Top 25 Best Small Colleges in the US | 2020 Rankings

Best Small Colleges BadgeA small college means a tight-knit community and plenty of chances for your voice to be heard. Just because a college is small, doesn’t mean it isn’t an educational powerhouse. In fact, some of the nation’s best schools are considered small!

For the purpose of this ranking list, we counted any college with fewer than 2,000 students enrolled (including both undergraduate and graduate) as small. “Small but mighty” perfectly encapsulates the spirits of these impressive institutions. 

If you’re more into close communities than crowds, then a small college might be for you. The colleges featured on this list are definitely ones you’ll want to consider. 

Best Small Colleges in the US

Pomona is a college of diversity, with students from all over the US and from 63 countries. The college moved from Pomona to Claremont in 1889. It has built an academic reputation rivaling the Ivy Leagues since. Any student at Pomona also has the option to take over half of their classes at any of the Claremont Colleges.
Location Claremont, CA
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 1,573
Founded in 1864 and as one of the first coeducational schools in the country, Swarthmore is used to setting an example. The school even played a role in the formation of American football. Today, the school is home to nearly 430 varsity athletes. Common varsity sports include soccer, lacrosse, and basketball.
Location Swarthmore, PA
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 1,559
Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering is a small but impressive school. It is known for its focus on STEM-based academics and project-based curriculum. Olin only offers Bachelor’s degrees, and does not possess any graduate programs. The school’s mascot is a Phoenix named Frank. The original school colors, before changing to a gradient of bright tones, were blue and silver.
Location Needham, MA
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 390
Harvey Mudd College holds a focus in engineering and science and is a part of the Claremont Colleges. The average ACT and SAT scores for accepted applicants is between 34--35 and 1,490--1,560 respectively. The men’s athletic teams compete as the Stags, while the women are called the Athenas.
Location Claremont, CA
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 902
Amherst College is a strictly undergraduate institution, located in Massachusetts. The college is a part of the Five College Consortium, giving students the chance to attend class at any one of the five colleges included in the group. Amherst has a historic rivalry with both Williams College and Wesleyan University.
Location Amherst, MA
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 1,855
At Claremont McKenna College, 93% of students graduate within 6 years. The school has fairly small class sizes, with 8 students for every 1 faculty member. The school’s football team competes at the NCAA Division III level. Legendary actor Robin Williams attended Claremont McKenna, but did not graduate.
Location Claremont, CA
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 1,327
Soka University of America has a unique and noble school motto: “Be philosophers of a renaissance of life; Be world citizens in solidarity for peace; Be the pioneers of a global civilization.” Which fits their mission of pacifism and human rights very well. Soka has three school colors: blue, white, and gold.
Location Aliso Viejo, CA
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 442
On average, Haverford College has 8 students to 1 faculty member on campus. Incoming freshmen score, on average, between 32 and 34 on the ACT, and for the SAT between 1370 and 1530. Biology, Economics, English, Political Science, and Psychology are the top five most popular majors. The college has an acceptance rate of 19%.
Location Haverford, PA
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 1,310
The United States Merchant Marine Academy is one of the five service academies in the US. Its motto is “Deeds not Words” and the official school colors are blue and gray. There is no undergraduate application fee and the academy is on a trimester calendar. The US Merchant Marine Academy offers six residence halls, and students are required to live on campus.
Location Kings Point, NY
Institution Type Public
Student Enrollment 1,015
In addition to the college’s location in Brunswick, Bowdoin also possesses a coastal studies center near Casco Bay. The college stresses a well-rounded academic plan, with requirements in various subjects, including a heavy writing course required during a student’s first year. They have a highly selective acceptance rate of 10%.
Location Brunswick, ME
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 1,828
Like the other US military academies, the US Coast Guard Academy does not have an application fee. USCGA has an acceptance rate of 19% and a four year graduation rate of 81%. Many of the first year students come from Virginia, California, and Florida. Their mascot is Objee the Bear, named after a famous Coast Guard ship.
Location New Haven, CT
Institution Type Public
Student Enrollment 1,071
Alenda Lux Ubi Orta Libertas is the school motto of Davidson, translating to mean “Let Learning Be Cherished Where Liberty Has Arisen.” Davidson’s most popular majors are Biology, Political Science and Government, and Economics. 63% of students receive grant aid. Nearly 80% of students study abroad during their college career.
Location Davidson, NC
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 1,843
Around 2,200 students apply to Hillsdale College annually, but only 36% of them are accepted. Hillsdale College also boasts an impressively small student to faculty ratio, with 9 students to every 1 faculty member. Out of the 34 majors offered, the most popular majors include Economics, History, and English.
Location Hillsdale, MI
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 1,521
The renowned music school is highly competitive when it comes to admissions---with an 8% acceptance rate. Along with test scores and recommendations, an audition required component when applying to Juilliard. The school has extremely small class sizes, with 5 students for every 1 faculty member.
Location New York, NY
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 942
Students at Webb Institute all graduate with the same degree---Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering. The marine-focused institute is located right on the Hempstead Bay. Students are known as the Webbies. Webb’s Stevenson Taylor Hall has been used as the Wayne Manor exterior in a number of Batman films and shows.
Location Glen Cove, NY
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 104
Unlike many colleges, Grinnell does not require students to pay an application fee. The average ACT and SAT scores are between 30--34 and 1,370--1,530 respectively. Grinnell has graduated a number of notable people---including comedian Kumail Nanjiani, actor Gary Cooper, and musician Herbie Hancock.
Location Grinnell, IA
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 1,716
The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art is more commonly called Cooper Union. It’s located on Manhattan Island, and their official school colors are maroon and gold. Cooper Union offers seven total majors: Fine Arts, Mechanical Engineering, Electrical Engineering, Architecture, Chemical Engineering, Civil Engineering, and General Engineering.
Location New York, NY
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 952
Scripps has school colors of green and white. The college also possesses a unique mascot named Athena, called Athena La Semeuse, which means “She who sows.” The mascot is fitting to the school, as Scripps has always had a focus on educating women to prepare them for the professional world.
Location Claremont, CA
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 1,071
Bryn Mawr is historically known to be the first women's college to offer graduate level education, including a PhD. The college is affiliated with multiple other organizations and colleges, including Oberlin College and the Seven Sisters, a group of elite women’s colleges. The school’s colors are yellow and white.
Location Bryn Mawr, PA
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 1,690
Kenyon College’s colors are purple and white. Unlike many other schools, students get different nicknames based on their gender; the women’s teams are known as the Ladies, and the men’s teams are known as the Lords. Kenyon does not require students to pay an application fee.
Location Gambier, OH
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 1,730
Bates College is quite a selective school, with only 18% of applicants receiving an acceptance letter. Accepted students score between 27 to 31 on the ACT compositely, and 1,280 to 1,430 on the SAT. Popular majors at the school include Economics, Political Science and Psychology.
Location Lewiston, ME
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 1,832
Also known as “Oxy,” Occidental College was founded in 1887, making it one of the first liberal arts colleges along the West Coast. Their school colors are orange and black, and their mascot is Oswald the Tiger. All students are required to live on campus. The most popular majors at this college are Economics, Biology, and Psychology.
Location Los Angeles, CA
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 1,930
Connecticut College was founded in 1911 and was originally a women’s college, before becoming co-ed in 1969. Today, men make up around 39% of the student body, and women make up the other 61%. Their motto is “Tanquam lignum quod plantatum est secus decursus aquarum,” or “Like a tree planted by rivers of water.”
Location New London, CT
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 1,844
As the highest degree offered is the bachelor’s, you’ll only find undergrad students studying at Whitman College. The school has an acceptance rate of 50%, receiving around 5,225 applications and accepting just over 2,610 of them. Notable alumni include actor Adam West and writer / director Rick Stevenson.
Location Walla Walla, WA
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 1,475
At Reed College, the top three most popular majors include English, Multi-Interdisciplinary Studies, and Biology. The college also provides students with on-campus housing, with over a dozen residence facilities throughout campus. 98% of the students on campus are undergraduates, with only 20 grads on campus.
Location Portland, OR
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 1,503

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

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.

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