearing a shirt from her school, it becomes a conversation. When I run into someone with a shirt from my school, it is more likely that it represents basketball or football fandom rather than a shared history. My daughter has chosen the small school community.
- Safety. Obviously, there are dangers on any college campus. But the smaller schools tend to be in small towns or–in the case of my daughter’s new school–in rural settings. Her campus literally borders a river, and the nearest intersection with so much as a gas station is a 5 minute drive. The nearest small town with a few stores is a 15 minute drive (or shuttle).
So how do her mother and I feel about our daughter’s choice? Surprised. But also peacefully happy for her. It is clear that she found her match….in a place where she almost never looked.