With our Top Consensus ranking of the Best Small Colleges, College Consensus turns the focus on the little guys – schools with 2000 students or less. The best small colleges in the US are not small in reputation, and they’re not small in influence; in fact, some of the best small colleges in America are also among the most exceptional, with national and international recognition for their overall excellence. The Best Small Colleges ranking gives prospective students and their families a rigorous and full look at their options. Whatever the reason – small class sizes, personalized attention, close-knit student bodies, or safety in small numbers – students can trust the College Consensus to give a list of small colleges that rank the highest across the board.
The Best Small Colleges are listed in descending order according to their College Consensus Score. Ties are ordered alphabetically.
Claremont McKenna College
Washington and Lee University
Harvey Mudd College
California Institute of Technology
Bryn Mawr College
Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art
St John’s College
Rhode Island School of Design
Sewanee-The University of the South
Texas Lutheran University
William Jessup University
Thomas Aquinas College
United States Merchant Marine Academy
University of Mobile
Sarah Lawrence College
University of St Francis
St Bonaventure University
College of Saint Benedict
College of the Ozarks
Arizona Christian University
Saint Johns University
Howard Payne University
Kentucky Wesleyan College
MidAmerica Nazarene University
Nebraska Wesleyan University
Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College
Saint Michael’s College
University of Dallas
St Mary’s College of Maryland
Dakota Wesleyan University
St. John’s College
Ouachita Baptist University
San Diego Christian College
Wheaton College (MA)
Eastern Mennonite University
Agnes Scott College
Columbia International University
Virginia Military Institute
New College of Florida
Linfield College-McMinnville Campus
Oklahoma Baptist University
Grace College and Theological Seminary
University of Jamestown
Why Choose a Small College? Academics and Culture
First and foremost, there’s a strong argument to be made for the academic advantages of a small college. Time and again, studies have shown that people learn more effectively in small classes; it’s a fact that the top small universities have been touting for years. While, in a large university, you may find yourself in a gigantic lecture hall with hundreds of other students, too far away to even make out the professor’s facial expression, in a small college you’re likely to take classes with just a handful of people. That closeness means you get to know your classmates and instructors well, engaging in meaningful discussion and having the opportunity to have your questions answered directly.
Small classes at a small college also means a small student:faculty ratio – the number of students per faculty member. A professor at a large university can’t get to know all of her students closely, much less work with them one-on-one; but at a small college, where they may be just 10-12 students for every professor, there’s a greater opportunity for mentorship, guidance, and connection. In a small college, you’re far more likely to have to chance, for instance, to work alongside a faculty member on a research project, or to find a professor who can give you personalized attention and help.
The culture of a small college is entirely different from the culture of a large college, too. That doesn’t mean that the best small colleges don’t have their rabid sports rivalries, or riotous fraternity parties (they definitely do). What it means is that it’s much easier to form a close-knit community, one where students feel connected to the whole student body rather than just their clique or in-group. Small colleges can have other benefits, as well; with a small student body, they can pay more attention to amenities, so some of the best small colleges also offer the best college dining halls and the best college dorms in the nation. At a large college, students can often feel disconnected and lost; at a small college, students can feel more connected. A large university is where you go to school; a small college is where you live.
How Do We Rank the Best Small Colleges?
College Consensus isn’t like any other college ranking agency out there. Bringing together the rankings of reputable sites like U.S. News & World Report, the Wall Street Journal, and Forbes, with the most trustworthy student review sites on the internet (including Niche, Cappex, and Unigo), College Consensus works to get the full picture. Instead of just focusing on one set of data, College Consensus is an aggregate ranking, combining all of a given school’s published rankings for the Publisher Ranking, and adding in the testimony of students for the Student Rating. From those two numbers, we create the Consensus Rating, which we then use to rank schools in all sorts of combinations.
Our criteria for selecting the Best Small Colleges is fairly simple: these are the colleges and universities throughout the US that have student bodies of 2000 or less. That’s an arbitrary cutoff, sure; plenty of large colleges are proud of their ability to give students an experience like a small college, and there’s no particular reason a school with 2000 students is any different than a school with 3000 students. But the essential thing here isn’t how many students there are – it’s how the top small universities serve students in a special way. The Top Consensus Ranked Small Colleges put students first, providing the traditional college experience that leaves fond memories, lifelong friendships, and a sense of alumni pride that carries through for your 50th-anniversary reunion and beyond.
What’s Different About the College Consensus Ranking?
While other rankings take the narrow view – whether it’s strictly surveys of faculty, or reams of cold, hard data, or the perspective of students – College Consensus is the only college ranking organization that looks at the full range of published rankings and student reviews. That means we take all voices seriously, from the impartial experts to the students experiencing the real world of college on the ground. Other methods give an advantage to certain kinds of schools, especially the ones with the biggest marketing budgets and the most famous names, but College Consensus is interested in getting the fullest picture possible. Read more about our ranking methodology and sources on our about page.