You might be interested in going to a small college, but just how small? In general, schools labeled 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.
Why Are These Schools So Small?
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 several reasons these colleges are particularly small:
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 religious schools of a particular denomination, art schools, or professional schools.
The smallest liberal arts colleges usually have a curriculum that emphasizes certain modes of learning and exploration of subjects. 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.
Began as Parts of Larger Universities
Some of these schools were once part of larger universities and then branched off to form their own communities. This goes along with their tendency to be more specialized and attract a much smaller group of prospective students.
Dedicated to Personalizing Each Student's Academic Experience
These schools are committed to keeping class sizes small and giving each student individualized attention. Often, students can design their own curricula and access a level of guidance and support from professors and advisors unheard of at larger schools. 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 alone and more on learning as an ongoing interactive process.
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.
"There are a lot of unorganized student events, but there is little to do in terms of clubs, student government, and the like."
"The college is currently building a dorm, but there is no Dorm Life. I live at a rental home and enjoy being with my roommates, but this is not the typical college experience."
"They create an academic bubble of seclusion, quite literally."
"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."
"I admit that this school does wonders with the mind. Thomas Aquinas delves into critical thinking and reading beyond the text."
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."
"Marlboro does not have class requirements, each student creates a course of study based on their interests and aspirations."
"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."
"There is always something to do and it is a very tight, close community who all are willing to help each other when/if someone asks."
"There is no leeway for those who just want to coast on by, and get a degree for something. This is an active learning environment."
"There is no meal plan, you are expected to buy your own groceries and prepare your own meals."
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.
List of the Smallest Colleges in the US
These are the smallest four-year 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
|Lyme Academy College of Fine Arts||78|
|Paier College of Art||79|
|Southwest University of Visual Arts||119|
|Oregon College of Art and Craft||123|
|Curtis Institute of Music||131|
|VanderCook College of Music||133|
|Design Institute of San Diego||143|
|O'More College of Design||170|
|Art Institute of Tucson||176|
|San Francisco Conservatory of Music||188|
|Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts||192|
|Art Academy of Cincinnati||201|
|Interior Designers Institute||229|
|Cleveland Institute of Music||233|
|Watkins College of Art, Design, and Film||238|
|Platt College: San Diego||255|
|Pennsylvania College of Art and Design||260|
|Southern California Institute of Architecture||262|
|Johns Hopkins University: Peabody Conservatory of Music||265|
|American Academy of Art||297|
|Memphis College of Art||338|
|San Francisco Art Institute||338|
|New Hampshire Institute of Art||343|
|School of the Museum of Fine Arts||349|
|Boston Architectural College||360|
|New York School of Interior Design||362|
|Columbia College Hollywood||367|
|Moore College of Art and Design||368|
|Montserrat College of Art||377|
|Pacific Northwest College of Art||405|
|McNally Smith College of Music||409|
|New England Conservatory of Music||413|
|New School of Architecture and Design||414|
|Restaurant School at Walnut Hill College||428|
|Manhattan School of Music||457|
|Maine College of Art||459|
Smallest Religious Colleges
For this list, I've excluded religious colleges that are exclusively seminaries—i.e., ones that only train religious professionals—because they are too specialized for most people.
|St. John Vianney College Seminary||61|
|Southern California Seminary||62|
|American Jewish University||65|
|Boston Baptist College||77|
|Charlotte Christian College and Theological Seminary||77|
|St. Louis Christian College||82|
|Baptist Missionary Association Theological Seminary||83|
|Kentucky Mountain Bible College||83|
|New Hope Christian College||87|
|Virginia Baptist College||88|
|Montana Bible College||89|
|Pontifical College Josephinum||90|
|SAGU American Indian College||91|
|Thomas More College of Liberal Arts||92|
|Huntsville Bible College||119|
|Hellenic College/Holy Cross||120|
|Nebraska Christian College||120|
|Oak Hills Christian College||124|
|Clear Creek Baptist Bible College||128|
|Great Lakes Christian College||133|
|World Mission University||133|
|Holy Apostles College and Seminary||135|
|American Baptist College||139|
|Boise Bible College||139|
|Southeastern Bible College||143|
|Southwestern Christian College||143|
|St. Joseph Seminary College||154|
|Providence Christian College||164|
|Johnson University: Florida||184|
|Arlington Baptist College||185|
|Mid-Atlantic Christian University||186|
|Trinity College of Florida||189|
|Trinity Bible College||190|
|Hobe Sound Bible College||203|
|Baptist University of the Americas||223|
|John Paul the Great Catholic University||227|
|Northpoint Bible College||227|
|Calvary Bible College and Theological Seminary||231|
|Central Christian College of the Bible||239|
|Faith Baptist Bible College and Theological Seminary||249|
|Dallas Christian College||252|
|Emmaus Bible College||258|
|Appalachian Bible College||269|
|Manhattan Christian College||274|
|Patrick Henry College||277|
|Bethesda University of California||293|
|Bryn Athyn College||295|
|Piedmont International University||298|
|Hillsdale Free Will Baptist College||311|
|Aquinas College (Nashville, TN)||312|
|Davis College (Johnson City, NY)||335|
|Grace Bible College||336|
|Luther Rice University||351|
|Trinity Baptist College||351|
|Silver Lake College of the Holy Family||354|
|Ohio Valley University||403|
|Beulah Heights University||405|
|Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary||414|
|Baptist College of Florida||427|
|Paul Quinn College||436|
|College of Biblical Studies-Houston||450|
|The King's University||450|
|Lincoln Christian University||464|
Smallest Engineering, Medical, and Other Professional Colleges
|Northwestern Polytechnic University||52|
|Herzing University: Omaha School of Massage Therapy and Healthcare||105|
|Lincoln University (Oakland, CA)||120|
|Charles Drew University of Medicine and Science||139|
|Columbia College of Nursing||142|
|American National University: Salem||145|
|Rasmussen College: Appleton||149|
|Rasmussen College: Moorhead||190|
|Silicon Valley University||206|
|SUNY Upstate Medical University||211|
|Platt College: Aurora||215|
|Chamberlain College of Nursing: Cleveland||218|
|Trinity College of Nursing & Health Sciences||222|
|Saint Anthony College of Nursing||238|
|Bryant & Stratton College: Eastlake||254|
|Research College of Nursing||264|
|Chamberlain University: Indianapolis||265|
|Blessing-Rieman College of Nursing & Health Sciences||272|
|Florida Career College: Riverview||275|
|Jose Maria Vargas University||300|
|Medical University of South Carolina||306|
|Herzing University: Brookfield||307|
|Herzing University: Kenosha||316|
|SUNY Downstate Medical Center||338|
|Rasmussen College: Fargo||346|
|Carlos Albizu University||363|
|Stratford University: Woodbridge||378|
|Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering||380|
|Harrisburg University of Science and Technology||387|
|Rasmussen College: Mokena/Tinley Park||396|
|Neumont College of Computer Science||429|
|Capitol Technology University||432|
|University of Minnesota: Rochester||435|
|Chamberlain College of Nursing: Houston||439|
|Cabarrus College of Health Sciences||443|
|Globe Institute of Technology||450|
|Golden Gate University||454|
|Berkeley College (White Plains, NY)||467|
|Herzing University: Kenner||468|
|Touro University Worldwide||484|
|Chamberlain College of Nursing: Jacksonville||485|
|Saint Luke's College of Health Sciences||490|
Smallest Liberal Arts Colleges
|University of the West||106|
|Medaille College: Rochester||145|
|New Saint Andrews College||162|
|College of St. Joseph in Vermont||230|
|St. John's College (Santa Fe, NM)||326|
|Maharishi University of Management||337|
|College of the Atlantic||338|
|Bard College at Simon's Rock||362|
|Sweet Briar College||365|
|Southern Vermont College||376|
|Thomas Aquinas College||389|
|Soka University of America||419|
|St. John's College (Annapolis, MD)||434|
|Pine Manor College||461|
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.