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How To Choose a College

Choosing a college is one of the most important decisions you can make as a young adult. As you review admissions materials, take virtual tours and visit campuses in person, you’re bound to have questions.

Students walking on campus.

Here are three of the most important ones to ask as you weigh your options:

1. What size college do I want to attend?

The size of a college or university—its campus, student body and academic and extracurricular offerings—can directly affect your learning experience.

Small institutions (with fewer than 5,000 students) typically include liberal arts colleges. These campuses pride themselves on smallish class sizes and individualized attention. And because you see the same faces frequently, you’re likely to strike up friendships with professors and fellow students. What these tightknit communities might lack in academic or social opportunities, they make up for with a great sense of belonging.

Large institutions (with more than 15,000 students) are known for offering a wide range of degree programs, state-of-the-art facilities, illustrious faculty, Division I athletic programs, Greek life and a strong alumni base. While large universities can sometimes feel impersonal, they compensate by offering strong advisory and academic support.

That’s why many students prefer medium-sized institutions (5,000-15,000 students) because they combine the best of both worlds—the intimacy of a small campus with the resources, research portfolio and school spirit of a big university.

Ultimately, the choice is yours. Do you want to be a big fish in a small pond or a small fish in a big pond? Each has its advantages.

2. Do I want a liberal arts college or a research university?

You’ve likely heard admissions officers talk about “liberal arts colleges” and “research universities,” but what’s the difference?

A liberal arts education is broad-based. Courses in the natural and social sciences, the humanities and mathematics promote critical thinking, creative problem-solving and effective communication. If you’re looking for a degree that’s flexible, versatile and interdisciplinary, the liberal arts are for you.

While some liberal arts colleges are standalone entities, others belong to large research universities. In the case of the latter, the liberal arts college often functions as the university’s academic heart, around and through which other schools and colleges flow. The College of Arts and Sciences at Syracuse University, for example, provides a liberal arts foundation in context of an R1 research institution. No surprise that degrees combining liberal arts learning with professional studies (e.g., courses in medicine, business, law or social work) are becoming popular.

Research universities, by definition, award master’s and doctoral degrees along with bachelor’s degrees. Here, the emphasis is on research and development, driven mostly by graduate students, postdoctoral fellows and world-class faculty. Still, you can get plenty of hands-on experience as an undergraduate through research, independent study and immersive learning programs (e.g., study abroad).

Research comes in many forms. Students in STEM conduct fundamental and applied research. Those in the humanities and social sciences engage in “scholarly activity,” like academic presentations and publications. Arts students thrive on creative practice, including performances, screenings, readings and exhibitions.

The advancement of knowledge is common to both liberal arts colleges and research universities. Having a sense of your academic and career goals can help determine what kind of institution best suits you.

3. Where do I want to live during college?

Location is one of the most important factors when choosing a college. More than just how far you are from home, the decision is about the kind of setting you want to be in. Do you like the hustle and bustle of a big city, or do you prefer the laidback charm of a small college town?

Studies show that it’s all about your comfort level, especially outside the classroom. No surprise that many students try to replicate the environment in which they are raised. And if you build professional and personal relationships near where you go to college, you’re likely to remain there or close by after graduation.

Still, the “traditional college experience” can be found almost anywhere. That’s because campuses don’t always reflect the geographic space they inhabit. For instance, one urban campus on the East Coast boasts an 80-acre arboretum. By contrast, there are scores of rural campuses whose futuristic labs are redefining the possibilities of STEM research.

Keep in mind that some fields are location-specific, like Wall Street or Silicon Valley. And if you’re into the environment and natural resources, you’re likely to find more opportunities at a suburban or rural campus.

For students who “want it all,” a campus in a midsized town is preferable. Syracuse offers a traditional residential experience within a not-so-big city. You get the perks of urban life, like food, shopping and entertainment, with easy access to the great outdoors. Plus, you can study in one of our five locations abroad or in one of our centers in New York City, Washington, D.C., or Los Angeles.

Choosing a college is like buying a pair of sneakers. If the shoe is too big or too small, you’re bound to be uncomfortable. You need the size—and style—that’s right for you. Something that fits well and provides enough support for you to put your best foot forward.

If Syracuse University sounds like a good fit, please submit the following form to learn more.