Best liberal arts colleges in the United States 2018

Explore the top 100 liberal arts colleges in the United States using data from the Wall Street Journal/Times Higher Education US College Rankings

October 19 2017
Swarthmore College rose garden

Choosing a college in the United States is no easy decision, not least because there are so many different types of universities, colleges and schools.

Liberal arts colleges were once a unique feature of American higher education, but the model has spread to other countries around the world.

At liberal arts colleges, there is an emphasis on undergraduate study that includes a wide range of subjects, from science to humanities.

In addition to the interdisciplinary curriculum, the best liberal arts colleges tend to have smaller student populations than other institutions. Class sizes are often small, and academic staff generally focus more on teaching than on research, compared with other colleges.


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Liberal arts schools are private, not-for-profit colleges, and they generally charge the same tuition fees for in-state and out-of-state students, unlike public universities. At the top end, the annual tuition charge for an undergraduate degree at a liberal arts college is just under $50,000.

The best liberal arts colleges can be found across the United States, with clusters in Massachusetts, California and Pennsylvania. Find the top 100 liberal arts colleges below, based on the Wall Street Journal/Times Higher Education College Rankings 2018.

The ranking is designed to answer the questions that matter the most to prospective students and their families. Read the full methodology here.

Top 5 liberal arts colleges in the United States

1. Williams College

The small academic community at Williams College in Massachusetts is close-knit, consisting of about 2,000 undergraduate students.

An undergraduate degree in the liberal arts takes four years to complete, covering humanities, sciences and social sciences.

In some departments of the college, which was established in 1793, the teaching is modelled on the traditional tutorial system at the University of Oxford and the University of Cambridge in the UK, in which students are taught one-to-one or in small groups.

2. Amherst College

Undergraduates at Amherst College study a completely open curriculum without any core modules or restrictions on the variety of subjects or courses to be taken in certain years.

Like Williams College, Amherst College is highly selective and also located in Massachusetts, encouraging rivalry between the two schools.

Classes are extremely small to ensure that students and teachers can communicate and interact easily. About 90 per cent of all courses have fewer than 30 students enrolled.


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3. Pomona College

California-based Pomona College offers 48 majors for undergraduates, which span the arts, humanities, social sciences and natural sciences.

The small student body of about 1,640 undergraduates is diverse, with 60 countries represented.

Many students take advantage of research and work opportunities in the area, which gives easy access to the geographical diversity around California and the wealth of work experience in nearby Los Angeles.

4. Wellesley College

Despite having only about 2,400 undergraduate students, Wellesley College is home to more than 150 student clubs and organisations.

There are more than 1,000 courses on offer at the women-only college, and students may also take courses at other world-leading institutions, including the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Brandeis University.

The wide alumni network includes former US Secretary of State and presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton and the broadcast journalist Diane Sawyer.

5. Swarthmore College

Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania was one of the first co-educational colleges in America, founded in 1864.

Alongside the liberal arts curriculum, undergraduates can enrol on an engineering track.

The arboretum – or tree-filled – campus has been described as one of the most beautiful university settings in America.

Despite the rural setting, the city of Philadelphia is only 25 minutes away by train.


Top 100 liberal arts colleges in the United States 2018

Liberal arts rank 2018 University State City WSJ/THE College Rank 2018 
1 Williams College Massachusetts Williamstown 22
2 Amherst College Massachusetts Amherst 23
3 Pomona College California Claremont 26
4 Wellesley College Massachusetts Wellesley 28
5 Swarthmore College Pennsylvania Swarthmore 30
6 Claremont McKenna College California Claremont 35
7 Middlebury College Vermont Middlebury 36
8 Smith College Massachusetts Northampton 37
9 Carleton College Minnesota Northfield 38
10 Bowdoin College Maine Brunswick 39
11 Haverford College Pennsylvania Haverford 42
12 Wesleyan University Connecticut Middletown 45
13 Bryn Mawr College Pennsylvania Bryn Mawr 49
14 Davidson College North Carolina Davidson 54
15 Colgate University New York  Hamilton 55
16 Bucknell University Pennsylvania Lewisburg 59
17 Hamilton College New York Clinton 61
18 Oberlin College Ohio Oberlin 63
19 Colby College Maine Waterville 65
=20  Bates College Maine Lewiston 66
=20  Vassar College New York Poughkeepsie 66
22  Lafayette College Pennsylvania Easton 70
23  Washington and Lee University Virginia Lexington 73
24  Barnard College New York New York 74
25  Grinnell College Iowa Grinnell 75
26  Mount Holyoke College Massachusetts South Hadley 77
27  Macalester College Minnesota Saint Paul 78
28  Trinity University Texas San Antonio 79
=29  Denison University Ohio Granville 84
=29  College of the Holy Cross Massachusetts Worcester 84
31  Franklin & Marshall College Pennsylvania Lancaster 89
32  Occidental College California Los Angeles 91
33  Union College New York Schenectady 92
=34  Scripps College California Claremont 93
=34  Trinity College Connecticut Hartford 93
36  Kenyon College Ohio Gambier 96
37  Spelman College Georgia Atlanta 101
38  Connecticut College Connecticut New London 102
39  The College of Wooster Ohio Wooster 105
40  DePauw University Indiana Greencastle 109
41  Gettysburg College Pennsylvania Gettysburg 110
42  Dickinson College Pennsylvania Carlisle 113
=43  Pitzer College California Claremont 115
=43  Wheaton College (Massachusetts) Massachusetts Norton 115
45  Colorado College Colorado Colorado Springs 120
46  Seattle University Washington Seattle 127
47  Allegheny College Pennsylvania Meadville 128
=48  Furman University South Carolina Greenville 130
=48  Reed College Oregon Portland 130
50  Willamette University Oregon Salem 136
51  Hobart and William Smith Colleges New York Geneva 140
52  Illinois Wesleyan University Illinois Bloomington 141
53  Skidmore College New York Saratoga Springs 143
54  Elon University North Carolina Elon 145
=55  Centre College Kentucky Danville 150
=55  Gustavus Adolphus College Minnesota Saint Peter 150
=57  Kalamazoo College Michigan Kalamazoo 153
=57  St Olaf College Minnesota Northfield 153
59  Stonehill College Massachusetts Easton 158
60  St Lawrence University New York Canton 160
61  Rhodes College Tennessee Memphis 162
=62  Linfield College - McMinnville campus Oregon McMinnville 166
=62  Whitman College Washington Walla Walla 166
64  Simmons College Massachusetts Boston 169
65  Berea College Kentucky Berea 170
66  Susquehanna University Pennsylvania Selinsgrove 172
67  Ohio Wesleyan University Ohio Delaware 174
68  Sewanee-The University of the South Tennessee Sewanee 177
=69  Knox College Illinois Galesburg 179
=69  Lawrence University Wisconsin Appleton 179
=69  Wofford College South Carolina Spartanburg 179
72  Saint Mary's College Indiana Notre Dame 198
73  Muhlenberg College Pennsylvania Allentown 202
74  Saint Mary's College of California California Moraga 203
=75  Beloit College Wisconsin Beloit 205
=75  Drew University New Jersey Madison 205
=75  Washington College Maryland Chestertown 205
=78  Juniata College Pennsylvania Huntingdon 209
=78  Siena College New York Loudonville 209
80  Ithaca College New York Ithaca 211
=81  Cornell College Iowa Mount Vernon 216
=81  Lake Forest College Illinois Lake Forest 216
83  Mercer University Georgia Macon 220
84  St Mary's College of Maryland Maryland St. Mary's City 224
85  Saint Anselm College New Hampshire Manchester 226
=86  Manhattan College New York Riverdale 230
=86  Marietta College Ohio Marietta 230
=86  College of Saint Benedict Minnesota Saint Joseph 230
=89  Gonzaga University Washington Spokane 233
=89  Lewis & Clark College Oregon Portland 233
91  Wheaton College (Illinois) Illinois Wheaton 237
92  Austin College Texas Sherman 238
93  Providence College Rhode Island Providence 239
94  Hope College Michigan Holland 241
=95  Elizabethtown College Pennsylvania Elizabethtown 243
=95  Hanover College Indiana Hanover 243
=95  Luther College Iowa Decorah 243
98  Augustana College (Illinois) Illinois Rock Island 246
99  Albion College Michigan Albion 247
100  Rollins College Florida Winter Park 251

Read more: The 10 most beautiful universities in the US

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