Top 25 Best Small Colleges in the US | 2023 Rankings

Top Small Colleges 2023 badge.Small but mighty defines the colleges on this list well. 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 undergraduate students as small.

The student enrollment numbers you see on the “top small colleges” list account for the school’s total student enrollment – which includes undergraduates and graduate students.

If you prefer close communities to huge crowds, then a small college might be for you. The colleges featured on this list are ones to consider.

Top 25 Best Small Colleges

Also known as Caltech, the California Institute of Technology’s motto is, “the truth shall make you free.” Science and Engineering are top choices among students and there have been over 75 Nobel laureates that have been associated with Caltech (including 40 alumni and faculty members). Just over 2,200 students attend the school today.
Location Pasadena, CA
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 2,240
Originally known as the Augusta Academy and established in 1749, it would later be named after George Washington and Robert E. Lee, the latter of which was the president of the school for five years. With blue and white colors, students and athletes go by the nickname “The Generals.”
Location Lexington, VA
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 2,183
A smaller school, Pomona College has about 1,475 students. The school receives around 10,400 applications and accepts 8.6% of them. The four commonly chosen majors are Econometrics, Computer Science, Mathematics, and International Relations and Affairs. The school was created when the founders wanted to recreate a “college of the New England type.” Their mascot is Cecil the Sagehen.
Location Claremont, CA
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 1,475
“Scientiæ Cedit Mare,” or “the sea yields to knowledge,” is the motto of the United States Coast Guard Academy. It was founded in 1876 and is the smallest of the five academies for service in the United States. The most popular major is Business Administration and Management, but Operations Research, Political Science and Government, and Oceanography are also top choices.
Location New London, CT
Institution Type Public
Student Enrollment 1,056
With an acceptance rate of 11.8%, Amherst College is a fairly selective school. A majority of their first-year students come from Massachusetts, New York, and California. The third oldest institution of higher education in the state, it was originally a men’s college. It became coeducational in 1975. Amherst College’s motto is “terras Irradient,” which means “let them enlighten the lands.”
Location Amherst, MA
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 1,745
Harvey Mudd College has a little under 900 students and offers programs only related to Science and Engineering. It has an 18% acceptance rate, 92% first year retention rate, and an 8:1 student-to-faculty ratio. Part of the Claremont Colleges, their colors are black and gold. The men’s teams are known as the Stags and the women are known as the Athenas.
Location Claremont, CA
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 854
With just over 1,400 undergraduate students, Swarthmore College is a smaller school. It was one of the first coeducational colleges in the country. The college is associated with the University of Pennsylvania through the Quaker Consortium, which means students can take classes at the four schools within the arrangement.
Location Swarthmore, PA
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 1,437
Hillsdale’s motto is “Virtus Tentamine Gaudet” or “Strength Rejoices in the Challenge.” The school has a 97% first year retention rate and a 9:1 student-to-faculty ratio. All students who attend are required to take courses on the “Great Books,” the United States Constitution, and Science courses. 78% of students will graduate within 6 years.
Location Hillsdale, MI
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 1,543
With around 400 students, Soka University of America is an extremely small school. It has an acceptance rate of about 52%. A fairly new school (founded in 2001), the private university focuses on pacifism, human rights, and the creative coexistence of nature and humanity. It was founded by the founder of the Soka Gakkai International Buddhist movement, Daisaku Ikeda.
Location Aliso Viejo, CA
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 403
With 57 areas of study, a majority of Hamilton students opt for Economics as their major, but Mathematics, Political Science, and Biology are also popular choices. Their motto is in Ancient Greek: Γνῶθι Σεαυτόν, which translates to “know thyself.” The school has been coeducational since 1978 after merging with its sister school, Kirkland College.
Location Clinton, NY
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 1,902
Around 1,260 students attend Claremont McKenna College, which has a 13.3% acceptance rate and 81% four-year graduation rate. The most commonly chosen major is Econometrics and Quantitative Economics. With an 8:1 student-to-faculty ratio, 87% of students will stay after their freshman year.
Location Claremont, CA
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 1,264
Part of the Midwest Conference, the most popular sports at Carleton College include football, basketball, baseball, and cross country/track, soccer, and swimming and diving. They’re known as the Knights and wear blue and maize for school colors. Biology is a common major, with Computer Science, International Relations and Affairs, and Economics also being popular.
Location Northfield, MN
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 1,940
Although it was originally founded as a men’s college in 1793, the school now has 1,987 students with about half men and half women. It was created out of the funds of Ephraim Williams, who died in the French and Indian War. The college gets just under 9,000applications each year and accepts 15.1% of students.
Location Williamstown, MA
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 1,987
Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering was established fairly recently in 1997. Half of a student’s tuition is actually covered by the Olin Scholarship. Currently, just over 300 students attend. Majors include General Engineering, Electrical Engineering, and Mechanical Engineering. With an 81% first year retention rate, the college also has a 6:1 student-to-faculty ratio.
Location Needham, MA
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 310
Davidson College was founded in 1837 and already started trying to reduce the cost of college for students by the 1850’s. Today, the school meets the financial needs of students through grants, student employment, and more, and doesn’t require their students to take out loans. 20% of applicants are accepted. Davidson has a 93% first year retention rate.
Location Davidson, NC
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 1,983
Haverford College is a liberal arts school founded in 1833 by the Religious Society of Friends, also known as Quakers. It’s part of the Tri-College Consortium which means students can attend classes at nearby schools Bryn Mawr and Swarthmore. “Non doctior, sed meliore doctrina imbutus,” or "not more learned, but steeped in a higher learning," is the school’s motto.
Location Haveford, PA
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 1,307
The Juilliard School is a performing arts conservatory. Stringed Instruments, Dance, and Keyboard Instruments are the most popular majors. Some famous alumni are Robin Williams, Ving Rhames, Val Kilmer, and Viola Davis. The institution is extremely competitive, with only 7.6% of applicants accepted.
Location New York, NY
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 961
Bowdoin College is a very selective school with an acceptance rate of 9.2%. 91% of students will graduate within four years, and 95% within six. With an 8:1 student-to-faculty ratio, the college also has an 86% first year retention rate. Bowdoin College offers 34 different majors, including joint Engineering programs with Columbia, Dartmouth, Caltech, and the University of Maine.
Location Brunswick, ME
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 1,777
The two most popular majors at Grinnell College are Computer Science and Biology/Biological Sciences. Part of the Midwest Conference and NCAA Division III, the Pioneers, wearing scarlet and black, have a wide variety of sports to choose from including football, swimming, diving, golf, and soccer. They currently have exactly 400 athletes and their unofficial mascot is a squirrel
Location Grinnell, IA
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 1,493
The Webb Institute in New York is a small private college solely focused on Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering. Students who attend receive full-tuition scholarships. Students are also lucky enough to learn via guaranteed internships each year and 100% job placement after graduation. Over 75% of the student population are male.
Location Glen Cove, NY
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 101
The United States Merchant Marine Academy’s motto is Acta Non Verba in Latin, or “Deeds not Words” in English. The Academy accepts just over 24% of applicants and the only available majors to students are Marine Science/Merchant Marine Officer, Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering, and Systems Engineering.
Location Kings Point, NY
Institution Type Public
Student Enrollment 1,045
Kenyon College has produced Rhodes Scholars, Truman Scholarship winners, Fulbright recipients, and Marshall Scholarship winners. Famous alumni have included former United States President Rutherford B. Hayes, actor Paul Newman, and Calvin and Hobbes creator, Bill Watterson. The school has a 37% acceptance rate.
Location Gambier, OH
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 1,615
The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art, also known as Cooper Union, has under 900 students and only a 17.5% acceptance rate. Cooper Union only offers a few majors including Fine/Studio Arts, Engineering Studies, and Architecture. The school also boasts a high first year retention rate of 85% and has an 8:1 student to faculty ratio.
Location New York, NY
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 887
Bates College was founded in 1855 and was the first coeducational college in New England. It also began admitting minority students before the Emancipation Proclamation. Highly selective, Bates College only accepts around 14% of applicants. The school has a 90% first year retention rate, 90% four-year graduation rate, and a 10:1 student to faculty ratio.
Location Lewiston, ME
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 1,876
Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology focuses on math, science, and engineering. It was originally founded as the Terre Haute School of Industrial Science in 1874 in an effort to teach technical training to assist with railroad construction. It would get its current name in 1971 after financial support from the Hulman family. The top major is Mechanical Engineering.
Location Terre Haute, IN
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 1,990

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


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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