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10 of the Smallest Colleges in the U.S.

What’s Covered:


Whether you went to a small high school and are looking for a similar college experience, or you attended a big high school and are seeking a change, you might be thinking that a small college is right for your needs. Smaller schools offer many advantages not found at larger universities, such as more student-teacher interaction and a more intimate collegiate experience. Keep reading to discover the pros and cons of going to a small school, along with details about some of the smallest colleges in the U.S.


Pros and Cons of Attending a Small College


Most colleges come with their share of positives and negatives, and the smallest colleges in the U.S. are no exception. 


Pros of Attending a Small College 


  1. Academic advantages: One of the biggest reasons students opt to attend a smaller school is the academic advantages it offers. Small colleges tend to feature small class sizes, allowing students to enjoy more intimate relationships with both instructors and classmates. In some cases, you can even work with professors to design your own curriculum. The result is a more personal, interactive learning experience. 


  1. Extra academic support: Small schools typically have stronger advising systems. Advisers are more available and, thanks to the small student body, are able to become more familiar with individuals, allowing them to provide personalized guidance that aligns with a student’s strengths and weaknesses.


  1. Closer-knit community: College isn’t just about classes and grades. When you attend a small school, you’ll have the pleasure of seeing friendly faces wherever you go. If you’re anxious about living away from home for the first time, a smaller school might help you feel more comfortable off the bat.


  1. Less competition: Fewer students overall means fewer students vying for coveted spots in popular programs, favorite clubs, and financial aid.


  1. Easier to navigate: Big colleges are like a city unto themselves and can be overwhelming for first-time college students. Many students find smaller schools less intimidating and easier to navigate.


Cons of Attending a Small College


  1. Fewer resources: Small colleges tend to have fewer resources and extracurriculars. In other words, your small school might not have extensive research facilities or the variety of dining and housing options of a larger college or university. Similarly, it might not have the type of club you wanted to join or frat you were hoping to pledge.


  1. Limited academic offerings: Many small schools also don’t have pre-professional tracks of study or specialized majors, like education, engineering, or anatomy and physiology. Before applying to smaller colleges, you should do your homework to ensure they have all the academic (and social) offerings you’re seeking.


That said, small schools can be great for pre-med and pre-law students, or students who want to go on to pursue graduate degrees. This is because you’re more likely to have a deeper undergraduate education with the smaller classes, and a stronger connection to your professors, which often leads to standout recommendation letters. 


  1. Less name recognition: In general, people simply know big schools better than small schools. For example, Both Stanford and Harvey Mudd are California schools with exceptional engineering programs, however, Stanford is a household name while Harvey Mudd is under the radar of many people.


  1. Isolating: Some students find it challenging to make meaningful relationships at small schools. A small student body also means a small pool of people to befriend and can make it challenging to find a group to click with. The issue is often more pronounced at rural small colleges, which can feel like isolated bubbles.


  1. There’s nowhere to hide: Some students thrive at small schools thanks to the extra attention they receive from professors and advisers. However, if you prefer to listen to lectures rather than engage in discussions, you might not enjoy the small school experience. It’s simply hard to be anonymous at a small school.


10 of the Smallest Colleges in the U.S.


While colleges with fewer than 5,000 students are generally referred to as small, some of America’s top schools have just a few hundred undergraduates. Here are ten of the smallest colleges in the U.S. that you might want to consider. Keep in mind that these are NOT the absolute smallest institutions of higher learning, as some specialized schools have only 50 students. We’ve instead opted to list some of the smallest schools that may interest a broader group of people.


1. California Institute of Technology


Location: Pasadena, CA

Enrollment: 900

Acceptance Rate: 4%


Caltech is one of the world’s top research universities, boasting 46 Nobel Laureates among its alumni and faculty. The school offers an array of science and engineering programs—top majors include computer and information sciences, math, and statistics. Students also take time out of their academics to enjoy extracurricular activities. Popular extracurriculars include The Caltech Biotech Club and the Students for the Exploration and Development of Space.


2. Soka University of America


Location: Aliso Viejo, CA

Enrollment: 400

Acceptance Rate: 52%


Conveniently situated between San Diego and Los Angeles, this California university is known for having the largest per-student endowment of any U.S. college. Unlike most colleges, the school’s 400 undergraduates all work towards BA in Liberal Arts, with concentrations in Environmental Studies, Humanities, International Studies, Life Sciences, or Social and Behavioral Sciences. Each concentration includes coursework featuring multi-disciplinary, multicultural perspectives. One semester of study abroad during junior year is a required part of the university’s curriculum and is included in the cost of tuition. The focus on study abroad is to educate students to become global citizens who are passionate about changing the world for the better.


3. Harvey Mudd College


Location: Claremont, CA

Enrollment: 900

Acceptance Rate: 10%


Harvey Mudd College is known for its science and engineering programs. The school is part of the Claremont Colleges, which means students can also take classes at six other institutions, including Pomona College and Scripps. Harvey Mudd students benefit from an average class size of under 20 students and a plethora of extracurricular opportunities. With Los Angeles just an hour’s drive from campus, Harvey Mudd College undergraduates are unlikely to get bored while earning their degrees. 


4. Sweet Briar College


Location: Sweet Briar, VA

Enrollment: 400

Acceptance Rate: 80%


Named after a rose that grew on the founder’s estate, this Virginia school provides female students with a private, liberal arts education in a picturesque setting. Undergraduates can choose from roughly 30 majors, minors, and certificate programs. The most popular options include business, psychology, biology, engineering, and history. Along with access to 20 clubs and organizations, students have the opportunity to play for one of the school’s 11 varsity sports teams, the Sweet Briar Vixens.


5. Thomas Aquinas College


Location: Santa Paula, CA and Northfield, MA

Enrollment: 400

Acceptance Rate: 83%


This philosopher-named school launched a second campus in 2019, so students can now choose between attending school on the East and West coasts. Offering a Catholic liberal arts education, Thomas Aquinas College is renowned for its Great Books curriculum, where students study those books that have, for better or worse, altered the course of Western Civilization, including authors such as Plato, Aristotle, Cervantes, Pascal, and Hobbes. With a tuition cost of around $26,000, it’s no surprise that the school frequently appears on best-value college rankings.  


6. Alaska Pacific University


Location: Anchorage, AK

Enrollment: 300

Acceptance Rate: 96%


Boasting a beautiful, woodsy campus just miles from Downtown Anchorage, this Alaska institution strives to honor the legacy of the indigenous people who once lived on the land. The university offers several majors devoted to this goal, including sustainability studies, outdoor studies, and marine and environmental sciences. Alaska Pacific University students enjoy close access to the walking and biking paths that make up the Anchorage Trail system, along with outdoorsy extracurricular activities such as kayaking, ice climbing, and skiing.


7. Cooper Union 


Location: New York, NY

Enrollment: 800

Acceptance Rate: 15%


Cooper Union, also known as the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art, allows students to study in the heart of New York City. Located in the East Village, the college is divided into three schools, which focus on architecture, art, and engineering respectively. However, all students take core curricular classes through the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences. The institution offers a wide array of extracurriculars, including performance Groups, Greek organizations, and professional societies.


8. Wabash College


Location: Crawfordsville, IN

Enrollment: 800

Acceptance Rate: 62%


Wabash College is one of just three men’s liberal arts colleges in the U.S. and has been educating young people since the 1830s. The school has a strong focus on academics, with the most common majors including economics, biology, and political science. Sports are popular at this Indiana school; almost half of all students compete in varsity athletics, while more than three-quarters engage in intramural or club sports. 


9. Scripps College


Location: Claremont, CA

Enrollment: 1,000

Acceptance Rate: 30%


This Claremont, California women’s college has an undergraduate enrollment of roughly 1,000 students. Scripps’ campus holds the honor of being one of the most beautiful colleges in the nation and is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Like Harvey Mudd, Scripps is a member of the Claremont Colleges, so Scripps students have a chance to study at neighboring schools to expand their education. The college’s most popular majors include biology, political science, and psychology.


10. College of the Atlantic | COA


Location: Bar Harbor, ME

Enrollment: 300

Acceptance Rate: 61%


Love the idea of attending college by the ocean? One of the smallest colleges in the U.S., this school of around 300 strives to “improve the relationships between human beings and our social and natural communities.” Along with a focus on research and activism, the College of the Atlantic offers an array of extracurriculars that take advantage of the scenic location, such as camping, rowing, and sailing.


Calculate Your Chances of Acceptance


CollegeVine can help you better understand your odds of acceptance at more than 1,600 schools across the country—whether it’s a super-small school of just a few hundred students or a mammoth university where enrollment numbers are in the tens of thousands. Our free chancing engine uses metrics such as GPA, test scores, and extracurricular activities to estimate your chances of college admission while also highlighting areas on your profile where improvement is possible.


Short Bio
A graduate of Northeastern University with a degree in English, Tim Peck currently lives in Concord, New Hampshire, where he balances a freelance writing career with the needs of his two Australian Shepherds to play outside.