Top 25 Best Rural Colleges in the US | 2021 Rankings

Best rural colleges badgeEver heard the phrase “out in the sticks” or “out in the boonies?” Both mean the location is rural or in the middle of “nowhere.” Some of the best colleges in the US are “out in the sticks.”

While city schools might get a lot of hype, we wanted to shine the spotlight on more rural schools. For this list, we’ve included colleges in rural areas and small towns. Here are the top 25 best rural colleges.

Top 25 Best Rural Colleges

As a liberal arts college, Williams College focuses on interdisciplinary studies and runs on a 4-1-4 schedule. Students have two semesters with four courses, with a short winter semester in the middle. Students can use the winter semester to take an interesting class, focus on their research, or study abroad. Along with their unique academic calendar, students can expect an average class size of six students to every faculty member.
Location Williamstown, MA
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 2,149
Dartmouth College is highly selective and for good reason. Not only does the college offer the Dartmouth Plan, which allows more freedom to students building their schedules, Dartmouth also covers the tuition of students with families that make less than $100,000 a year. Because of that, and everything else Dartmouth College has to offer, the school receives 22,000 applications, but only accepts 9% of them.
Location Hanover, NH
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 6,572
Washington and Lee University was founded in 1749. The school has a rich history, from the inception of one of America’s oldest collegiate secret societies in 1880 to the university adopting their famous student-run honor system in 1905. Some of the more popular majors at Washington and Lee University include Business, Accounting, and Economics.
Location Lexington, VA
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 2,223
The United States Air Force Academy is the newest of the service academies. Students interested in attending must be nominated by a person in Congress. The academy is extremely selective, only accepting 11% of its applicants. Students who are admitted have their tuition and other costs covered by the United States Air Force.
Location USAFA, CO
Institution Type Public
Student Enrollment 4,336
Bowdoin College is located in Brunswick, Maine, though it also has other scientific facilities elsewhere in the state. Students at Bowdoin have few core curriculum requirements and can even participate in joint engineering programs with three other universities. Some of the more popular majors students choose at Bowdoin include Political Science and Government, Econometrics and Quantitative Economics, and Biology.
Location Brunswick, ME
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 1,828
Carleton College was named after William Carleton, who donated $50,000 to the school after seeing its first president survive a carriage and train accident. The school is quite selective, only accepting 20% of all applicants and many attendees are National Merit Scholars. Some of the most popular majors at Carleton include Computer Science, Biology, and International Relations and Affairs.
Location Northfield, MN
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 2,097
Middlebury College has a long and interesting history. It was the first college to grant a degree to an African-American student, was the first college in New England to become co-ed, and hosts the oldest writers’ conference in America, the prestigious Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference. Middlebury College’s academic reputation means that the school sees over 9,000 applications every year, though only 1,500 are accepted.
Location Middlebury, VT
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 2,611
To be admitted into the United States Military Academy, students must first be nominated by officials such as congressmen or even the President. As the oldest US service academy, the United States Military Academy had the first accredited engineering program and had the first class rings. Over 12,000 students try to get into this prestigious academy, though only 1,400 are accepted.
Location West Point, NY
Institution Type Public
Student Enrollment 4,589
The college operates on a 4-1-4 semester schedule, with a one month winter semester for students to take a course, conduct research, or participate in an internship. Studying abroad is also popular with students, as the college accepts credits from over 200 programs. Some popular majors at Colby College include Economics, Political Science, and Biology.
Location Waterville, ME
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 2,000
In 1914, Grinnell College offered a Peace Rock to students protesting the abolishment of a favorite tradition. In response, a group of students stole and hid the rock, which wasn’t found until 2017. Grinnell College itself is need-blind, which means that finances don’t factor into admissions, and the school has the largest liberal arts endowment-to-student ratio.
Location Grinnell, IA
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 1,716
Colgate University is a highly selective school, accepting only 24% of their applicants. Incoming freshmen have an average ACT score between 30 to 34 and an average SAT score between 1,380 to 1,530. Students and alumni at Colgate consider 13 to be their lucky number. Every Friday the 13th is “Colgate Day,” where alumni don clothes representing their school.
Location Hamilton, NY
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 2,969
96% of students at Hillsdale receive some form of institutional aid and 96% of students receive some form of grant aid. Around 1,500 students attend the college, which means that class sizes are also relatively small -- typical classes have about 9 students to every 1 faculty member. Economics is the most popular major.
Location Hillsdale, MI
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 1,521
Of all the students studying on campus, a whopping 98% of them are undergraduates. The university has an acceptance rate of 34% and an 86% four-year graduation rate. Popular majors at Bucknell include Accounting, Economics, Psychology, Biology, and Political Science. Their colors are Bucknell orange and blue.
Location Lewisburg, PA
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 3,668
Located in a small, rural town, Kenyon College offers a lot to its students socially and academically. Students have plenty of majors to choose from -- some of the more popular ones include English Language and Literature, Economics, and Psychology -- and can participate in tons of student organizations or Greek life. For the incoming class, students had an average ACT score between 28 to 33 and an SAT score between 1,330 to 1,490.
Location Gambier, OH
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 1,730
Miami University -- Oxford is the second-oldest college in Ohio and is considered a Public Ivy. The university also has historical roots in Greek life, having created five Greek-letter societies. Miami University is also academically competitive, with over 30,000 students applying every year and the school boasts a 92% first-year retention rate.
Location Oxford, OH
Institution Type Public
Student Enrollment 19,934
As the oldest liberal arts college in the US and the second-oldest still-operating college in the world, Oberlin College has made itself known as a progressive school. It was also the first college in the US to admit women and one of the first to admit non-white students. Both a liberal arts and music school, it’s not surprising that the most popular major is Music Performance.
Location Oberlin, OH
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 2,812
Biology, Speech Communication, Mechanical Engineering, Business Administration, and Marketing are the top 5 most popular majors at Grove City College. The campus is located along Wolf Creek. Grove City College is exclusively for bachelor’s degrees, so you’ll only find undergraduates on campus.
Location Grove City, PA
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 2,338
St. Olaf College was founded by Norwegian immigrants who wanted a school that taught in both Norweigian and English. To this day, the school maintains ties with its Norweigian heritage. Over 3,000 students attend this small liberal arts college. Incoming students have an average ACT score between 25 to 32 and an SAT score between 1,120 to 1,460.
Location Northfield, MN
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 3,048
Centre College was named because it was in the “centre” of the Commonwealth when it was first established. Today, 2,400 prospective students apply to the school every year. Incoming students have an average ACT score of 27 to 32 and an SAT score of 1,280 to 1,470. With the small student body, class sizes are also proportionately small -- the student-to-faculty ratio is 11 to 1.
Location Danville, KY
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 1,434
Thomas Aquinas College is quite unique. It offers only one major: Liberal Arts. The college also doesn’t accept direct funding from the government -- instead, the college primarily relies on private donations to give students financial aid. Only 407 students attend the college and the student-to-faculty ratio is 11 to 1. Thomas Aquinas College boasts a 91% first-year retention rate.
Location Santa Paula, CA
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 407
DePauw University was founded in 1837. It was the birthplace of the Society of Professional Journalists, the oldest journalist society in the US. DePauw’s academic calendar is a bit unique -- the school runs on a 4-1-4-1 system. Students can take advantage of the short semesters to take an interesting class or take on an internship.
Location Greencastle, IN
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 2,156
Scarlet and brown are the colors of the St. Lawrence University Saints. Over 700 student-athletes compete in sports like lacrosse, ice hockey, squash, rowing, skiing, and soccer among others. St. Lawrence University has a 4-year graduation rate of 79%, which bumps up to 84% in 6 years.
Location Canton, NY
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 2,522
The Virginia Military Institute is the oldest public Senior Military college and is the only one to enroll exclusively undergraduates. While all students are required to participate in the ROTC, students have the choice to not enroll in the US military after graduating. The most popular major offered at the institute is International Relations and Affairs.
Location Lexington, CA
Institution Type Public
Student Enrollment 1,685
Part of the State University of New York system, Geneseo is a ilberal arts college. The master’s degree is the highest level of education offered, though 98% of the students on campus are undergraduates. The school has a 65% acceptance rate. Alumni of SUNY Geneseo have gone on to become authors, CEOs, scholars, and more.
Location Geneseo, NY
Institution Type Public
Student Enrollment 5,612
Of the nearly 3,550 applications sent into the University of the South every year, the school will accept about 2,380 of them, giving the school an acceptance rate of 67%. Anyone applying to this university will be happy to know that there is no application fee. On average, the incoming class scores between 24 -- 30 on the ACT and 1200 -- 1380 on the SAT.
Location Sewanee, TN
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 1,785

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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.