Liberal arts vs. big university – what would you choose now?

It was a rainy Friday afternoon. My twin sister Kirsten and I packed up my little blue Honda Fit for our impending weekend at one of the largest and most well-known universities in the country – the Pennsylvania State University.

The rain was coming down in sheets, making the visibility non-existent. I was driving, as my sister was in control of the radio and GPS. I reached for the knob controlling the volume of the stereo and turned down the music.

“Hey! I was listening to that,” said Kirsten as she went to turn it back up.

I kept my hand on the knob.

“Do you ever wish you went to a small school like Muhlenberg?” I asked.

“No, why would I ever want to see everyone I knew all the time? There’s nowhere to hide,”Kirsten explained as she looked out the window.

“Yeah, I guess you’re right,” I replied. Kirsten proceeded to turn the music back up.

Small School Spirit

Muhlenberg is a special place. The small school environment allows for a significantly tight-knit community, making it easy for students to consider Muhlenberg a home away from home. Only having around 2,200 students makes class sizes average at about19 students. Muhlenberg professors automatically learn your name and the type of student you are. I have even had professors ask the class to drop the label“professor” all together and refer to them by their first name.

Going to a small school is a comforting feeling for many students. “Going to a small school taught me to apply everything I’ve learned in different disciplines to my individual focus, allowing for diversity in my own thoughts and perspectives about the world,” said Maddy Fenderson, who graduated from Connecticut College in May of2017. She is currently in her first year of graduate school at the University of Rhode Island, studying Marine Affairs.

Aside from Fenderson’s passion for Marine life, she was also a Division 3 Student Athlete.“Going to a small school also allowed me to pursue a passion outside of my academic interests – Crew,” said Fenderson. “Actually learning the sport of rowing isn’t even in the top five most important things I learned from that experience. Work ethic, time management, handling high pressure situations with grace, tenacity, and leadership are all things I only could’ve learned in the setting of being a student athlete. Even when I have interviews or networking meetings, rowing always comes up,” said Fenderson.

Also, another perk of going to a small school like Muhlenberg and Connecticut College is the connections. Alumni from small institutions tend to look out for each other,ultimately helping future Muhlenberg graduates enter the working world.

Big School Pride

Although my sister Kirsten was an incredible athlete during her high school experience, she chose to attend a larger university at the cost of continuing her participation in varsity athletics.

Kirsten is currently a Junior at Northeastern University, located in the heart of Boston. She is in a five-year program, majoring in business administration, concentrating in marketing with a minor in communications.

Even though my twin sister and I are extremely similar in almost every way, our college experiences couldn’t be more different. As I packed up my half of our shared childhood room to begin my college experience at Muhlenberg, Kirsten was busy packing up only a few of her belongings into a suitcase for a journey of a lifetime.

Kirsten was accepted into Northeastern’s N.U.in program, which is a unique experience where first-semester freshmen travel abroad to either Australia, Canada, China, Czech Republic, England, Germany, Greece, Ireland, or Italy. Kirsten ended up choosing Ireland because of their strong business program offered.

Once she came back from oversees, she began her college experience at Northeastern.Northeastern couldn’t be any more different than Muhlenberg. Northeastern is in the heart of the city, even in walking distance to Fenway Park. But, the most interesting aspect about this city school is their unique co-op program.

“Being on co-op has taught me so much about what college kids like to call the ‘real world,’” said Kirsten. Every student at Northeastern is required to experience 2 or 3 co-cops throughout their time attending Northeastern. A co-op is basically a paid internship which lasts for the duration of an entire semester. The student does not take any classes during this time. Instead, they are working Monday through Friday, 9am to 5pm.

“Northeastern’s co-op program has prepared me so well for after graduation,” said Kirsten. “The school is so helpful in the search process too. I know all of my friends from high school are stressed about getting summer internships to get work experience in their major. I don’t ever have to worry about that,” said Kirsten.

But is going to a large university such as Northeastern or Penn State all what it’s cracked up to be?

“There is so much opportunity for help and such a wide selection of majors and classes,”said Taylor Herrera, a senior at Penn State. “I promise if there’s a class or a topic you’re interested in, no matter how random, I guarantee you they have classes about it. For example, we have witch craft vampires, yoga, ballroom dance, to Asian women studies, to the history of fashion,” said Herrera.

Aside from academic freedom and strengths of large universities, a school’s social scene is also a very prominent aspect of a prospective student’s choice.

“I’m sure you could imagine. It’s so fun, the football games and the thousands of social circles to join, the prominence of Greek life, any type of student could find their own group here,” said Herrera.

So, here’s where you make the choice for yourself. Imagine you’re not walking down academic row,or claiming a table in the Light Lounge with your friends to study, or walking over to the farmer’s market for a late lunch… Would you miss it? Or would you be happy to leave it?

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