The hunt for the perfect school can be overwhelming, and future college students can find themselves weighing a number of options such as the school's rank, cost and available majors. However, class size can also affect the quality of the education you receive. Particularly in the first year or two of college, smaller class sizes can make a big difference. Class size is so important that the U.S. Department of Education has recommended class size reduction as one of four evidence-based practices to improve the quality of education.
Smaller classes make it much easier to get to know your fellow students. This makes it easier to make friends, which can be a challenge for new college students. However, the benefits of better student relationships don't end with more opportunities to socialize. If you're able to get to know your classmates, you'll have better resources for studying and will be more likely to have a classmate who can give you materials you miss if you're out sick. Large classes with hundreds of students can also be intimidating, particularly for shy students. With a smaller group, it's easier to have discussions, and introverted students may feel more comfortable participating.
Professors are hired because they're experts in their field, but with a large class, you might not get all the benefits of this expertise. Smaller classes allow professors to develop relationships with their students. When there aren't hundreds of papers to grade or e-mails to read, it's easier for professors to thoughtfully respond to questions, to give helpful feedback and to help students who are struggling. In an article published in "U.S. News and World Report," Jeremy S. Hyman and Lynn F. Jacobs emphasize that professors of smaller classes tend to assign more papers. While this might add to your short-term stress, it also means you'll get many more opportunities to examine course material and hone your writing skills.
College students often have many responsibilities, including work, family and extracurricular activities. Planning your class schedule can be challenging, but smaller classes can make planning easier. When colleges aim for smaller classes, they typically offer more sections of the same class, which means the class may be scheduled at a wide variety of times and days.
Your professor isn't just a teacher. She's also a ticket to further advancement. When professors have fewer students, they can get a better idea of their students' capabilities. This means you'll have less trouble getting recommendations from professors, and if you're a star student, you may be able to collaborate with your professor to design a research project or independent study. You might also get help with submitting papers and studies to academic journals.
Van Thompson is an attorney and writer. A former martial arts instructor, he holds bachelor's degrees in music and computer science from Westchester University, and a juris doctor from Georgia State University. He is the recipient of numerous writing awards, including a 2009 CALI Legal Writing Award.