Best Small Colleges in the U.S.

Learn about small colleges, which are typically liberal arts or technical colleges with under 3,000 students. Review program offerings and student resources at four noteworthy institutions, as well as highlights of other high-profile small colleges in the U.S. View article »

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  • 0:00 School Information
  • 0:53 Amherst College in Amherst, MA
  • 1:33 Caltech in Pasadena, CA
  • 2:24 Cooper Union in New York, NY
  • 3:07 Barnard College in New…
  • 3:42 Top Small Colleges

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Video Transcript

School Information

Small colleges offer a wide range of degrees, usually at the undergraduate level. Because of their small student populations, many are able to offer smaller classes and more intimate academic environments. The small colleges we'll profile include Amherst College, the California Institute of Technology, Cooper Union, and Bernard College. 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 four small colleges offer undergraduate degrees in a variety of majors. Students at the California Institute of Technology can pursue graduate programs. Each was nationally or regionally ranked by U.S. News and World Report or The Princeton Review for 2017.

Amherst College in Amherst, MA

Amherst College includes Noah Webster among its founding members. In 2017, 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.

Caltech in Pasadena, CA

At the California Institute of Technology, anti-matter was discovered 1934. As of 2017, Caltech was ranked in the Princeton Review's 'The Best 381 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).

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Cooper Union in New York, NY

The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art is home to the Great Hall of the Cooper Union. According to U.S. News & World Report in 2017, Cooper Union ranked first among best northern regional colleges and ninth on the list for 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.

Barnard College in New York, NY

Barnard College houses the Barnard Center for Research on Women. Barnard College is a women's college located in New York City. The student population is around 2,500 students. At the bachelor's degree level, students can choose from many different majors and minors, ranging from physics to sociology to theater and they can take courses at Columbia University. The school offers a 3-2 engineering program, a year long master's degree in international affairs, and a 3-year dental school program. The school was ranked tied at #27 among all liberal arts colleges by U.S. News and World Report for 2017.

Top Small Colleges

Here are a few more of the best small colleges in the country.

School Name Distinction Location
Depauw University Offers a 4-year Environmental Fellows Program Greencastle, IN
Macalester College Offers strong study abroad programs Saint Paul, MN
Middlebury College Student-faculty ratio is eight to one Middlebury, VT
Swarthmore College Member of the Project Pericles group of colleges Swarthmore, PA
Vassar College Has an Undergraduate Research Summer Institute Poughkeepsie, NY
Wellesley College Ranked #3 among liberal arts colleges by U.S. News & World Report for 2017 Wellesley, MA

Students who want to attend small colleges can find many schools that have few students but still offer a plethora of educational opportunities.

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