Choosing a college in the United States is no easy decision, not least because there are so many 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 tend to focus more on teaching than research, compared with other colleges.
Best colleges across America
Best universities in the United States
Best universities in Florida
Best universities in Texas
Best universities in New York
Best universities in Los Angeles
Best universities in New York
Best public universities in the United States
Liberal arts schools are private, not-for-profit colleges and generally charge the same tuition fees for in-state and out-of-state students, unlike public universities. At the top end, annual tuition 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 (ranking is calculated according to the Wall Street Journal/Times Higher Education US College Rankings 2019).
The ranking is designed to answer the questions that matter the most to students and their families. Read the full methodology here.
Top five liberal arts colleges in the United States
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.
Amherst is highly selective and located in Massachusetts, which often encourages rivalry with Williams College which has come in second position in the liberal arts ranking.
Classes are extremely small to provide interaction with teachers. About 90 per cent of all courses have fewer than 30 students enrolled.
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.
The college was established in 1793 and in some departments the teaching is modelled on the traditional tutorial system at the universities of Oxford and Cambridge in the UK, in which students are taught one-to-one or in small groups.
California-based Pomona College offers 48 majors for undergraduates, across 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, including the geographical diversity around California, and the wealth of work experience in nearby Los Angeles.
Student experience at US universities
What is it like to study at a liberal arts college?
Brits in America: changing perceptions of women-only universities
Best universities in the United States for graduate employability
Brits in America: ordering ‘chips’ is a very different thing here
How to write a US college admissions essay
Survival guide for international students: your first 168 hours in the United States
Despite having only about 2,400 undergraduate students, Wellesley College is home to more than 150 student clubs and organisations.
The women-only college offers more than 1,000 courses and also allows students to take courses at other world-leading institutions, including the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Brandeis.
The alumni network includes politician Hillary Rodham Clinton and journalist Diane Sawyer.
Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania was one of the first co-educational colleges in the US, founded in 1864.
Alongside the liberal arts curriculum, undergraduates can enrol on an engineering track.
The arboretum – or tree-filled – campus has been described in Garden Design magazine as the most beautiful campus in the US (see photo above).
Despite the rural setting, the city of Philadelphia is only 25 minutes away by train.
Top 100 liberal arts colleges in the United States
|Liberal Arts Rank 2019||US College Rank 2019||University||City||State|
|6||=33||Claremont McKenna College||Claremont||California|
|13||50||Bryn Mawr College||Bryn Mawr||Pennsylvania|
|14||=53||Colgate University||Hamilton||New York|
|15||57||Davidson College||Davidson||North Carolina|
|16||58||United States Military Academy||West Point||New York|
|17||59||Barnard College||New York||New York|
|18||=62||Wake Forest University||Winston-Salem||North Carolina|
|20||65||Mount Holyoke College||South Hadley||Massachusetts|
|21||=67||Hamilton College||Clinton||New York|
|24||72||Vassar College||Poughkeepsie||New York|
|25||75||Washington and Lee University||Lexington||Virginia|
|29||82||Franklin and Marshall College||Lancaster||Pennsylvania|
|32||=89||Macalester College||Saint Paul||Minnesotta|
|33||91||College of the Holy Cross||Worcester||Massachusetts|
|34||92||Connecticut College||New London||Connecticut|
|35||93||Union College||Schenectady||New York|
|36||=94||Occidental College||Los Angeles||California|
|=37||=100||Trinity University||San Antonio||Texas|
|39||=106||Wheaton College (Massachusetts)||Norton||Massachusetts|
|46||=120||Skidmore College||Saratoga Springs||New York|
|=48||=130||Whitman College||Walla Walla||Washington|
|=48||=130||The College of Wooster||Wooster||Ohio|
|50||=132||Hobart William Smith Colleges||Geneva||New York|
|52||=135||Colorado College||Colorado Springs||Colorado|
|53||=135||Illinois Wesleyan University||Bloomington||Illinois|
|=57||=151||Furman University||Greenville||South Carolina|
|=57||=151||Linfield College - McMinnville campus||McMinnville||Oregon|
|59||=156||St Olaf College||Northfield||Minnesotta|
|61||161||Gustavus Adolphus College||Saint Peter||Minnesotta|
|63||=166||Sewanee-The University of the South||Sewanee||Tennessee|
|66||173||St Lawrence University||Canton||New York|
|67||=178||Elon University||Elon||North Carolina|
|68||=183||Cornell College||Mount Vernon||Iowa|
|69||=186||Saint Mary's College||Notre Dame||Indiana|
|=75||=196||College of Saint Benedict||Saint Joseph||Minnesota|
|=75||=196||Saint Mary's College of California||Moraga||California|
|77||199||Wofford College||Spartanburg||South Carolina|
|=78||=200||Providence College||Providence||Rhode Island|
|80||208||Wheaton College (Illinois)||Wheaton||Illinois|
|81||=210||Ohio Wesleyan University||Delaware||Ohio|
|82||=214||Saint Anselm College||Manchester||New Hampshire|
|90||=237||Lake Forest College||Lake Forest||Illinois|
|91||239||Westmont College||Santa Barbara||California|
|=92||=240||Ithaca College||Ithaca||New York|
|94||244||Augustana College (Illinois)||Rock Island||Illinois|
|=95||=245||Sarah Lawrence College||Bronxville||New York|
|97||=248||Siena College||Loudonville||New York|
|=98||=251||Adelphi University||Garden City||New York|
|=98||=251||Concordia College at Moorhead||Moorhead||Minnesotta|
|=98||=251||Manhattan College||Riverdale||New York|
|=98||=251||Rollins College||Winter Park||Florida|
Read more: Best private universities in the US