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The 10 Best Liberal Arts Colleges in New York

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New York State is home to some of the most prestigious liberal arts colleges in the United States. These schools, though small, offer a plethora of opportunities for students and graduates, equipping them with important skills and preparing for the intellectual rigors of their careers and lives. Thinking of attending a liberal arts college? Find out more about New York’s top liberal arts schools.


How are Liberal Arts Colleges Different?


Liberal arts colleges are different from research universities primarily in their size and academic focus. At around 3,000 students or fewer, LACs are typically much smaller than even the smallest of research universities (many have enrollments of just under 2,000). This leads to smaller class sizes of often 20 students or fewer. A class of 50-100 people would be considered “large” at a liberal arts college, and these are rare and usually only for introductory STEM classes.


At liberal arts colleges, professors are also more focused on teaching, rather than research. Professors teach their own classes and hold frequent office hours, allowing you to develop stronger relationships with them. This can be especially helpful for students planning to attend graduate school (like pre-law or pre-med students), as these stronger relationships lead to better mentorship and standout letters of recommendation.


Content-wise, these schools focus on helping students develop important broad, interdisciplinary skills that can be applied to any career and life in general, such as critical thinking. While universities also address these skills, they usually emphasize career preparation more heavily. 


In order to expose students to a wide range of disciplines and encourage them to develop core competencies, curricula are usually broad. There may be more general education and interdisciplinary requirements than you’ll find at a university. Some liberal arts colleges even have an open curriculum, where there are no general education requirements, and you’re totally free to explore your interests.


For more about what sets liberal arts colleges apart, see our post: What is a Liberal Arts College, and How Are They Different?

Best Liberal Arts Colleges in New York

1. Barnard College

Location: New York

Acceptance rate: 14%

U.S. News Ranking: 25

Middle 50% SAT/ACT: SAT—1340-1520; ACT—30-34

Enrollment: 2,682 undergraduates


Barnard is the only surviving Seven Sister college to remain affiliated with its “brother” school, Columbia University. Barnard College is also still women-only and offers a small campus feel in Manhattan’s Morningside Heights. Students may take courses at Columbia, as well as join clubs, sports teams, sororities, and other organizations at the Ivy League university. Given its location and many resources, Barnard’s students enjoy numerous opportunities, including internships at premier organizations, discounted and free event tickets, and much more.


2. Colgate University

Location: Hamilton

Acceptance rate: 25%

U.S. News Ranking: 17

Middle 50% SAT/ACT: SAT—1410-1520; ACT—31-34

Enrollment: 2,994


Colgate may be located in a rural setting, but that’s part of the appeal for many students who appreciate the stunning scenery, including beautiful foliage in the fall. In addition to offering a rigorous academic curriculum with dedicated faculty, the school has a top-notch, Division I athletic program. Greek life is popular on campus, but even if fraternities and sororities don’t appeal to you, you’ll find plenty of activities and organizations that do.


3. Hamilton College

Location: Clinton

Acceptance rate: 16%

U.S. News Ranking: 14 

Middle 50% SAT/ACT: SAT—1410-1510; ACT—32-34

Enrollment: 1,850


With a close-knit, friendly campus and caring instructors, Hamilton offers a strong sense of community in a rural, intimate atmosphere. The school was founded at the end of the 18th century and is the third-oldest institution of higher learning in New York, after Columbia and Union College. Its flexible curriculum is one of its biggest draws for students—there are no distribution requirements, so students have almost total control over their course schedules.


4. Hobart and William Smith Colleges

Location: Geneva

Acceptance rate: 57%

U.S. News Ranking: 72

Middle 50% SAT/ACT: SAT—1210-1370: ACT—28

Enrollment: 2,229


Situated in the heart of the picturesque Finger Lakes region, Hobart and William Smith Colleges are two partnered colleges for men and women respectively. Although students all live on a single campus, attend the same classes, and participate in clubs and organizations together, men receive their degrees from Hobart, while women receive them from William Smith. The curriculum follows a singular principle, adopted in 2014–15 school year: “Explore. Collaborate. Act.” In order to meet the academic requirements, students must devise a curriculum under the guidance of faculty members that will enable them to hone their critical thinking, communication, ethical judgment, and other skills.


5. Sarah Lawrence College

Location: Bronxville 

Acceptance rate: 56%

U.S. News Ranking: 68

Middle 50% SAT/ACT: SAT—1240-1420; ACT—27-32

Enrollment: 1,377


Located just outside of New York City, Sarah Lawrence offers a unique approach to learning. Under the guidance of a faculty advisor (called a “Don”), students design their curricula, which is filled with seminars and workshops. The colleges boast that students spend more one-on-one time with “award-winning faculty” than at any other college in the United States. Part of this model includes biweekly student-faculty conferences. Students also have the opportunity to “interview” with faculty prior to taking their courses to get a taste of the class before enrolling.


6. Skidmore College

Location: Saratoga Springs

Acceptance rate: 27%

U.S. News Ranking: 39

Middle 50% SAT/ACT: SAT—1223-1400; ACT—27-31

Enrollment: 2,500


Offering an interdisciplinary approach to academics, Skidmore’s program has several unique facets. One particularly notable aspect is the Scribner Freshman Seminar Program, in which first-year students participate in a year-long seminar with themes like “What to Eat?” and “K-Pop.” These interdisciplinary courses prepare students for the rigors of a college curriculum and providing mentoring, with both faculty advisors and peer mentors. The school is located in the historic city of Saratoga Springs, home to the oldest thoroughbred racetracks in the U.S. and many cultural institutions.


7. St. Lawrence University

Location: Canton

Acceptance rate: 46%

U.S. News Ranking: 58

Middle 50% SAT/ACT: SAT—1655-1890 (ACT information not available)

Enrollment: 2,522


The oldest coed university in New York State, St. Lawrence University is currently a nondenominational institution, although it was initially founded by Universalist ministers. It offers 40 majors, including a combined MBA program with Clarkson University and a 3+2 engineering program run with five institutions. SLU’s First-Year Program, in which freshmen live and study together and develop important writing, speaking, and research skills, is one of the oldest living-learning programs in the U.S. There are also ample study-abroad opportunities, with 30 programs across the world, including the oldest U.S. study abroad program in Africa (a five-acre campus in Kenya). Students live in coed “Theme Houses”with like-minded students.


8. Union College

Location: Schenectady

Acceptance rate: 39%

U.S. News Ranking: 45

Middle 50% SAT/ACT: SAT—1290-1410; ACT—28-32

Enrollment: 2,150


The second-oldest institution of higher learning in New York State after Columbia, Union College was founded in 1795. Unlike many of its peers, Union follows a trimester system with three 10-week terms and an extended winter break. The college boasts small class sizes and offers accelerated programs, including Leadership in Medicine and 3+3 Accelerated Law Program. Students and faculty may reside in houses that offer classes, extracurricular activities, and more, providing a community. As the “Mother of Fraternities,” Union has a thriving Greek life, with three of the oldest fraternities in the country founded on the campus.


9. US Military Academy at West Point

Location: West Point

Acceptance rate: 10%

U.S. News Ranking: 21 

Middle 50% SAT/ACT: SAT—1185-1400; ACT—23-28

Enrollment: 4,491


The premier service institution in the U.S., the US Military Academy at West Point, known as “West Point,” graduates leaders across industries like government, business, and, of course, the military. Not only do graduates praise the stellar leadership and academic preparation, but they also enjoy a wealth of extracurricular opportunities, including such otherworldly activities as scuba diving with NASA astronauts and working in government research facilities. Cadets must be nominated by their Congressional representative as part of the application process.


10. Vassar College

Location: Poughkeepsie

Acceptance rate: 23%

U.S. News Ranking: 14

Middle 50% SAT/ACT: SAT—1390-1530; ACT—32-34

Enrollment: 2,456


The first of the Seven Sisters institutions to become coed when it began admitting men in 1969, Vassar remains a prestigious and academically rigorous college, with alumnae who include Grace Hopper, Meryl Streep, and Elizabeth Bishop. The college is known for its diverse student body and is consistently ranked as one of the most LGBTQ-friendly campuses in the country. In addition to offering a stellar academic curriculum, Vassar has plenty of extracurricular opportunities, including the Night Owls (one of the oldest-remaining all-female a capella groups), the Butterbeer Brewers (the campus Quidditch team), and many other activities.


Whether you’re looking to attend a small liberal arts college in New York or a large university in California, CollegeVine will give you the guidance and support to help you get there. Our free Admissions Calculator will estimate your real chances of acceptance at top colleges and universities. Plus, you’ll learn tips on how to boost your profile to help you gain admission to your dream school. Sign up for your free CollegeVine account today to get a jumpstart on your college strategy.

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Laura Berlinsky-Schine is a freelance writer and editor based in Brooklyn with her demigod/lab mix Hercules. She specializes in education, technology and career development. She also writes satire and humor, which has appeared in Slackjaw, Points in Case, Little Old Lady Comedy, Jane Austen’s Wastebasket, and Funny-ish. View her work and get in touch at: www.lauraberlinskyschine.com.