Smaller can be better — here are America’s 30 most selective small colleges


There are many reasons some students prefer the small college environment to larger universities. Small class sizes, more one-on-one time with professors and forming a closer bond with fellow students are all possible benefits for students who opt against going to a big school. But which small colleges are the most difficult to get into?

To answer this question, StartClass, an education research site powered by Graphiq, ranked the 30 most selective small colleges in America. To compile the ranking, the team looked for small universities with fewer than 5,000 undergraduate students and ranked them based on their acceptance rates. Specialty schools — like schools of engineering and technology, military academies, business and management, and art, music and design — were not taken into consideration.

Also included is the Smart Rating for each college, which is comprised of the following factors:

  • Academic Excellence (30 percent): This includes the institution’s four-year graduation rate, full-time retention rate, student-faculty ratio and endowment per student, among other things.
  • Expert Opinion (20 percent): StartClass compiled the latest college rankings from several publications, such as Forbes and U.S. News.
  • Admissions Selectivity (18.6 percent): This takes into account the college’s acceptance rate, average ACT and SAT scores as well as the percent of freshmen in the top half of their high school graduating class.
  • Career Readiness (18.6 percent): This is largely determined by the post-graduation salaries of the school’s alumni.
  • Financial Affordability (12.9 percent): Determined by the university’s average net price, financial aid and other factors.

All data is for fall 2014 from the National Center for Education Statistics and is the most recent year available for admissions data. Of the 30 most selective small colleges, 17 have acceptance rates under 20 percent. The three most selective schools accept fewer than 10 percent of all undergraduate applicants, including the most difficult school to get into, which has an acceptance rate under 8 percent.

30. Warner University

  • Location: Lake Wales, Fla.
  • Smart Rating: 81.55
  • Undergraduate enrollment: 1,035
    • Acceptance rate: 26 percent

29. University of Puerto Rico at Bayamón

  • Location: Bayamón, Puerto Rico
  • Smart Rating: 74.3
  • Undergraduate enrollment: 4,974
    • Acceptance rate: 25.91 percent

28. Bates College

  • Location: Lewiston, Maine
  • Smart Rating: 93.38
  • Undergraduate enrollment: 1,773
    • Acceptance rate: 25.42 percent

27. Kenyon College

  • Location: Gambier, Ohio
  • Smart Rating: 94.14
  • Undergraduate enrollment: 1,662
    • Acceptance rate: 25.06 percent

26. Haverford College

  • Location: Haverford, Pa.
  • Smart Rating: 95.7
  • Undergraduate enrollment: 1,194
    • Acceptance rate: 24.69 percent

25. Wesleyan University

  • Location: Middletown, Conn.
  • Smart Rating: 93.77
  • Undergraduate enrollment: 2,928
    • Acceptance rate: 23.91 percent

24. Virginia Union University

  • Location: Richmond, Va.
  • Smart Rating: 67.65
  • Undergraduate enrollment: 1,323
    • Acceptance rate: 23.89 percent

23. Barnard College

  • Location: New York, N.Y.
  • Smart Rating: 94.54
  • Undergraduate enrollment: 2,573
    • Acceptance rate: 23.77 percent

22. Vassar College

  • Location: Poughkeepsie, N.Y.
  • Smart Rating: 95.04
  • Undergraduate enrollment: 2,421
    • Acceptance rate: 23.54 percent

21. Carleton College

  • Location: Northfield, Minn.
  • Smart Rating: 95.27
  • Undergraduate enrollment: 2,057
    • Acceptance rate: 22.77 percent

20. Paine College

  • Location: Augusta, Ga.
  • Smart Rating: 66.11
  • Undergraduate enrollment: 848
    • Acceptance rate: 21.81 percent

19. Davidson College

  • Location: Davidson, N.C.
  • Smart Rating: 95.54
  • Undergraduate enrollment: 1,770
    • Acceptance rate: 21.67 percent

18. Florida Memorial University

  • Location: Miami Gardens, Fla.
  • Smart Rating: 67.9
  • Undergraduate enrollment: 1,478
    • Acceptance rate: 20.54 percent

17. Washington and Lee University

  • Location: Lexington, Va.
  • Smart Rating: 96.93
  • Undergraduate enrollment: 1,890
    • Acceptance rate: 19.46 percent

16. Williams College

  • Location: Williamstown, Mass.
  • Smart Rating: 97.67
  • Undergraduate enrollment: 2,072
    • Acceptance rate: 19.32 percent

15. Colorado College

  • Location: Colorado Springs, Colo.
  • Smart Rating: 92.95
  • Undergraduate enrollment: 2,050
    • Acceptance rate: 17.9 percent

14. Middlebury College

  • Location: Middlebury, Vt.
  • Smart Rating: 95.05
  • Undergraduate enrollment: 2,526
    • Acceptance rate: 17.17 percent

13. Swarthmore College

  • Location: Swarthmore, Pa.
  • Smart Rating: 95.91
  • Undergraduate enrollment: 1,542
    • Acceptance rate: 17.02 percent

12. Mississippi Valley State University

  • Location: Itta Bena, Miss.
  • Smart Rating: 66.41
  • Undergraduate enrollment: 1,885
    • Acceptance rate: 16.33 percent

11. Rice University

  • Location: Houston, Texas
  • Smart Rating: 96.78
  • Undergraduate enrollment: 3,926
    • Acceptance rate: 15.1 percent

10. Bowdoin College

  • Location: Brunswick, Maine
  • Smart Rating: 94.91
  • Undergraduate enrollment: 1,805
    • Acceptance rate: 14.91 percent

9. Harvey Mudd College

  • Location: Claremont, Calif.
  • Smart Rating: 96.33
  • Undergraduate enrollment: 804
    • Acceptance rate: 14.25 percent

8. Amherst College

  • Location: Amherst, Mass.
  • Smart Rating: 97.21
  • Undergraduate enrollment: 1,792
    • Acceptance rate: 13.84 percent

7. Pitzer College

  • Location: Claremont, Calif.
  • Smart Rating: 91.49
  • Undergraduate enrollment: 1,076
    • Acceptance rate: 13.02 percent

6. Pomona College

  • Location: Claremont, Calif.
  • Smart Rating: 97.03
  • Undergraduate enrollment: 1,650
    • Acceptance rate: 12.19 percent

5. Dartmouth College

  • Location: Hanover, N.H.
  • Smart Rating: 97.02
  • Undergraduate enrollment: 4,289
    • Acceptance rate: 11.5 percent

4. Claremont McKenna College

  • Location: Claremont, Calif.
  • Smart Rating: 95.75
  • Undergraduate enrollment: 1,301
    • Acceptance rate: 10.77 percent

3. California Institute of Technology

  • Location: Pasadena, Calif.
  • Smart Rating: 97.53
  • Undergraduate enrollment: 983
    • Acceptance rate: 8.83 percent

2. College of the Ozarks

  • Location: Point Lookout, Mo.
  • Smart Rating: 90.01
  • Undergraduate enrollment: 1,433
    • Acceptance rate: 8.31 percent

1. Massachusetts Institute of Technology

  • Location: Cambridge, Mass.
  • Smart Rating: 98.85
  • Undergraduate enrollment: 4,512
    • Acceptance rate: 7.88 percent


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