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BWW Blog: Pros and Cons of A Small University Program

I attend a small school, one I went to with the promise of the benefits of a "small school program!" But what does that mean and look like, exactly? Let's go through the pros and cons of a small musical theatre program.

Pro Number 1: Really Tight Friend Groups

There is something to be said for being in small groups because it forces you to become really really close with the people around you! Our school of music in general is pretty small, so we all (Music Education, Music Composition, Music Performance and Musical Theatre) all move through the core music classes together, which means we all have the same experiences with the same professors (shout outs to Dr. Christopher Holmes and Dr. Jonathan Brooks). This means that we all share a collective consciousness almost, which allows us to all be really close and comfortable with one another, which makes studying late at night for those tests and other things all the more bearable.

Con Number 1: Really Tight Friend Groups

So this is the same point as the first, except the negative aspect of it. The problem with really small groups of people is it makes cliques ALL the more obvious. This can cause a lot of hurt feelings and also general feelings of exclusion in literally every setting, class included. It's hard to escape the feeling of intentional exclusion when you only have so many people in an area anyway.

Pro Number 2: Lots of Attention from Professors

This is the biggest promise from small programs and schools: lots of one on one attention from professors. This means that in work-based classes, there aren't multiple sections, you get to see your peers work alongside you, and you get direct feedback from your professors! Most of my theatre classes were taught by the director of my musical theatre program, which is a pro and con in itself (we'll get to that later).

Con Number 2: Not Enough Professors

The program being small can sometimes mean...your school isn't super invested in your program on an administrative level. For instance, our university's President is at almost every performance and production we do, which we really appreciate! But, my major doesn't have an adequate or safe building in which to have class or rehearse, and our dance department has been in a "temporary" dance space for almost six years...the list goes on. This also means your department is probably understaffed. We only have 2 full time faculty, which means those two are stretched really thin, which can mean that your academic experience can suffer because your professors are also suffering.

Pro Number 3: You Can Talk to Professors

What I mean by this is that you have a direct line to the people in charge, for the most part they're not some weird, all powerful, ethereal ghost figure that determines a lot about your life but that you cannot interact with. Just the other week, I was able to send the head of my program a text only saying "Hey I'd like to chat!", and then a few days later we had a 45 minute conversation about the future of the program in light of COVID-19, in which we both could be candid with one another. I cannot speak to "big program experiences" but I have a feeling that that sort of accessibility is only reserved for a select few people in bigger programs.

Con Number 3: Lack of Diversity/Representation

First, a quick non-Musical Theatre related story. I am in the honors program at my university. We had orientation before the start of our freshman year, in which we did "diversity training" - however, our entire cohort was White people. My musical theatre program is almost entirely White people. This means that we cannot learn from our peers who are BIPOC performers, and that the community that we are in is not fully able to experience a well rounded BIPOC narrative. I feel this might put off any potential BIPOC students from considering our program, and it also perpetuates the harmful narrative that theatre is "made for" and should be "centered around" White narratives and White performers, which is so untrue. I know that my program is striving and has strived to do what we can to incorporate BIPOC stories and narratives, but I also am aware that because we lack almost any modicum of diversity, it makes us hard to do that well and not be inherently and unintentionally exclusive. An interesting issue that small schools and programs will have to continue to face head on and address.

Pro Number 4: Quality Learning

Overall though, the instruction I have received in my small program has been good. You get to repeat professors, so they learn who you are as a student and what you need. As a student you can build rapport and relationship with your professors, and that at least to me, is beneficial to my learning! You also can tend to get more performance opportunities at smaller institutions, because the pool is smaller! This isn't always the case though, and if you are a guy especially, you may find yourself stretched a bit thin. However, if you thrive off a busy schedule, this can be great for you as well!

Con Number 4: Favoritism

One of the biggest issues I have had with attending a small institute is that it is painfully obvious if you or your class are not the "favorites", amongst faculty specifically. For instance, my grade level only has 4 people in the class (we did start with 7, and yes, we are THAT small). No one in my grade level has ever been worked with in a master class. All other grade levels have received more individualized attention and master class opportunities. Essentially, because the program is so small, this can start to feel like a purposeful exclusion of students rather than just losing track of the number of people in the program. In smaller programs, discrepancies in areas such as this and difference in treatment between classes or even individuals can just become a bit more evident. I say all of this knowing that sometimes, that is fully just how the real world works, and you just have to smile and show up and continue to prove and improve yourself. However, for an educational setting, it can tend to be a bit more frustrating for students.

Overall, I am glad I went to a small school, mostly because I feel it works best with my learning and friend-making style. Also, at a small school, I have gotten to play a role in shaping the program to continue to evolve and be better for future students. I think these sorts of pros and cons can definitely be present at any size of university, but these pros and cons are specifically addressing things that small schools really try to sell you on. Just gather all the information that you can about every school, and try to figure out exactly what you need and want from a program, not just who has the coolest name (easier said than done, I know). May this bring you some clarity in your college searches!

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From This Author Student Blogger: Brittany Davis