Best liberal arts colleges in the United States 2019

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

September 20 2018
Swarthmore College rose garden

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.

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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 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

1. 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.

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.

2. 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 the universities of Oxford and Cambridge in the UK, in which students are taught one-to-one or in small groups.

3. 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.

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

5. Swarthmore College

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
1 22 Amherst College Amherst Massachusetts
2 23 Williams College Williamstown Massachusetts
3 24 Pomona College Claremont California
4 29 Wellesley College Wellesley Massachusetts
5 31 Swarthmore College Swarthmore Pennsylvania
6 =33 Claremont McKenna College Claremont California
7 35 Carleton College Northfield Minnesotta
8 =37 Middlebury College Middlebury Vermont
9 =39 Haverford College Haverford Pennsylvania
10 =41 Smith College Northampton Massachusetts
11 44 Bowdoin College Brunswick Maine
12 46 Wesleyan University Middletown Connecticut
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
19 64 Bucknell University Lewisburg Pennsylvania
20 65 Mount Holyoke College South Hadley Massachusetts
21 =67 Hamilton College Clinton New York
22 70 Lafayette College Easton Pennsylvania
23 71 Colby College Waterville Maine
24 72 Vassar College Poughkeepsie New York
25 75 Washington and Lee University Lexington Virginia
26 76 Grinnell College Grinnell Iowa
27 77 Bates College Lewiston Maine
28 79 Oberlin College Oberlin Ohio
29 82 Franklin and Marshall College Lancaster Pennsylvania
=30 =83 Denison University Granville Ohio
=30 =83 Scripps College Claremont California
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 Gettysburg College Gettysburg Pennsylvania
=37 =100 Trinity University San Antonio Texas
39 =106 Wheaton College (Massachusetts) Norton Massachusetts
40 109 Spelman College Atlanta Georgia
41 110 Kenyon College Gambier Ohio
42 111 Trinity College Hartford Connecticut
43 =112 Pitzer College Claremont California
44 =114 DePauw University Greencastle Indiana
45 116 Dickinson College Carlisle Pennsylvania
46 =120 Skidmore College Saratoga Springs New York
47 =126 Reed College Portland Oregon
=48 =130 Whitman College Walla Walla Washington
=48 =130 The College of Wooster Wooster Ohio
50 =132 Hobart William Smith Colleges Geneva New York
51 134 Allegheny College Meadville Pennsylvania
52 =135 Colorado College Colorado Springs Colorado
53 =135 Illinois Wesleyan University Bloomington Illinois
=54 =142 Rhodes College Memphis Tennessee
=54 =142 Willamette University Salem Oregon
56 =148 Seattle University Seattle Washington
=57 =151 Furman University Greenville South Carolina
=57 =151 Linfield College - McMinnville campus McMinnville Oregon
59 =156 St Olaf College Northfield Minnesotta
60 =159 Simmons College Boston Massachusetts
61 161 Gustavus Adolphus College Saint Peter Minnesotta
62 =162 Kalamazoo College Kalamazoo Michigan
63 =166 Sewanee-The University of the South Sewanee Tennessee
64 170 Centre College Danville Kentucky
65 172 Knox College Galesburg Illinois
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
=70 =189 Lawrence University Appleton Wisconsin
=70 =189 Susquehanna University Selinsgrove Pennsylvania
72 192 Stonehill College Easton Massachusetts
73 194 Mercer University Macon Georgia
74 195 Muhlenberg College Allentown Pennsylvania
=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 Juniata College Huntingdon Pennsylvania
=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
83 =217 Gonzaga University Spokane Washington
=84 =223 Albion College Albion Michigan
=84 =223 Luther College Decorah Iowa
86 =229 Hanover College Hanover Indiana
=87 =231 Beloit College Beloit Wisconsin
=87 =231 Berea College Berea Kentucky
=87 =231 Washington College Chestertown Maryland
90 =237 Lake Forest College Lake Forest Illinois
91 239 Westmont College Santa Barbara California
=92 =240 Austin College Sherman Texas
=92 =240 Ithaca College Ithaca New York
94 244 Augustana College (Illinois) Rock Island Illinois
=95 =245 Hope College Holland Michigan
=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

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