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The Best Liberal Arts Colleges Not in the Northeast or California

For students who want to attend a small school with engaging learning experiences, liberal arts colleges (LACs) can be a great option. Those interested in LACs usually are familiar with highly-ranked liberal arts colleges, like Williams College in Massachusetts, Pomona College in California, or Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania. At first glance, it may seem like all of the top liberal arts schools are in either the Northeast or California, but this is actually far from the truth. 


There are actually several top liberal arts colleges located outside of the Northeast and California. These colleges offer all the benefits of a great liberal arts school while also providing some diversity in terms of their location. To learn more about the top liberal arts colleges outside of the Northeast and California, you won’t want to miss this post. 


The Best Liberal Arts Colleges Not in the Northeast or California


Carleton College

Location: Northfield, Minnesota

US News Liberal Arts College Ranking: 5 (tied)

Enrollment: 2,014

Acceptance Rate: 22.6%


Carleton’s campus stretches a beautiful 955 acres. The academic calendar is based on 10-week trimesters, offering a more accelerated course pace and the chance to explore more subjects. The school promises to meet 100% of all accepted students’ demonstrated financial need. 


Colorado College

Location: Colorado Springs, CO

US News Liberal Arts College Ranking: 27 (tied)

Enrollment: 2,107

Acceptance Rate: 15%


Located in picturesque Colorado Springs near the base of Pikes Peak, Colorado College offers a unique academic schedule called the Block Plan. Through this plan, students take one class at a time for three and a half weeks, completing 8 blocks during the course of an academic year. Proponents claim that this plan allows professors to be more creative with scheduling and allows students to more fully focus on each class. 


Davidson College

Location: Davidson, NC

US News Liberal Arts College Ranking: 10

Enrollment: 1,810

Acceptance Rate: 20%


Also ranked the #5 Most Innovative school by US News and World Report, Davidson became the first liberal arts college to replace loans with grants in all financial aid packages. The school also offers Division I athletics and more than 20 choices of undergraduate majors.


Grinnell College

Location: Grinnell, IA

US News Liberal Arts College Ranking: 11 (tied)

Enrollment: 1,712

Acceptance Rate: 29%


Due to its remote location, roughly halfway between Des Moines and Cedar Rapids, Grinnell is sometimes referred to as the “Little School on the Prairie.” Still, it has a busy social scene including Greek life, Division III athletics, and over 100 student organizations. Between 55-60% of students participate in study abroad programs. 


Kenyon College

Location: Gambier, OH

US News Liberal Arts College Ranking: 30 (tied)

Enrollment: 1,677

Acceptance Rate: 27%


Kenyon’s small size may fool you, but it is home to impressive offerings such as 150 study abroad options and the Brown Family Environmental Center, a 382-acre nature preserve on campus where students can enjoy classes in biology, ecology, and environmental science. Kenyon’s English department is particularly well known for its highly-selective literary magazine, the Kenyon Review. 


Macalester College

Location: St. Paul, MN

US News Liberal Arts College Ranking: 27

Enrollment: 2,136

Acceptance Rate: 41%


Macalester is conveniently located midway just 10 minutes from the hubs of St. Paul and Minneapolis. Here, students have access to all the theatres, museums, and outdoor activities the Twin Cities have to offer, in addition to the extensive on-campus offerings. Macalester guarantees to meet the full financial need of every student. 


Oberlin College

Location: Oberlin, OH

US News Liberal Arts College Ranking: 30 (tied)

Enrollment: 2,827

Acceptance Rate: 34%


In addition to its College of Arts and Sciences, Oberlin also offers a Conservatory of Music that provides bachelor of music degrees and a number of master’s programs. It is widely recognized as one of the best undergraduate music schools in the country.


University of Richmond

Location: Richmond, VA

US News Liberal Arts College Ranking: 25

Enrollment: 3,194

Acceptance Rate: 33%


Despite its larger size by liberal arts school standards, the University of Richmond still maintains an 8:1 student to faculty ratio, and more than 70% of classes have fewer than 20 students. Students who submit complete applications are automatically considered for the university’s many merit scholarships, and those who submit by December 1st will be considered for the Richmond Scholars Program, a full-ride scholarship granted to 25 incoming first-years.


Washington and Lee University

Location: Lexington, VA

US News Liberal Arts College Ranking: 11 (tied)

Enrollment: 1,827

Acceptance Rate: 22%


Three hours from Washington, DC, Washington and Lee University is a school steeped in history with notable alumni including Meriwether Lewis of the Lewis and Clark Expedition and author and journalist Tom Wolfe. These days, campus is home to more than 25 chapters of fraternities and sororities, with 80% of students are involved in Greek life.

Are There Benefits of Attending a Liberal Arts College in a Certain Region?


While it’s clear that quality liberal arts colleges exist beyond the obvious places, there is a reason that some students seem to flock to the northeast or California to attend one of these schools. This is due to the communal agreements and shared resources that often exist between nearby liberal arts colleges. 


Consortiums and partnerships between nearby schools sometimes allow them to provide the resources of a much bigger institution without sacrificing the small school experience. These partnerships between geographically close colleges commonly include benefits like cross-registration, a wider network of extracurriculars, and other resources such as access to libraries. 


To learn more about some of the partnerships that exist between liberal arts colleges, check out these posts:





While attending a liberal arts college in the northeast or California might provide access to additional resources through a consortium or similar partnerships, this is not the case at every school in these regions, so you’ll always need to check at the individual college you’re considering. Finally, consider for yourself whether these resources are enough to sway your final college decision. Your personal priorities may dictate that it’s better to stay in a different geographical region or attend a school with specific programs that are of interest to you. While the resources of a shared consortium may be intriguing, they probably aren’t the be all and end off of your college decision making.


Curious about your chances of acceptance to your dream school? Our free chancing engine takes into account your GPA, test scores, extracurriculars, and other data to predict your odds of acceptance at over 500 colleges across the U.S. We’ll also let you know how you stack up against other applicants and how you can improve your profile. Sign up for your free CollegeVine account today to get started!

Kate Sundquist
Senior Blogger

Short Bio
Kate Koch-Sundquist is a graduate of Pomona College where she studied sociology, psychology, and writing before going on to receive an M.Ed. from Lesley University. After a few forays into living abroad and afloat (sometimes at the same time), she now makes her home north of Boston where she works as a content writer and, with her husband, raises two young sons who both inspire her and challenge her on a daily basis.