Top 20 Best Liberal Arts Colleges 2018: Features & Advice

November 30, 2017

Colleges in the United States are well known for the academic exploratory aspect of a liberal arts education.

As the name suggests, liberal art colleges put an emphasis on the liberal arts education: a well-rounded focus on both humanities and sciences. The goal is to gain broad general knowledge, and by doing so, develop critical thinking and analytical skills. While there is no formal definition of a liberal arts college, there are few common features they all have:

1. Small Class Size

Liberal art colleges typically have a much smaller undergraduate enrollment compared to other colleges and universities in the U.S. Each graduating year has 300-700 students, which allows for much smaller class sizes. This reinforces the focus on intellectual development, as smaller class sizes increase discussion groups and class engagement.

2. Low Student-Faculty Ratio

Smaller undergraduate enrollment also typically means a lower student-faculty ratio. Students will have better access to and more time with their professors, starting as early as freshmen year. This not only helps students engage better with the curriculum, but can also develop better relationships with their professors that further their education beyond what’s taught in class.

3. Teaching Focus

At liberal arts colleges, professors focus less on research and more on teaching. Many liberal art colleges have graduate programs for research, but still have much smaller programs compared to research universities. Your classes are more likely to be taught by professors who are experts in their fields rather than graduate student teaching assistants.

If these three things are important to your undergraduate experience, consider applying to the following liberal arts colleges!

Here are the top 20 liberal arts colleges in the US:

List taken from U.S. News & World Report 2018 Best Liberal Arts College Ranking. Liberal arts college defined by a college that emphasizes undergraduate education and award at least half of their degrees in the liberal arts fields of study.

1. Williams College

Location: Williamstown, MA

Tuition & Fees: $53,550

Undergraduate Enrollment: 2,076 (~519 per class)

2. Amherst College

Location: Amherst, MA

Tuition & Fees: $54,310

Undergraduate Enrollment: 1,849  (~462 per class)

3. (tie) Bowdoin College

Location: Brunswick, ME

Tuition & Fees: $51,848

Undergraduate Enrollment: 1,806  (~451 per class)

3. (tie) Swarthmore College

Location: Swarthmore, PA

Tuition & Fees: $50,822

Undergraduate Enrollment: 1,543  (~385 per class)

3. (tie) Wellesley College

Location: Wellesley, MA

Tuition & Fees: $51,148

Undergraduate Enrollment: 2,347  (~586 per class)

6. (tie) Middlebury College

Location: Middlebury, VT

Tuition & Fees: $52,496

Undergraduate Enrollment: 2,532  (~633 per class)

6. (tie) Pomona College

Location: Claremont, CA

Tuition & Fees: $51,075

Undergraduate Enrollment: 1,660  (~410 per class)

8. (tie) Carleton College

Location: Northfield, MN

Tuition & Fees: $52,782

Undergraduate Enrollment: 2,105  (~526 per class)

8. (tie) Claremont McKenna College

Location: Claremont, CA

Tuition & Fees: $52,825

Undergraduate Enrollment: 1,347  (~336 per class)

10. (tie) Davidson College

Location: Davidson, NC

Tuition & Fees: $49,949

Undergraduate Enrollment: 1,796  (~449 per class)

10. (tie) Washington and Lee University

Location: Lexington, VA

Tuition & Fees: $50,170

Undergraduate Enrollment: 1,830  (~457 per class)

12. (tie) Colby College

Location: Waterville, ME

Tuition & Fees: $53,120

Undergraduate Enrollment: 1,879  (~469 per class)

12. (tie) Colgate University

Location: Hamilton, NY

Tuition & Fees: $53,980

Undergraduate Enrollment: 2,882  (~720 per class)

12. (tie)  Harvey Mudd College

Location: Claremont, CA

Tuition & Fees: $54,886

Undergraduate Enrollment: 829  (~207 per class)

12. (tie) Smith College

Location: Northampton, MA

Tuition & Fees: $50,044

Undergraduate Enrollment: 2,514  (~628 per class)

12. (tie) United States Military Academy

Location: West Point, NY

Tuition & Fees:

Undergraduate Enrollment: 4,389  (~1,097 per class)

12. (tie) Vassar College

Location: Poughkeepsie, NY

Tuition & Fees: $55,210

Undergraduate Enrollment: 2,424  (~606 per class)

18. (tie) Grinnell College

Location: Grinnell, IA

Tuition & Fees: $50,464

Undergraduate Enrollment: 1,699  (~606 per class)

18. (tie) Hamilton College

Location: Clinton, NY

Tuition & Fees: $52,770

Undergraduate Enrollment: 1,879  (~469 per class)

18. (tie) Haverford College

Location: Haverford, PA

Tuition & Fees: $52,754

Undergraduate Enrollment: 1,268  (~317 per class)

While liberal arts college have their strengths, so do large research universities. There is no overall better choice. It all depends what you’re looking for in a college and what you want to pursue in your studies. Many large universities also offer undergraduate colleges that provide a similar environment and education as liberal art colleges, so it’s possible to get the best of both worlds as well! We hope you find the school that is the best fit for you with AdmitSee’s database of successful college application files. 

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About The Author

Frances Wong
Frances Wong

Frances was born in Hong Kong and received her bachelor’s degree from Georgetown University. She loves super sad drama television, cooking, and reading. Her favorite person on Earth isn’t actually a member of the AdmitSee team - it’s her dog Cooper.


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Accepted to Claremont (CMC), Santa Clara, Pepperdine, Fordham, USC, NYU

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Accepted to Williams, Amherst, Bowdoin, Middlebury, Carleton, Grinnell, U of Minnesota, GAC, Columbia

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