The 25 Most Desirable Small Schools


We scored our desirability ranking based on yield (the percentage of accepted students who enroll), admissions, test scores, endowment, student-to-faculty ratio, retention, as well as climate and the quality of facilities, housing, and dining. When we adjusted our overall school desirability ranking to include only those with fewer than 2,500 undergrads, Cooper Union ranks at the top because of its very competitive admissions rate (it accepts a lower percentage of applicants than Yale) and zero-debt guarantee. Traditional liberal-arts schools in New England also make a strong showing, as do the Claremont Colleges. A notable outlier is O'More College of Design, a tiny, predominantly female arts school just outside Nashville, Tenn., modeled after Paris's Le College Feminin. It claims fewer than 250 undergraduates, but coming in at No. 10 is College of the Ozarks, whose motto is "Hard Work U" because its students work on campus rather than pay tuition. The private Christian college also strictly prohibits drugs and alcohol and boasts the highest yield of any school on this list.

Leo Sorel / Courtesy of Cooper Union

Cooper Union may be a small college--its campus spans just a few city blocks in New York's East Village and serves only 920 undergraduates--but its list of accolades is not. This highly selective arts college is No. 7 on Newsweek's list of most desirable schools, the fifth most desirable urban college and tops the list of most desirable small schools.

This coveted institution of higher learning for students pursuing architecture, art or engineering not only offers a 9:1 student-to-faculty ratio, but grants every student a full-tuition scholarship, as it has done since its founding in 1859.

For the fortunate 9 percent of applicants who are accepted, and therefore given a free ride, the college, as per its mission statement, "provides close contact with a distinguished, creative faculty and fosters rigorous, humanistic learning that is enhanced by the process of design and augmented by the urban setting."


Small in size, Pomona College is big on diversity, bright students and kudos--it has consistently ranked among the top ten American liberal arts colleges by U.S. News & World Report, has similarly been granted high marks from Forbes, and now places 11th among Newsweek's most desirable schools, fourth most desirable suburban school and second most desirable small school.

The Claremont, California-based private college has only 1,500 undergrads; they major in the arts, humanities, social sciences or natural sciences in a desert setting within an hour of the Pacific Ocean, the Mojave Desert, the San Gabriel Mountains and Los Angeles. Unsurprisingly, Pomona was No. 5 for Newsweek's list of academically rigorous schools with terrific weather. Though its Southern California location is a world away from the ivied East Coast universities its founders emulated, the school prides itself on its 7:1 student-to-faculty ratio, intimate classes and overall academic excellence. Only 16 percent of applicants are accepted (averaging ACT scores of 34 and SAT scores of 1560), which helps explain why Pomona College is No. 15 on the list of schools for brainiacs. Its 50/50 gender breakdown, gay-friendly atmosphere, and racially, geographically and socioeconomically mixed student body makes Pomona the 20th most diverse.

Courtesy of California Institute of Technology

A lot of big brains have passed through this small university dedicated to science, technology and engineering studies, including 3 Nobel Prize winners, 54 National Medal of Science winners and 6 Crafoord Prize recipients, which earns the California Institute of Technology the No. 3 spot on Newsweek's list of brainiac schools.

The private Pasadena, California-based research college offers a 6:1 student-to-faculty ratio that lands it at No. 3 on Newsweek's Most Desirable Small Schools list, No. 7 on the Most Desirable Urban Schools list and the twelfth most desirable school overall. Its favorable SoCal climate (the 124-acre campus rests northeast of downtown ) might have something to do with its impressive 98percentstudent-retention rate and is definitely responsible for the school's No. 3 spot on Newsweek's Great Education, Great Tan list.

As promised in its mission statement, the California Institute of Technology "investigates the most challenging, fundamental problems in science and technology in a singularly collegial, interdisciplinary atmosphere, while educating outstanding students to become creative members of society." Good if you can get it--only 17percent of applicants do.


Along with Wesleyan University and Amherst College, Williams College is part of the "Little Three," the small-liberal-arts-school version of the "Big Three" that consists of Harvard, Princeton and Yale. And Williams shares the limelight with its Big and Little counterparts on several of Newsweek's lists: It's No. 17 for future power brokers, No. 16 on Most Desirable Schools overall, No. 2 on Most Desirable Rural Schools, No. 4 on Most Desirable Small Schools and No. 10 for brainiacs.

Undergraduate enrollment at Williams College is roughly 2,000, with the majority of students pursuing a degree in economics, followed by English. If that sounds like a student body of polar opposites, consider this: Approximately 50 percent of all Williams College students participate in varsity sports, putting it eighth on Newsweek's list of colleges stocked with jocks.

Another unusual aspect of Williams College is an academic year that operates on two four-course semesters, plus a one-course January term. An all-male college until 1970, Williams began to phase out fraternities in 1962.

During the 2009-2010 school year, students paid $49,880 for tuition, fees, and room and board.

Courtesy of Amherst

Amherst, No. 5 on Newsweek's list of most desirable small schools, can offer students a lot of individualized attention. With a faculty-to-student ratio of 1:8, this private liberal arts school in New England boasts an average class size of 16. In fact, 90 percent of Amherst courses have fewer than 30 students. "We believe in teaching as conversation because the best teaching is conversation," Tom Gerety, the president of Amherst from 1994-2003, once said.

Situated on a scenic 1,000-acre campus near the center of the town of Amherst, Massachusetts, the college also made the top 3 in Newsweek's list of most desirable rural schools. Indeed, Amherst comes in as the 17th most desirable school overall. Along with Wesleyan University and Williams College, Amherst College is part of the "Little Three," the small-liberal-arts-school version of the "Big Three" that consists of Harvard, Princeton and Yale.

Despite its small size (roughly 1,700 undergraduates total), Amherst boasts many accomplished alumni, including U.S. President Calvin Coolidge and Supreme Court Chief Justice Harlan Fiske Stone, which lands the school the 20th rank in Newsweek's list for future power brokers and 11th for brainiacs. And the $48,400 in comprehensive fees that students paid in the 2009-2010 school year just might turn out to be a good financial investment: Amherst has also produced two billionaires.

Bob Handelman Images / Courtesy of Bowdoin College

Selective, athletic, intellectually rigorous and historic Bowdoin College is the 18th most desirable school in the country, according to Newsweek's rankings. Located in scenic Brunswick, Maine, the school also finds itself fourth on the list for most desirable rural schools and the sixth most desirable small school.

The private school, with only 1800 undergraduates, is very selective, admitting less than one in five applicants. Those who attend scored high on both the SAT and ACT, averaging 1510 on the former and 33 on the latter. The school offers more than 40 majors, with the most popular majors in the social sciences, including economics and political science, which may account for Bowdoin's 24th place on Newsweek's list for future power brokers. The school also takes spot No. 25 for its service-minded culture according to the Washington Monthly.

The student body exercises their bodies as much as their minds, with 39 percent playing on one of 28 varsity teams. There are an additional 51 intramural sports on offer, making Bowdoin the fifth-ranked jock school.

Tuition for the 2009-2010 academic year averaged around $40,000, and about 45 percent of students received financial aid. The student body is 66 percent white, 12 percent Asian, 10 percent Hispanic, 6 percent African-American and 51 percent female. Eighty-three percent hail from out of state.
*For the complete college rankings from the Washington Monthly, visit their website at

Courtesy of Claremont McKenna College

Talk about a well-rounded applicant. One of seven of The Claremont Colleges, which its founders modeled after England's Oxford University, Claremont McKenna casts itself as an intellectually stimulating and socially fulfilling, yet intimate, school, given its roughly 1,200 undergraduates. It places at No. 20 on Newsweek's Most Desirable Schools list (No. 8 on Most Desirable Suburban Schools and No. 7 on Most Desirable Small Schools). Perhaps that desirability is tied into its sunny California locale--the school is 35 miles east of downtown Los Angeles--since it takes seventh place on that list as well.

Claremont McKenna College is one of the most selective liberal-arts colleges in the nation, accepting only 19 percent of its applicants. While its academic programs, competitive application process and high test scores propel it to No. 24 among best colleges for brainiacs, the school also offers a robust sports program with 46 intramural sports leagues and 19 varsity sports, making it No. 17 in colleges stocked with jocks.

Emphasizing education in economics, government and international relations, Claremont McKenna is the starting point for many careers in law, business, government and public policy. Founded in 1946 as Claremont Men's College, the private school went co-ed in 1976.

Eleftherios Kostans

Swarthmore College's numerous accolades belie its small size, as the private college, located just outside of Philadelphia, appeared on several of Newsweek's "best of" lists, ranking eighth among small schools, ninth among suburban schools, and fifth among schools for brainiacs. With women slightly outnumbering men and more than a third of its student body represented by ethnic minorities, Swarthmore is the fourth most diverse school on Newsweek's list. If that weren't enough, the school was also ranked by Newsweek as the 16th on the best of the gay-friendly schools in the country and the 21st most desirable school overall.

It's clear why: For academics, the college claims that 87 percent of its students ranked in the top 10 percent at their high schools, averaging 33 on the ACT and 1520 on the SAT. For those seeking an intimate setting, Swarthmore's 399-acre campus is home to fewer than 1,500 undergrads and its 7:1 student-to-faculty ratio keeps class sizes small.

If that weren't enough to attract students, its $1 billion endowment gives the college the 14th largest per-student endowment among all U.S. colleges and universities, affording Swarthmore the opportunity to admit students regardless of their financial need. No surprise it's a competitive school, accepting only 16 percent of applicants.


Middlebury College rakes in several honors in Newsweek's rankings, including the 23rd most desirable school in the country, the fifth most desirable rural school and the ninth most desirable small school. No wonder that its acceptance rate is a very selective 21 percent, with entrants averaging a 33 ACT score and 1490 SAT score.

Fifty intramural and 25 varsity sports as well as one-third of its students on varsity teams help catapult the small school to No. 16 among schools for jocks.

Middlebury College is also renowned for its commitment to environmental stewardship through its curricular offerings and eco-friendly practices on campus. However, a Middlebury education extends well beyond its idyllic home in Vermont's Green Mountains, with a robust study-abroad program that spans more than 40 countries and opportunities at more than 90 programs and universities worldwide.

Courtesy of College of Ozarks

With a mission "to provide the advantages of a Christian education for youth of both sexes, especially those found worthy, but who are without sufficient means to procure such training," the College of the Ozarks has been offering students a liberal arts education in an intimate, Christian setting since its founding by Presbyterian missionary James Forsythe in 1906. Located in Point Lookout, Missouri, (near the city of Branson) the College of the Ozarks ranks as the nation's sixth most desirable rural school and the tenth most desirable small school by Newsweek.

Nicknamed "Hard Work U," the College is able to waive tuition for full-time students through generous financial aid packages and a student-work program, in which undergraduates work on campus 15 hours a week during the semester and two 40-hour work weeks each year during breaks. While this arrangement contributes to the school's desirability, it also makes for stiff competition--only 12 percent of applicants are accepted, adding up to a student body of just 1,500.


Founded in 1749 as Augusta Academy, Washington and Lee University has undergone several incarnations over the years: It gained the first half of its current moniker when it received a $20,000 stock endowment from George Washington in 1796 and the second half roughly a century later after General Robert E. Lee's tenure as the university's president.

The private, four-year liberal arts college in Lexington, Virginia, ranks seventh on Newsweek's list of most desirable rural campuses and 11th among the 25 most desirable small colleges. It is divided into two divisions catering to its roughly 1,800 undergraduates: the College; and the Williams School of Commerce, Economics, and Politics. It also offers a graduate school of law.

The university boasts a 9:1 student-to-faculty ratio, an average class size of 16 students, and professors who cannot push the work off to teaching assistants, because there are none! Washington and Lee University also offers active participation in student government, athletics and campus life.

Kevin Mapp/Harvey Mudd College

With only 700 undergraduates, Harvey Mudd College ranks 12th on Newsweek's Most Desirable Small Schools list. Its location in Claremont, California, also makes it the tenth most desirable suburban school and No. 4 on Newsweek's list of schools combining great weather with great minds. Harvey Mudd is one of the seven associated Claremont Colleges, which its founders modeled after England's Oxford University; other schools include Pomona, Scripps and Claremont McKenna.

Mudd students average 1560 on the SATs and 94 percent place in the top 10 percent of their high schools, with only 28 percent of applicants accepted. Though its focus on math, science and engineering make it sound like a technical institute, Harvey Mudd is a private liberal arts college that aims to offer student instruction beyond its nine core science and math-based majors by nurturing interests in the arts and offering instruction in the humanities, history and politics. Newsweek also ranks Harvey Mudd 19th among the top 25 best gay-friendly schools in the United States.

Courtesy of Haverford College

Founded by Quakers in 1833, Haverford College continues to extol the values of individual dignity, academic strength and tolerance, regarding its campus as an "atmosphere of mutual respect and collaboration among students, faculty and staff." That environment has helped place the college among the most desirable suburban schools in the nation (No. 11).

With its students averaging 1480 on the SAT, Haverford College is the 21st most attractive college for brainiacs, according to Newsweek. Its intimate student body of fewer than 1,200 undergrads and an 8:1 student-to-faculty ratio help put the school on our list of the best small colleges, where it ranks 13th.

Haverford's campus, itself an arboretum, holds 200 acres of award-winning landscapes and architecture, 400 species of trees and shrubs, a large duck pond, gardens and wooded areas. Still, its placement just outside of Philadelphia leaves the campus a stone's throw away from urban culture.

Courtesy of Davidson College

Though Davidson College is a small liberal arts college with only 1,700 students (It's No. 14 on Newsweek's Most Desirable Small Schools list), it is also a Division I NCAA school that offers its students 35 intramural sports and 17 varsity teams, making it among the 30 best colleges for jocks.

However, academics are as important as athletics at Davidson, where the average student scored a 32 on the ACT and 1458 on the SAT, and only 26 percent of applicants get the chance to become a Wildcat. The college claims 23 Rhodes Scholars and regularly appears as one of the top ten liberal arts colleges, as ranked by U.S. News and World Report. Davidson's smart and sporty students also make time for the community as evidenced by the college's ranking as the 16th most service-minded school on Newsweek's list.*

Davidson College was the first liberal arts school to favor grants over loans in all of its financial aid packages, enabling students to graduate without the onus of student loans. Established in 1837, the school is situated 20 minutes north of Charlotte, North Carolina, making it the 12th most desirable suburban institution.

For the complete college rankings from the Washington Monthly, visit their website at

Tamar M. Thibodeau

Founded in 1861, Vassar College often finds itself ranked among the best liberal arts colleges in the country; Newsweek places this formerly all-women's college, widely known for its progressive culture, as the 15th most desirable small school in the country as well as among the best gay-friendly schools.

Though only 75 miles north of New York City, Vassar's scenic Hudson Valley campus in Poughkeepsie, New York, is situated on 1,000 acres of manicured lawns, gardens, meadows and woodlands. The school's thriving campus life (about 98 percent of students live on campus) offers more than 100 organizations and clubs and around 1,650 campus events every year--from performances, workshops, events and internationally renowned lecturers. One of the original Seven Sisters colleges, Vassar claims several influential alumnae in the arts, science, business and law, including Poet Laureate Elizabeth Bishop (the library holds a special collection of her work), Crystal Eastman (co-author of the Equal Rights Amendment), and Academy Award-winning actress Meryl Streep.

With fewer than 2,500 students, the school selects only 25% of its applicants and its students average 32 on the ACTs and 1460 on the SATs. A quarter of its undergraduates are students of color, while international students make up about 8 percent of its student body. The current female-to-male ratio is about 6:4.

Courtesy of Berea College

Founded in 1855 as the first interracial and co-ed school in the South, this Kentucky school named for the town in which it sits, strives to maintain its identity as a diverse college. With ethnic minorities representing nearly a third of its students and a remarkable 83% of students receiving Pell Grants (federal grants for students from low-income families), Berea is number 11 on Newsweek's list of most diverse schools.

Priding itself on what it calls an "inclusive Christian character," the college offers free tuition to all of its roughly 1,500 students, each of whom, in exchange, work at least 10 hours per week on campus. This, as well as the opportunity to earn a Bachelor of Arts or Bachelor of Science degree in more than 28 fields, positions Berea as the eighth most desirable rural school in the nation and the 16th most desirable small school.

With such accolades, it's no wonder competition is stiff, and only 22 percent of applicants are fortunate enough to be accepted. The school says it admits "only academically promising students," and entrants average a 25 on the ACTs and 1210 on the SATs.

Joan Roman

Wellesley College's aim is "to provide an excellent liberal arts education for women who will make a difference in the world," and quite a few of its graduates have made good on that mission statement, including Hilary Rodham Clinton, Madeleine Albright and Diane Sawyer.

One of the original "Seven Sisters" colleges, Wellesley College is among the most elite all-women liberal arts schools in the country, and its standing as one of Newsweek's most desirable small colleges (No. 17) most desirable suburban schools (No. 14) and best schools for brainiacs (No. 22) are just three of the many accolades regularly bestowed on the school, which was recently named one of U.S. News & World Report's top five liberal arts colleges in the nation.

Just west of Boston and situated in a town of the same name, Wellesley offers baccalaureate degrees to some 2,300 undergrads every year. Just over a third of applicants are accepted, and Wellesley undergrads averaged a 32 on the ACT and 1465 on the SAT.

Tom Roster / Courtesy of Carleton College

Set in Northfield, a historic Minnesota river town, Carleton College has been providing what it calls "a true liberal arts education" since its founding in 1866. The school offers 37 majors in the arts, humanities, natural sciences, and social sciences in a quaint Midwestern setting on a campus occupying 1,040 acres, including an 880-acre arboretum, which helps explain its ranking as the ninth most desirable rural school in the nation.

With fewer than 2,000 students--which the college describes as intellectually curious--Carleton is rated as the 18th most desirable small school in the country. The student-to-faculty ratio is 9:1, class sizes average 18 students and the school promises that professors--not teaching assistants--teach every class. On average, its students score 33 on the ACTs and 1490 on the SATs.

Only 27 percent of students who apply to Carleton College are accepted. Women comprise 53 percent of the student population.


Though it has grown since it opened in 1893 with just one building, two professors and seven students, the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology continues to keep things small, with 1,344 undergrads and a 10:1 student-to-faculty ratio. Newsweek ranks it the 19th most desirable small school in the nation.

Specializing in science and engineering, the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology (often referred to as New Mexico Tech) offers 30 bachelor degree programs and is regarded as one the best technical schools in the United States.

Located in Socorro, New Mexico, about an hour south of Albuquerque, New Mexico Tech also ranks tenth on Newsweek's list of most desirable rural schools.

SAT (25TH-75TH PERCENTILE): 1080-1340
YIELD: 77%

Asiya Khaki / Courtesy of Barnard College

From its humble beginnings in 1889 as a single class of 14 students and six faculty members that convened in a brownstone building in Manhattan, New York, Barnard College now offers a liberal-arts education to nearly 2,500 undergraduates, placing it as the 17th most desirable urban school and the 20th most desirable small school.

Though Barnard College is distinct and independent from Columbia University, the all-women college has deep ties to the Ivy across the road, sharing courses, academic resources and student organizations. Barnard, along with Bryn Mawr, Mount Holyoke, Radcliffe, Smith, Vassar and Wellesley, is also one of the "Seven Sisters" colleges.

The school's curriculum offers a BA in 50 fields from the social sciences, arts, natural sciences and humanities. Students average a 31 on the ACT and 1440 on the SAT. Perhaps one of the most selective all-women's colleges in the country, Barnard accepts only 28 percent of applicants.

Courtesy of Colorado College

Sometimes referred to simply by its initials, CC, Colorado College (No. 21 on Newsweek's list of most desirable small schools) attracts around 2,000 undergraduates every year, who pursue a liberal arts degree through its unconventional "block plan." Instead of dividing its academic year into the more traditional quarter or semester structure, each year is divided into eight blocks--plus an optional half block. Through the block system, students focus on only one class during each three-and-a-half-weeks block, instead of taking several classes at once.

The school, which opened in 1874, is selective (it accepts roughly a quarter of its applicants) and caters to bright students (entrants average a 32 on the ACT and 1400 on the SAT).

Sitting in the shadows of the Rocky Mountains, Colorado College's 90-acre campus lies in the heart of Colorado Springs, which plants it at No. 19 on Newsweek's Most Desirable Urban Schools list.

Courtesy of Hamilton College

"Know thyself." That's Hamilton College's motto. Perched above the village of Clinton, New York, the so-called "college on the hill" gives its 1,812 undergraduates an unusual amount of freedom to pursue their academic goals. At Hamilton, No. 22 on Newsweek's list of most desirable small schools, there are no distribution requirements. Instead, faculty members help each student develop his or her own individualized academic program.

The private liberal-arts school, which also came in at No. 18 on Newsweek's list of most desirable suburban schools, is an ideal place for the scholar-athlete. More than 30 percent of Hamilton students participate in sports, whether that's one of nearly 30 sports competing at the NCAA Division III level or one of 47 intramural sports that range from the traditional (golf and rugby) to the unconventional (Ultimate Frisbee and even the "streaking team," established in 2002), making it the 18th most athletic school on the list.

Courtesy of Colby College

Calling the educational experience it offers "challenging and uplifting, enlightening and provocative, dynamic and focused," Colby College is 13th on Newsweek's list of most desirable rural schools and 23rd most desirable small school. The private liberal arts college in Waterville, Maine, strives to give its students "freedom to study, to think, to speak, and to learn in an environment that insists upon the free and open exchange of ideas and views."

Colby students--93 percent of whom live on campus--engage in an active campus life with deep ties to the outlying community in Maine. And two-thirds of the school's 1,800 students study abroad in the course of earning a four-year bachelors degree.

The school, founded in 1813, is one of the "little Ivies," an informal collection of small schools whose academic rigor, selective acceptance policies and Northeastern locations parallel those of the Ivy League. Less than a third of its applicants are accepted, and those who are average a 31 on the ACT and a 1430 on the SAT.


Soka University of America may be small, but it's big on diversity. Though the much younger sister school to the Soka University of Japan has only been around about a decade--and enrolls just 378 undergrads, the school has already been noticed in Newsweek's rankings, taking spots on four of our "best of" lists. It is the 20th most desirable suburban school in the nation and the 24th most desirable small school.

It is also 12th on the list for diversity. This makes sense when you consider the college's mission is founded on Buddhist principles of peace and human rights and the responsibilities of global citizenship. The college draws over half of its student body from countries outside the United States and includes in its four-year curriculum (and tuition) a semester abroad for every undergraduate.

Located in Aliso Viejo, in Orange County, California, the private liberal arts college occupies 103 acres just miles from the beach, which helps account for its 16th position in the list of schools offering terrific weather with strong academics.

SUA claims a 9:1 student-to-teacher ratio and an average class size of 13 students.

Courtesy of Grinnell College

With eight percent of its students Asian, five percent African-American, six percent Hispanic and 11 percent hailing from 50 countries outside of the U.S., Grinnell College--located in a town bearing its name in Iowa--is far more diverse than its home state, which is 94 percent white, according to U.S. Census information. That helps place Grinnell College 19th on Newsweek's list of most diverse schools in the country. Its 1,500-strong student body, 8:1 student-to-faculty ratio and academically stringent curricula, meanwhile, put the school among the 25 best small colleges in the country and No. 14 on the Most Desirable Small Schools list.

Founded in 1846, the liberal arts college is no stranger to "best of" roundups, having gained praise from U.S. News & World Report and the Princeton Review in addition to being named the "Best All-Around" college by Newsweek magazine in 2004.

The school accepts 43 percent of its applicants and, on average, students earned a 32 on the ACTs and 1450 on the SATs.