5 reasons why class size matters

Article Sources
  • Cuseo 2007. Accessed May 2017: https://eric.ed.gov/?id=EJ774391
  • Monks, J. & Schmidt, R. 2010. Accessed May 2017: http://digitalcommons.ilr.cornell.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1145&context=workingpapers
  •  Kokkelenburg, Dillion, and Christy 2008. The Effects of Class Size on Student Grades at a Public University, Accessed May 2017: http://digitalcommons.ilr.cornell.edu/workingpapers/66/

The college decision process is complicated. There seem to be endless factors to consider prior to choosing a university, from location and reputation to majors, professors and financial aid.

While you’re sorting through the information overload, consider a single factor that influences the quality of your college education: the size of your classes.

Why does class size matter when choosing a college or university? The answer goes much deeper than how many classmates you can potentially borrow notes from – and it’s even important if you’re attending classes online.

Read on for 5 reasons why you should keep your eye on class size during your college search:

1. Small class sizes mean more time with your professors

Studies show that in smaller classes, professors spend more and higher quality time with their students.

Think about the financial investment you’re making in your education. You’re essentially paying to sit in the presence of industry and academic leaders – your professors. Wouldn’t it be better if they also knew who you are?

The potential benefits from a more familiar relationship with your professors are numerous: future research opportunities, recommendation letters, and less competition for office hours are just some of them. If you’re considering a more challenging major—like a neuroscience degree—this extra help might be the difference between a rough time and a soaring success.

2. Smaller classes often have a better class structure

Yes, the actual structure of courses is shown to be affected by the number of students. When instructing larger classes, faculty are more likely to alter their courses in ways that may be disadvantageous to students, like relying more on lecture with fewer hands-on activities, which could be problematic for courses in scientific fields, for example.

It makes sense that when professors have to educate large groups of students at once, they may not have time to create the ideal learning environment—they have to focus on just getting the message out to the masses.

3. You’re more likely to get better, faster feedback in a smaller class

Professors’ limited time outside of class also may affect their ability to provide extensive comments on student work. Studies have shown that, in smaller classes, both quality and timeliness of instructors’ feedback on student work was better than in larger classes.

Detailed feedback can help illuminate a topic or structure an important paper. Minimal feedback, or feedback that comes too late, doesn’t contribute to your mastery of course material in the same way – it may not address the nuances of your work, or you may be moving on to more advanced concepts without surety that you’ve grasped the foundational ideas.

4. When classes are smaller, you have greater accountability

Even the most dedicated student may have “one of those days” when working up the motivation to go to class is a struggle. It’s much easier to rationalize skipping class when you’re a nameless face in a 300-person lecture. It’s easier still to skip the reading if you know the chances of getting called on in class are 1 out of 200.

But when you’re an integral part of a small class, you’ll be missed if you don’t show. And if you don’t do the reading, your lack of preparation is more likely to be obvious. The social environment of a small class can also create positive pressure that pushes you to be the best student you can be.

5. Students tend to perform better academically in smaller classes

Unsurprisingly, in smaller classes with greater accountability and more personal attention, students perform better, according to a study out of Cornell University. Even after controlling for individual ability, peer effects, and level of course, students in small classes received higher grades.

Your college grades are the centerpiece of your transcript; they may also be a part of your ticket to the grad school or career of your dreams. Choosing a school with smaller class sizes sets you up for better learning and the academic success to prove it.

If you’re looking to set yourself up for college success and strong connections with your professors, make sure class size is one of the criteria you use to evaluate potential schools.


          —Jessica AcevedoDirector of Academic Services and Enrollment Management, Florida Atlantic University

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