Top 25 Liberal Arts Colleges: 2018 Rankings

Liberal Arts and Sciences colleges focus on the creation of well-rounded individuals. They aim to impart a broad general knowledge and develop general intellectual capacities, in contrast to a professional, vocational, or technical curriculum. Many of the country’s top colleges are Liberal Arts and Sciences institutions.

Here are the Top 25 Best Liberal Arts Colleges in the United States for 2018!

25. Lafayette College

Flickr user drewbee.

  • Location: Easton, PA
  • Student Enrollment: 2,533
  • College Type: Private not-for-profit, 4-year or above

Overlooking the Delaware River, the campus of Lafayette College focuses on community.  Providing 37 majors, the most prominent are social science, engineering, and biology.  With an admission rate of 30%, the Lafayette community is selected to create a true belonging.  In competition with nearby Lehigh University, their 152 meetings on the gridiron make it the longest football rivalry in college football history.

24. Bowdoin College

Flickr user Mark Goebel.

  • Location: Brunswick, ME
  • Student Enrollment: 1,799
  • College Type: Private not-for-profit, 4-year or above

Despite their motto “Ut Aquila Versus Coelum” meaning “As an eagle flies towards the sky”, their mascot is actually a polar bear. For average entrance exams scores, incoming freshmen students score an average of 30–34 on the ACT and 1,360–1,500 for the SAT. Their school colors are black and white.

23. Colby College

Flickr user Roman Boed.

  • Location: Waterville, ME
  • Student Enrollment: 1,857
  • College Type: Private not-for-profit, 4-year or above

Located just above the Kennebec River Valley, Colby was founded in 1812 making it the 12th oldest liberal arts college in the U.S.  Colby’s Jan Plan and graduate-level are pillars to students’ educational experience.  Their motto of Lux Mentis Scientia translates to “Knowledge [is] the Light of the Mind.”  The Colby Mules participate in New England Small College Athletic Conference (NESCAC).  

22. Barnard College

Flickr user david basulto.

  • Location: New York, NY
  • Student Enrollment: 2,548
  • College Type: Private not-for-profit, 4-year or above

Located on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, Barnard is a highly sought-after liberal arts college only for women.  Barnard is actually the most selective single-sex institutions in the U.S. with an admission rate of only 15%.  With its unique relationship with Columbia University, Barnard students get the best of both worlds – a small college setting with the extensive resources of a top research university.

21. Grinnell College

Flickr user Ron Cogswell.

  • Location: Grinnell, IA
  • Student Enrollment: 1,705
  • College Type: Private not-for-profit, 4-year or above

1846 gave start to this liberal arts college located in the “Jewel of the Prairie”, Grinnell, Iowa.  Known for rigorous academics and social responsibility, Grinnell offers 39 majors with 9:1 student faculty ratio.  With 75 off-campus study programs, nearly 60% of Grinnellians participate in one of these opportunities.  After receiving over 6,400 applications in 2017, only 25% of students were accepted.

20. Hamilton College

Flickr user David Kelly.

  • Location: Clinton, NY
  • Student Enrollment: 1,877
  • College Type: Private not-for-profit, 4-year or above

Originally founded as a boys’ college, it became co-educational when it merged with Kirkland College, a former women’s school. It was named in honor of Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton, so it should come as no surprise that the most popular majors are Economics, Political Science, Mathematics, and Psychology.

19. Colgate University

Flickr user Mike Bash.

  • Location: Hamilton, NY
  • Student Enrollment: 2,861
  • College Type: Private not-for-profit, 4-year or above

Through its liberal arts curriculum, Colgate has been providing its students small class sizes emphasizing student-faculty interaction since 1819.  In addition to its 55 majors, the Upstate Institute was established to give back economically and socially to the surrounding community.  The campus is also heated with biomass producing net zero carbon emissions.  With these characteristics, Colgate prepares its students to have a social and environmental conscious.  

18. Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art

Flickr user Dan DeLuca.

  • Location: New York, NY
  • Student Enrollment: 972
  • College Type: Private not-for-profit, 4-year or above

Informally referred to as “The Cooper Institute,” the highly selective college offered a full-tuition scholarship to every admitted student until 2014. This small and specialized school offers only seven majors, most of which are in the engineering field. However, the most popular major at Cooper is Fine/Studio Arts.

17. Davidson College

Flickr user melystu

  • Location: Davidson, NC
  • Student Enrollment: 1,784
  • College Type: Private not-for-profit, 4-year or above

This liberal arts college has an average incoming freshman ACT score of 28-32 and an average SAT score of 1,280–1,430. Their Latin motto is “Alenda Lux Ubi Orta Libertas” which translates to: “Let learning be cherished where liberty has arisen.” Their mascot is known as Will E. Wildcat.

16. Washington and Lee University

Flickr user Robert of Fairfax.

  • Location: Lexington, VA
  • Student Enrollment: 2,172
  • College Type: Private not-for-profit, 4-year or above

W&L’s school motto is Non Incautus Futuri—Not unmindful of the future—which makes sense as the school was partially named after a very forward thinking historical figure: George Washington. The second part of this school’s name comes from Robert E. Lee, who served as the university’s president until his death. The school’s Mock Conventions held during every presidential election year has shown a remarkable record of accuracy over the years.

15. Middlebury College

Flickr user daiji.

  • Location: Middlebury, VT
  • Student Enrollment: 2,558
  • College Type: Private not-for-profit, 4-year or above

This liberal arts school sees nearly 9,000 applications sent its way every year and has a 17.4% acceptance rate. Middlebury College has an 8:1 student to faculty ratio, and a first-year retention rate of 97%. Some popular sports on campus include the following: ice hockey, lacrosse, swimming and diving, soccer, track, and football.

14. Claremont McKenna College

Flickr user Daniel Crowley.

  • Location: Claremont, CA
  • Student Enrollment: 1,349
  • College Type: Private not-for-profit, 4-year or above

Claremont McKenna College was originally a men’s only institution but opened their doors to women in 1976. Interestingly, their men’s athletic programs play as the Stags, while the women play as the Athenas, but both sport the colors maroon and black. They receive upwards of 7,000 applications each year with only around 600 being accepted.

13. Bucknell University

Flickr user Michael Caruso.

  • Location: Lewisburg, PA
  • Student Enrollment: 3,625
  • College Type: Private not-for-profit, 4-year or above

This diverse institution offers nearly 50 majors and over 60 minors, all while experiencing an impressive first-year retention rate of 93%. Of its many majors, the Bucknell’s most popular are Economics, Political Science, Accounting, Finance and Biology. Bucknell’s colors are orange and blue, and its mascot is the bison.

12. Vassar College

Flickr user Yibo Yu.

  • Location: Poughkeepsie, NY
  • Student Enrollment: 2,436
  • College Type: Private not-for-profit, 4-year or above

Fencing, lacrosse, soccer, squash, and track are popular sports on this campus. Fans wear burgundy and grey to cheer on the Brewers. They have 12 resident halls on campus, and students are required to live in them. Vassar has a solid 90% four-year graduation rate, and an equally impressive 94% first-year retention rate.

11. The United States Military Academy

Flickr user Mike65444.

  • Location: West Point, VA
  • Student Enrollment: 4,348
  • College Type: Public, 4-year or above

The United States Military Academy (or USMA) attracts students from all around the country, though most come from California, Texas, Florida, New York, and of course, Virginia. Here the students follow a code: “a cadet will not lie, cheat, steal, or tolerate those who do.” There is a 7:1 student to faculty ratio and a 93% first-year retention rate.

10. Wellesley College

  • Location: Wellesley, MA
  • Student Enrollment: 2,510
  • College Type: Private not-for-profit, 4-year or above

One of the original Seven Sisters Colleges, Wellesley is perhaps one of the most famous women’s colleges in the world. Notable alumni include: screenwriter Nora Ephron, professor/songwriter Katharine Lee Bates, journalist Diane Sawyer, and politician Hillary Clinton. The most popular major on campus is Economics.

9. Carleton College

Flickr user Willy Lee.

  • Location: Northfield, MN
  • Student Enrollment: 2,014
  • College Type: Private not-for-profit, 4-year or above

Average ACT and SAT scores for this college are between 29–34 and 1,310–1,490 respectively. Nearly 7,000 applications come in each year, and of that almost 1,400 are accepted. They wear an eye-catching blue and gold (or maize) colors to cheer on the Knights at their sporting events.

8. Haverford College

Flickr user Roger W.

  • Location: Haverford, PA
  • Student Enrollment: 1,233
  • College Type: Private not-for-profit, 4-year or above

Founded by Quakers in 1833, Haverford College offers 31 majors, the most popular of which are Psychology, Biology, Chemistry, Economics, and English. The average ACT and SAT scores for this school are 30-34 and 1,350-1,530 respectively. The campus is a national arboretum, the oldest in the country.

7. The United States Air Force Academy

Flickr user Wally Gobetz.

  • Location: USAFA, CO
  • Student Enrollment: 4,111
  • College Type: Public, 4-year or above

In addition to rigorous military training, all cadets at the Academy participate in intercollegiate or intramural athletics as well as a specialized leadership curriculum. The Academy’s mission is “to educate, train, and inspire men and women to become leaders of character, motivated to lead the United States Air Force in service to our nation.”

6. Harvey Mudd College

Flickr user CampusGrotto.

  • Location: Claremont, CA
  • Student Enrollment: 800
  • College Type: Private not-for-profit, 4-year or above

Founded in 1955, Harvey Mudd’s mission is to educate engineers, scientists, and mathematicians within a liberal arts construct.  HSU boasts one of the highest levels of science and engineering PhD production in the U.S.  The integration of research opportunities are central to their educational mission as can be seen through their world-renowned Clinic Program.  As a member of the contiguous Claremont Colleges, it shares campus facilities with five other undergraduate institutions and two graduate schools.  

5. Amherst College

Flickr user Henry C.

  • Location: Amherst, MA
  • Student Enrollment: 1,849
  • College Type: Private not-for-profit, 4-year or above

Located in a town of 35,000, Amherst College offers a scenic campus where students interact with a 500-acre wildlife sanctuary.  This highly selective liberal arts college has a long history dating back to 1821 and is a member of the Five Colleges Consortium.  Regularly regarded as one of the best liberal arts colleges in the country, students receive a dynamic education on its residential campus.

4. Swarthmore College

Flickr user Simon.

  • Location: Swarthmore, PA
  • Student Enrollment: 1,581
  • College Type: Private not-for-profit, 4-year or above

Founded by Quakers in 1864, Swarthmore was one of the first coeducational schools in the US. It has an 89% four-year graduation rate and a student-to-faculty ratio of 8:1. Their school colors are garnet and grey, and their mascot is named Phineas the Phoenix. Most of Swarthmore’s students come from California, Pennsylvania, and New York.

3. Williams College

Flickr user Peter Rintels.

  • Location: Williamstown, MA
  • Student Enrollment: 2,171
  • College Type: Private not-for-profit, 4-year or above

As one of the oldest colleges in the U.S., founded in 1793, Williams College offers forty-four undergraduate and two graduate majors.  It is consistently ranked as one of the top colleges in the country and meets 100% of admitted students’ financial need. Their Purple Cow mascot supports their athletic teams which are called the Ephs.

2. Pomona College

  • Location: Claremont, CA
  • Student Enrollment: 1,663
  • College Type: Private not-for-profit, 4-year or above

With a small class size and a 7:1 student-to-faculty ratio, Pomona College puts an emphasis on community. The top 5 most popular majors on this campus are Economics, Mathematics, Biology/Biological Sciences, Neuroscience, and Computer Science. Academics are the priority, with the average ACT scores ranging between 30-34, and SAT 1,350-1,520.

 1. The United States Naval Academy

Flickr user Butch Dalisay.

  • Location: Annapolis, MD
  • Student Enrollment: 4,525
  • College Type: Public, 4-year or above

Built atop the former Fort Severn, the United States Naval Academy is 33 miles away from Washington D.C. They have an impressive 98% first-year retention rate, and an 8:1 student-to-faculty ratio. “Anchors Aweigh” is their well-known fight song played at sporting events, where they show off the colors navy blue and gold.

About our methodology

Colleges are ranked based on a combination of factors, including graduation rates, campus diversity, endowment per student, and other data as reported via the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) for the most recently-available enrollment year. Some colleges may have been excluded from rankings based on certain criteria, including specialization and classification. Learn about our full methodology.

Interested in any of these schools? Check out College Raptor’s free match tool to see if they’re a good fit for you!


9/22/17 Note: Due to an error in the US Government’s IPEDS database, some data for Williams College was reported incorrectly. Our rankings have been updated accordingly.

College Raptor Staff

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