Does the size of a graduate program matter? Big vs Small Graduate Schools

Big vs small graduate schools: does graduate program size matter?

Big vs. Small Graduate Schools

For those thinking about graduate school, you may be focused on things like the types of programs available, what the schedule may be like, and the types of classes you may take. What about the program’s size? For many students, the size of a graduate program could play a role in their overall experience. Here’s what to think about when it comes to the big vs small graduate school debate.

One size definitely does not fit all when it comes to graduate school. Large graduate programs have several advantages over smaller ones. They offer students a well-known school name, numerous faculty mentors and course offerings, and some of the best research resources available. In a smaller program, however, students may find more abundant opportunities for graduate assistantships as well as options for individual attention and mentoring.

Every graduate student wants to be in a quality program, one with a recognizable and reputable name. Yet the name of the school is only part of the equation. Names of individual faculty members are just as important, perhaps even more so.

So, as you create a list of possibilities, consider the people with whom you will study as much as the overall reputation of the institution and its offerings in your field. You will find that exceptional professionals have made their academic homes at institutions of all sizes. Also, find out the extent to which you will be able to study one-on-one with anyone of interest at a particular institution. A person’s affiliation with a given program will not mean much to you unless you can actually interact.

What Colleges Are Considered Small or Large?

A small four-year, primarily residential school is one that may have between 1,000 and 2,999 students. A medium-sized school would typically have about 3,000 to 9,999 students who are primarily residential. Large residential schools are likely to have at least 10,000 students. These are just estimates and may differ from one school to another.

It is hard to say if a college is small or large just from a look at the graduate school programs. Consider four-year colleges. Many grad schools are located on the campuses of four-year colleges, though there are some that are just graduate schools.

There are differences from one college to the next. When it comes to college education sizes, be sure to focus on class sizes, too. Even on a large campus, it may be beneficial to some students to have a small class size. You may be able to request this information from the school to get clarity.

What Are the Benefits of Attending a Large University or Graduate School?

Attending a large university may have some benefits for students, especially those who hope to have access to a full-service campus and potentially more services. Though each differs, some larger schools tend to have more funding and support for on-campus amenities. This could include options for both educational and social purposes. In addition to this, larger campuses may mean more diversity for both the students and teachers. In some settings, there are more networking opportunities, too, simply because there are more people to interact with on an ongoing basis.

What Are the Benefits of Attending a Small University or Graduate School?

When it comes to small universities, some students may benefit from having access to more personalized attention from teachers since there are fewer students to focus on. This often means fewer student-to-professor ratios. For those who may be attending a graduate program and want extra support and more personalized attention from a professor or other advisor, this smaller setting could prove to be quite valuable to you.

What Are the Differences in Small vs Big Graduate Schools?

Graduate schools differ significantly for many reasons, not just because they are larger or smaller than each other. Often, private universities tend to be smaller, which means fewer students and more access to professors. By comparison, larger universities may mean larger class sizes and more students that the professors need to oversee and monitor. That could cut into some of the experience.

By contrast, some larger colleges and universities may offer more versatility and flexibility in terms of research programs, on campus amenities, and other services that some smaller colleges and universities may be unable to afford to offer.

Smaller graduate schools may have limited schedules, too, simply due to having fewer students on the campus or attending courses. For students who need more flexibility in when they finish their education, such as part-time programs or weekend courses, larger colleges may be able to offer more flexibility n that area as well.

Look beyond just these factors, though. For example, some smaller schools are well recognized for their academics or their leadership, which may create more networking opportunities than a local big school. Some larger programs offer significant financial support because they have more donations. Financial aid may be available to those who qualify.

For all of these reasons, students may wish to focus heavily on not just the size of the school but on what else the school has to offer. That may contribute to the student’s overall experience and satisfaction with their graduate education.

Some times the best things come in small packages

Opportunities for financial assistance of one kind or another vary widely, even between programs of similar size. Smaller programs typically offer excellent assistantships, though, often more attractive ones than those available at larger institutions. Money certainly is not everything, of course, but graduate assistantships provide more than that; they enable you to gain valuable experience.

So, if you find yourself choosing between a one-year research fellowship in a large program and a teaching assistantship that will last the duration of your study in a smaller program, you will want to consider your own financial need, the demand for teaching experience in your chosen career path, and the value attributed to a research fellowship in your field.

Large and in charge

One area in which smaller programs struggle to compete with larger ones is research resources. This is true for both laboratory facilities and libraries. Even so, a number of smaller programs have affiliations which lessen this disadvantage – depending on your needs.

For example, it is probably not vital for someone earning a master’s degree in the humanities to have the nation’s largest library right next door; interlibrary loans can probably compensate for any shortcomings in the local resources. On the other hand, students in the sciences may find it impossible to replicate the value of a specific laboratory or other research facility available at a Research I institution.

Ultimately, the size of any given program does not indicate its value. Excellent programs come in all sizes, so only you can determine which size is the right one for you. Good luck!

Ann van der Merwe is a singer and music historian based in southwest Ohio. She holds a B.M. in music performance and M.A. and Ph.D. degrees in music history.