Best liberal arts colleges in the United States 2020

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 25 2019
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 2020).

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 is 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, where 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 University.

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 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 2020 US College Rank 2020 University City State
1 20 Amherst College Amherst Massachusetts
2 21 Williams College Williamstown Massachusetts
3 23 Pomona College Claremont California
4 24 Wellesley College Wellesley Massachusetts
5 28 Swarthmore College Swarthmore Pennsylvania
6 35 Middlebury College Middlebury Vermont
7 38 Claremont McKenna College Claremont California
8 39 Haverford College Haverford Pennsylvania
9 40 Carleton College Northfield Minnesota
10 41 Smith College Northampton Massachusetts
11 43 Wesleyan University Middletown Connecticut
12 =44 Bowdoin College Brunswick Maine
13 48 Colgate University Hamilton New York
14 51 Barnard College New York New York
15 53 Bryn Mawr College Bryn Mawr Pennsylvania
16 54 Davidson College Davidson North Carolina
17 56 Vassar College Poughkeepsie New York
17 57 Grinnell College Grinnell Iowa
19 =59 Hamilton College Clinton New York
20 =61 Mount Holyoke College South Hadley Massachusetts
21 =63 Bates College Lewiston Maine
22 65 Scripps College Claremont California
23 =68 Wake Forest University Winston-Salem North Carolina
24 70 Washington and Lee University Lexington Virginia
25 74 Bucknell University Lewisburg Pennsylvania
26 =75 Reed College Portland Oregon
27 77 Pitzer College Claremont California
28 80 United States Naval Academy Annapolis Maryland
29 83 Macalester College Saint Paul Minnesota
=30 =87 Lafayette College Easton Pennsylvania
=30 =87 Trinity College Hartford Connecticut
=32 =91 Franklin & Marshall College Lancaster Pennsylvania
=32 =91 Kenyon College Gambier Ohio
34 =93 Skidmore College Saratoga Springs New York
35 =96 Oberlin College Oberlin Ohio
36 99 Occidental College Los Angeles California
37 100 Dickinson College Carlisle Pennsylvania
=38 =101 Gettysburg College Gettysburg Pennsylvania
=38 =101 Whitman College Walla Walla Washington
40 103 Connecticut College New London Connecticut
=41 =111 Colorado College Colorado Springs Colorado
=41 =111 Trinity University San Antonio Texas
43 =113 Seattle University Seattle Washington
44 115 Union College Schenectady New York
45 116 DePauw University Greencastle Indiana
46 =117 Denison University Granville Ohio
47 125 College of the Holy Cross Worcester Massachusetts
48 =127 Simmons College Boston Massachusetts
49 133 Wheaton College (Massachusetts) Norton Massachusetts
50 =134 Rhodes College Memphis Tennessee
=51 =141 Sewanee-The University of the South Sewanee Tennessee
=51 =141 Willamette University Salem Oregon
=53 =143 Elon University Elon North Carolina
=53 =143 Hobart and William Smith Colleges Geneva New York
=53 =143 The College of Wooster Wooster Ohio
56 =148 Furman University Greenville South Carolina
57 =150 Spelman College Atlanta Georgia
58 =155 Berea College Berea Kentucky
59 157 Sarah Lawrence College Bronxville New York
60 =160 Allegheny College Meadville Pennsylvania
61 =167 Muhlenberg College Allentown Pennsylvania
=62 =176 Linfield College - McMinnville campus McMinnville Oregon
=62 =176 St Olaf College Northfield Minnesota
=64 =181 Kalamazoo College Kalamazoo Michigan
=64 =181 Wheaton College (Illinois) Wheaton Illinois
66 =185 Ohio Wesleyan University Delaware Ohio
67 187 St Lawrence University Canton New York
=68 =189 Lawrence University Appleton Wisconsin
=68 =189 Westmont College Santa Barbara California
70 192 Gustavus Adolphus College Saint Peter Minnesota
71 =193 Saint Mary's College of California Moraga California
72 =199 Wofford College Spartanburg South Carolina
73 =203 Lake Forest College Lake Forest Illinois
74 =208 Adelphi University Garden City New York
75 =208 Susquehanna University Selinsgrove Pennsylvania
76 217 Drew University Madison New Jersey
77 218 Southwestern University Georgetown Texas
78 219 Miami University Oxford Ohio
79 220 Knox College Galesburg Illinois
=80 =221 Stonehill College Easton Massachusetts
=80 =221 Washington College Chestertown Maryland
=82 =224 Beloit College Beloit Wisconsin
=82 =224 Centre College Danville Kentucky
=84 =229 Gonzaga University Spokane Washington
=84 =229 Providence College Providence Rhode Island
=86 =234 Ithaca College Ithaca New York
=86 =234 Lewis & Clark College Portland Oregon
=86 =234 Mercer University Macon Georgia
89 =239 Westminster College (Utah) Salt Lake City Utah
=90 =242 Cornell College Mount Vernon Iowa
=90 =242 College of Saint Benedict Saint Joseph Minnesota
92 =253 Albion College Albion Michigan
93 =256 Luther College Decorah Iowa
94 =256 Saint Anselm College Manchester New Hampshire
95 =261 Hope College Holland Michigan
=96 =264 Bard College Annandale-On-Hudson New York
=96 =264 Rollins College Winter Park Florida
98 =266 Manhattan College Riverdale New York
99 269 Earlham College Richmond Indiana
100 =270 Hampshire College Amherst Massachusetts

Read more: Best private universities in the US

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