Best liberal arts colleges in the United States

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

January 11 2017

Swarthmore College rose garden

Swarthmore College rose garden
Rose garden at Swarthmore College

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 tend to focus more on teaching than research, compared with other colleges.


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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 2017).

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

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.

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

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

Classes are extremely small to provide interaction with teachers. About 90 per cent of all courses have fewer than 30 students enrolled.

Pomona College

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.

Wellesley College

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 wide alumni network includes politician Hillary Rodham Clinton and journalist Diane Sawyer.

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 the most beautiful campus in America in Garden Design magazine (see photo above).

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


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Top 100 liberal arts colleges in the United States

Liberal arts rank

College

State

WSJ/THE College Rank

1

Williams College

Massachusetts

22

2

Amherst College

Massachusetts

23

3

Pomona College

California

28

4

Wellesley College

Massachusetts

30

5

Swarthmore College

Pennsylvania

34

6

Smith College

Massachusetts

35

7

Middlebury College

Vermont

36

=8

Carleton College

Minnesota

37

=8

Haverford College

Pennsylvania

37

10

Bowdoin College

Maine

44

11

Wesleyan University

Connecticut

45

12

Claremont McKenna College

California

46

13

Bryn Mawr College

Pennsylvania

47

14

Bucknell University

Pennsylvania

53

15

Colgate University

New York

54

16

Hamilton College

New York

60

17

Oberlin College

Ohio

62

18

Trinity College

Connecticut

65

19

Colby College

Maine

66

20

Macalester College

Minnesota

67

21

Lafayette College

Pennsylvania

73

22

Vassar College

New York

75

23

Davidson College

North Carolina

77

24

Grinnell College

Iowa

78

25

Barnard College

New York

80

26

Denison University

Ohio

83

=27

Occidental College

California

84

=27

University of Richmond

Virginia

84

29

College of the Holy Cross

Massachusetts

88

30

DePauw University

Indiana

91

31

Kenyon College

Ohio

94

=32

Connecticut College

Connecticut

96

=32

Scripps College

California

96

34

Franklin & Marshall College

Pennsylvania

100

=35

Bates College

Maine

102

=35

Union College

New York

102

37

Spelman College

Georgia

106

38

Washington and Lee University

Virginia

109

=39

Mount Holyoke College

Massachusetts

117

=39

The College of Wooster

Ohio

117

41

Dickinson College

Pennsylvania

123

42

Gettysburg College

Pennsylvania

125

43

Colorado College

Colorado

126

44

Pitzer College

California

127

45

Furman University

South Carolina

131

46

Reed College

Oregon

137

47

Skidmore College

New York

139

=48

Allegheny College

Pennsylvania

144

=48

Gustavus Adolphus College

Minnesota

144

50

Centre College

Kentucky

147

51

Rhodes College

Tennessee

150

52

Berea College

Kentucky

153

53

St Olaf College

Minnesota

155

54

Hobart and William Smith Colleges

New York

157

=55

Illinois Wesleyan University

Illinois

159

=55

Willamette University

Oregon

159

57

Sewanee-The University of the South

Tennessee

162

58

Wheaton College (Massachusetts)

Massachusetts

166

=59

University of Puget Sound

Washington

170

=59

Susquehanna University

Pennsylvania

170

=61

Kalamazoo College

Michigan

172

=61

Stonehill College

Massachusetts

172

=63

Saint Mary's College

Indiana

174

=63

Ursinus College

Pennsylvania

174

=65

Albion College

Michigan

182

=65

Lewis & Clark College

Oregon

182

67

Whitman College

Washington

185

=68

Muhlenberg College

Pennsylvania

186

=68

St Lawrence University

New York

186

70

Virginia Military Institute

Virginia

190

71

Siena College

New York

197

72

Ohio Wesleyan University

Ohio

200

73

Knox College

Illinois

202

74

Earlham College

Indiana

204

=75

Austin College

Texas

207

=75

Washington College

Maryland

207

=77

Juniata College

Pennsylvania

210

=77

College of Saint Benedict

Minnesota

210

=77

Washington & Jefferson College

Pennsylvania

210

=77

Wofford College

South Carolina

210

81

Wheaton College (Illinois)

Illinois

215

82

Lake Forest College

Illinois

223

=83

Beloit College

Wisconsin

226

=83

Lawrence University

Wisconsin

226

85

Saint John's University

Minnesota

233

=86

Hope College

Michigan

235

=86

Saint Anselm College

New Hampshire

235

88

Southwestern  University

Texas

240

=89

Augustana College (Illinois)

Illinois

241

=89

Drew University

New Jersey

241

91

Westminster College
(Pennsylvania)

Pennsylvania

248

92

Cornell College

Iowa

254

93

Hanover College

Indiana

256

=94

Alma College

Michigan

267

=94

St Mary's College of Maryland

Maryland

267

=96

Houghton College

New York

273

=96

Luther College

Iowa

273

=98

Goucher College

Maryland

277

=98

Sarah Lawrence College

New York

277

=98

Westmont College

California

277


Editor's note: The information on this page was correct at the time of publication. Since then, Times Higher Education has reissued the US College Rankings. For the most up-to-date 2017 US College Rankings results, always use the overall league table. Click here for more information

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