Why Choose a Small Private College? | SantaFe.com

If the next item on your agenda is college, it’s decision time. Should you attend a public university or a private college, like St. John’s College in Santa Fe, New Mexico?

There are many factors affecting your choice, including some considerations that could impact how successful you are. Here are a few points to consider when making that all-important decision.

How do you learn?

Are you able to learn what you need sitting in a lecture hall with a hundred or more classmates? Does it matter if your professor lectures while his graduate assistants teach the class? Or do you prefer the more congenial environment where teachers and students have closer relationships?

What’s the “Goldilocks” number?

Student-to-faculty ratios come into play in your decision. Studies by the National Center for Education Statistics indicate the public university ratio was on average 14 to 1, while private colleges had a ratio of 10 to 1 — a 28 percent improvement in opportunities for students and teachers to interact. At a college like St. John’s, that ratio is 7 to 1, even smaller.

While public universities typically have larger class sizes — necessary to accommodate larger student enrollments — private colleges generally have smaller sizes, creating a more intimate learning environment between students and professors. Smaller size often leads to more challenging and insightful classroom discussions, as well as opportunities for one-on-one meetings with professors, should you need individual help.

Undergraduate seminar at St. John's, a small, private college.

How important is a major?

Public universities also typically offer a wider range of majors than small private liberal arts colleges. But data shows almost half of college students change their major at least once, and 61 percent of American graduates regret the major they chose. Once employed, Americans on average hold more than 12 jobs in a lifetime and change career paths multiple times. A liberal arts college offers the advantage of providing a broad base of knowledge rather than narrow, vocationally oriented skills (which are often outdated within a few years). This prepares students for a lifetime of change and adaptability in a rapidly changing job market.

Not all learning is in class

You attend college to learn, but not all learning occurs in the classroom. At a small private college, student supports are highly individualized. Mental health counselors, campus nurses, career counselors, student activity sponsors, academic advisors, and intramural coaches will know who you are and what your needs are when you stop by for a visit. There’s a good chance you’ll get to know their pets, their hobbies, and more — just like they’ll want to know these things about you.


Students participating in outdoor yoga class at St. John's College.
Students participating in Soul Yoga on the lawn at St. John’s College.

Smaller, like at a private college, is often better

Private colleges also offer a thriving campus life, just usually on a smaller scale. This is advantageous for students who prefer to be part of a more closely-knit community. Colleges, like St. John’s, also provide opportunities to develop real and deeper relationships with diverse people from other nations, cultures, and traditions. Often these campus-related relationships lead to friendships lasting a lifetime.

Those relationships can extend to alumni — graduates who have a vested interest in seeing those who follow them have the same post-graduate success. And these contacts, expanded through networking, can lead to greater professional success.

College costs money

Tuition at private colleges typically is higher than at public universities that receive state and federal government subsidies. Scholarships are available in both public and private institutions. But, by virtue of larger student populations, financial aid is stretched farther in public universities. Private colleges often have more financial aid money available from income-producing endowments. According to the National Association of College and University Business Officers, private colleges during the 2020 – 21 school year were able to offer tuition discounts to more than half of first-year undergraduates. At St. John’s more than 90 percent os students receive college-funded aid.

Reputation has intrinsic value

Public universities may have more recognizable names, but private colleges often have more prestigious reputations. Take St. John’s College, for example. It was founded in Maryland in 1696, the third oldest college in the U.S. It stands right there with Harvard, founded in 1636, and the College of William and Mary, founded in 1693. It opened its Santa Fe campus in 1964. Reputation can impact your ability to launch your career after graduation.

So, before you apply to a school, whether public university or private college, make certain you visit the school and choose one that aligns with your values and your expectations. That’s the formula for success.

Story by Bud Russo

This story is sponsored by St. John’s College


St. John's College logo. St. John's is a small, private college in Santa Fe, New Mexico.


This article was posted by Cheryl Fallstead

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