Best Small Colleges in the U.S.

Learn about small colleges, which are typically liberal arts or technical colleges with under 3,000 students. Read about program offerings and student resources at three noteworthy institutions, and find a handy table that lists other high-profile small colleges in the U.S.

School Information

The small colleges profiled below include Amherst College, the California Institute of Technology and Cooper Union. Unique to the individual schools are opportunities to study at other area colleges, access to on-campus research centers or junior-year fellowships. Cooper Union in particular has designated schools for architecture, art, engineering and the humanities. All three small colleges offer undergraduate degrees in a variety of majors; students at the California Institute of Technology can pursue graduate programs.

1. Amherst College in Amherst, MA

School Highlight: Noah Webster was a founding member of the college.

In 2015, this small school was ranked second among liberal arts colleges in the nation by U.S. News & World Report. Serving the educational needs of about 1,800 students, the college offers baccalaureate programs in 38 different disciplines, ranging from American studies and computer science to philosophy and gender studies. The college also has agreements with five area colleges, including the University of Massachusetts, which allow students to take for-credit classes at other schools. They can also pursue memberships at more than 100 student organizations or utilize the Robert Frost Library, which houses more than one million published works.

2. California Institute of Technology (Caltech) in Pasadena, CA

School Highlight: The discovery of anti-matter happened at Caltech in 1934.

As of 2015, Caltech ranked in the Princeton Review's 'The Best 380 Colleges'; the company also designated it as one of the best colleges in the west. Admission to this research-based school is highly selective; former students and faculty members include National Medal of Science recipients and other award winners. Once accepted, students can earn undergraduate or graduate degrees in geological and planetary sciences, biology, chemistry and chemical engineering. Programs in engineering, physics, mathematics and astronomy are also available.

Caltech has a number of on-campus research centers, such as the Keck Institute for Space Studies and the Center for Advanced Computing Research (CARC); off-campus facilities include the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL).

3. Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art in New York, NY

School Highlight: The school is home to the Great Hall of The Cooper Union.

According to U.S. News & World Report in 2015, Cooper Union ranked second among best northern regional colleges and tied for eighth on its list of best undergraduate engineering programs. A small liberal arts college in New York City, Cooper Union is separated into four schools: the Irwin S. Chanin School of Architecture, the School of Art, the Albert Nerken School of Engineering and the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences. Special resources include design studios for architecture students; art majors can take advantage of the Herb Lubalin Study Center for Design and Typography. Students in their junior year can also apply to the Benjamin Menschel Fellowship Program.

Top Small Colleges

School Name Distinction Location
Barnard College Houses the Barnard Center for Research on Women New York, NY
Depauw University The 4-year Environmental Fellows Program Greencastle, IN
Macalester College Strong study abroad programs Saint Paul, MN
Middlebury College Average class size of 16 Middlebury, VT
Swarthmore College Member of the Project Pericles group of colleges Swarthmore, PA
Vassar College The Undergraduate Research Summer Institute Poughkeepsie, NY
Wellesley College Ranked as the fourth Best Value school in the country in 2015 by U.S. News & World Report Wellesley, MA

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