Top Liberal Arts Colleges

A List of Some of the Country's Best 4-Year Private Colleges

Our first list of the best liberal arts colleges in the U.S. doesn't do justice to the strong field of contenders. This list adds twenty more outstanding private four-year colleges to the mix. Each one of these colleges is highly placed in national rankings, and each provides a winning combination of quality academics, rich student life, attractive facilities and strong name recognition. The colleges are listed alphabetically to avoid petty and arbitrary distinctions.

Will You Get In? See if you have the grades and test scores you need to get into any of these top liberal arts colleges with this free tool from Cappex: Calculate Your Chances for Top Liberal Arts Colleges.

Bates College Quad
Bates College Quad. reivax / Flickr

Students at Bates College can expect a lot of interaction between students and faculty for the college places emphasis on seminar classes, research, service-learning, and senior thesis work. The college has been true to the spirit of a liberal education since its founding in 1855 by Maine abolitionists.

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Bowdoin College
Bowdoin College. Paul VanDerWerf / Flickr

Located in Brunswick, Maine, a town of 21,000 on the Maine coast, Bowdoin takes pride in both its beautiful location and its academic excellence. Eight miles away from the main campus is Bowdoin's 118 acres Coastal Studies Center on Orr's Island.

  • Location: Brunswick, Maine
  • Enrollment: 1,716 (all undergraduate)
  • Type of College: Private
  • Distinctions: loan-free financial aid; chapter of Phi Beta Kappa; highly selective admissions; interesting mix of historic and state-of-the-art buildings
  • See cost, financial aid, and admissions data in the Bowdoin profile
  • GPA, SAT and ACT graph for Bowdoin
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Bryn Mawr College
Bryn Mawr College. Montgomery County Planning Commission / Flickr

A top women's college, Bryn Mawr is a member of the Tri-College Consortium with Swarthmore and Haverford. Shuttles run between the three campuses. The college is also close to Philadelphia, and students can register for courses at the University of Pennsylvania. Along with strong academics, Bryn Mawr is rich in history and traditions.

  • Location: Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania
  • Enrollment: 1,790 (1,287 undergraduates)
  • Type of College: Private women's college
  • Distinctions: 8 to 1 student/faculty ratio; diverse student body; high number of students go on to earn PhDs; more than 5,000 classes available to Bryn Mawr students through the Tri-College Consortium
  • See cost, financial aid, and admissions data in the Bryn Mawr profile
  • GPA, SAT and ACT graph for Bryn Mawr
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The Kravis Center at Claremont McKenna College
The Kravis Center at Claremont McKenna College. Victoire Chalupy / Wikimedia Commons

Located about 35 miles from Los Angeles, Claremont McKenna's small 50-acre campus sits in the heart of the Claremont Colleges, and students at CMC share facilities and often cross-register for classes at the other schools -- Scripps College, Pomona College, Harvey Mudd College, and Pitzer College.

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Miller LIbrary at Colby College
Miller LIbrary at Colby College. Colby Mariam / Wikimedia Commons

Colby College frequently ranks among the top 20 liberal arts colleges in the country. The 714-acre campus houses attractive red-brick buildings and a 128-acre arboretum. Colby wins high marks for its environmental initiatives and for its emphasis on study abroad and internationalization.

  • Location: Waterville, Maine
  • Enrollment: 1,867 (all undergraduate)
  • Type of College: Private
  • Distinctions: 10 to 1 student/faculty ratio; Division I alpine and Nordic ski teams; chapter of Phi Beta Kappa; selective admissions
  • See cost, financial aid, and admissions data in the Colby profile
  • GPA, SAT and ACT graph for Colby
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Colgate University
Colgate University. Jayu / Flickr

Located in a small town in the picturesque rolling hills of central Upstate New York, Colgate University frequently ranks among the top 25 liberal arts colleges in the United States. Colgate has an impressive 90% 6-year graduation rate, and roughly 2/3 of students eventually go on to do some form of graduate study.

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College of the Holy Cross
College of the Holy Cross. Joe Campbell / Flickr

Founded by the Jesuits in 1843, Holy Cross is the oldest Catholic college in New England. Holy Cross has an impressive retention and graduation rate, with well over 90% of entering students earning a degree within six years.

  • Location: Worcester, Massachusetts
  • Enrollment: 2,847(all undergraduate)
  • Type of College: Private Catholic
  • Distinctions: 10 to 1 student/faculty ratio; chapter of Phi Beta Kappa; highly selective admissions; member of the NCAA Division I Patriot League
  • See cost, financial aid, and admissions data in the Holy Cross profile
  • GPA, SAT and ACT graph for Holy Cross
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Davidson College Presbyterian Church
Davidson College Presbyterian Church. Jon Dawson / Flickr

Established by the Presbyterians of North Carolina in 1837, Davidson College is now a highly-ranked liberal arts college. The college has a strict honor code that allows students to schedule their own exams and take them in any academic classroom.

  • Location: Davidson, North Carolina
  • Enrollment: 1,674 (all undergraduate)
  • Type of College: Private
  • Distinctions: strong athletic program in the NCAA Division I Southeastern Conference; chapter of Phi Beta Kappa; highly selective admissions; member of the NCAA Division I Atlantic 10 Conference
  • See cost, financial aid, and admissions data in the Davidson profile
  • GPA, SAT and ACT graph for Davidson
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Denison University Swasey Chapel
Denison University Swasey Chapel. Allen Grove

Denison is a highly-rated liberal arts college located about 30 miles east of Columbus, Ohio. The 900-acre campus is home to a 550-acre biological reserve. Denison does well with financial aid -- the majority of aid comes in the form of grants, and students graduate with less debt than at most comparable colleges.

  • Location: Granville, Ohio
  • Enrollment: 2,242 (all undergraduate)
  • Type of College: Private
  • Distinctions: 10 to 1 student/faculty ratio, chapter of Phi Beta Kappa; strong financial aid; selective admissions
  • See cost, financial aid, and admissions data in the Denison profile
  • GPA, SAT and ACT graph for Denison
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Dickinson College
Dickinson College. Tomwsulcer / Wikimedia Commons / CC0 11.0

With small classes, students at Dickinson will receive a lot of personal attention from the faculty. Chartered in 1783 and named after a signer of the Constitution, the college has a long and rich history.

  • Location: Carlisle, Pennsylvania
  • Enrollment: 2,381 (all undergraduate)
  • Type of College: Private
  • Distinctions: 10 to 1 student/faculty ratio; average class size of 17; chapter of Phi Beta Kappa; selective admissions
  • See cost, financial aid, and admissions data in the Dickinson profile
  • GPA, SAT and ACT graph for Dickinson
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breidenbaugh-hall-gettysburg-college.jpg
Breidenbaugh Hall at Gettysburg College. Photo Credit: Allen Grove

Gettysburg College is a highly-ranked liberal arts college located in the historic town of Gettysburg. With a new athletic center, a music conservatory, a professional performing arts center and an institute on public policy, Gettysburg offers its students a wide array of rewarding social and educational experiences.

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Hamilton College
Hamilton College. Joe Cosentino / Flickr

Hamilton College, located in picturesque upstate New York, was ranked as the 20th best liberal arts college in the United States by U.S. News & World Report. The college's curriculum places particular emphasis on individualized instruction and independent research, and the school highly values communication skills such as writing and speaking.

  • Location: Hamilton, New York
  • Enrollment: 1,842 (all undergraduate)
  • Type of College: Private
  • Distinctions: chapter of Phi Beta Kappa; students from 49 states and 45 countries; highly selective admissions
  • See cost, financial aid, and admissions data in the Hamilton profile
  • GPA, SAT and ACT graph for Hamilton
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Leonard Hall at Kenyon College
Leonard Hall at Kenyon College. Curt Smith / Flickr

Kenyon College has the distinction of being the oldest private college in Ohio. Kenyon prides itself on the strength of its faculty, and the attractive campus with its gothic architecture features a 380-acre nature preserve.

  • Location: Gambier, Ohio
  • Enrollment: 1,662 (all undergraduate)
  • Type of College: Private
  • Distinctions: 10 to 1 student/faculty ratio; average class size of 15; chapter of Phi Beta Kappa; highly selective admissions
  • See cost, financial aid, and admissions data in the Kenyon profile
  • GPA, SAT and ACT graph for Kenyon
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Lafayette College - Pardee Hall
Lafayette College - Pardee Hall. Charles Fulton / Flickr

Lafayette college has the feel of a traditional liberal arts college, but it is unusual in that it also has several engineering programs. Kiplinger's ranks Lafayette highly for the school's value, and students who qualify for aid often receive significant grant awards.

  • Location: Easton, Pennsylvania
  • Enrollment: 2,403 (all undergraduate)
  • Type of College: Private
  • Distinctions: 11 to 1 student/faculty ratio; chapter of Phi Beta Kappa; strong financial aid; selective admissions; member of the NCAA Division I Patriot League
  • See cost, financial aid, and admissions data in the Lafayette profile
  • GPA, SAT and ACT graph for Lafayette
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Macalester College - Leonard Center
Macalester College - Leonard Center. Evenjk / Wikimedia Commons

For a small liberal arts college, Macalester is quite diverse -- students of color make up 18% of the student body, and 11% of students are international. Central to the college's mission are internationalism, multiculturalism and service to society. The college is highly selective with 96% of students coming from the top quarter of their high school class.

  • Location: Saint Paul, Minnesota
  • Enrollment: 1,920 (all undergraduate)
  • Type of College: Private
  • Distinctions: 10 to 1 student/faculty ratio; average class size of 17; chapter of Phi Beta Kappa; highly selective admissions
  • See cost, financial aid, and admissions data in the Macalester profile
  • GPA, SAT and ACT graph for Macalester
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Oberlin College
Oberlin College. Allen Grove

Oberlin College has a distinguished history as the first college to grant undergraduate degrees to women. The school was also an early leader in educating African Americans, and to this day Oberlin prides itself on the diversity of its student body.

  • Location: Oberlin, Ohio
  • Enrollment: 2,774 (2,762 undergraduates)
  • Type of College: Private
  • Distinctions: 11 to 1 student/faculty ratio; strong Conservatory of Music; chapter of Phi Beta Kappa; first co-ed college in U.S.; highly selective admissions
  • See cost, financial aid, and admissions data in the Oberlin profile
  • GPA, SAT and ACT graph for Oberlin
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Reed College
Reed College. mejs / Flickr

Reed is a suburban college located about 15 minutes from downtown Portland Oregon. Reed consistently ranks high for the number of students who go on to earn PhDs, as well as their number of Rhodes scholars. The Reed faculty takes pride in teaching, and their classes are consistently small.

  • Location: Portland, Oregon
  • Enrollment: 1,481 (all undergraduate)
  • Type of College: Private
  • Distinctions: 10 to 1 student/faculty ratio; average class size of 15; chapter of Phi Beta Kappa; large number of students go on to earn PhDs
  • See cost, financial aid, and admissions data in the Reed Profile
  • GPA, SAT and ACT graph for Reed
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Thompson Memorial Library at Vassar College
Thompson Memorial Library at Vassar College. Notermote / Wikimedia Commons

Vassar College, founded in 1861 as a women's college, now ranks as one of the top coeducational liberal arts colleges in the country. Vassar's 1,000-acre campus includes over 100 buildings, picturesque gardens and a farm. Vassar is located in the attractive Hudson Valley. New York City is about 75 miles away.

  • Location: Poughkeepsie, New York
  • Enrollment: 2,451 (2,450 undergraduates)
  • Type of College: Private
  • Distinctions: 9 to 1 student/faculty ratio; average class size of 17; chapter of Phi Beta Kappa; highly selective admissions
  • See cost, financial aid, and admissions data in the Vassar profile
  • GPA, SAT and ACT graph for Vassar
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Washington and Lee University
Washington and Lee University. Rex Hammock / Flickr

Founded in 1746, Washington and Lee University has a rich history. The university was endowed by George Washington in 1796, and Robert E. Lee was the president of the university immediately after the civil war. The school is one of the most selective in the United States with acceptance rates below 20% in recent years.

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Whitman College
Whitman College. Joe Shlabotnik / Flickr

Located in the small town of Walla Walla, Washington, Whitman is a great choice for students looking for a quality education and engaged campus community in an intimate setting. Students interested in the sciences, engineering or law can take advantage of collaborations with top schools like Caltech, Columbia, Duke and Washington University. Whitman also offers a wide range of options for study abroad.

  • Location: Walla Walla, Washington
  • Enrollment: 1,489 (all undergraduate)
  • Type of College: Private
  • Distinctions: strong study abroad program; chapter of Phi Beta Kappa; selective admissions
  • See cost, financial aid, and admissions data in the Whitman profile
  • GPA, SAT and ACT graph for Whitman
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Grove, Allen. "Top Liberal Arts Colleges." ThoughtCo, Jul. 20, 2017, thoughtco.com/top-liberal-arts-colleges-788272. Grove, Allen. (2017, July 20). Top Liberal Arts Colleges. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/top-liberal-arts-colleges-788272 Grove, Allen. "Top Liberal Arts Colleges." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/top-liberal-arts-colleges-788272 (accessed January 18, 2018).