Top 25 Best Small Colleges in the US | 2021 Rankings

Best small colleges badge“Though she be but little, she is fierce.” William Shakespeare wasn’t talking about colleges when he penned those words, but they are apt to describe small colleges nonetheless. A small college means a tight-knit community and plenty of chances for your voice to be heard. 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.

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

Top 25 Best Small Colleges in the US

Accordion Sample Description
Pomona College was founded in 1887 and later on created the Claremont Colleges. Students who attend Pomona have the choice to take up to half their classes at the other schools. Because of these amazing opportunities, it’s no wonder that Pomona College is incredibly selective, accepting only under 8% of all applicants.
Location Claremont, CA
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 1,573
Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering is unique in that it has an extremely small student body and only three majors: Engineering, Mechanical Engineering, and Electrical Engineering. Additionally, students who attend have half of their tuition covered by the Olin Scholarship. Because of the scholarship and glowing reputation in the engineering field, Olin College receives almost 900 applicants per year, accepting fewer than 140 of them.
Location Needham, MA
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 390
Though Swarthmore College was founded in 1864, the school didn’t hold class until 1869. Swarthmore College is part of the Tri-College Consortium with two other schools -- students attending can register for classes at the other colleges. With such an amazing opportunity, it’s no wonder that Swarthmore is highly selective, with the incoming freshmen class typically scoring between 30 to 34 on the ACT and 1,400 to 1,550 on the SAT.
Location Swarthmore, PA
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 1,559
As a liberal arts school, Amherst College has adopted an open curriculum, where students aren’t required to take any core classes and lets students create their own interdisciplinary study. Many students at Amherst major in fields such as Economics, Mathematics, and English Language and Literature, just to name a few. The college is also part of the Five College Consortium, which means that students can take classes at the other four schools.
Location Amherst, MA
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 1,855
Harvey Mudd College is part of the Claremont Consortium, which means that students are free to use the resources the other schools in the consortium offer. Because of that, some students choose to major in fields such as Engineering, Computer Science, or Mathematics and Computer Science at Harvey Mudd. Others may choose to do an Independent Program of Study or major in a field offered by one of the other schools, as long as they minor in something at Harvey Mudd.
Location Claremont, CA
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 902
Claremont McKenna College was originally a men-only school, before transitioning into a coeducational school in 1976. Today, there’s a near even split of women and men attending. Incoming freshmen, on average, scored between 30 to 34 on the ACT and 1,400 to 1,530 on the SAT. As a member of the Claremont Consortium, students attending Claremont McKenna can take classes and use resources from the other schools in the group.
Location Claremont, CA
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 1,327
Soka University of America is a unique school -- it offers one degree: Liberal Arts. Students can choose one of four tracks; students also participate in Learning Clusters and must study a language during their time at Soka University, culminating in a study abroad experience. With such a small student population, it’s no surprise that the average class size is eight students for every one faculty member.
Location Aliso Viejo, CA
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 442
The Juilliard School is one of the most prestigious music, art, and dance schools, so it’s not surprising that over 2,800 students send in an application every year. However, Juilliard is extremely selective, only admitting 200 students -- many of whom had to attend auditions to even be considered.
Location New York, NY
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 942
The United States Coast Guard Academy is the smallest service academy and the only one that doesn’t require a student to have a congressman’s nomination. However, like the others, this academy is highly selective, only accepting 19% of their applicants. Though students only have a few majors to choose from, majors have their own tracks, and students can take elective classes through Connecticut College.
Location New Haven, CT
Institution Type Public
Student Enrollment 1,071
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
Haverford College is part of the Tri College Consortium and the Quaker Consortium. As a liberal arts college, Haverford requires students to take a wide variety of classes. The school also upholds the Honor Code, run entirely by students. Some of the more popular majors at Haverford include Psychology, Economics, and Political Science and Government. The college has an acceptance rate of 19%.
Location Haverford, PA
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 1,310
Webb Institute was founded by William Henry Webb, a shipbuilder who saw the importance of science and engineering. Today, Webb Institute graduates all earn a degree in Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering. Students who attend this highly selective school have their tuition covered while they study.
Location Glen Cove, NY
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 104
In the 1850’s, Davidson College created the Scholarship Plan, which allowed people to buy a scholarship for $100 and redeem it to cover their tuition until the 1870’s. Today, 63% of students receive some form of grant aid and 63% receive some form of institutional aid. Davidson College has an average class size of 9 students to 1 faculty member, and the college has a 95% first-year retention rate.
Location Davidson, NC
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 1,843
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. The actions of these students represent Grinnell College and its student culture well -- even today, students at Grinnell aren’t afraid to voice their concerns. Grinnell College itself is need-blind.
Location Grinnell, IA
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 1,716
Like the other US service academies, students who want to attend the United States Merchant Marine Academy must be nominated by a congressman. Students at the academy study in fields all related to aspects of the United States Merchant Marine -- thus, there are only three majors: Marine Science/Merchant Marine Officer, Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering, and Systems Engineering.
Location Kings Point, NY
Institution Type Public
Student Enrollment 1,015
Hillsdale College relies entirely on donations, rather than federal aid, to help students with their financial aid. Unsurprisingly, 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.
Location Hillsdale, MI
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 1,521
Scripps College, an all-women’s college, is the second-oldest school in the Claremont Colleges. The school is known for its high selectivity, academic resources, and its beautiful campus. In fact, its campus was the first to receive the Getty Campus Heritage Initiative Program. Scripps College only accepts 24% of all applicants and has a 92% first-year retention rate.
Location Claremont, CA
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 1,071
Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art was founded with the idea that higher education was for every qualified individual and should be free. Staying true to their ideals, Cooper Union admitted students regardless of their gender, race, or religious beliefs, and covered students’ tuition costs up until 2014. Around 2,400 students apply to this highly selective college every year, though only 400 of them are accepted.
Location New York, NY
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 952
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. 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
Bates College is considered both a Little Ivy and a Hidden Ivy, so it’s not surprising that over 7,600 students apply to the college annually. Some of the most popular majors at Bates include Political Science and Government, Economics, and Psychology. Class sizes are typically around 10 students to 1 faculty member, and Bates College boasts a 94% first-year retention rate.
Location Lewiston, ME
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 1,832
Connecticut College was originally an all-women’s school after Wesleyan University stopped admitting women, though Connecticut College did eventually switch to co-ed. Over 1,800 students attend the school, and 86% of them receive a form of institutional and grant aid. Incoming students typically score between 28 to 32 on the ACT and 1,340 to 1,450 on the SAT.
Location New London, CT
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 1,844
Students at Occidental have access to multiple academic opportunities (including several joint programs) and unique student organizations. With so much to offer, it’s no wonder that Occidental College receives over 7,000 applications every year. However, Occidental is quite selective, only accepting 37% of all applicants.
Location Los Angeles, CA
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 1,930
Whitman College was founded in 1859 and was the first college in the Pacific Northwest to have a Phi Beta Kappa Chapter, as well as the first school in America to require comprehensive exams if students wanted to graduate. Today, almost 1,500 students attend Whitman College, many of whom major in fields such as Biology, Psychology, and Economics.
Location Walla Walla, WA
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 1,475
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
Pitzer College is part of the Claremont College consortium, which means that Pitzer College students can take classes at the other Claremont colleges. Its motto is “Provida Futuri” or “Mindful of the Future.” Over 4,300 students apply to Pitzer College every year, but only 13% of them are accepted. Incoming students typically have an ACT score between 24 to 29 and an SAT score between 1,190 to 1,370.
Location Claremont, CA
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 1,072

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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