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Articles / Applying to College / High-End, Low-Enrollment Colleges

High-End, Low-Enrollment Colleges

Dave Berry
Written by Dave Berry | Oct. 5, 2017

For many of us, bigger is better. But, as they say, good things can also come in small packages. Those two opposing mindsets can apply to the college search, too.

If you're a college-bound high school senior, you no doubt have at least a partial list of candidate colleges in mind at this point in the year. If you're in the "bigger is better" camp, you may be thinking of your state's flagship university, where literally tens of thousands of students roam the campus on any given day during the school year.

However, if you're looking for that "good thing" in a "small-package" school, then your search may become a bit more difficult, because there are so many good low-enrollment colleges out there. In my view, a "good thing" would manifest itself in high-quality education along with superior amenities, and in some cases, even a great location (as in weather).

Accordingly, I did some research and found a survey of highly regarded small colleges that you may want to consider if -- and this is an important "if" -- you are a top student and can market yourself effectively while being part of a sometimes exceedingly competitive applicant pool. (Check some of my past Admit This! posts that discuss marketing your profile.)

My research led me to 2018 Best Small Colleges in America, a handy listing from Niche.com, which notes that their "2018 Best Small Colleges ranking is based on key statistics and student reviews using data from the U.S. Department of Education [comparing] small private and public colleges with less than 5,000 students." The methodology used for this compilation is explained here. So, on with the show ...

Each school listing contains some major data points such as acceptance rate (don't be scared), net price (again, fear not), SAT score range, a link to numerous student reviews (granted, these are subjective, but helpful), and the overall Niche grade of "A+" (obviously why these schools are on this listing).

Here, then, is a sampling of these (very) high-end, low-enrollment colleges from Niche's Top-25 list for your perusal and exploration. The number of student reviews follows location:

- Bowdoin College

  • 4 Year
  • Brunswick, ME
  • 639
#1 Best Small Colleges in America

Freshman: Whether its the Outing Club, the Literary Magazine, the Film Society, or an a Capella group, there is always something for every kind of person to get involved in. Also, people here are incredibly friendly and willing to go out of their way to help you. Bowdoin's size, with 1700 students, really enables this sense of community. If I could change one thing about Bowdoin, I would offer class credit for laboratory time. Also , this is just my wish , but I think Bowdoin should advertise more to the outside world. I grew up overseas, so most of my other friends had not heard of Bowdoin, or Brunswick for that matter. I can understand that I was surprised that not many people in United States knew about this school either. The social scene is great on the weekends, but for the most part exists only on the weekends as people work very hard during the week. As for food, you can guess exactly how delicious it is from just taking a peek at the NYtimes article and the college rankings. 15% Acceptance Rate

  • $23,156 Net Price
  • 1360-1510 SAT Range

- Pomona College

  • 4 Year
  • Claremont, CA
  • 350
#3 Best Small Colleges in America

Junior: Pomona's largest assets are not its $2b endowment, its buildings, or its location, but rather its people. Here, some of the world's most inquisitive, interesting, and downright intelligent students come together in the pursuit of knowledge and with the intention of changing the world. Professors care deeply about students and are some of the most well-regarded in their fields, a rare combination that allows for students to do meaningful work and learn from people who love to teach, never a teacher's assistant. The admitted class of 2021 is made up of 56.7% domestic students of color, plus 11.4% international students, making Pomona's the most diverse campus in the country. 10% Acceptance Rate

  • $18,423 Net Price
  • 1360-1530 SAT Range

- Washington & Lee University

  • 4 Year
  • Lexington, VA
  • 391
#7 Best Small Colleges in America

Alum: I graduated in 2002 and I still keep up with my professors, faculty, classmates, and most of all my fraternity brothers. The alumni connections are worth the tuition alone. It teaches you far more than what can be taught online or in a classroom alone. The best 4 years of my life! 24% Acceptance Rate

  • $21,379 Net Price
  • 1310-1470 SAT Range

- Haverford College

  • 4 Year
  • Haverford, PA
  • 197
#11 Best Small Colleges in America

Sophomore: I loved the campus and its proximity to Philadelphia. Haverford has a lot to offer, so long as you make an effort to use your resources. The fact that the school is so small makes it a bit limiting not just socially but also professionally, seeing as big recruiters generally don't come her. However, it has the reputation for being academically excellent, and the curriculum is rigorous enough to exercise your critical thinking, creativity, and work ethic. 25% Acceptance Rate

  • $21,056 Net Price
  • 1320-1530 SAT Range

- Davidson College

  • 4 Year
  • Davidson, NC
  • 269
#14 Best Small Colleges in America

College Freshman: While there are always people (professors included) that one does not like, generally the professors are super engaging, great teachers and want to help their students! Most classes are challenging and professors always offer their help. 22% Acceptance Rate

  • $22,865 Net Price
  • 1260-1440 SAT Range

- Williams College

  • 4 Year
  • Williamstown, MA
  • 253
#17 Best Small Colleges in America

College Freshman: I really enjoy being at my college. It is academically challenging while being engaging. The professors love teaching their subjects, and I have learned the value of a liberal arts education by taking classes in many different areas of study, which are helping me become a well-rounded scholar. I really like it here! The relatively small class sizes allow me to get to know my professors and classmates, which helps me learn better, as I can approach my professors comfortably during office hours and form study groups with my fellow classmates. I would choose my school again if I could do it all over because it has everything I want and need: small classes, passionate professors, engaging courses, welcoming atmosphere, beautiful location, and the list can go on! 18% Acceptance Rate

  • $21,546 Net Price
  • 1330-1550 SAT Range

- Hamilton College

  • 4 Year
  • Clinton, NY
  • 426
#20 Best Small Colleges in America

College Freshman: I love my school. Its a lot of work. The professors demand a lot from you, because they want you to learn and do well. I was a January admit, so me and 30 other January admits had the option to take classes in London out first semester. People who are jans do many different things, from work at home to study abroad. The transition to campus has been a little tough. The academics are much more rigorous here than they were in London. People here are generally welcoming and friendly but coming in mid year is a bit tough socially because many of my classmates had already gone through the making friends and figuring out what do to stage. Commons is generally good. It does get old after awhile, but its not too bad. It is worse having to walk in the next morning and awkwardly dodge your hook up from last night. The community here is great! Everyone is very supportive of one another. Many students go and support their friends in sports, or art shows, or plays, etc. Feb fest is a fun time of the year. For a week in February the school has all sorts of activities going on. They range from Mr. Hamilton (male beauty pageant), to chocolate tasting, to black light sledding, to cheering on the hockey team. 25% Acceptance Rate

  • $21,907 Net Price
  • 1310-1470 SAT Range

- Bryn Mawr College

  • 4 Year
  • Bryn Mawr, PA
  • 392
#25 Best Small Colleges in America

Freshman: I came to Bryn Mawr fearful, nervous, and alone. Nothing could have prepared me for the overwhelming kindness and support from my peers. At Bryn Mawr College, the success of few quickly turns into the success of the many. The party scene isn't phenomenal, but everyone finds their people at this school and everyone's emotional well-being is prioritized. We have tons of traditions that help to unify us as a campus and to foster long lasting friendships. We are a very liberal campus, full of boisterous young activists and individuals who genuinely love learning. At Bryn Mawr, everyone is treated with respect and tolerance. Racism, homophobia, xenophobia, sexism, etc. are not tolerated, and hateful individuals quickly realize that this is not the campus for them. We are made of wisdom. We are made of love. We are Bryn Mawr. 39% Acceptance Rate

  • $32,630 Net Price
  • 1240-1460 SAT Range


So there you have them -- just about a third of Niche's Top-25 best small colleges in America. If you think you can compete in these high-end applicant pools and you're looking for the advantages of a small student body and access to and attention from senior faculty, then it's time for you to go shopping on this list.

Oh, one more thing: There are certainly more than just 25 superb small colleges in America. If you don't see something you like on this list (which might be hard to do), visit College Confidential and expand your search, using CC's many resources to help you find the right place for you to spend the next four academic years of your life. Happy hunting!


Be sure to check out all my college-related articles at College Confidential.

Written by

Dave Berry

Dave Berry

Dave is co-founder of College Confidential and College Karma Consulting, co-author of America's Elite Colleges: The Smart Buyer's Guide to the Ivy League and Other Top Schools, and has over 30 years of experience helping high schoolers gain admission to Ivy League and other ultra-selective schools. He is an expert in the areas application strategies, stats evaluation, college matching, student profile marketing, essays, personality and temperament assessments and web-based admissions counseling. Dave is a graduate of The Pennsylvania State University and has won national awards for his writing on higher education issues, marketing campaigns and communications programs. He brings this expertise to the discipline of college admissions and his role as a student advocate. His College Quest newspaper page won the Newspaper Association of America's Program Excellence Award, the Pennsylvania Newspaper Publisher's Association Newspapers in Education Award, the Thomson Newspapers President's Award for Marketing Excellence and the Inland Press Association-University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Mass Communications Inland Innovation Award for the Best New Page. His pioneering journalism program for teenagers, PRO-TEENS, also received national media attention. In addition, Dave won the Newspaper Association of America's Program Excellence Award for Celebrate Diversity!, a program teaching junior high school students about issues of tolerance. His College Knowledge question-and-answer columns have been published in newspapers throughout the United States. Dave loves Corvettes, classical music, computers, and miniature dachshunds. He and his wife Sharon have a daughter, son and four grandchildren.

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