Small colleges provide students with a unique educational environment. Learners can experience intimate classrooms, personalized support, and a community lifestyle that larger schools cannot replicate. Small colleges, however, may not get the same exposure as their larger counterparts because of size and financial disparities.
To help degree-seekers learn more about these schools, the following ranked list examines some of the best small colleges in the country and highlights what makes them special. The list uses a cutoff of approximately 2,000 students and accounts for various factors, including graduation and retention rates, research expenditures, student-to-teacher ratios, program offerings, and tuition rates.
Top Small Colleges
The Smallest Colleges in America
Amherst , Massachusetts
Since opening in 1821, Amherst College has reached great heights academically while maintaining a small student body. The college developed the first undergraduate program in neuroscience in the U.S. and offers about 40 majors in the arts, humanities, natural sciences, and social sciences. Even though Amherst serves fewer than 1,850 students, the college provides access to over 6,000 courses through the Five College Consortium.
Amherst — located in central Massachusetts — invested over $4 million in research in 2017. The campus, which sprawls across roughly 1,000 acres, includes a 500-acre wildlife sanctuary, activity spaces, and community centers. Providing extensive student support services, Amherst also boasts exceptional retention and graduation rates.
New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology
Socorro, New Mexico
Established in 1893, the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology focuses on training the next generation of mining professionals. With just over 1,200 students, the institute offers a 12-to-1 student-to-faculty ratio and provides access to more than 20 undergraduate and 20 graduate programs.
Despite its small size, NMT makes a large research contribution. According to the National Science Foundation, the institute spent $20 million on research in 2017. In addition to academic and research opportunities, NMT students can access an 18-hole golf course next to campus, as well as hiking trails and rock climbing.
Montana Technological University
Serving just over 2,000 students, Montana Technological University traces its roots back to the Montana State School of Mines, which opened its doors in 1900. Recognized as a leading STEM school, Montana Tech offers more than 35 undergraduate majors, more than 25 graduate majors, and many certificate tracks.
Learners can take advantage of the school's four research centers and numerous outdoor campus activities, including fishing, mountain climbing, and visiting wildlife parks. Degree-seekers also benefit from extensive student resources, low student-to-faculty ratios, and high job placement rates. The university is located in Butte — the fifth-largest city in Montana.
Mayville State University
Mayville , North Dakota
Founded as a teachers college in 1889, Mayville State University offers more than 60 majors at the undergraduate and graduate levels, along with various minors and training programs. With just over 1,100 students, MSU offers an intimate learning environment and a 13-to-1 student-to-faculty ratio.
The university's sprawling campus offers learners access to research centers, sports facilities, and considerable student resources, including advising, wellness, and career services. The school is located in eastern North Dakota — about 50 miles north of Fargo — and holds regional accreditation from the Higher Learning Commission.
Sweet Briar College
Sweet Briar, Virginia
Located next to Virginia's Blue Ridge Mountains on nearly 3,000 acres, Sweet Briar College offers more than 20 academic programs to fewer than 500 students. This women's college features reputable STEM programs and one of the best equestrian programs in the country.
At Sweet Briar, all students complete a leadership curriculum that prepares them for decision-making and problem-solving roles after graduation. Sweet Briar offers extensive financial aid and debt management support to help students graduate with less debt. The institution also offers students access to outdoor programs, a lively community, and a student support staff.
Valley City State University
Valley City, North Dakota
Valley City State University opened as a teachers college in 1890. The university — located about 60 miles west of Fargo, North Dakota — offers nearly 65 undergraduate programs to approximately 1,500 students. Learners benefit from a 13-to-1 student-to-faculty ratio. They also have access to up-to-date educational technology and flexible scheduling, including online and extended learning options.
VCSU's 55-acre campus sits next to a forest and the Sheyenne River. The university hosts the state's only planetarium, a medicine wheel park, and a STEM education center. Each full-time student is issued a laptop.
Southwestern Christian University
Bethany , Oklahoma
Since 1946, Southwestern Christian University has hosted a thriving academic community for a small group of students. Based in Bethany, Oklahoma, and serving just over 500 learners, the university offers more than 30 undergraduate programs in areas like business, Christian studies, creative arts, education, humanities, and social sciences. SCU also offers master's degrees and research opportunities.
A private institution, SCU has decreased tuition rates since 2018. The university also awards substantial financial aid packages to many students. Degree-seekers can access quality athletics programs, extracurricular student groups, and various worship services.
New College of Florida
The New College of Florida opened in 1960 to provide an active learning environment for students. That mission continues to this day, as the college offers practical training for undergraduates in the humanities, natural sciences, and social sciences.
Despite enrolling only 850 students, New College has established a growing research environment. According to the National Science Foundation, the university committed approximately $1 million to research and development in 2017. Degree-seekers study on a 110-acre campus in Sarasota and enjoy small classes — the school boasts a student-to-faculty ratio of 10-to-1.
Founded in 1824, Kenyon College serves approximately 1,700 students. The school's 1,000-acre campus features more than 500 acres of green centers and trail systems, along with Gothic architecture, student facilities, and a full calendar of community events.
Kenyon — located in the central Ohio village of Gambier — keeps its average class size to about 15 students and offers more than 50 different programs. The liberal arts college also provides considerable research opportunities to its students, investing over $1 million in research and development in 2017. In fact, Kenyon ranks among the top 10 schools in the country for the proportion of STEM majors who go on to earn a doctorate in their field.
College of the Ozarks
Point Lookout, Missouri
Since opening in 1906 as a high school, the College of the Ozarks has developed into a four-year postsecondary school. The college's mission is to support students and teach Christian principles. C of O offers learners 26 majors, along with pre-professional programs in veterinary medicine, law, medicine, dentistry, and pharmacy.
The college helps students set and reach academic, Christian, cultural, patriotic, and vocational goals. C of O also seeks to make education as affordable as possible, operating as a no-tuition school thanks to federal work-study grants and scholarships. All students participate in regular 15-hour work weeks, plus two 40-hour work weeks each year.
What Makes a College Small?
Small colleges enroll approximately 2,000 students or fewer. These colleges also tend to have smaller class sizes, fewer faculty members, and fewer program offerings than their larger counterparts
In many cases, small colleges do not offer large campuses and extensive facilities. As such, this ranking highlights the institutions that stand out from the typical small college design, offering features that students might not expect from a smaller school.
What Are the Advantages of Attending a Small College?
Students who attend small colleges often benefit from a more intimate learning experience. They may get more one-on-one time with instructors and participate in a more inclusive classroom. Smaller schools may also offer more involvement and access to student organizations and better access to internships and job opportunities.
Depending on the school, small colleges may also offer more financial aid opportunities with less competition. These schools often have more engaged campus communities, as students are more familiar and comfortable with each other than learners at larger institutions.
What Are the Disadvantages of Attending a Small College?
While smaller colleges can provide many benefits, these schools do not suit everyone. For example, small colleges often offer fewer programs, electives, and educational resources. While the faculty may be more accessible, they may not be as diverse as those at larger institutions.
Furthermore, smaller colleges may feature more competitive admission requirements. These schools might also offer less competitive athletics and fewer on-campus facilities. Extracurricular activities are often limited at smaller colleges, and the school's name recognition might not generate the same appeal after graduation.
What Kind of Students Would Benefit From Attending a Small College?
Learners best-suited for small colleges typically enjoy small class sizes and an individualized learning approach. Additionally, with relatively limited program options, students should make sure that a school offers degree pathways that align with their career goals. Learners who make use of the intimate campus community and support services can thrive.
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