You might be interested in going to a small college, but just how small is "small," exactly? In general, schools that are considered "small" have fewer than 5,000 students in total. However, quite a few schools are actually at least 10 times smaller than this!
In this article I'll describe the characteristics of small colleges and then provide a list of the smallest colleges in the nation by category. That way you can decide if going to a small school really is the right decision for you.
List of the Smallest Colleges in the US
These are the smallest four-year, non-profit colleges in the nation sorted by type and enrollment number. This list includes schools with fewer than 500 students but more than 50 students because colleges with fewer than 50 students are extremely rare and not relevant to enough students to merit inclusion.
All enrollment data is from the College Board's Big Future website.
Smallest Arts Colleges
|VanderCook College of Music||73|
|Visible Music College||137|
|Watkins College of Art, Design & Film||146|
|Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts||164|
|San Francisco Conservatory of Music||205|
|American Academy of Art||205|
|San Francisco Art Institute||210|
|Art Academy of Cincinnati||212|
|Cleveland Institute of Music||230|
|Pennsylvania College of Art and Design||251|
|Johns Hopkins University—Peabody Conservatory of Music||265|
|School of the Museum of Fine Arts||278|
|New Hampshire Institute of Art||282|
|New York School of Interior Design||349|
|Moore College of Art and Design||373|
|New England Conservatory of Music||471|
|Pacific Northwest College of Art||488|
|Manhattan School of Music||490|
Smallest Religious Colleges
For this list, I've focused on colleges that primarily identify as seminaries or Bible colleges. Also, I've excluded religious colleges that only train religious professionals because they are too specialized for most people.
|Mount Angel Seminary||51|
|Allegheny Wesleyan College||54|
|Faith International University||54|
|St. Charles Borromeo Seminary—Overbrook||56|
|Heritage Christian University||61|
|Southern California Seminary||62|
|Kentucky Mountain Bible College||64|
|Hellenic College/Holy Cross||67|
|Baptist Missionary Association Theological Seminary||67|
|Catholic Distance University||72|
|St. Louis Christian College||76|
|Beth Hamedrash Shaarei Yosher Institute||80|
|Yeshiva Derech Chaim||84|
|New Hope Christian College||87|
|Conception Seminary College||95|
|Clear Creek Baptist Bible College||98|
|Montana Bible College||100|
|Beis Medrash Heichal Dovid||103|
|Huntsville Bible College||118|
|Southwestern Christian College||123|
|Yeshiva Karlin Stolin||128|
|Talmudical Yeshiva of Philadelphia||130|
|Nebraska Christian College||130|
|Boise Bible College||135|
|Yeshiva Ohr Elchonon Chabad (West Coast Talmudical Seminary)||144|
|Veritas Baptist College||151|
|Baptist University of the Americas||152|
|Arlington Baptist University||162|
|Yeshiva Gedolah Imrei Yosef||164|
|Holy Apostles College and Seminary||174|
|Manhattan Christian College||174|
|Central Christian College of the Bible||186|
|Mid-Atlantic Christian University||186|
|Appalachian Bible College||189|
|Trinity Bible College||190|
|Dallas Christian College||194|
|Emmaus Bible College||203|
|Trinity College of Florida||209|
|Faith Baptist Bible College and Theological Seminary||222|
|Beulah Heights University||237|
|Holy Family College||265|
|Luther Rice College and Seminary||293|
|Baptist College of Florida||296|
|Grace Christian University||296|
|Northpoint Bible College||322|
|Trinity Baptist College||335|
|Piedmont International University||348|
|College of Biblical Studies—Houston||374|
|Lincoln Christian University||398|
|The King's University||398|
|Nazarene Bible College||428|
|San Diego Christian College||460|
Smallest Engineering, Medical, and Other Professional Colleges
|Northwestern Polytechnic University||52|
|Columbia College of Nursing||116|
|St. John's College||119|
|Lakeview College of Nursing||148|
|Trinity College of Nursing and Health||163|
|Northwestern Health Sciences University||175|
|California Northstate University College of Health Sciences||179|
|Charles R Drew University of Medicine and Science||184|
|Saint Anthony College of Nursing||202|
|Southern California Institute of Architecture||235|
|Blessing-Rieman College of Nursing & Health Sciences||247|
|St. Francis Medical Center College of Nursing||320|
|Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering||347|
|Roseman University of Health Sciences||385|
|Capitol Technology University||391|
|Cabarrus College of Health Sciences||437|
|Pacific Oaks College||476|
|Harrisburg University of Science and Technology||478|
|Saint Luke's College of Health Sciences||490|
|Touro University Worldwide||497|
Smallest Liberal Arts Colleges
All the colleges on this list offer a variety of degrees and a complete liberal arts education (but note that some of these schools are religiously affiliated).
|California Institute of Integral Studies||69|
|American Jewish University||67|
|Thomas More College of Liberal Arts||90|
|Bryn Athyn College||99|
|Antioch University Santa Barbara||104|
|St. John's College||144|
|University of the West||145|
|New Saint Andrews College||145|
|Jewish Theological Seminary of America||147|
|Bay Atlantic University||150|
|Iowa Wesleyan University||156|
|Alliant International University||158|
|College of St. Joseph in Vermont||237|
|Bethesda University of California||244|
|Pine Manor College||246|
|Maharishi University of Management||255|
|Alaska Pacific University||266|
|John Paul the Great Catholic University||271|
|Ohio Valley University||280|
|Patrick Henry College||290|
|Penn State Shenango||306|
|St. John's College||317|
|Sweet Briar College||334|
|Silver Lake College of the Holy Family||346|
|College of the Atlantic||350|
|Sierra Nevada College||350|
|Southern Vermont College||351|
|Bard College at Simon's Rock||391|
|Soka University of America||406|
|SUM Bible College & Theological Seminary||431|
|University of the Southwest||432|
|Penn State Greater Allegheny||433|
|University of Maine at Machias||434|
|Bennett College for Women||435|
|St. John's College||474|
|Warner Pacific University||478|
|Golden Gate University||499|
Why Are These Schools So Small? 3 Big Reasons
It might seem unorthodox for the enrollment of an entire college to be the same size as your high school class (or even smaller!). Though definitely uncommon, these schools usually have a solid rationale for keeping their student bodies so tiny. There are three major reasons these colleges are particularly small
Reason #1: Extremely Specialized Curriculum
Often, small colleges have a very specialized curriculum that caters to a narrow demographic of students. Many of the smallest colleges are religiously affiliated, specialized art schools, or professional schools.
The smallest liberal arts colleges usually have a curriculum that emphasizes unique modes of learning. For example, some of these schools have a "Great Books" curriculum, meaning that all students must read a collection of classic texts as part of the college's universal academic requirements. If you're looking for an outside-the-box college experience, then a small school could be a perfect choice for you.
Reason #2: Spin-Offs of Larger Universities
Some of these schools were once part of larger universities and then branched off to form their own communities. Sometimes this happens when a university system shrinks. Smaller schools that were once affiliated with the flagship university have the option to become independently-functioning entities.
This can also happen if a school no longer fits with the larger campus. They may have developed new types of classes, or perhaps they want to serve a different portion of the student population.
Regardless of the reason why, this legacy goes along with small schools' tendency to be more specialized and attract a much smaller group of prospective students.
Reason #3: Dedication to Personalizing the Academic Experience
Small schools are often committed to restricting class sizes in order to give each student individualized attention. Often, students can design their own curricula and access a level of guidance and support from professors and advisors that's unheard of at larger institutions. At small universities, students frequently collaborate with professors and are asked to give self-evaluations.
Tiny schools treat the college experience as an evolving dialogue between students, their teachers, and their communities. This enables them to focus less on grades and more on learning as an ongoing interactive process. In fact, some small schools don't assign course grades at all!
Small colleges tend to be unique...which means that each student will have a unique collegiate experience, too!
What Is the Tiny College Experience Like?
So you can get a sense of what the smallest schools are actually like, I've compiled a few student testimonials that provide perspective on the pros and cons of attending these colleges.
"They create an academic bubble of seclusion, quite literally." (Source)
"The rules are a bit extreme, and never think that someone is not watching. At a school this small, everything gets out in the open." (Source)
"I admit that this school does wonders with the mind. Thomas Aquinas delves into critical thinking and reading beyond the text." (Source)
Thomas Aquinas College, Santa Paula California (Harold Litwiler/Flickr)
"Marlboro is the best place for independent students who want to take a serious role in the pursuit of their education." (Source)
"Marlboro does not have class requirements, [so] each student creates a course of study based on their interests and aspirations." (Source)
"Marlboro College classes expect serious work ethic. Class sizes are small, so sleeping in and missing your 8 AM is not an option if you think your professor won't notice." (Source)
"It's a good school but small. The classes get canceled sometimes because of under-attendance. Tuition is too high!" (Source)
"NYSID offers a lot of opportunities outside of class for students, but they don't have a better way of connecting with students outside of emails. Focusing a career in interior design, my favorite experiences have happened outside of the classroom, being involved in organizations such as the Contract Club and IIDA Representative. These experiences have proved invaluable in networking and meeting professionals in my field." (Source)
As you can see from all of these school quotes, the smallest colleges are often limited in their housing and dining options and campus activities.
However, they might be the right fit for students who are interested in a specific academic field or mode of learning. One benefit you can count on is a close bond with professors and other students.
If you're just starting your college search, you might not be sure whether a big or small college is the best choice for you. Learn about the major differences between the two.
Another factor to consider in the college search process is location. Do you want to stay close to home or start over somewhere new? Read this article to find out if a college close to home is the right choice for you.
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Samantha is a blog content writer for PrepScholar. Her goal is to help students adopt a less stressful view of standardized testing and other academic challenges through her articles. Samantha is also passionate about art and graduated with honors from Dartmouth College as a Studio Art major in 2014. In high school, she earned a 2400 on the SAT, 5's on all seven of her AP tests, and was named a National Merit Scholar.