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.

  • Location: Lake Wales, Fla.
  • Smart Rating: 81.55
  • Undergraduate enrollment: 1,035
    • Acceptance rate: 26 percent
  • Location: Bayamón, Puerto Rico
  • Smart Rating: 74.3
  • Undergraduate enrollment: 4,974
    • Acceptance rate: 25.91 percent
  • Location: Lewiston, Maine
  • Smart Rating: 93.38
  • Undergraduate enrollment: 1,773
    • Acceptance rate: 25.42 percent
  • Location: Gambier, Ohio
  • Smart Rating: 94.14
  • Undergraduate enrollment: 1,662
    • Acceptance rate: 25.06 percent
  • Location: Haverford, Pa.
  • Smart Rating: 95.7
  • Undergraduate enrollment: 1,194
    • Acceptance rate: 24.69 percent
  • Location: Middletown, Conn.
  • Smart Rating: 93.77
  • Undergraduate enrollment: 2,928
    • Acceptance rate: 23.91 percent
  • Location: Richmond, Va.
  • Smart Rating: 67.65
  • Undergraduate enrollment: 1,323
    • Acceptance rate: 23.89 percent
  • Location: New York, N.Y.
  • Smart Rating: 94.54
  • Undergraduate enrollment: 2,573
    • Acceptance rate: 23.77 percent
  • Location: Poughkeepsie, N.Y.
  • Smart Rating: 95.04
  • Undergraduate enrollment: 2,421
    • Acceptance rate: 23.54 percent
  • Location: Northfield, Minn.
  • Smart Rating: 95.27
  • Undergraduate enrollment: 2,057
    • Acceptance rate: 22.77 percent
  • Location: Augusta, Ga.
  • Smart Rating: 66.11
  • Undergraduate enrollment: 848
    • Acceptance rate: 21.81 percent
  • Location: Davidson, N.C.
  • Smart Rating: 95.54
  • Undergraduate enrollment: 1,770
    • Acceptance rate: 21.67 percent
  • Location: Miami Gardens, Fla.
  • Smart Rating: 67.9
  • Undergraduate enrollment: 1,478
    • Acceptance rate: 20.54 percent
  • Location: Lexington, Va.
  • Smart Rating: 96.93
  • Undergraduate enrollment: 1,890
    • Acceptance rate: 19.46 percent
  • Location: Williamstown, Mass.
  • Smart Rating: 97.67
  • Undergraduate enrollment: 2,072
    • Acceptance rate: 19.32 percent
  • Location: Colorado Springs, Colo.
  • Smart Rating: 92.95
  • Undergraduate enrollment: 2,050
    • Acceptance rate: 17.9 percent
  • Location: Middlebury, Vt.
  • Smart Rating: 95.05
  • Undergraduate enrollment: 2,526
    • Acceptance rate: 17.17 percent
  • Location: Swarthmore, Pa.
  • Smart Rating: 95.91
  • Undergraduate enrollment: 1,542
    • Acceptance rate: 17.02 percent
  • Location: Itta Bena, Miss.
  • Smart Rating: 66.41
  • Undergraduate enrollment: 1,885
    • Acceptance rate: 16.33 percent
  • Location: Houston, Texas
  • Smart Rating: 96.78
  • Undergraduate enrollment: 3,926
    • Acceptance rate: 15.1 percent
  • Location: Brunswick, Maine
  • Smart Rating: 94.91
  • Undergraduate enrollment: 1,805
    • Acceptance rate: 14.91 percent
  • Location: Claremont, Calif.
  • Smart Rating: 96.33
  • Undergraduate enrollment: 804
    • Acceptance rate: 14.25 percent
  • Location: Amherst, Mass.
  • Smart Rating: 97.21
  • Undergraduate enrollment: 1,792
    • Acceptance rate: 13.84 percent
  • Location: Claremont, Calif.
  • Smart Rating: 91.49
  • Undergraduate enrollment: 1,076
    • Acceptance rate: 13.02 percent
  • Location: Claremont, Calif.
  • Smart Rating: 97.03
  • Undergraduate enrollment: 1,650
    • Acceptance rate: 12.19 percent
  • Location: Hanover, N.H.
  • Smart Rating: 97.02
  • Undergraduate enrollment: 4,289
    • Acceptance rate: 11.5 percent
  • Location: Claremont, Calif.
  • Smart Rating: 95.75
  • Undergraduate enrollment: 1,301
    • Acceptance rate: 10.77 percent
  • Location: Pasadena, Calif.
  • Smart Rating: 97.53
  • Undergraduate enrollment: 983
    • Acceptance rate: 8.83 percent
  • Location: Point Lookout, Mo.
  • Smart Rating: 90.01
  • Undergraduate enrollment: 1,433
    • Acceptance rate: 8.31 percent
  • Location: Cambridge, Mass.
  • Smart Rating: 98.85
  • Undergraduate enrollment: 4,512
    • Acceptance rate: 7.88 percent


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