If you are embarking on your college search, you may be feeling overwhelmed by the range of colleges and universities that are available. Through the Common Application alone, you can apply to 456 schools. There are over 4000 colleges and universities in the United States. To help you begin to narrow-down your search, here are the basics about some common types of 4 year, Bachelor’s degree granting institutions.
Liberal Arts Colleges (e.g. Amherst, Swarthmore, Oberlin) are small with close-knit communities. Typically, they have fewer than 5000 undergraduate students, and very few graduate students. Class sizes are small, most of the classes are taught by professors, and you will be expected to participate in the classroom. Academically, you will be encouraged (if not required!) to explore a wide range of academic fields before focusing on your major. Liberal Arts Colleges may be smaller and have fewer resources than a large university, but undergraduate students have access to just about everything the college has to offer. Living in the dormitories is encouraged, and students are heavily engaged in campus life.
Private Research Universities (e.g. Tulane, NYU, Boston University, Cornell) are larger than Liberal Arts Colleges, and may have thousands of graduate students, but rarely have more than 20,000 undergraduate students. These universities frequently have more than one college or school. As a college applicant, you may have to indicate which school you are applying to (college of engineering, school of education, college of liberal arts, etc). This allows you to be more focused in your academic field from the beginning. Professors are dedicated to research in their fields, but also committed to undergraduate teaching. There will be at least some small classes for undergraduates, but your class sizes may simply be larger here. As an undergraduate, you may have to compete for some resources with graduate students, but the facilities and opportunities will be very high quality. Campus life at these universities is vibrant and active, but many students may live off-campus.
Public Research Universities (e.g. University of Wisconsin, SUNY Binghamton, Penn State) range in size, but may have between 15,000 and 50,000 undergraduate students, in addition to thousands of graduate students. Most likely, there will be several colleges or schools at the university, and you will have to indicate your choice on your application. Class sizes are probably going to be larger, and you can expect to have a lot of lecture courses. Professors are primarily interested in research and working with graduate students, but many professors teach courses, as well. Laboratory and research facilities will be strong, but you may have to compete for access. These schools are often located in great college towns where a significant percentage of the population is affiliated with the university. You also have the excitement of big-time Division I athletics. With huge student populations, there is no shortage of things to do, but you may have to be pro-active to find what you want.
As you continue in your college search, you can use this guide to help determine what type of schools you want to consider, and where you think you could be the most successful academically, personally, and socially.