The College Consensus guide to the Top Consensus Ranked National Liberal Arts Colleges is designed to give prospective students the fullest possible view of their options when choosing a liberal arts college. Whether they are looking for intellectual challenge, a close-knit community, or entry into leadership in business, government, or the arts, students can look to the College Consensus for a comprehensive picture of the top liberal arts schools in the US.
How Did We Rank the Best National Liberal Arts Colleges?
College Consensus is an aggregate ranking that brings together data from reputable college ranking sites like The Wall Street Journal, Wallethub, U.S. News & World Report, plus trustworthy student review sites like Cappex and Niche. We gather all of a school’s rankings for the Publisher Rating, and all of the student grades for the Student Review Rating. Averaged together, all of these numbers create the Consensus Rating, making up the College Consensus.
The best liberal arts colleges in the nation keep the spirit of traditional college education alive, while reinventing the classical humanities and sciences for the 21st century. In general, national liberal arts colleges focus on undergraduate education (though many have at least a few master’s degrees). While they may encourage faculty and student research, their emphasis is primarily on providing the very best undergraduate experience, with a common core of classes in the humanities, arts, and sciences. The Top Consensus Ranked National Liberal Arts Colleges have a reputation that allows them to attract students nationally for an education steeped in critical thinking, research, and communication.
What’s Different About the College Consensus Ranking?
Since we draw on information from many different sites, with many different methodologies and perspectives, College Consensus gives prospective students the truest picture of what experts and students alike have to say. Since all voices are taken seriously, it’s not just the colleges with the biggest endowments and loudest marketing that rise to the top – it’s the ones with the best academics, best student experience, and best overall quality. Read more about our rankings methodology and sources at our about page.
This ranking highlights the top-ranked, nationally-recognized liberal arts colleges. For students who want the larger size and wider resources of a research university, College Consensus has ranked the Best National Research Universities. For the complete, overall ranking of all US colleges and universities, see the Best Colleges & Universities ranking.
The Top Consensus Ranked National Liberal Arts Colleges are listed in descending order by their Consensus score. In the event of ties, schools are ranked in alphabetical order with the same rank number.
Pomona CollegeClaremont, CA
Williams CollegeWilliamstown, MA
Amherst CollegeAmherst, MA
Washington and Lee UniversityLexington, VA
Claremont McKenna CollegeClaremont, CA
Bowdoin CollegeBrunswick, ME
Bates CollegeLewiston, ME
Harvey Mudd CollegeClaremont, CA
Swarthmore CollegeSwarthmore, PA
Wellesley CollegeWellesley, MA
Wesleyan UniversityMiddletown, CT
Colgate UniversityHamilton, NY
Vassar CollegePoughkeepsie, NY
Middlebury CollegeMiddlebury, VT
Bryn Mawr CollegeBryn Mawr, PA
College of the Holy CrossWorcester, MA
Scripps CollegeClaremont, CA
Davidson CollegeDavidson, NC
Macalester CollegeSaint Paul, MN
Barnard CollegeNew York, NY
Hamilton CollegeClinton, NY
Carleton CollegeNorthfield, MN
University of RichmondUniversity of Richmond, VA
Pitzer CollegeClaremont, CA
Smith CollegeNorthampton, MA
Haverford CollegeHaverford, PA
Colby CollegeWaterville, ME
Colorado CollegeColorado Springs, CO
Grinnell CollegeGrinnell, IA
Lafayette CollegeEaston, PA
Union College (NY)Schenectady, NY
Whitman CollegeWalla Walla, WA
Bucknell UniversityLewisburg, PA
Oberlin CollegeOberlin, OH
Reed CollegePortland, OR
Kenyon CollegeGambier, OH
Franklin and Marshall CollegeLancaster, PA
Spelman CollegeAtlanta, GA
Connecticut CollegeNew London, CT
Gettysburg CollegeGettysburg, PA
Trinity CollegeHartford, CT
University of Minnesota-MorrisMorris, MN
DePauw UniversityGreencastle, IN
Knox CollegeGalesburg, IL
The University of the SouthSewanee, TN
Wheaton College (IL)Wheaton, IL
Mount Holyoke CollegeSouth Hadley, MA
St Olaf CollegeNorthfield, MN
Skidmore CollegeSaratoga Springs, NY
St Lawrence UniversityCanton, NY
Occidental CollegeLos Angeles, CA
Willamette UniversitySalem, OR
Dickinson CollegeCarlisle, PA
Virginia Military InstituteLexington, VA
Allegheny CollegeMeadville, PA
Furman UniversityGreenville, SC
Cornell CollegeMount Vernon, IA
Lake Forest CollegeLake Forest, IL
Salem CollegeWinston-Salem, NC
Berea CollegeBerea, KY
Wofford CollegeSpartanburg, SC
College of Saint BenedictSaint Joseph, MN
Wabash CollegeCrawfordsville, IN
Hobart William Smith CollegesGeneva, NY
St. John’s College (MD)Annapolis, MD
Juniata CollegeHuntingdon, PA
Denison UniversityGranville, OH
Washington & Jefferson CollegeWashington, PA
Susquehanna UniversitySelinsgrove, PA
University of Puget SoundTacoma, WA
Sarah Lawrence CollegeBronxville, NY
Ohio Wesleyan UniversityDelaware, OH
Southwestern UniversityGeorgetown, TX
Gustavus Adolphus CollegeSaint Peter, MN
Centre CollegeDanville, KY
Beloit CollegeBeloit, WI
Millsaps CollegeJackson, MS
New College of FloridaSarasota, FL
Rhodes CollegeMemphis, TN
Muhlenberg CollegeAllentown, PA
Linfield College-McMinnville CampusMcMinnville, OR
Lawrence UniversityAppleton, WI
Saint Vincent College (PA)Latrobe, PA
The College of WoosterWooster, OH
Drew UniversityMadison, NJ
Illinois Wesleyan UniversityBloomington, IL
Wheaton College (MA)Norton, MA
Wesleyan CollegeMacon, GA
Saint Johns UniversityCollegeville, MN
Kalamazoo CollegeKalamazoo, MI
Bennington CollegeBennington, VT
Saint Mary’s CollegeNotre Dame, IN
St. Mary’s College of MarylandSt. Mary's City, MD
Houghton CollegeHoughton, NY
Luther CollegeDecorah, IA
Earlham CollegeRichmond, IN
Saint Anselm CollegeManchester, NH
Westmont CollegeSanta Barbara, CA
Albion CollegeAlbion, MI
Hampden-Sydney CollegeHampden-Sydney, VA
What are Liberal Arts Colleges?
Liberal arts and sciences is one of the oldest subjects taught today. Typically, they offer four year degrees as a Bachelor of Arts (BA) or a Bachelor of Science (BS). The core mission of liberal arts colleges is to develop well rounded graduates with a general knowledge of a wide range of transferable skills. Liberal Arts programs are interdisciplinary covering humanities, social, and natural sciences.
Liberal arts colleges rely on student participation and encourage interaction, mentorship, and collaboration. Liberal arts colleges have staff dedicated to full time teaching, not graduate student teaching assistants and research professors. New England liberal arts colleges, especially, are small and residential, with smaller class sizes. Williams College has an undergraduate enrollment of about 2,000 students and the student faculty ratio is 7:1. It has been rated as one of the best colleges for undergraduates in the US.
What are the Pros and Cons of Liberal Arts College?
There are many advantages to attending a Liberal Arts College. Liberal arts college rankings are high among the best colleges. The top ones being Williams College, Amherst College, Bowdoin College, and Pomona College. They offer smaller class sizes which allows more one on one attention for the students. Swarthmore College has a student faculty ratio of 8:1 and most classes have less than 20 students with a student satisfaction is around 97 percent. This offers students a close community with which to study and grow. Larger research type universities may have up to 500 students in lecture halls and some students get lost in the crowd and find it hard to really be mentored.
The best liberal arts colleges provide the skills for students to become useful and thriving members of the community. They prepare their students to work in any area by providing a strong foundation in a broad range of subjects instead of a heavy focus in one subject matter. Liberal arts students have learned how to think critically, write properly and given a strong foundation in math. They also have extensive public speaking and philosophy classes.
One of the biggest disadvantages that comes with attending a liberal arts college is lack of funding for things like equipment and materials. Students may not have the same access to expensive equipment that is often available at larger universities. Larger universities have professors that are experts in their field teaching from real life experiences. While professors at liberal arts colleges may not have the same credentials.
Are Liberal Arts Colleges Expensive?
The quick answer is yes and no, the best liberal arts colleges are expensive. Taking a deeper look at the tuition costs and what it includes, the answer isn’t so simple. The price tag for a liberal arts colleges and universities tends to be high and the best liberal arts schools have long been thought of as only for the wealthy. What is important to not is how that cost is broken down. The class sizes are smaller, which means less students paying the tuition and absorbing the cost.
The best liberal arts colleges are paying for professors because they don’t have graduate teaching assistants to utilize, which comes at little cost. Larger universities often have part time adjunct instructors that tend to be less expensive. However, teaching assistants and adjuncts come with the cost of potentially a less than educational experience. U.S. News and World Report shows that the cost of higher education has multiplied across the board and liberal arts colleges aren’t ay more expensive than larger universities. Liberal arts schools have worked over the years to provide an affordable and cost competitive education that’s accessible to all students. Many of them have even instituted a tuition freeze so that the tuition costs aren’t increasing. Liberal arts colleges are proving to have excellent return on your investment. These schools have a high four year graduation rate and graduates are able to find well paying jobs.
Higher education is expensive and while students don’t want to find themselves drowning in debt upon graduation, they shouldn’t put a price tag on it, either. There are many liberal arts colleges, students should research to find the school that fits their needs in a price range that they can afford.
How Are Liberal Arts Colleges Adapting to the 21st Century?
Swarthmore College was selected as one of best liberal arts college for science majors. Their second most popular major is biological and biomedical sciences and the students benefit from a closer relationship with professors, and hands on lab experiences. Many graduates from Swarthmore go on to receive science and engineering doctorates from other universities. There are up and coming liberal arts colleges, or better said, there are up and coming changes for liberal arts schools as we move through the 21st century.
Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) acknowledges an ever changing world where graduates will work in a job that doesn’t currently exist. To that end, training for that career is not sufficient. The best thing liberal arts colleges can for these students is to teach them to be flexible and adapt to situations and challenges. Many colleges are beginning to look at ways to support their students and better prepare them for careers. Liberal arts colleges are also considering online and long distance learning, which is not a typical experience for a liberal arts college.