Top 25 Best Small Colleges: 2018 Rankings

College Raptor’s Top 25 Best Small Colleges are the definition of small but mighty. Though they have a much smaller student body than most universities in the United States, some of the nation’s best schools are featured in this list.

From research to liberal arts, these schools are leaders in their academic fields. For the purposes of this list, we have defined a small college as a school that has 2,000 or fewer students in total combined graduate and undergraduate levels.

25. Pitzer College

Flickr user Charles Wohlers

  • Location: Claremont, CA
  • Student Enrollment: 1,067
  • College Type: Private not-for-profit, 4-year or above

Just over 4,000 applications are sent to this school every year. Pitzer is quite selective, with an acceptance rate of just 13.5%. 93% of the freshman class stick around for their next academic year. The most popular major on campus is a tie between Environmental Science and Psychology. Pitzer’s school colors are orange and white, and their mascot is Cecil the Sagehen.

24. The New England Conservatory of Music

Wikimedia user Cryptic C62

  • Location: Boston, MA
  • Student Enrollment: 789
  • College Type: Private not-for-profit, 4-year or above

The oldest independent school of music, NEC was founded by Eben Tourjée in 1867. However, Tourjée had initially tried to found the school in 1853 at the young age of 19 years old. NEC offers the following musically-inclined majors: Stringed Instruments, Jazz / Jazz Studies, Voice & Opera, Keyboard Instruments, Brass Instruments, Woodwind Instruments, Music Theory & Composition, and Percussion Instruments.

23. Bates College

Wikimedia user Xin Deui

  • Location: Lewiston, ME
  • Student Enrollment: 1,792
  • College Type: Private not-for-profit, 4-year or above

The average freshman ACT and SAT scores for this school are between 28–32, and 1280–1430 respectively. The split between male and female students is nearly even on this campus, with slightly more women (51%). Lacrosse, rowing, and soccer are three of the most popular sports at Bates.

22. Bryn Mawr College

Flickr user Meagan

  • Location: Bryn Mawr, PA
  • Student Enrollment: 1,692
  • College Type: Private not-for-profit, 4-year or above

This women’s liberal arts college has a school crest that features three owls, stars, and the words “Veritatem Dilexi”—I delight in the truth. Bryn Mawr has an acceptance rate of 38.5%, a four year graduation rate of 81%, and a first year retention rate of 94%. Their school colors are yellow and white.

21. United States Merchant Marine Academy

Wikimedia user USMMA

  • Location: Kings Point, NY
  • Student Enrollment: 930
  • College Type: Public, 4-year or above

As the federal service academy, United States Merchant Marine Academy educates and licenses Merchant Marine officers.  All students go through a rigorous academic program and a year-long commercial vessel experience.  Because of this, USMMA graduates are highly sought after post studies.  All students have a service obligation after graduation.

20. Whitman College

Flickr user Chuck Taylor

  • Location: Walla Walla, WA
  • Student Enrollment: 1,470
  • College Type: Private not-for-profit, 4-year or above

Whitman’s inspirational school motto of “Per ardua sergo” translates to: Through adversities I rise. The most popular majors on this campus are Biology, Psychology, Biochemistry / Molecular Biology, and Political Science. Almost 4,000 applications are sent to this private liberal arts school each year.

18. Connecticut College

Wikimedia user Me

  • Location: New London, CT
  • Student Enrollment: 1,922
  • College Type: Private not-for-profit, 4-year or above

Tucked into a historic New England seaport town, the Connecticut College campus also serves as a 750 acre arboretum.  Offering 41 majors, the most popular are economics, psychology, and biology.  Conn’s Connection platform is reinventing what a liberal arts education looks like while its 85 year old honor code creates a spirit of trust between students and faculty.  

18. Scripps College

Flickr user CollegeGrotto

  • Location: Claremont, CA
  • Student Enrollment: 989
  • College Type: Private not-for-profit, 4-year or above

Scripps is dedicated to educating women for lives of commitment and engagement and is located in the center of the five Claremont Colleges.  Their campus is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is often described as one of the most beautiful campuses in the U.S.  One of Scripps’ unique traditions is the Graffiti Wall.  

17. Kenyon College

Flickr user Larry Miller

  • Location: Gambier, OH
  • Student Enrollment: 1,711
  • College Type: Private not-for-profit, 4-year or above

Close interaction between professors and students is the rule here where instructors become mentors and friends.  The Kenyon Review and the Kenyon Institute have supported the College’s distinguished literary history since 1939.  While English is the largest major on campus, economics and international/global studies are not far behind.  Having won 31 national championships, the Kenyon Lords and Ladies swimming program is the most successful in NCAA history.

16. Soka University of America

Flickr user Mark Weston

  • Location: Aliso Viejo, CA
  • Student Enrollment: 444
  • College Type: Private not-for-profit, 4-year or above

Located in sunny southern California, SUA mission is to “foster a steady stream of global citizens committed to living a contributive life.”  With campus buildings designed to resemble a hillside village in Tuscany, this institution has a much larger and older sister school, Soka University of Japan.  With educational elements rooted in pacifism, human rights and the coexistence between nature and humanity, it has one of the highest first-year student retention rates.   

15. United States Coast Guard Academy

Flickr user Coast Guard News

  • Location: New London, CT
  • Student Enrollment: 898
  • College Type: Public, 4-year or above

The most popular majors on this campus include: Business Administration, Political Science and Government, Oceanography, and Civil Engineering. Nearly 2,000 students apply to this small college each year, though only about 400 are accepted. Objee the Bear is the mascot of this academy.

14. The Juilliard School

Flickr user Shinya Suzuki

  • Location: New York, NY
  • Student Enrollment: 894
  • College Type: Private not-for-profit, 4-year or above

Juilliard is a performing arts conservatory, with programs in music, drama, and dance. Its admissions are highly competitive, as their acceptance rate is a low 6.4%. The school has a 5:1 student to faculty ratio, and a 98% first-year retention rate. Notable alumni include Yo-Yo Ma, Sara Ramirez, and Robin Williams.

13. Bowdoin College

Flickr user jc5599 

  • Location: Brunswick, ME
  • Student Enrollment: 1,799
  • College Type: Private not-for-profit, 4-year or above

Despite their motto “Ut Aquila Versus Coelum” meaning “As an eagle flies towards the sky”, their mascot is actually a polar bear. For average entrance exams scores, incoming freshmen students score an average of 30–34 on the ACT and 1,360–1,500 for the SAT. Their school colors are black and white.

12. Colby College

Flickr user Roman Boed

  • Location: Waterville, ME
  • Student Enrollment: 1,857
  • College Type: Private not-for-profit, 4-year or above

Located just above the Kennebec River Valley, Colby was founded in 1812 making it the 12th oldest liberal arts college in the U.S.  Colby’s Jan Plan and graduate-level are pillars to students’ educational experience.  Their motto of Lux Mentis Scientia translates to “Knowledge [is] the Light of the Mind.”  The Colby Mules participate in New England Small College Athletic Conference (NESCAC).  

11. Grinnell College

Flickr user Ron Cogswell

  • Location: Grinnell, IA
  • Student Enrollment: 1,705
  • College Type: Private not-for-profit, 4-year or above

1846 gave start to this liberal arts college located in the “Jewel of the Prairie”, Grinnell, Iowa.  Known for rigorous academics and social responsibility, Grinnell offers 39 majors with 9:1 student faculty ratio.  With 75 off-campus study programs, nearly 60% of Grinnellians participate in one of these opportunities.  After receiving over 6,400 applications in 2017, only 25% of students were accepted.

10. Hamilton College

Flickr user David Kelly

  • Location: Clinton, NY
  • Student Enrollment: 1,877
  • College Type: Private not-for-profit, 4-year or above

Originally founded as a boys’ college, it became co-educational when it merged with Kirkland College, a former women’s school. It was named in honor of Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton, so it should come as no surprise that the most popular majors are Economics, Political Science, Mathematics, and Psychology.

9. Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art

Flickr user Dan DeLuca

  • Location: New York, NY
  • Student Enrollment: 972
  • College Type: Private not-for-profit, 4-year or above

Informally referred to as “The Cooper Institute,” the highly selective college offered a full-tuition scholarship to every admitted student until 2014. This small and specialized school offers only seven majors, most of which are in the engineering field. However, the most popular major at Cooper is Fine/Studio Arts.

8. Davidson College

Flickr user melystu

  • Location: Davidson, NC
  • Student Enrollment: 1,784
  • College Type: Private not-for-profit, 4-year or above

This liberal arts college has an average incoming freshman ACT score of 28-32 and an average SAT score of 1,280–1,430. Their latin motto is “Alenda Lux Ubi Orta Libertas” which translates to: “Let learning be cherished where liberty has arisen.” Their mascot is known as Will E. Wildcat.

7. Claremont McKenna College

Flickr user Daniel Crowley

  • Location: Claremont, CA
  • Student Enrollment: 1,349
  • College Type: Private not-for-profit, 4-year or above

Claremont McKenna College was originally a men’s only institution, but opened their doors to women in 1976. Interestingly, their men’s athletic programs play as the Stags, while the women play as the Athenas, but both sport the colors maroon and black. They receive upwards of 7,000 applications each year with only around 600 being accepted.

6. Haverford College

Flickr user Roger W

  • Location: Haverford, PA
  • Student Enrollment: 1,233
  • College Type: Private not-for-profit, 4-year or above

Founded by Quakers in 1833, Haverford College offers 31 majors, the most popular of which are Psychology, Biology, Chemistry, Economics, and English. The average ACT and SAT scores for this school are 30–34 and 1,350–1,530 respectively. The campus is a national arboretum, the oldest in the country.

5. Harvey Mudd College

Flickr user CampusGrotto

  • Location: Claremont, CA
  • Student Enrollment: 800
  • College Type: Private not-for-profit, 4 year or above

Founded in 1955, Harvey Mudd’s mission is to educate engineers, scientists, and mathematicians within a liberal arts construct.  HSU boasts one of the highest levels of science and engineering PhD production in the U.S.  The integration of research opportunities are central to their educational mission as can been seen through their world-renowned Clinic Program.  As a member of the contiguous Claremont Colleges, it shares campus facilities with five other undergraduate institutions and two graduate schools.  

4. Amherst College

Flickr user Henry

  • Location: Amherst, MA
  • Student Enrollment: 1,849
  • College Type: Private not-for-profit, 4 years

Located in a town of 35,000, Amherst College offers a scenic campus where students interact with a 500 acre wildlife sanctuary.  This highly selective liberal arts college has a long history dating back to 1821 and is a member of the Five Colleges Consortium.  Regularly regarded as one of the best liberal arts colleges in the country, students receive a dynamic education on its residential campus.

3. Swarthmore College

Flickr user Simon

  • Location: Swarthmore, PA
  • Student Enrollment: 1,581
  • College Type: Private not-for-profit, 4-year or above

Founded by Quakers in 1864, Swarthmore was one of the first coeducational schools in the US. It has an 89% four year graduation rate and a student-to-faculty ratio of 8:1. Their school colors are garnet and grey, and their mascot is named Phineas the Phoenix. Most of Swarthmore’s students come from California, Pennsylvania, and New York.

2. Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering

Flickr user Sean Munson

  • Location: Needham, MA
  • Student Enrollment: 370
  • College Type: Private not-for-profit, 4-year or above

This college offers three majors: Engineering, Mechanical Engineering, and Electrical / Electronics Engineering. Their phoenix mascot is unofficially named Frank, and represents the school’s willingness to change itself and adapt. Olin only has two competitive sports on campus: soccer and ultimate frisbee.

1. Pomona College

Flickr user Dave & Margie Hill

  • Location: Claremont, CA
  • Student Enrollment: 1,663
  • College Type: Private not-for-profit, 4-year or above

With a small class size and a 7:1 student-to-faculty ratio, Pomona College puts an emphasis on community. The top 5 most popular majors on this campus are: Economics, Mathematics, Biology/Biological Sciences, Neuroscience, and Computer Science. Academics are priority, with the average ACT scores ranging between 30-34, and SAT 1,350-1,520.

About our methodology

Colleges are ranked based on a combination of factors, including graduation rates, campus diversity, endowment per student, and other data as reported via the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) for the most recently-available enrollment year. Some colleges may have been excluded from rankings based on certain criteria, including specialization and classification. Learn about our full methodology.

Interested in any of these schools? Check out College Raptor’s free match tool to see if they’re a good fit for you!

College Raptor Staff

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