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Ever since middle school, I have envisioned my college experience on a small, New England campus, with an abundance of trees, grand Gothic architecture, and intimate classes allowing for a constant dialogue. However, as I began my college search in high school, those New England schools were upwards of 1500 miles away, and dreams of a Boston liberal arts school faded. Continuing my search, I focused on finding that same environment between the coasts: somewhere small, with strong liberal arts and humanities and a thriving arts environment. And I began to find that these schools aren’t always near major cities, but can often be found neighboring small cities and towns in the Middle United States. The feeling of community, the gorgeous environment, and the opportunities impossible at larger schools all create the ideal setting for advancing one’s education.
One of the most valuable assets in a rural school is the close-knit friendships and security fostered by a feeling of community. It’s something lacking in most large, comprehensive universities comprised of tens of thousands of students, more than half of whom typically commute and enroll less than part-time. Smaller schools prevent settling into only one group to escape getting lost in the masses; friendships are cultivated through diverse activities and it is easy to be involved in several different groups. Open minds and frank discussions develop in small, discussion-driven courses, rather than being suppressed in large lecture halls. Colleges and universities near small cities or larger towns allow for outside activities and involvement in local life, but the student is not lost in the multitude outside the walls of the school. Small towns allow students to interact with locals and expand their horizons.
Another important factor in a rural education is the environment. A sprawling campus over green hills amongst brilliantly colored trees evokes images of a prestigious British school with a long and distinguished past. The crisp fall air and changing leaves inspire a student to focus on his studies. This setting is exceedingly more aesthetic than a spiritless steel-and-glass structure plumb in the middle of the clamor and pollution of a large city – which calls to mind another environmental factor: in a rural school, the air is clean and clear and good for the lungs. At night there are more stars in the sky than it is possible to imagine.
Finally, smaller schools allow for opportunities often not available at larger universities. Faculty members often have interesting research going on, or useful connections allowing for incredible internships or study abroad, often not made available to undergraduate students at vast urban universities. Many smaller schools make it possible for students to complete research before the end of their freshman year. Such activities and opportunities are catalysts to lasting and helpful alliances with professors. Personal relationships formed with professors, often unheard of at larger schools (where a professor may have hundreds of students), allow a student to develop connections that will assist him at graduate school or in seeking employment in “the real world.” Additionally, a rural university’s comparatively small size allows it to form special alliances with international schools, shaping unique study abroad and internship programs not possible at super-sized universities.
These factors have increased the value, to me, of a rural, smaller university. A sense of community, unique opportunities, and incomparable beauty combine to create an experience impossible to pass up. I’ve come a long way to “do the college thing;” I don’t see why it should be anything but the ideal experience.
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