Small Pre-med schools, rural settings

Hi all
I’m trying to help my D find schools to visit this summer. She’s a top student (4.88 weighted, ranked #1 of 400) while being a strong multi-sport athlete. She hasn’t taken the SAT yet but scored in the 98% on PSAT. She wants to be pre-med with some type of biology major.

Problem is, she’s pretty particular about what kind of school she goes to:

  1. smaller school, prefers 2-5k students
  2. rural setting, she hates city life! She also wants to be able to go places so safety of surrounding area is important
  3. Prefers to be within a 3-4 hour plane flight - we are west coast (CA)so that eliminates east coast states. She would like to stay farther west.
  4. she loves the cold, would love to be where it snows
  5. prefers low acceptance rate, but not true ivy league type schools for many reasons
  6. Biology a must, and wants a school with good support and connections for pre-med

So far on her list we have: Carleton, St. Olaf, Whitman, Kenyon, Denison, Sewanee, and a few safety schools in our home state (Westmont, Vanguard, Chapman) She crossed the Claremont Colleges off the list after we visited last summer.

Now for cost - I doubt we will qualify for any merit aid (middle class) I’d hate to see her get no merit $ for all the hard work she’s putting in. We would prefer to keep it 40K a year to avoid loans, especially if she sticks to her med school plan. Any suggestions for maybe some higher acceptance rate, good smaller schools for pre-med that are a more rural setting?

Thank you in advance for any suggestions or feedback. I have spent countless hours on this website and appreciate all of the contributions, it’s been so helpful to us.

Colorado College in Colorado Spring ticks all of her boxes. But be aware CC operates on a block schedule with students taking only 1 class at a time. CC has excellent professional school placement.

If she’s OK with being really, really rural, maybe New Mexico Tech. At Tech, she’d be eligible for the WUE tuition reduction scholarship and maybe some others
Soccoro is definitely a small town and Tech’s undergrad enrollment is ~1500. Tech students are primarily engineering/geology focused, but Tech does OK with med school admission for students who are interested in pursuing that.


First school that came to mind was Grinnell. Easy to visit when toured with Carleton and St Olafs.

College of Wooster excellent with aid for top students and could be added to your Kenyon, Denison loop too.

Also adding Univ of Puget Sound in Tacoma and I know it doesn’t hit her rural request - but University of Denver gets points for weather and merit $

May be wrong - but I don’t think Carleton gives merit.


Did you mean need-based aid? This site can be especially convenient for comparing costs across potential choices:

High achieving students from middle-income families tend to be eligible for substantial need-based financial assistance, especially at highly selective colleges.

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Some of the smaller UCs and CSUs may be worth a look from a financial standpoint, if she is willing to go to a school with 6,000 to 8,000 students:

UC Merced
CSU Channel Islands
CSU Monterey Bay
Humboldt State University
Sonoma State University

For more rural schools, check how accessible the usual premed extracurriculars are.


For a perspective on rural colleges in general for premed students, this site includes several of them:

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Yes I did mean need based aid. I couldn’t figure out how to edit.

Carleton’s website states mostly need based. However, there’s a long list of scholarship funds I found.

She may end up doing one of her sports there, but it’s division 3 so no money there either.

I’ll have her look into those, even though they are bigger. We need some options. Thank you.

Really? I’ve been told by friends (same line of work and salary range) that their kids didn’t qualify for any…so I assumed we wouldn’t. Many schools she likes require the CSS which I’m told really dives more info your finances. We have a decent retirement savings and equity in the two homes we own. We were told they would expect us to sell or re-if to pay for college. Yikes!

I’m not expecting to pay nothing…it’s just hard to think D won’t get rewarded for all the hard work she’s doing in high school. And paying over 300k for a bachelor’s degree just seems crazy.

Thank you for the suggestions. She took Colorado College off her list after looking into it, I don’t recall why.

I’ll have her look into NMT!

Will she be a recruited athlete?

Colorado College offer limited need aid. She likely took it off due to the block system - it’s very different - one class at a time.

When you want to be $40K, you really have to start with - what schools can get you there. Much of this means you’ll likely have to go to schools underneath her desire - meaning higher acceptance rate, because as good as she is, there’s lots of good out there.

So since won’t qualify for need aid, that takes away the Ivies and top LACs. I know you say 3-4 hours from the coast. Well I live in Nashville and I land 4 hours in LA. And if you’re going to Sewanee - I mean, you’re talking that’s East TN - so why the distinction there vs. say the Carolinas. No different than Ohio and PA/NY - at that point, why does it matter?

The first school I thought of is Washington & Lee. They have the Johnson and other scholarships. Can’t beat free. It’s rural, it has great outdoors, ie snow, etc. W&L meets all your needs - from pedigree, weather, etc.

Whitman, Depauw, Willamette, Beloit and Augustana in South Dakota are some more to look at.

If you went big school - but went to the Honors Colleges - so you’re still in the huge school but you’re in a smaller group and taking many classes in a small setting - your merit will be at U of A, Alabama (most national merit finalists in the country) - smart people go there and the have the Randall Research Scholars and Blount Scholars. Other big schools that are cheap - or great merit are U of F, FSU, Ms. State, Mizzou - and you can find any - Montana, Montana State, Idaho, etc. when you talk about the cold vs. those I mentioned. Not cold - but FAU Honors in Jupiter or New College of Florida in Sarasota - could work.

My main point is - if you want $40K, you have to go where $40K is possible - and most the top schools - it’s not - short of W&L or some of the publics.

Schools like Truman State are nice size, cheap and a great school.

One last thing - forget the merit and focus on cost - with the WUE that you are eligible for. I don’t see your state but I assume you’ll qualify.

You can get some great tuition - forgetting merit - such as Humboldt State $8613, UC Merced $17K, Adams State $12,168, Montana $8K, Southern Oregon U $13,600, SD Mines $11726, and U of Wyoming $6930. Some of these are a little big - but sort of hit your geographic thing and definitely your price thing.

I really think W&L fits “best” - with all the prestige you want and a possibility of merit.

But there’s lots of inexpensive out there and you’d be surprised at how many great students out there flood many of the public colleges.

Good luck.


W&L is going to be a huge culture shock for a liberal CA kid — very conservative school, 80% in Greek Life. I know several queer/POC/non-conformist types who left the school. I would really hesitate to recommend it to OP.


Yes it’s yuppy NE kids but so much more. We are a Jewish family from TN and we’re impressed with so many we spoke with. And they’re making huge inroads in these areas. You had similar criticism of Grinnell for Asian on another thread and I did read the article you attached and will admit this was not my perception of Grinnell.

based on the criteria OP gave, what are your recommendations?

I think you are basing things on past or exceptions. That’s my opinion. It’s such a transformed school - W&L is based on what we experienced and those we know who went there.

My real point to Op is…they want a school st 40k, rural, cold and near Ivy like.

They mentioned Sewanee. To me acceptance rate shouldn’t matter but to them it does. They let in 2/3 so not selective.

That’s the reality in most cases to get to $40k. W&L gives 10% the Johnson so that beats $40k.

Yes W&L is heavy Greek etc but it meets so many of OPs criteria. And they are near top in so many academic areas…vs others on OPs list.

Let’s throw out one more. Hendrix as they’ll match the in state flagship price. Great school like Sewanee but also not selective.

Bottom line $40k and near elite….u gotta go where the $$ are.



We were shocked at the large amounts of merit aid my S received when we have zero financial need. If you are middle class, I would think you would qualify for some need-based aid as well. He was excited as it was like someone not his parents saying he did a good job, but we were all very surprised at the merit aid ($20-35K) from every school he applied to (including one on your list and similar schools). He had good grades but not spectacular like your daughter, and a very strong ACT score. Not tons of EC but what he did, he did in depth vs joining every club or sport (sport’s team captain, MUN President, intense community service experience). I would expect strong merit aid especially from most of the schools you listed.

As another mentioned, I would add Grinnell to your list. My S wanted to visit after an online webinar with their admissions director (he is charming). We drove there after visiting Chicago schools, he hated the rural town itself, though the campus is amazing and great school and met several Californians actually. Stay at the modern and fun Hotel Grinnell, walking distance to the school. Also, Colorado College. My husband loved it and have many friends with kids their right now, S thought it was too white, affluent, and performative (land acknowledgment but no Native American students). I’d look at Univ. of Denver, not rural itself but near outdoors and nice campus - on the more expensive side even with $25k of merit.

I would add Willamette (we loved it and large merit aid), Lewis & Clark (also large merit), not rural but very residential so sort of rural among the cedar trees, and consider Macalester (strong merit), Ivy-like, even though not rural since very nice neighborhood campus. Colgate is super small town (adorable) with lovely buildings (didn’t apply but his friend got great merit), and wild card is Cornell College in Iowa (should be able to get a straight flight from California) with great merit aid, nice campus, Div 3 sports (why my S considered it) good placement for professional schools, etc. (and large merit). We loved St. Olaf’s too, if they still had his sport, he might have been swayed. Gorgeous campus, friendly, and personal.

Good luck and I’d keep working on expanding the list. I’d also throw in some NE schools (Middelbury comes to mind) and try out the longer flight to go visit.


Middlebury was also my first thought…but it’s a longer trip than the OP wants. And it’s also not likely to be. Net cost of $40,000.

What about Rhodes. I know it’s not rural, but it could work.

And I have to ask…why biology?

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Don’t go by what you hear wrt to financial aid. Run the Net Price Calculators at each school on the list to get a COA estimate. Schools assess home equity differently, so it’s worth figuring out which schools will hit that hard (run the NPCs with and without home equity to see how much it is assessed). If retirement savings are in retirement vehicles, they shouldn’t impact your financial aid calculations.

You will have to also report your non-primary home on FAFSA. You can get an estimate of your FAFSA EFC here:

As for schools, there are many good ideas so far. Adding Trinity U in San Antonio and Oberlin.


Not everyone in CA is liberal lol. We actually live in a very conservative part of CA.

Rhodes is beautiful and meets all her wants except one - the city. She’s read too much about how bad Memphis is.

W & L sounds great, I will have her look into that one for sure. I agree about honors colleges, that’s a great perspective! Thank you very much for the info!