Best Liberal Arts Colleges

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Hungry for knowledge? Gain a solid foundation for professional success with a liberal arts degree from a top-ranked college.

In a world increasingly governed by technology, a liberal arts education may seem irrelevant. Actually, nothing could be further from the truth.

The complexity and diversity of our globalized world makes a liberal arts education more relevant than ever.

Liberal arts colleges challenge students to think broadly—to explore their interests and to take academic risks. And there are amazing opportunities for faculty-mentored research and independent scholarship.

No matter what profession you see yourself working in—from education to engineering—you’ll need to be able to think critically and communicate clearly. And you’ll need to be able to see the world from another perspective. This is the vital training a liberal arts education offers.

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What kind of Liberal Arts degree should you get?

Once you start perusing the websites of liberal arts colleges, you’ll notice they have a lot in common. The focus is on undergraduates—and the traditional liberal arts curriculum is both rigorous and based in the humanities.

But pay attention to the details. There are liberal arts colleges that focus on politics and government, some that offer STEM-focussed programs, and some specialize in the social sciences or even the performing arts.

And while there are obvious benefits to studying in a residential, campus-based setting—don’t despair if that isn’t a possibility for you. Top colleges have developed outstanding online liberal arts programs.

For more information, check out our ranking for the Best Online Liberal Arts Colleges.

Top 10 Best Liberal Arts Colleges

Rank School Location
1 Williams College Williamstown, MA
2 Pomona College Claremont, CA
3 Harvey Mudd College Claremont, CA
4 Bowdoin College Brunswick, ME
5 Claremont McKenna College Claremont, CA
6 Amherst College Amherst, MA
7 Swarthmore College Swarthmore, PA
8 Middlebury College Middlebury, VT
9 Washington and Lee University Lexington, VA
10 Davidson College Davidson, NC

How much money do people make with a Liberal Arts degree?

A liberal arts education is more than a training for a profession—it’s a training for life. That said, it also happens to be pretty useful professionally as well.

You’ll gain skills in research, analysis, critical thinking, and communication. These are broadly applicable skills that employers place a premium on.

And the data is clear. More education leads to higher earnings and better prospects for employment. Recent research shows that college graduates earn, on average, about $20,000 a year more than those who finished their educations at high school. And according to the Bureau of Labor Services, starting salaries are on the rise for those with a liberal arts education.

What can you do with a degree in the Liberal Arts?

What can’t you do? A liberal arts education gives you a broad, multidisciplinary foundation that you can use in any profession you land in. You’ll also gain the academic background you need for graduate work, which is becoming increasingly necessary for higher-level professions.

Interestingly, the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) reports that most hiring managers care more about a job candidate’s skills than they do about what they actually studied while in college.

On the other hand, finding what you are passionate about is the key to thriving at college. Here are some majors you might not have thought of:

  • Art and Art History
  • Peace and Conflict Studies
  • Cognitive Science
  • International Development
  • Food, Agriculture, and Society

What are the requirements for a degree in Liberal Arts?

The colleges on our ranking are some of the most selective in the country. So you’ll have to show them that you have a lot to offer their college community. Part of that is your grades:

  • To have a good chance of getting into these schools you should be in the top 10% of your high school class and/or have a GPA of at least 3.5.
  • Most schools will want to see high SAT and ACT scores as well, though some top colleges have stopped looking at those—or made them optional.

That’s not the only thing top colleges are interested in, though.

They want to see that you have leadership skills and that you’re interested in the world outside the classroom. Extracurricular activities—like clubs, jobs, and community service are all important—and say a lot about you. And showing them who you are is what the application process is all about.

What are the best Liberal Arts degrees?

If you’ve started your search for a liberal arts college that suits you, you’ll have discovered that there’s a lot to choose from. And wading through hundreds of college websites isn’t really a great use of your time.

At College Choice, we’ve made the job a lot easier. Our ranking lists the 50 best liberal arts colleges in the country—and we’ve given each school a score that reflects academic excellence and return on investment.

That score is based on a lot of numbers. We look at statistics from the Department of Education’s Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), national reputation scores, tuition costs, and early career incomes—as well as first-year retention rates and student satisfaction reviews.

We wish you the best in your search for a great college!

Rankings

See our rankings methodology page.

  1. Williams College
    Location

    Williamstown, MA

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Overview

    Seated at the foot of Mount Greylock in the Massachusetts Berkshires, Williams College offers the quintessential private liberal arts college experience. Williams College, which was founded in the 18th century, stresses excellence in teaching and academic mentorship—while giving great freedom to students to carve out their own academic path. For several years, Williams College has ranked as the top national liberal arts college in the country (U.S. News and World Report).

    Program Features

    All Williams College, small class sizes are the norm. With a student to faculty ratio of 7:1, you can be sure that your professors will know you by name. There are no required courses that students must take, just guidelines to ensure breadth and depth. And students can choose experiential education classes, off-campus study, study abroad, or one of the immersive Special Academic Programs. Popular majors include:

    • Economics
    • Biology
    • English Language and Literature

    Notables

    To understand the possibilities of a Williams College education, take a look at one of their hallmark academic encounters—the tutorial. Over a semester, two students take turns to develop an independent work, then sit down weekly with a professor to discuss and sharpen their arguments. This kind of academic mentorship, combined with one of the most generous financial aid programs in the country, is what makes a Williams College education so valuable.

  2. Pomona College
    Location

    Claremont, CA

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Overview

    Located near L.A. in the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains, Pomona College is a member of the prestigious Claremont College consortium. Combining an innovative approach to learning with the traditional liberal arts disciplines, Pomona College’s diverse student body benefits from a wide range of educational and social opportunities. And Pomona College ranks among the top ten national liberal arts colleges in the country (U.S. News and World Report).

    Program Features

    At Pomona College, students encounter a curriculum rooted in the arts, humanities, natural sciences and social sciences—in the context of a close knit residential community. The school has a strong emphasis on undergraduate research, and most classes are taught as seminars—with an average class size of 15. Students also have rich opportunities to study across disciplines. Popular majors at Pomona College include:

    • Social Sciences
    • Biological and Biomedical Sciences
    • Physical Sciences

    Notables

    Pomona students have a great deal of freedom to carve out their own educational path. And that’s not limited to what Pomona College itself offers. Students can also take classes at the other six colleges in the Claremont Colleges consortium. Pomona College features state-of-the-art laboratories and facilities—and nearly half of all Pomona students study abroad through one of their 59 programs.

  3. Harvey Mudd College
    Location

    Claremont, CA

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Overview

    If you’re looking for a college that combines the best of the liberal arts tradition with premier engineering, science, and mathematics programs—Harvey Mudd College is your school. Located in Claremont, CA (just outside of L.A.), Harvey Mudd College is a member of the elite Claremont College consortium and ranks among the top national liberal arts colleges in the country (U.S. News and World Report).

    Program Features

    Harvey Mudd College goes to great lengths to merge the greatest strengths of the arts and the sciences. Each of Mudd’s nine engineering, science, and mathematics-based majors is firmly grounded in a core curriculum which embraces the humanities and social sciences. Students can blend a passion for physics with their love for music or literature—resulting in graduates who are well-rounded and ready to lead. Popular majors include:

    • Engineering
    • Computer and Information Sciences
    • Physical Sciences

    Notables

    With opportunities to conduct high-level research in cutting-edge laboratories, students at Harvey Mudd College engage in hands-on learning from the beginning. The Clinic Program is an example of this—the program allows students to collaborate to solve real-life problems for real companies (like Microsoft and Boeing). And the school has a generous financial aid policy. They are committed to providing 100 percent of every students’ demonstrated need.

  4. Bowdoin College
    Location

    Brunswick, ME

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Overview

    Situated in the picturesque coastal New England town of Brunswick, Maine, Bowdoin College is a historic private liberal arts college that ranks among the top national liberal arts colleges in the U.S. (U.S. News and World Report). Bowdoin College invests deeply in academic mentorship strong faculty-student relationships, collaborative learning, and encourages academic risk-taking.

    Program Features

    At the heart of the Bowdoin College experience lie formative relationships—between students of different backgrounds and dedicated, world-class faculty. Bowdoin College students have freedom to construct an educational plan within breadth and distribution requirements. And they engage with one other in the classroom as well as in state-of-the-art laboratories, field stations, museums, libraries, theaters, art and dance studios, and recital hall. Popular majors include:

    • Political Science and Government
    • Economics
    • Biology

    Notables

    Beyond the classroom, Bowdoin College students have opportunities to take part in research, internships, and community-based service programs. Many Bowdoin students also expand their horizons through off-campus study, which take place around the world. And Bowdoin College is committed to their students regardless of financial status—all Bowdoin College students have their demonstrated financial needs met without taking out loans.

  5. Claremont McKenna College
    Location

    Claremont, CA

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Overview

    Located in the liberal arts mecca of Claremont, California, Claremont McKenna College is one of the Claremont College consortium and one of the nation’s top private liberal arts colleges (U.S. News and World Report). Claremont McKenna College features a stellar liberal arts curriculum with a real-world emphasis and special expertise in economics and government.

    Program Features

    If your interests lie in the world of business and government, Claremont McKenna College’s unique curriculum will be of interest to you. CMC students experience the best of the small residential college atmosphere—with a student to faculty ratio of 9:1. And the College’s real-world emphasis means that nearly 90% of students take part in internships that prepare them for life after college. Popular majors include:

    • Economics
    • Political Science and Government
    • International Relations and Affairs

    Notables

    Like other colleges in the Claremont College consortium, students have access to courses in any of the other six colleges of the consortium. And with eleven world-class research institutes and centers, Claremont McKenna College has an exceptionally high number of undergraduate students taking part in high-level research with faculty—with whom they develop strong relationships.

  6. Amherst College
    Location

    Amherst, MA

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Overview

    Set on a gorgeous and historic New England campus in Amherst, Massachusetts, Amherst College is a top-ranking, private liberal arts college with a reputation for both innovation and academic excellence (U.S. News and World Report). Amherst students can complete their Bachelor of Arts in 38 fields of study—all of which bring them into close contact with renowned faculty.

    Program Features

    A definitive feature of the Amherst College liberal arts experience is their open curriculum. With few required courses outside the students’ chosen major, students encounter an exceptional amount of freedom to experiment with other academic interests. Each student works closely with an academic advisor to construct a program of study that allows them to explore intellectual and creative interests, preparing them for a life of active learning. Popular majors include:

    • Economics
    • Mathematics
    • Psychology
    • English language and Literature

    Notables

    As a member of the Five College Consortium, Amherst College offers the best that a small liberal arts college offers (including a faculty-student ratio of 8:1) combined with the course choice of a much larger university setting. And Amherst encourages a global perspective—with students from more than 50 countries globally and more than 40% of Amherst students taking part in their extensive study-abroad program.

  7. Swarthmore College
    Location

    Swarthmore, PA

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Overview

    Situated on an idyllic, 425-acre arboretum campus in Swarthmore, Pennsylvania, Swarthmore College is a private liberal arts college with a commitment to independent learning. Swarthmore sits near the top of rankings in multiple categories, including National Liberal Arts Colleges, Best Undergraduate Teaching, and Best Value Schools (U.S. News and World Report), and offers students a rigorous, engaged education in a variety of fields. 

    Program Features

    At Swarthmore College, intellectually passionate students from diverse backgrounds come together to collaborate rather than compete. Swarthmore’s mission centers around a rigorous and broad education for the common good—to that end they offer more than 600 undergraduate courses and research opportunities. And a student to faculty ratio of 8:1 means that students have close relationships with their professors. Top majors include:

    • Social Sciences
    • Biological and Biomedical Sciences
    • Education

    Notables

    Attending a member-college of the Tri-College Consortium means that Swarthmore students can also take courses at both Bryn Mawr College and Haverford College. And they can also take classes at the University of Pennsylvania through the Quaker Consortium. And Swarthmore’s mission to extend a liberal arts education to all worthy candidates means that students have all of their demonstrated financial needs met.

  8. Middlebury College
    Location

    Middlebury, VT

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Overview

    A private liberal arts college located in Vermont’s Champlain Valley (between the Adirondacks and the Green Mountains) Middlebury College offers a comprehensive liberal arts education in an idyllic setting. The College ranks among the top liberal arts colleges in the country (U.S. News and World Report), and their majors, whether they be scientific or the humanities—all reflect Middlebury’s historic commitment to immersive learning.

    Program Features

    At Middlebury College, a liberal arts education is meant to be transformative. Middlebury’s curriculum provides both depth through a chosen major and breadth through a set of distribution requirements. And Middlebury has created the Education in Action program to ensure that each undergraduate has at least one experiential opportunity—these include internships, community service opportunities, and self-directed projects. Popular majors include:

    • Economics
    • Neuroscience
    • Environmental Studies

    Notables

    Middlebury is notable among traditional liberal arts colleges in their diversity of programs. These include graduate degrees as well as specialized programs (like the Middlebury Language Schools) around the globe. And the College’s natural environment has lead to their taking a leading role in sustainability efforts in the region—Middlebury College recently met its goal of achieving carbon neutrality as an institution.

  9. Washington and Lee University
    Location

    Lexington, VA

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Overview

    Established in the colonial period in Lexington, VA, Washington and Lee University is a historic private liberal arts college which ranks among the best in the country (U.S. News and World Report). Situated just a few hours southwest of Washington, D.C., W&I’s curriculum combines traditional liberal arts and sciences with distinctive pre-professional programs in business, journalism, and law.

    Program Features

    Washington and Lee University is home to two undergraduate divisions—the Williams School of Commerce, Economics, and Politics, and the College, which represents the liberal arts core of the University. The College is home to 21 departments, from the fine arts and humanities to the social and natural sciences. Students are mentored by stellar faculty and can earn either a Bachelor of Science or a Bachelor of Arts degree. Popular majors include:

    • Business Administration and Management
    • Accounting and Business/Management
    • Political Science and Government

    Notables

    At W&I, faculty encourage independent scholarly work and offer opportunities for collaborative and independent research over the summer. As part of W&I’s distinctive 12-12-4 academic calendar, the four-week Spring Term makes room for students to focus on a single course. You can also take that time to be part of innovative, intensive learning experiences, including off-campus and international travel.

  10. Davidson College
    Location

    Davidson, NC

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Overview

    Located in the lakeside college town of Davidson, NC, Davidson College is a private liberal arts college that ranks among the best in the nation (U.S. News and World Report). The school is known for rigorous academics and excellent teaching. But at the heart of Davidson College lies their distinctive honor code—this trains students to govern their own behavior and creates a spirit of trust between students, faculty, and staff.

    Program Features

    Davidson College’s world-class faculty mentor students through a curriculum which provides in-depth study in one area (a chosen major) as well as breadth of experience across many fields and disciplines. And Davidson is a leader in undergraduate research and creative work. As a student, you’ll engage in extensive exploration of original work through the academic year and during the summer. Popular majors include:

    • Biology
    • Economics
    • Political Science and Government

    Notables

    A major part of the Davidson College undergraduate experience is travel abroad. In fact, more than 80% of Davidson students study, travel, or perform service abroad. You may even qualify for a travel grant to perform research abroad. And Davidson has pioneered affordable education. They were the first liberal arts college to replace loans with grants, ensuring that students graduate free from debt.

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