6 Ways the Best Small Colleges Set Themselves Apart
In the U.S., hundreds of colleges classify as “small”—close-knit communities of fewer than 3,000 students, some under 1,000—but what is it about the best small colleges that set them apart?
You can probably imagine some of the benefits of attending any small college. You’re not competing so much with other students for attention or resources, you can stand out, and it’s easy to get to know people.
When you visit the campus and see students like you experiencing those benefits in real life, you really get a sense of why they love it. It’s more of a feeling than a fact. And it’s probably the most important thing!
Here’s what you can look for when deciding among the best small colleges for you.
Lots of small colleges say similar things about what they offer. The best ones follow through on delivering those benefits better than anyone else.
So, when you’re considering small colleges, it’s important to look past the surface. (Like those postcards you’ve been getting in the mail, maybe?) Investigate to discover just how distinctive this college really is.
1. SMALL CLASSES: WILL YOU BE SEEN AND HEARD?
Just about every small college out there will proudly tell you about its low student-to-faculty ratio (the average number of students per class). No giant lecture halls. More like small group discussions.
Of course, just being in a small class isn’t enough. The best small colleges employ professors who know how to make everyone feel included. You might ask current or former students questions like:
- Do you feel like the professors understand your goals?
- Were they open to working with you outside of class?
- Did they make you feel like you belong there?
The more times you hear an enthusiastic “yes,” the better that college delivers on the real value of small classes!
2. UNIQUE CLUBS: CAN YOU EXPLORE YOUR INTERESTS?
Another common benefit of small colleges is the variety of student clubs and organizations. Unlike big schools where you can easily get lost in the crowd, smaller ones really emphasize helping you get plugged in.
The best small colleges have more options than you might expect, including ones that might be perfect for you but hard to find at other similar-sized schools. Here are a few examples of special interest clubs to look for:
- Arts (Writing, Photography, Film, Drama, etc.)
- Broadcasting, Journalism & Media
- Business & Economics
- Fire & Rescue
- Greek Life (Fraternities & Sororities)
- Horseback Riding (Equestrian Sports)
- Identity Groups (Race, Ethnicity, Sexual Orientation, etc.)
- International Groups & Causes
- Physical Activities & Sports/Outdoors
- Political Awareness
- Religion & Philosophy
- Social Causes
- STEM Clubs (Science & Math)
- Student Government
- Teaching/Special Education
3. COMMUNITY PARTNERSHIPS: WILL YOU ACCESS OPPORTUNITIES?
Small colleges tend to be good at forming strong partnerships with the surrounding community. Faculty make personal recommendations, and the strength of these relationships helps students get internships and jobs.
To determine which are the best small colleges for you, pay attention to the types of partnerships the school has. These might be other schools and/or potentially your future employers! Ask questions like:
- How many internship options are available for my program (major)?
- Do those internship options interest me?
- Is the school connected to other institutions that share its resources (like special facilities or libraries)?
- How often do students launch their careers with the help of these community partners?
4. SMALL CAMPUS: IS THERE A FAMILY FEEL?
Providing students with a sense of belonging is something most small colleges strive for. Simply put, the best ones are successful in creating a strong sense of safety and comfort. They make you feel like family!
“Bethany is able to give students that ‘home away from home’ feel … The people you are around aren’t just people, they are your family.” – Yasmeene Henderson, Theatre and Psychology
5. LIBERAL ARTS: ARE YOU FREE TO PURSUE KNOWLEDGE?
Small, private colleges tend to be liberal arts schools. This means that your academic studies won’t be limited to job training but will include things like history, literature, art, and science.
The best small colleges give you the freedom to pursue these subjects in your own way. Even within the classes you “have to” take, your professors will work with you so you can explore those topics in a way that’s meaningful to you.
6. THE “X” FACTOR: YOU KNOW IT WHEN YOU FEEL IT
Last but not least—in fact, probably the most important thing—is that hard-to-define sense that THIS is the place for you!
It could be the beauty of the campus, the charm of the surrounding community, how helpful an admission counselor was, the warmth you felt in a professor or all of the above.
Whatever it is, you only get that distinctive “sixth sense” about a school when you get a chance to see it for what it really is. In other words, the best small colleges are authentic. What you see is genuinely what you get.
That authenticity is what we want to offer you when you visit us here at Bethany College!
Visit Bethany College: #1 Best Small College in West Virginia
We admit it. Some of these quick facts are similar to what you’ll see at other small colleges . . .
- 14:1 faculty/student ratio
- 30+ student clubs and organizations
- Strong community partnerships
- 24 areas of study, including study abroad opportunities
- Gorgeous surroundings here in the foothills of the Allegheny Mountains
- A beautiful campus with comfy residence halls and great food!
… and there’s also something more that got us named the one of the best small colleges in West Virginia. We’re honored, of course.
But what we’re really striving for is to be the best small college for you.
So go ahead and check out what life is like as a Bethany College student. Find out what makes us stand out among small colleges—and among distinctive students like you!
“At Bethany, I’ve been given opportunities I never anticipated and have learned to be more confident, independent, and compassionate toward the world around me. Maybe I could have become the person I was meant to be at any other school, but I’m incredibly grateful I chose to do it at Bethany College.” – Nativa O’Brien, Senior, English (Creative Writing track)