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The Best of New York’s Small Colleges and Universities

Cornell University, University of Rochester, Vassar College, Sarah Lawrence College

New York, the Empire State, is known more for the academic excellence of its public and private universities than for any major athletic programs coming out of big state schools. From Ivy League stalwarts like Columbia University and Cornell to the renowned arts programs of New York University and Sarah Lawrence College, New York is definitely a key spot on the country’s educational map. In fact, since New York was one of the original thirteen colonies – and before that an early Dutch settlement – it is hard to separate the state’s educational history from that of the state and country in general. Students interested in smaller class sizes and renowned faculty members from around the world can choose from any of these universities, the best of New York’s smaller higher educational institutions.

Cornell University

When Ezra Cornell famously said he would open an educational institution ‘where any person can find instruction in any study,’ he couldn’t have foreseen how competitive entry to Cornell University would become by the late twentieth century. One of the members of the Ivy League – and thus one of the most prestigious universities in the country – Cornell is located in Ithaca, New York and has a stunning amount of Nobel laureates affiliated with the university.

As would befit a smaller, private university of its stature, Cornell’s focus is on the liberal arts, yet it has used its rural location to its advantage and established one of the highest regarded colleges of agriculture in the United States. Cornell’s reputation continues to grow as a research institution as well; a look inside the school’s Electron Storage Ring would be enough to see one of the university’s most admired contributions to the sciences. On top of these focuses in the arts and sciences, Cornell’s School of Hotel Management and Hospitality continues to supply the top New York City restaurants with management personnel.

University of Rochester

Students looking for the type of class ratio that makes even the top private universities envious can look to the University of Rochester and its student to teacher ratio of 9:1. Unique for its excellent liberal arts and music programs while maintaining a strong commitment to research, the University of Rochester is consistently ranked among the state’s top universities and among the 40 best in the entire United States. Among the many feathers in the university’s cap, the Eastman School of Music may be the top draw of all, with a reputation as being on par with or superior to the best music schools in the country. Besides the music school, graduate programs in political science and economics are consistently ranked among the nation’s ten best.

Students looking to the success of Cornell graduates need search no further than Galway Kinnel, George Walker and Dominick Argento, all three of whom were Pulitzer Prize winners later on in life. Numerous Guggenheim fellowships and three Nobel Prizes have also been awarded to Cornell graduates over the years. The $1.2 Million grant awarded to Patrick Holland to pursue his studies in nitrogen fixing at Cornell proves there is no letup in the university’s commitment to research in the twenty-first century.

Vassar College

Located in Poughkeepsie, NY, Vassar College was originally founded as a woman’s college in the 1860s. Though it has expanded to include men since its founding, Vassar remains a very selective college with a student body under 3,000 annually. Nearly every single student at Vassar lives on the picturesque campus in Hudson. Unique in the fact that it only offers Bachelor of Arts Degrees, Vassar is nonetheless extremely rigorous in its approach to academics. Students must successfully pass the Freshman Curriculum in order to continue on, with students obligated to declare a major at the end of their sophomore year. Among the many opportunities Vassar students have throughout the course of their studies, the ability to test their skills in the Hudson area and study abroad have to top the list.

Sarah Lawrence College

In terms of liberal arts colleges in New York State which can boast of the smallest class sizes and the highest quality of education, few can top Sarah Lawrence College located in Bronxville, NY. Class sizes are consistently at 9:1 (on par with Cornell) and the undergraduate population of under 1,400 students assures that the teachers and students will be able to develop an excellent rapport over the course of an academic career. The focus at Sarah Lawrence College is firmly in the creative arts, humanities and social sciences. The environment enjoyed by music, theater and dance majors is unparalleled in the state’s universities. The study of creative writing is supported by the college’s foundation in literary studies: award-winning authors are always accepting invitations to teach at Sarah Lawrence. Meanwhile, alumni like Brian De Palma, Alice Walker and Barbara Walters continue to add to the college’s sterling reputation in the arts and entertainment.

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Best Colleges by State