Timothy Peck
7 min read College Lists,School Rankings

The 15 Best Liberal Arts Colleges in the U.S.

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The philosophy of liberal arts colleges is to prepare students for life, not just a career—teaching them how to think, learn, communicate, and make connections between different fields. Interest in a liberal arts education has increased in the last decade as students and employers recognize that liberal arts studies provide students with skills that are in demand and pave the way for a sustained, well-paying career. Below is a list of the most well-regarded liberal arts colleges in the country. 

 

Top Liberal Arts Colleges in the U.S.

 

If you’re interested in pursuing a liberal arts education and building valuable skills—such as communication, leadership, and problem-solving—below are 15 of the best liberal arts colleges in the U.S.

 

Amherst College 

 

Location: Amherst, MA  

Acceptance Rate: 13% 

Middle 50% SAT/ACT: 1420-1560/30-34 

Undergrad Enrollment: 1,800

 

An open curriculum has been a hallmark of Amherst College since the early 1970s. The college has no distribution requirements or core curriculum, and just one mandatory class: a first-year seminar. To earn a degree, students need to take the classes required of their major, but are free to fill out the rest of their coursework from the college’s 850 classes, allowing them to pursue areas of intellectual interest. 

 

If Amherst doesn’t offer the course a student is interested in, no problem—as a member of the Five College Consortium, students can also register for one of the thousands of classes offered at Hampshire, Mount Holyoke, Smith College, and UMass Amherst.

 

Learn more about Amherst and what it takes to get accepted.

 

Bowdoin College

 

Location: Brunswick, ME

Acceptance Rate: 10% 

Middle 50% SAT/ACT: 1430-1540/32-35

Undergrad Enrollment: 1,800

 

Founded in 1794, Bowdoin College is one of the oldest institutions of higher education in the country; in fact, it’s 25 years older than the state of Maine, where it’s located! A testament to the liberal arts education offered at Bowdoin is the success of its graduates in a wide variety of fields—which include literary titans such as Nathaniel Hawthorne and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, tech leaders like Netflix CEO Reed Hastings, and entrepreneur/restaurateur and Subway co-founder Peter Buck.  

 

Learn more about Bowdoin and what it takes to get accepted.

 

Carleton College

 

Location: Northfield, MN 

Acceptance Rate: 20% 

Middle 50% SAT/ACT: 1330-1530/30-34

Undergrad Enrollment: 2,000

 

Students at Carleton College take the foundational skills acquired by a liberal arts education and continue to build on them after graduation. About 57% of Carleton alumni go to graduate school within five years of earning their undergraduate degree and 18% go directly to graduate school after their time at the college. It’s not all academics at Carleton, though—it’s one of the best liberal arts colleges for fun as well, with student groups like the college’s quidditch team (the “Motley Muggles”) and traditions such as the “silent dance party” is held before final exams. 

 

Learn more about Carleton and what it takes to get accepted.

 

Colby College

 

Location: Waterville, ME 

Acceptance Rate: 13% 

Middle 50% SAT/ACT: 1390-1530/32-34 

Undergrad Enrollment: 2,000

 

Colby College is known for pioneering the 4-1-4 academic calendar. Following the 4-1-4 model, Colby students take four classes in the fall and four in the spring. In between, however, they’re given the opportunity to choose between a variety of intensive academic experiences, ranging from conducting research to undertaking an internship. 

 

Colby is also notable for the “Colby Commitment,” a pledge to meet 100% of its student’s demonstrated financial need without loans. Even better, students from families making less than $65k will pay nothing, and those making less than $150k will have contributions capped at $15k per year.

 

Learn more about Colby and what it takes to get accepted.

 

Claremont McKenna College

 

Location: Claremont, CA 

Acceptance Rate: 9% 

Median SAT/ACT: 1420/33 

Undergrad Enrollment: 1,300

 

In addition to being one of the best liberal arts colleges in the U.S. and offering 33 majors and 11 sequences, Claremont McKenna College is a part of the Claremont Consortium—a seven-school group including: 

 

  • Harvey Mudd College
  • Pitzer College
  • Pomona College
  • Scripps College
  • Claremont Graduate University
  • Keck Graduate Institute

 

The schools of the Claremont Consortium share resources such as varsity sports, a health center, campus safety, dining halls, libraries, and clubs. Almost all Claremont McKenna College students (99%) cross-register at another school in the consortium and take advantage of the 2,200 courses offered. 

 

Learn more about Claremont McKenna and what it takes to get accepted.

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Grinnell College

 

Location: Grinnel, IA 

Acceptance Rate: 24% 

Middle 50% SAT/ACT: 1320-1530/30-33 

Undergrad Enrollment: 1,700

 

Grinnell is another college with an open curriculum. Outside of major-specific courses, there is just one required class: the first-year tutorial. Grinnell students are encouraged to engage with the world and explore global issues. Grinnell’s Global Learning Program allows students to explore specific worldwide issues and culminates with three-plus weeks of field-based learning in multiple locations around the world during spring and summer breaks.  

 

Learn more about Grinnell and what it takes to get accepted.

 

Hamilton College

 

Location: Clinton, NY  

Acceptance Rate: 21% 

Middle 50% SAT/ACT: 1450-1530/32-34  

Undergrad Enrollment: 2,000

 

Named after one of our founding fathers and the first U.S. Secretary of the Treasury, Alexander Hamilton, Hamilton College has earned a reputation as a school of opportunity. In 2008, it eliminated merit scholarships and reallocated the funds to financial aid—today, it boasts need-blind admissions and will meet 100% of the demonstrated financial need of admitted students. 

 

Opportunity is also a staple of Hamilton’s coursework. The college has an open curriculum and allows students the freedom to choose the classes that interest them intellectually. With the exception of courses required for their majors, the only other courses students need to graduate are three writing-intensive classes, one of which they must complete their first year. 

 

Learn more about Hamilton and what it takes to get accepted.

 

Middlebury College

 

Location: Middlebury, VT 

Acceptance Rate: 17% 

Middle 50% SAT/ACT: 1360-1510/31-34  

Undergrad Enrollment: 2,500

 

Helping make Middlebury College one of the best liberal arts colleges in the U.S. are its prestigious language programs. The college offers programs in:

 

  • Arabic
  • Chinese
  • French
  • German
  • Hebrew
  • Italian
  • Japanese
  • Portuguese
  • Russian
  • Spanish

 

Middlebury offers language courses for students at all levels, along with providing an immersive experience for its language students with its “Language Pledge,” a promise to speak only the language they’re studying for the duration of the program.  

 

Learn more about Middlebury and what it takes to get accepted.

 

Pomona College

 

Location: Claremont, College 

Acceptance Rate: 8%  

Middle 50% SAT/ACT: 1410-1550/32-35 

Undergrad Enrollment: 1,500

 

Pomona College is a member of the Claremont Consortium—a group of seven schools located within a 546-acre neighborhood that share resources—which allows it to provide the advantages of a small liberal arts college along with the resources of a large university. Pomona College practices need-blind admissions and meets 100% of the demonstrated financial need of all accepted students. Since 2008, all financial aid awards at Pomona have been a combination of scholarships, grants, and work-study—and don’t included packaged loans.

 

Learn more about Pomona and what it takes to get accepted.

 

Swarthmore College

 

Location: Swarthmore, PA  

Acceptance Rate: 9%   

Middle 50% SAT/ACT: 1395-1540/31-34  

Undergrad Enrollment: 1,500

 

Unlike many of the best liberal arts colleges, Swarthmore offers an undergraduate engineering program, allowing students to combine the study of classic liberal arts themes with STEM education. The combination of liberal arts and engineering produces well-rounded students who can communicate and collaborate as well as they can handle technical challenges.  

 

Swarthmore is a member of the Tri-College Consortium—along with Bryn Mawr and Haverford College—extending students’ social and academic opportunities. Additionally, cross-registration is available at the University of Pennsylvania. 

 

Learn more about Swarthmore and what it takes to get accepted.

 

U.S. Naval Academy

 

Location: Annapolis, MD   

Acceptance Rate: 9%  

Middle 50% SAT/ACT: 1250-1510/27-34 

Undergrad Enrollment: 4,500

 

There are numerous ways the U.S. Naval Academy is different from the nation’s other best liberal arts colleges. Almost all of these factors center around it being a service academy. For example, students can not simply apply to the U.S. Naval Academy; rather, they need to be nominated. Nominations typically come from U.S. Representatives, U.S. Senators, and the Vice President of the United States.  

 

The good news for students who receive an appointment to the U.S. Naval Academy is that while pursuing their degree, their tuition, books, board, medical, and dental are all fully paid for. However, they must serve at least eight years—five of which on active duty—following graduation. That said, the U.S. Naval Academy will offer you a stellar education. 

 

Learn more about the U.S. Naval Academy and what it takes to get accepted.

 

Washington and Lee University

 

Location: Lexington, VA  

Acceptance Rate: 21%  

Middle 50% SAT/ACT: 1370-1480/32-34 

Undergrad Enrollment: 1,800

 

Founded in 1749, Washington and Lee is one of the oldest schools in the U.S. One of the traditions that define the college is the school’s honor system. Rather than being codified, each generation of students—with no faculty or board oversight—defines the behavior they deem dishonorable. Washington and Lee’s students believe in the strength of their community inside and outside of the classroom, therefore there is just one penalty for breaching the honor system: dismissal from the school. 

 

Learn more about Washington and Lee and what it takes to get accepted.

 

Wellesley College

 

Location: Wellesley, MA 

Acceptance Rate: 20%  

Median SAT/ACT: 1445/32 

Undergrad Enrollment: 2,500

 

Wellesley College is one of the “Seven Sisters,” a name given to seven historically all-women colleges—five of which remain women’s colleges today (Radcliffe began merging with Harvard in 1977 and Vassar became coeducational in 1969). The other Seven Sisters schools are:

 

  • Barnard College
  • Bryn Mawr College
  • Mount Holyoke College
  • Smith College

 

In addition to attending one of the best liberal arts colleges in the U.S. and one of the most prestigious all-women schools in the country, Wellesley College students can cross-register at MIT.

 

Learn more about Wellesley and what it takes to get accepted.

 

Williams College

 

Location: Williamstown, MA 

Acceptance Rate: 13% 

Median 50% SAT/ACT: 1482/33 

Undergrad Enrollment: 2,000 

 

Williams offers an affordable and exceptional opportunity for students hoping to attend one of the most well-known and well-regarded liberal arts colleges in the U.S. The school practices need-blind admissions and will meet 100% of demonstrated financial need—mostly without loans. On average, a Williams grant (which doesn’t require repayment) covers 85% of a total financial aid package. As an added bonus, Williams is the only college in the country that guarantees free textbooks and course materials to all students receiving financial aid. Located in Western Massachusetts, students are surrounded by nature and have easy access to hiking and other outdoor activities.

 

Learn more about Williams and what it takes to get accepted.

 

Vassar College

 

Location: Poughkeepsie, NY  

Acceptance Rate: 25% 

Middle 50% SAT/ACT: 1400-1520/32-34 

Undergrad Enrollment: 2,400

 

Vassar was one of the Seven Sister colleges—a group of historically all-women colleges in the Northeast—but opened its doors to men in 1969, who now make up 45% of the student body. Vassar’s open curriculum places a few requirements on students besides those related to their major. They’re required to take a Freshman seminar, a one-semester quantitative class (in mathematics, natural sciences, psychology, or certain economics courses), and display proficiency in a foreign language, which students can test out of. 

 

Learn more about Vassar and what it takes to get accepted.

 

What Are Your Chances of Acceptance?

 

All of these schools are extremely selective, but your personal chances of admissions may be higher or lower than the published rates, depending on your profile. Wondering whether you have what it takes to get into these elite liberal arts colleges? CollegeVine can help you find out. Our free admissions calculator can predict your odds of acceptance at over 600 colleges and universities. Using your grades, testing scores, extracurriculars, and more, CollegeVine estimates your chances of acceptance. It even offers insight into how to improve your profile and increase your chances of getting into your dream school.

 

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Timothy Peck
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Short Bio
A graduate of Northeastern University with a degree in English, Tim Peck currently lives in Concord, New Hampshire, where he balances a freelance writing career with the needs of his two Australian Shepherds to play outside.

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