You know when you put on a pair of shoes that just feels right – and they make you feel good all over? A university is just like that. Your choice of college should feel comfortable, like it was made for you. The right style and size is important and it’s the fit that’s most important. No one wants to make a choice that just doesn’t fit right.
When trying on schools, some students look at what’s popular – and mostly popular means bigger in terms of numbers of students and size of campus – as a first choice. And there are plenty of reasons why large universities are indeed a good fit. Often students who are interested in graduate school or specialty careers will find more what they are looking for at a major research or flagship campus. To these students, smaller universities or colleges simply can’t offer the same level of opportunities – no matter how hard they try.
However, the reality is that students all have different learning styles and thrive in different environments. Cue the regional publics and private or liberal arts institutions that emphasize learning how to learn and learning a variety and wide range of academic offerings.
For students who might feel intimidated by large auditorium style classrooms, heavy traffic, tall skyscrapers, and masses of people everywhere, attending college in small cities is a great alternative. It allows students closer interaction with faculty, better odds of attaining leadership roles in student organizations and an overall more peaceful environment in which to learn. These are things that can have a great impact on one’s future success. Another thing about big campuses is they are more than likely in big cities, where one could feel lost, unable to navigate transportation, or feel unsafe. Instead, Kearney is an historic and progressive community of about 35,000 about 2 hours from Lincoln and 3 hours from Omaha - an easy drive.
The University of Nebraska at Kearney is a walkable campus with about 6,600 students where faculty know students by name – and work with them outside the classroom on research, internships and community projects.
“There’s a greater chance of (students) doing real research with faculty and getting to know them as your advisors as well as teachers,” says Amy Rundstrom, UNK’s Director of Academic and Career Services. “If you take advantage of these opportunities, it’s very likely that your faculty will happily write you a recommendation letter for your first professional job or graduate school application. Faculty know you, and they care.”
Truthfully, the quality of education at regional campuses is a very close match to the big counterparts. The diplomas handed out at UNK’s commencement still say “The University of Nebraska” at the top. It’s often considered a better value too, because tuition, fees and other expenses are more affordable.
So while it may not always be an apples-to-apples comparison when measuring a large university against a smaller public regional, the smaller campuses offer attributes that are a better match for some students. That’s the important thing for prospective college students to consider – you have to know yourself enough to realize what kind of learning environment will yield your highest chance for success. Keep the outcome in mind. The goal is to graduate with a degree you can be proud of, and be well equipped to start a career that allows you to use your newfound skills and knowledge. What type of environment will provide the best chance for you to reach your desired outcome?
If the bright lights and vibe of the big city scene along with large classroom settings is appealing to you, then exploring the big universities is best. However, if more one-on-one faculty interaction and quieter, wide-open spaces is your jam, then don’t shy away from making the regional campus your top choice. In many ways, it’s the best of both worlds: small-city charm with big time outcomes.
It’s OK to try on something different and make it your own.