Online School: A Small College Just Got That Much More Important

By Nelia Perry ‘24

There have been a lot of posts already about online school but bear with me as I add one more to the list. I’m sure those of you reading this are already interested in attending a small school–you are at least contemplating it. So, let me tell you why attending a small college just got that much more important.

Let’s get straight to the point: meeting people, learning, engaging in activities, and getting to know professors becomes that much more difficult when the world is moved online. We are all familiar with the awkward moments on Zoom: fearing being the first and only student on a call with a teacher, long pauses as everyone waits for someone else to start the conversation, thinking of private messaging someone that you “think they are really nice” or “want to get to know them better” followed by a self-plug for your Instagram. So how do you slowly start to chip away at those struggles?

You attend a small school!

I know, there is much more to the solution than that, but never has there been a more clear example of the value of the average class size being 15, having professors who know you not just by your name but by your dog’s name and your favorite ice cream flavor, and automatically being placed in a 15-person family (sponsor group) comprised of spiblings and spmoms and spdads. And you can’t forget your extended family of spaunts and spuncles, and your spadobted spiblings.

Here is a picture for you to imagine: It is Monday morning, and you have biology class. It is the intro class, so you know a lot of students take it. You climb out of bed, roll over to your desk––maybe brushing your teeth and putting on new clothes in between––and join the Zoom link. Thinking you might just slip away into the background with your camera off and your mic muted, you decide you’ll make breakfast at the same time. But this is a SMALL SCHOOL. You will never slip away into the background. Instead, you will engage in small group discussions as you work through challenging questions, applying what you learned from homework and bouncing ideas off of your group members. Your professor pops in every once in a while, as do the mentors for the class (student who have already taken the class who are there to help). I can’t stress enough the value of this support. And, while a hundred students might take Bio 40, your section still only has 20 students, tops. It isn’t to say you have to always be “on”––you can still mute yourself and turn your camera off as needed––but when you decide you want to be seen and heard, there is always a space for you to do so.

In an in-person setting, you are almost guaranteed to meet people and to get to know those around you––this is true at big and small schools alike––but in an online world, this certainty dwindles a bit. If you are in a large class, it might not even be run via Zoom but might be a webinar, or everything could be asynchronous. Instead, at a small school, you will engage in one-on-ones with professors on a weekly, if not daily, basis; you will automatically be assigned a small group of students to study with; you will attend mentor sessions, game nights, and so much more.

four students on Zoom
Clockwise from top left: Eda Topuz CMC ’22, Istanbul; Riley Knowles PZ ’22, Philadelphia; Yurie Muramatsu ’22, Singapore; Abdul Ajeigbe ’22, Newark, N.J.: team who developed Screen Breakers through a Human-Centered Design Class at the Hive

I would be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous to try and meet people in this online format; I was TERRIFIED. But it was because I chose to attend a small school that eventually those nerves subsided. I realized that everyone around me was just as anxious to make new friends and get to know professors. And, more importantly, I realized that there would be countless outlets to do so. I have met people through small classes, study sessions, office hours, sports, international student game nights, and sponsor group meetings. Every day there is an opportunity to get to know new people and start to make friends. No, it is not the same as living in the dorm or passing someone in the dining hall, but I believe the relationships I am building now will seamlessly transition once we are in person. In fact, I think they will be even stronger since they started in such a unique space.

Nelia's desk
Where I spend almost all my time

Lastly, learning online is an added challenge by itself. It is in the moments when I’m suffering from Zoom fatigue, headaches from looking at my screen, and aches in my body from sitting in one spot all day that I become that much more grateful for my professors who know my story, who want to reach out and support me, and who do the same for every individual in their classes.

Ultimately, you will make the best decision for you, but trust me when I say: never has there been a better reason to attend a small school.