15 Small Schools With Strong Specialized Graduate Programs

Written by Grad School Center Team We are a passionate team of experienced educators and advisors at GradSchoolCenter.com, dedicated to guiding students through their graduate education journey. Our experts, with advanced degrees across various disciplines, offer personalized advice, up-to-date program information, and practical insights into application processes.

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Updated: February 29, 2024, Reading time: 21 minutes

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Colleges and universities engaged in research projects and scholarly activities are vital in the advancement of knowledge, from its discovery to its creation, innovation, and application. Furthermore, graduate students enrolled in colleges and universities with research-centric programs benefit from the teachers-scholars’ seamless integration of their teaching, learning, and research functions!

Graduate students also benefit from the research networks that they can establish and expand during their graduate studies. These benefits include establishing broader scientific and social connections, enjoying planned happenstance for career advancement, and improved experiences for interdisciplinary knowledge development.

Plus, the personal and professional interactions that come with research networks also contribute to enhanced soft skills development.

Small Schools with Great Graduate Research Programs - fact

And who says these benefits can only be enjoyed at large colleges and universities with multimillion-dollar research centers and extravagant budgets? Here, we will take a closer look at small schools – under 5,000 students in total – with excellent graduate research programs where graduate students will enjoy these benefits, too.


When ranking the following small colleges and universities, we used the following criteria:

Grad School Center is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

5 Reasons for Pursuing Graduate Research-Centric Degrees at Small Schools

While large research universities have renowned faculty, extensive facilities and resources, and expansive research opportunities, small colleges and universities have unique advantages, too! Many, if not most, of these advantages may align with your specific personal, professional, and educational preferences, too.

1. Close-knit community

With fewer students and faculty members, small schools encourage stronger relationships among peers, learners and teachers, a collaborative and supportive environment, and individualized attention. These aspects of a close-knit community contribute to improved mentorship, guidance, and support for graduate students engaged in research projects.

2. More access to research facilities and resources

Since there’s less competition, thanks to a smaller student population, graduate students can have more access to meaningful research opportunities. Such greater access to funding, facilities, and research tools and resources also enables graduate students to engage in more in-depth research into their fields of interest.

3. Greater flexibility in research

Graduate students with niche interests will likely find their research projects more welcome at small schools. The greater flexibility covers not just the topics but also the methodologies, participants, and applications of their research projects. Many small schools even offer meaningful teaching opportunities for graduate students, such as through teaching assistantships.

4. More interdisciplinary collaborations

Despite the smaller number of academic departments – or perhaps because of it – small schools strongly encourage interdisciplinary collaborations among the members of the faculty and graduate students. Such multidisciplinary collaborations result in a more holistic approach and more applications.

5. Greater community engagement

Small schools usually form deeper connections with their local communities, particularly since most of their learners and teachers are from the local area. Such strong connections provide unique opportunities for partnerships with the community for scholarly research and their real-world applications.

4 Steps in Choosing the Best Small School for Your Graduate Studies

But not every small college or university will be up your alley, either! As with large research universities, you must carefully consider several factors when choosing from among several small schools for your graduate studies, particularly if you want to engage in in-depth research. 

1. Research the academic programs and faculty members.

Consider your personal interests and professional goals in relation to the academic programs being offered and the faculty members at their helm. Small schools usually have a limited number of academic disciplines compared with large schools, but their strong emphasis on academic excellence and research makes them an excellent choice, too.

2. Evaluate the research, networking, and collaboration opportunities offered.

Your ability to conduct meaningful research in your specific area of interest will largely depend on your access to research opportunities, including faculty mentorship, funding, and facility access.

You will also benefit from extensive networking and collaboration opportunities within the academic and local communities. You can ask faculty members, current students, and alumni in the small schools you’re considering for this purpose.

3. Determine the types and levels of student support services offered.

Your success as a graduate student engaged in research and scholarly activities will partly depend on the types of student support services provided by your choice in a small school. You must consider the academic advising, mental wellness, and career counseling services offered. 

Your evaluation should also cover the quality of the facilities and amenities, such as classrooms, libraries, and laboratories, of the small schools you’re considering. This is true whether you’re planning on enrolling in an on-campus, online, or hybrid degree program. 

Your considerations must also include the geographical location of the small schools on your shortlist. This will affect your access to on-campus facilities and resources, cost of attendance (i.e., transportation and technology expenses), and compliance with in-person requirements.

4. Evaluate the financial requirements.

Many of the small schools featured here are private universities, meaning their tuition and fees may be higher than those in public colleges with similar characteristics. But most, if not all, of these small schools also offer financial aid options, including federal, state, and institutional student aid. You must determine if these financial considerations align with your current status. 

In the end, your choice of a small school for your graduate degree is a personal choice! Just keep in mind that it isn’t just about the prestige of earning a graduate degree, gaining advanced research skills, and becoming more competitive in the workplace.

More importantly, it’s about gaining an extensive network of people, satisfying your thirst for knowledge, and giving back to your community. 

5 Tips for Leveraging Research Opportunities in Small Schools

While small schools offer several advantages when it comes to research opportunities for graduate students, it must also be emphasized that these aren’t exactly handed on a silver platter! You must also do your fair share of grabbing the research opportunities that come your way and maximizing the learning experiences from them.

Here are a few effective tips that we’ve found are also effective for graduate students in larger schools.

1. Build strong relationships with your professors and advisors.

You can start even before the first day of classes, too, by contacting them via email and making a short introduction about yourself and your research interests, past research projects and publications, and academic goals. Then, follow up your initial effort through participation in class discussions, consultations about your academic progress and research topics, and just socializing.

2. Be clear about your research interests and topics.

You can then more easily identify the best research opportunities that align with your research interests, as well as communicate them to your potential collaborators, both peers and professors.

3. Be open to interdisciplinary research.

Your research will have more depth and breadth when it has an interdisciplinary aspect that, in turn, requires collaboration with your peers and professors. You may want to join study groups, seek out interdisciplinary research projects within the school, and attend seminars, workshops, and conferences for this purpose.

4. Apply for research scholarships, grants and fellowships.

Ask about the research grants and fellowships that your graduate program offers. Keep in mind that graduate research will likely thrive with sufficient funding.

5. Publish and present your work.

Your research project should see the light of day and, thus, contribute to the advancement of knowledge and promote real-world applications. Besides, research publications and presentations will establish your presence in the research community and attract more attention, funding, and applications for your future research projects.

15 Small Schools With Strong Specialized Graduate Programs

The Rockefeller University

Rockefeller University

Considered the world’s pioneering and leading biomedical research university, The Rockefeller University attracts the best and brightest teachers and learners in the conduct of science for humanity’s benefit.

The highly selective David Rockefeller Graduate Program in Bioscience provides graduate students with abundant opportunities for rigorous Education and research in the biomedical sciences, biophysics, and chemistry. Graduate students are also enrolled in its PhD in chemical biology program and MD/PhD programs.

The extensive Rockefeller University’s Research components contribute to its high rank in the CWTS Leiden Ranking that measures research impact on an international level. Graduate students can access the numerous research laboratories and choose from several research areas offered by the university, including: 

The Rockefeller University has also established robust partnerships and collaborative projects with organizations in New York City and beyond. The result of these partnerships is interdisciplinary centers that, in addition to its in-house centers, contribute to the university’s impactful discoveries, creations, and innovations in the fields of biomedical sciences, biophysics, and chemistry.

The in-house centers include the Office of Technology Transfer, the Office of Sponsored Research and Program Development, and the Markus Library.

Andrews University

Andrews University

Andrews University, a private Seventh-day Adventist university and categorized as a Doctoral/Professional University, strives to provide its graduate students with exceptional research opportunities. The Office of Research and Creative Scholarship (ORCS) is its lead office for its wide range of research and creative scholarship initiatives, which primarily promote the mission of the  Seventh-day Adventist Church.

Graduate students are encouraged to engage in the whole spectrum of scholarly activities, from discovery, integration, and engagement to teaching and learning. 

Such is the expansive scope of Andrews University’s research projects that it has been described as an “overperforming school” by the US News & World Report! This means that Andrews conducts research projects beyond what its reputation indicates, proof that it takes to heart its motto of seeking knowledge and changing the world.

Among its notable research projects are the development of models for the prediction of seabird behavior, the study of Waldensian architecture, and the discovery of ancient towns. 

Graduate students can be part of faculty-led research projects funded by the likes of the National Science Foundation or NSF and the National Endowment for the Humanities or NEH. Furthermore, graduate students can have their research papers published in the university’s  Dissertation and Thesis Database, as well as participate in Research Week and apply for funding.

Montana Technological University

Montana Technological University

Montana Tech, a public university, is widely known for its impactful basic and applied research in the fields of engineering, applied sciences, and health sciences. Such is the wide range of Montana Tech Research projects that their researchers dig deep into the Earth and study deep space! 

Many of its past and current research projects are also interdisciplinary, including: (Each research thrust has specific focus areas that graduate students can choose from) 

Montana Tech’s graduate students can also access state-of-the-art research centers and shared-use research facilities, such as the High-Performance Supercomputer, Geology Triaxial Testing Lab, and Electron Microscopy Laboratory.

Choices in graduate degree programs include geoscience, earth science and engineering, and general engineering with concentrations in civil engineering, mechanical, and welding.

Saint Martin’s University

Saint Martin’s University

Both faculty members and graduate students at Saint Martin’s University, a private Benedictine university, are strongly encouraged to engage in impactful research and scholarly activities. Indeed, it maintains a dedicated Research page in which interested students learn more about the past and current research projects, among other information, being conducted by its people.

The Institutional Review Board reviews every research project for compliance with the university’s research policies and ethics. 

Most, if not all, of its faculty members are published authors and respected authorities in their specific fields, and many are also Fulbright Scholars engaged in advanced research. Faculty members often work alongside graduate students in finding solutions for real-world issues through basic and applied research.

Graduate students also engage in independent research projects, including a senior capstone project, usually with faculty guidance. 

Saint Martin’s takes pride in the research achievements of its teachers and learners, too. Graduate students can have their research papers published and presented for the consumption of the academic community and the general public.

The Center for Scholarship and Teaching fosters excellence in research through workshops and other programs. Scholars Day is a special annual event for students to showcase their best works in scientific research and artistic works.

Immaculata University

Immaculata University

With its dedicated page, Research at Immaculata University, the private Roman Catholic university fosters a robust culture of research. Faculty members and graduate students often work together in the identification of contemporary issues and the development of viable solutions.

There’s a strong emphasis on multidimensional solutions using interdisciplinary approaches in addressing the social and scientific issues of our times. 

Faculty members, who are also respected scholars and practitioners with published works, serve as mentors for graduate students engaged in independent research. Graduate students gain not just the technical skills vital in advanced research but also transferable skills for life success, such as independent thinking. 

Most of the graduate degree programs also emphasize proficient research knowledge and skills, as demonstrated in a master’s thesis or doctoral dissertation. The research-centric programs include master’s and doctorate in Clinical Mental Health Counseling and Educational Leadership.

Graduate students can apply for mini-grants to fund their research expenses and present their research projects at conferences.

Susquehanna University

Susquehanna University

Known for the exciting research opportunities in its Global Opportunities program, Susquehanna University ensures that its graduate students gain not just the depth and breadth of knowledge for career success but also useful research experiences.

Graduate students learn from credentialed professors whose commitment to academic and research excellence is nationally recognized. Small class sizes provide personalized attention to students, too, during their didactic coursework and research work. 

First-year students are encouraged to participate in the Research Experience at Susquehanna. Students and alumni praise their research experiences for being immersive, encouraging curiosity beyond their fields of study, and providing them with real-world experiences. 

Research funding comes from the university itself and donors, while the fields of study, from biology to marketing, are as diverse as the student body. Past projects include the neurobehavioral consequences of a high-fat, high-sugar diet, the creation of iron nanoparticles using organic materials, and COVID-19-related stress.  

Among its research-centric graduate degree programs is the Master in Education in Curriculum and Instruction, a 34-credit program with a five-semester time-to-completion.

Voorhees University

Voorhees University

Graduate students at Voorhees University, a private historically black university, can coordinate with the Office of Sponsored Research (OSR) in finding external funding for their research projects. The OSR assists students, faculty members, and other members of the university community in matching their funding needs with grants, sponsorships, and cooperative agreements, among other mechanisms.

The funding must be used for the improvement of student activities, university programs and services, and the greater community.

Voorhees University’s School of Graduate Studies offers a research-centric Master of Education in Teaching and Learning degree program. Graduate students acquire not just the technical knowledge and skills vital for success as an educator-leader but also the intellectual curiosity, passion for lifelong learning, and creative mastery for life success.

There are two concentration options – Education Systems Improvement Concentration and PK-K Education Concentration – in the 36-credit program, as well as two research capstone requirements.

Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts

Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts

The Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts (MCLA), a public liberal arts college and among the most respected in the state’s state university system, takes great pride in its scientific research and innovations! Proof of this is the Feigenbaum Center for Science and Innovation, where highly motivated students prepare for successful research-centric careers in the STEM fields.

Graduate students have access to state-of-the-art facilities, including a greenhouse, classrooms, research and presentation areas, and laboratories. 

The Center demonstrates MCLA’s proven track record for excellence in academics and research through intensive and integrated curricula with an emphasis on discovery, creation, and innovation. Here, graduate students can collaborate with their peers as well as their professors and community members on impactful research and scholarly activities.

Indeed, MCLA is recognized as among the Bay State’s most prolific pipelines for STEM talents for this reason. 

Check out its Masters of Education (MEd) program, too, if you’re interested in a non-STEM field with a research-intensive focus.

Humphreys University

Humphreys University

Established in 1896 and recognized as the first college in the San Joaquin Valley, Humphreys University offers several graduate degree programs with research-intensive curricula.

Graduate students in the independent non-profit university receive rigorous Education that strengthens their employability prospects through workplace-ready knowledge and skills. Indeed, Humphreys University is known for addressing the academia-marketplace gap through relevant Education! 

Furthermore, Humphreys University caters to working professionals who will benefit from flexible schedules, accelerated coursework, and student-centered Education. No wonder then that its graduate students thrive in their didactic coursework and research work! 

Among its research-centric graduate degree programs are: 

Other graduate programs are in business administration, legal studies, and law that, while less research-intensive, also encourage critical thinking, collaboration, and problem-solving skills.

American Jewish University

American Jewish University

Individuals interested in studying everything Jewish will find the American Jewish University (AJU) an excellent choice! Graduate students and alumni agree that the private Jewish university is among the best centers for talents and resources for the modern Jewish community.

Here, you can access the people, places and programs that will allow for intensive research into Jewish culture and its promotion on the national and international stage. 

The David Lieber Graduate Division is the go-to place for graduate students seeking research opportunities in Jewish studies through exceptional degree programs.

Be sure to check out the Master of Arts in Jewish Studies and the Doctorate of Hebrew Letters (DHL) degree programs for this reason. Both degree programs require the completion of intensive research courses and the submission of approved research papers (i.e., master’s thesis or doctoral dissertation). 

Other research-intensive graduate degree programs are Master of Arts in Education in Early Childhood Education and Doctorate in Education in Early Childhood Education Leadership programs. The research courses focus on the qualitative and quantitative methods in research and research design.

Notre Dame de Namur University

Notre Dame de Namur University

The coed graduate school-only private Catholic university offers graduate degree programs in its three schools – the School of Education, the School of Psychology, and the School of Business and Management.

Notre Dame de Namur University offers excellent research-centric graduate-level education that allows students to become immersed in diverse environments.  

At the School of Education, graduate students prepare to become competent educators, administrators, and specialists in their communities. The most popular degree program is its Master of Arts in Education (MAEd) program, where students learn the knowledge and skills in curriculum development, teaching practice, and research.

Check out these programs, too: 

At the School of Psychology, the research-centric degree programs are the Master of Science (MS) in Clinical Psychology and Master of Science (MS) in Clinical Psychology, Marriage and Family Therapist.

Warner Pacific University

Warner Pacific University

The graduate degree programs offered at Warner Pacific University, a private Christian university, are geared toward working professionals seeking Christ-centered Education. These programs are designed with career advancement opportunities in mind and based on Christian values applicable in 21st-century workplaces.

These research-centric programs are also characterized by flexible schedules, accelerated course progression, and multiple start dates, while small cohort sizes encourage camaraderie and individualized attention. 

Among the most popular graduate degree programs is the accelerated Master of Education (MEd) program for licensed teachers with career advancement goals. Students acquire the knowledge and skills for teaching diverse populations, conducting education-related research, and applying the latest theories in teaching.

Research courses include Research for Teachers and Research Design, in addition to a thesis project as a culminating requirement. 

Other equally noteworthy graduate degree programs are: 

Multnomah University

Multnomah University

The Graduate Programs at Multnomah University, a private Christian university, are known for their challenging and comprehensive program of study. Graduates must be prepared for rigorous coursework with an emphasis on Christ-centered Education, research into social justice, and an inquisitive mind. 

Graduate students in the MA in Global Development and Justice program feed their passion for transformational community development work through comprehensive didactic coursework, including research courses.

While students can choose between thesis and non-thesis (i.e., traditional internship) options, students who want to pursue research-based careers are well-advised to choose the thesis option. Here, students work with their academic advisors to identify issues and solutions in their communities and present them in a master’s thesis.  

Other research-based graduate degree programs where completion of research courses and a master’s thesis is required are: 

Baptist University of Florida

Baptist University of Florida

Graduate students at the Baptist University of Florida agree that their professors are among the most qualified in their fields, thanks to their academic credentials and professional work experiences. Note that the courses are designed with the Christian worldview and, thus, graduate students are encouraged to pursue not just academic excellence but Christian ministry skills. 

Research and scholarly activities are also strongly encouraged here, and it shows in its graduate degree programs. The Master of Arts in Christian Studies offers students the choice between thesis and non-thesis options, but they must engage in critical thinking and develop their research and writing skills regardless of their choice.

Courses include Introduction to Graduate Research, Thesis Preparation, and Graduate Thesis. 

These aspects are also true for the Master of Arts in Music and Worship Leadership degree program. Students can choose between a graduate thesis or a recital project as a culminating requirement.

Naropa University

Naropa University

While it’s a Buddhist-inspired private university, Naropa University is a non-sectarian, ecumenical university that promotes mindfulness in higher education and life. Graduate students are encouraged to cultivate not just academic excellence but, more importantly, wisdom and compassion. 

Furthermore, its faculty members and graduate students are also engaged in research into mindfulness and its related aspects. Examples include the electrophysiology research conducted at the Graduate School of Counseling and Psychology and the electroencephalography research at the Cognitive and Affective Sciences Laboratory.

Key Takeaways

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