Brent Hurt is a sophomore pre-med student majoring in molecular biology at Christopher Newport University. In addition to playing on the CNU ice hockey team, he conducts undergraduate research and regularly volunteers as an ambulance emergency medical technician.
Quick, name the best college for getting into the top graduate, medical, or law schools! Chances are you’re thinking of a prestigious Ivy-League university or a famous, large state school. Many students are told that top graduate programs like to see students from these types of colleges. So if I want to go to medical school, why did I make the crazy decision to attend a little school that not many people know about?
I ended up at Christopher Newport University, a small public school in southern Virginia with a student body of about 5000. Some of my fellow pre-med friends from high school ended up at Ivy League schools, so my biggest concern was how I would ever be able to compete with students like them. I thought that these students had a huge advantage over me in graduate school admissions because of the name of their schools. It’s been two years since I began college, and I am fully confident that I made the right decision to go to a small school.
First, small school professors are not like typical large school professors. My friends at big state colleges have told me stories of their awful chemistry lectures of 300 students taught by TAs who are more focused on their own research than the success of their students. At small schools like mine, almost all classes are taught by professors with doctorate degrees in their fields. Also, class sizes are much smaller so professors take the time to answer individual questions in the middle of lectures and are happy to work individually with students outside of class. Are you looking to participate in a professor’s research program? While research assistant positions at large institutions are generally reserved for graduate students, undergraduate research is not a problem at small schools. I’m only a sophomore and I’m already conducting biomedical research with experimental cancer metastasis drugs. Small school professors are even so friendly that they will actively try to get to know their students. One of my professors even invited my whole class to her house for an all you can eat buffet of Chinese food. This seemed normal to me, but my friends at large schools are always shocked to hear of professors like this.
Graduate schools are looking for leaders who stand out from their peers. It’s nearly impossible to be a significant leader on a campus of 50,000 students. It is a lot easier to become an influential individual within a smaller community. For example, there are probably 1000 different clubs already established on large campuses. On a small campus with a fewer number of clubs, it is very likely that nobody has started a club for the thing you’re most passionate about. At my school, I am co-founding an Eagle Scout club to serve to the university and local Boy Scout troops. Since small schools do not have a billion student events occurring all the time, it is much more meaningful when a student organization works hard to host an event on campus.
The heads of small schools are aware that their school has not yet earned a prestigious reputation. They are most likely taking steps to achieve that goal. This involves creating unique programs meant to challenge highly motivated students and present them with new opportunities for success. My school offers leaders, honors, pre-med programs, and much more. My college has even established a relationship with a nearby medical school and gives students the opportunity to apply to the school as a sophomore! I encourage you to seek out similar honors programs or other academic programs at your colleges. When students go through these programs and find success in the real world, they reflect the quality of their college education. Eventually, enough students from your school may become successful enough for your college to earn its well-deserved prestigious reputation.
The caring professors, small community, and special academic programs at small schools give students educational opportunities that just aren’t available at large institutions. Even though a school may not have a well-known name, you should still see what these hidden gems have to offer. I have always felt as though my small college puts its students before its professors and takes measures to help ensure our success in our educational pursuits. I believe that attended a small school has allowed me to become a significant member of my small campus community. I also feel that it is better to be a standout individual at an unknown school than an average Joe at a prestigious institution. A small school is not right for everyone, but it definitely is for me. I encourage you to look at the opportunities available to you at small colleges. If you learn to make the most of the resources available at these schools, you will be the student that gets into a top graduate program and puts your school on the map.