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10 of the Smallest Colleges in the U.S.

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. In fact, smaller schools offer a number of 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. One of the biggest reasons students opt to attend a smaller school is the academic advantages it offers. Because small colleges tend to feature similarly small class sizes, students 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. 


Of course, 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.


While smaller schools come with many pros, there are some drawbacks associated with these institutions. Because of their size, small colleges tend to have fewer resources and extracurriculars. In other words, your small school might not have that chess club you wanted to join or that frat you were hoping to pledge. 


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. 


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 in total. Here are 10 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 there are some specialized schools that 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: 961
U.S. News Ranking: National Universities, #12
Acceptance Rate: 9%


Another California college, Caltech is one of the world’s top research universities. Boasting 22 Nobel Laureates among its alumni network, the school offers an array of science and engineering programs, with top majors including computer and information sciences and math and statistics. However, students also take time out of their studies to enjoy extracurriculars. Popular options 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: 412
U.S. News Ranking: National Liberal Arts Colleges, #27
Acceptance Rate: 39%


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 will 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. Study abroad for one semester during junior year is also a required part of the curriculum, and is included in the cost of tuition. The goal is to educate students to be global citizens who are passionate about changing the world for the better.


3. Harvey Mudd College

Location: Claremont, CA

Enrollment: 844
U.S. News Ranking: National Liberal Arts Colleges, #23

Acceptance Rate: 14%


Known for its science and engineering programs, this school of under 1,000 students is part of the Claremont Colleges. That means students can also take classes at six other institutions, including Pomona College and Scripps. Additionally, 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: 300
U.S. News Ranking: National Liberal Arts Colleges, #154
Acceptance Rate: 50%


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 40 majors, minors, and certificate programs, with the most popular options including business, psychology, biology, engineering, and history. Along with access to 45 clubs and organizations, students have the opportunity to play varsity sports for the Sweet Briar Vixens.


5. Thomas Aquinas College

Location: Santa Paula, CA and Northfield, MA

Enrollment: 407
U.S. News Ranking: National Liberal Arts Colleges, #35
Acceptance Rate: 78%


This philosopher-named school launched a second campus in 2019, so students can now choose between attending school on the left and right 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 holds the top spot on Kiplinger’s Best Value list. 

6. Alaska Pacific University

Location: Anchorage, AK

Enrollment: 732
U.S. News Ranking: Regional Universities West, #82
Acceptance Rate: 86%


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. In fact, the school offers several majors devoted to this goal, including sustainability studies, outdoor studies, and marine and environmental sciences. Additionally, students enjoy close access to the walking and biking paths that make up the Anchorage Trail system, along with extracurricular activities such as kayaking, ice climbing, and skiing.


7. Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art

Location: New York City

Enrollment: 854
U.S. News Ranking: Regional Colleges North, #1
AcceptanceRate: 16%


Also known as Cooper Union, the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art allows students to study in the heart of New York City. This East Village college is divided into three schools, which focus on architecture, art, and engineering respectively. However, all students will 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: 862
U.S. News Ranking: National Liberal Arts Colleges, #53

Acceptance Rate: 65%


One of just three men’s liberal arts colleges in the U.S., Wabash College 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. Additionally, sports are popular at this Indiana school; in fact, almost 40 percent of undergrads compete in varsity athletics, while 80 percent engage in intramural or club sports. 


9. Scripps College

Location: Claremont, CA

Enrollment: 990
U.S. News Ranking: National Liberal Arts Colleges, #33
Acceptance Rate: 24%


Another women’s college, this Claremont school accepts just under 1,000 undergrads each year. Listed in the National Register of Historic Places, Scripps’ campus holds the honor of being one of the U.S. most beautiful colleges. Like Harvey Mudd, Scripps is a member of the Claremont Colleges consortium, so students have a chance to study at neighboring schools to expand their education. The most popular majors include biology, political science, and psychology.


10. College of the Atlantic – Bar Harbor, Maine

Location: Bar Harbor, Maine

Enrollment: 362
U.S. News Ranking: National Liberal Arts Colleges, #82
Acceptance Rate: 67%


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.


Finding the right college can be a challenge. Fortunately, CollegeVine’s free chancing engine and school finder allows you to search for colleges based on your preferences (including size) and chances of acceptance. We’ll also let you know how you stack up against other applicants, and how to improve your profile. Sign up for your free CollegeVine account today to get a boost on your college journey.


Short Bio
A graduate of the Master of Professional Writing program at USC, April Maguire taught freshman composition while earning her degree. Over the years, she has worked as a writer, editor, tutor, and content manager. Currently, she operates a freelance writing business and lives in Los Angeles with her husband and their three rowdy cats.