Choosing a college in the United States is no easy decision, not least because there are so many types of universities, colleges and schools.
Liberal arts colleges were once a unique feature of American higher education, but the model has spread to other countries around the world.
At liberal arts colleges there is an emphasis on undergraduate study that includes a wide range of subjects, from science to humanities.
In addition to the interdisciplinary curriculum, the best liberal arts colleges tend to have smaller student populations than other institutions. Class sizes are often small and academic staff tend to focus more on teaching than research, compared with other colleges.
Best colleges across America
Best universities in the United States
Best universities in Florida
Best universities in Texas
Best universities in New York
Best universities in Los Angeles
Best universities in New York
Best public universities in the United States
Liberal arts schools are private, not-for-profit colleges and generally charge the same tuition fees for in-state and out-of-state students, unlike public universities. At the top end, annual tuition for an undergraduate degree at a liberal arts college is just under $50,000.
The best liberal arts colleges can be found across the United States, with clusters in Massachusetts, California and Pennsylvania. Find the top 100 liberal arts colleges below (ranking is calculated according to the Wall Street Journal/Times Higher Education US College Rankings 2022).
The ranking is designed to answer the questions that matter the most to students and their families. While previously we have used results from the US Student Survey for the ranking, we were unable to conduct a survey in 2020 and 2021 because of the coronavirus pandemic. Instead, we have used data from the 2019 survey to inform this year’s ranking. The full methodology can be found here.
Top 5 liberal arts colleges in the United States
Undergraduates at Amherst College study a completely open curriculum without any core modules or restrictions on the subjects or courses to be taken in certain years.
Amherst is highly selective and located in Massachusetts, which often encourages rivalry with Williams College, which is second in the liberal arts ranking.
Classes are extremely small to provide interaction with teachers. About 90 per cent of all courses have fewer than 30 students enrolled.
The small academic community at Williams College in Massachusetts is close-knit, consisting of about 2,000 undergraduate students.
An undergraduate degree in the liberal arts takes four years to complete, covering humanities, sciences and social sciences.
The college was established in 1793 and in some departments the teaching is modelled on the tutorial system at the universities of Oxford and Cambridge in the UK, where students are taught one-to-one or in small groups.
California-based Pomona College offers 48 majors for undergraduates across the arts, humanities, social sciences and natural sciences.
The small student body of about 1,640 undergraduates is diverse, with 60 countries represented.
Many students take advantage of research and work opportunities in the area, including the geographical diversity around California, and the wealth of work experience in nearby Los Angeles.
Student experience at US universities
What is it like to study at a liberal arts college?
What is a liberal arts degree?
How to write a US college admissions essay
Does studying the liberal arts present you with too much choice?
Brits in America: why the liberal arts works for indecisiveness
Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania was one of the first co-educational colleges in the US, founded in 1864.
Alongside the liberal arts curriculum, undergraduates can enrol on an engineering track.
Graduates include five Nobel prizewinners, 11 MacArthur Foundation fellows and 30 Rhodes Scholars.
Despite the rural setting, the city of Philadelphia is only 25 minutes away by train.
Despite only having about 2,400 undergraduate students, Wellesley College is home to more than 150 student clubs and organisations.
The women-only college offers more than 1,000 courses and also allows students to take courses at other world-leading institutions, including the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Brandeis University.
The alumni network includes politician Hillary Rodham Clinton and journalist Diane Sawyer.
Top 100 liberal arts colleges in the United States
|Liberal Arts Rank 2022||US College Rank 2022||University||City||State|
|6||34||Claremont McKenna College||Claremont||California|
|13||47||United States Military Academy||West Point||New York|
|14||50||Barnard College||New York||New York|
|15||=52||Colgate University||Hamilton||New York|
|16||=55||Mount Holyoke College||South Hadley||Massachusetts|
|17||=58||Hamilton College||Clinton||New York|
|18||=61||Wake Forest University||Winston-Salem||North Carolina|
|20||65||Vassar College||Poughkeepsie||New York|
|21||66||Davidson College||Davidson||North Carolina|
|23||68||Bryn Mawr College||Bryn Mawr||Pennsylvania|
|25||73||Washington and Lee University||Lexington||Virginia|
|28||84||Franklin & Marshall College||Lancaster||Pennsylvania|
|30||89||Macalester College||Saint Paul||Minnesota|
|33||95||Occidental College||Los Angeles||California|
|34||98||Whitman College||Walla Walla||Washington|
|36||102||Skidmore College||Saratoga Springs||New York|
|38||106||Trinity University||San Antonio||Texas|
|40||=109||Connecticut College||New London||Connecticut|
|43||=115||Colorado College||Colorado Springs||Colorado|
|44||=117||College of the Holy Cross||Worcester||Massachusetts|
|50||134||Union College||Schenectady||New York|
|51||=143||Elon University||Elon||North Carolina|
|54||149||Furman University||Greenville||South Carolina|
|=55||=150||St Olaf College||Northfield||Minnesota|
|=55||=150||The College of Wooster||Wooster||Ohio|
|=57||=160||Hobart and William Smith Colleges||Geneva||New York|
|=57||=160||Wheaton College (Massachusetts)||Norton||Massachusetts|
|=57||=160||Linfield College - McMinnville campus||McMinnville||Oregon|
|64||=173||Wheaton College (Illinois)||Wheaton||Illinois|
|65||=190||Sewanee-The University of the South||Sewanee||Tennessee|
|=66||=192||Lake Forest College||Lake Forest||Illinois|
|=66||=192||St Lawrence University||Canton||New York|
|=70||=197||Saint Mary's College of California||Moraga||California|
|=70||=197||Westmont College||Santa Barbara||California|
|72||=200||Sarah Lawrence College||Bronxville||New York|
|=73||=204||Ohio Wesleyan University||Delaware||Ohio|
|75||206||Gustavus Adolphus College||Saint Peter||Minnesota|
|78||=210||Wofford College||Spartanburg||South Carolina|
|79||=217||Westminster College (Utah)||Salt Lake City||Utah|
|=80||=219||Providence College||Providence||Rhode Island|
|=82||=223||College of Saint Benedict||Saint Joseph||Minnesota|
|86||=231||Ithaca College||Ithaca||New York|
|87||=234||Lewis & Clark College||Portland||Oregon|
|88||=236||Mount Saint Mary's University||Los Angeles||California|
|90||=238||Adelphi University||Garden City||New York|
|=93||=256||Manhattan College||Riverdale||New York|
|=93||=256||Saint Anselm College||Manchester||New Hampshire|
|=96||=264||Rollins College||Winter Park||Florida|
|99||=271||Augustana College (Illinois)||Rock Island||Illinois|
|100||=273||Bard College||Annandale-On-Hudson||New York|
Explore the top 100 liberal arts colleges in the United States using data from the Wall Street Journal/Times Higher Education US College Rankings