Best Liberal Arts Colleges & Universities


Finding the right college can be a hefty task. In looking at all the choices out there, one thing that can help is to learn about the option of attending a liberal arts college. Liberal arts colleges are rooted in academic and individual excellence in all areas.

The belief is that one must recognize that there are connections between all the academic subjects, meaning that the best liberal arts colleges require someone who is, for example, majoring in Physics to also take humanities courses. Someone who is majoring in Dance must also take mathematics courses.

Connections and critical thinking are the most important ideal in the best liberal arts colleges, so a well-rounded education is the goal. To accomplish this end, the best liberal arts colleges are smaller so that the professors can teach on a more individual level.

Most liberal arts colleges offer degrees up to the Bachelorā€™s level and are affordable options for those seeking what they have to offer. The advantages of attending the best liberal arts colleges are that the students receive more help from professors, a well-rounded education full of discovery and connections is acquired, and critical thinkers are bred.

If this is what you are looking for, then finding the best liberal arts colleges will be a good first step in your educational future.

Liberal Arts Colleges and Degrees Fast Facts

  • In 2016, there were 487,141 Liberal Arts & Humanities degrees awarded in the U.S.
  • Median in-state public tuition was $6,385
  • Median out-of-state private tuition was $28,212
  • Miami Dade College awarded the most degrees (8,911) in Liberal Arts & Humanities in the U.S.
  • The average salary for Liberal Arts & Humanities majors was $68,343 in 2016

Sources: IPEDS,


EDsmart has dug through the data trenches to bring you an easy to read, easy to digest ranking of the best Liberal Arts Colleges in the U.S.

Schools are ranked based on four data points in three categories:

  • Affordability (financial aid, net price)
  • Student Satisfaction (retention rate)
  • Student Outcome (4-year graduation rate)

Each data point is ranked with equal weight. Schools received a weighted overall ranking score for each individual point mentioned aboveā€“100 being the highest score possible.

In the case of a tie in scoring, the average net price was the determining factor for which school received the higher rankā€“the lower the net price, the higher the ranking.

All data was gathered from theĀ National Center for Education Statistics website and is accurate at the time of this writing [July 2019].

Best Liberal Arts Colleges for 2020-2021

1. Mount Holyoke College


Score: 100

Average Net Price: $32,008
Retention Rate: 93%
Graduation Rate: 84%
ROI: $272,000

Location: South Hadley, Massachusetts

Degree Programs: Culture and Gender Studies, Biological and Biomedical Sciences, Communication and Journalism, Computer and Information Sciences, English, Health Professions, Languages, Literature, History, Mathematics, Physical Sciences, Psychology, Social Sciences, Visual and Performing Arts

Rank: #30 Liberal Arts School by US News and World Report

Mount Holyoke is one of the traditional Seven Sisters, the American Women’s Colleges that provided an outstanding education to women in a time when most women were denied entry to higher education. Today’s Mount Holyoke certainly has the same spirit, instructing in a manner that puts the needs of the students first while still providing the structure necessary to succeed.
Mount Holyoke is perhaps most famous for not requiring entrance exams for admissions. MHC is also known for providing work on campus for over two-thirds of its students, as well as helping with the arrangement of internships for those who work elsewhere. A genuinely unique American university, Mount Holyoke stands as one of the most influential liberal arts schools in the country.

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2. College of the Holy Cross


Score: 100

Average Net Price: $34,627
Retention Rate: 93%
Graduation Rate: 91%
ROI: $623,000

Location: Worcester, MA

Degree Programs: Accounting, Anthropology, Art History, Asian Studies, Biology, Chemistry, Chinese, Classics, Computer Science, Economics, English, Environmental Studies, French, German, History, International Studies, Italian, Math, Music, Philosophy, Physics, Political Science, Psychology, Religious Studies, Russian, Sociology, Spanish, World Literature, Studio Art, Theatre

Rank: #35 Liberal Arts School by US News and World Report

Of the top liberal arts colleges in the United States, the College of the Holy Cross is the only Jesuit university. The religious nature of the school certainly makes it stand out from the rest, but its traditions give it quite a bit in common with the other leading universities. The commitment towards a traditional, well-rounded type of education produces fantastic thinkers and students who can craft their own identities once they leave.

College of the Holy Cross has a strong commitment to undergraduate education. All students are taught by actual professors who either have a terminal degree or are in the process of obtaining one of these degrees. This gives students a rare chance to know that they’re receiving the best education possible from those who are already masters of their fields.

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3. Trinity University


Score: 99.3

Average Net Price: $30,505
Retention Rate: 92%
Graduation Rate: 81%
ROI: $475,000

Location: San Antonio, TX

Degree Programs: Accounting, Ancient Mediterranean Studies, Anthropology, Applied Chemistry, Art, Art History, Biochemistry, Biology, Business, Chemistry, Chinese, Classical Languages, Communication, Computer Science, Economics, Engineering, English, Environmental Science, Finance, French, German, Greek, History, International Business, and Business Studies, Mathematics, Statistics, Neuroscience, Physics, Philosophy, Religion, Sociology, Theatre

Rank: #3 Best Undergraduate Teaching School by US News and World Report

Trinity University may not be the most famous college named Trinity, but it provides one of the best overall liberal arts educations in the country. It does this by focusing on delivering high-quality undergraduate education. This school hearkens back to the days before adjunct professors and teacher’s assistants teaching every course, providing students with a chance to learn from experts.
Of course, Trinity University does provide a top-notch liberal arts education in other ways. It offers a large number of majors and gives students many chances to put their educations to work. It’s no wonder that the school continues to produce so many successful graduates.

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4. Hope College


Score: 98.8

Average Net Price: $29,248
Retention Rate: 91%
Graduation Rate: 78%
ROI: $185,000

Location: Holland, MI

Degree Programs: Arts and Humanities, Natural and Applied Sciences, Social Sciences

Rank: #103 Liberal Arts School by US News and World Report

This private liberal arts college is perhaps one of the most traditional on the list. It not only has a strong focus on providing its students with several learning opportunities, but the school also expects students to bolster their learning through many on-campus opportunities. The school’s focus is very traditional when it comes to education, but in this case, that tends to mean providing students with as many points of view as possible.

There are relatively few research opportunities here, but many students still take their talents into very practical fields. The education gained at Hope College teaches students one of the most critical skills that there is – how to think. Using that knowledge helps the majority of the school’s graduates find success later in life.

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5. Wheaton College Massachusetts


Score: 98.8

Average Net Price: $29,688
Retention Rate: 83%
Graduation Rate: 80%
ROI: $269,000

Location: Norton, MA

Degree Programs: Culture and Gender Studies, Animal Behavior, Art History, Ancient Studies, Biological, and Biomedical Sciences, Business, Communication and Journalism, Computer and Information Sciences, Dance, Education, English, Film and New Media, Health Professions, Languages, Literature, History, Mathematics, Physical Sciences, Psychology, Religion, Social Sciences, Visual and Performing Arts

Rank: #86 Liberal Arts School by US News and World Report

Students at Wheaton have come to know and love the Wheaton curriculum, one that not only allows students to pursue their passions but also to explore the breadth of offerings that the school has to offer. This eclecticism not only teaches students alternative ways to approach their own chosen fields, but it allows students a chance to experience more than just their departments.

Wheaton also puts a considerable emphasis on internships, guaranteeing to fund students who choose to pursue them. This allows for more real-world experience and, in most cases, more drive towards completing realistic career field related tasks. Wheaton balances the creative and expressive needs of its students with a rigorous course of study, providing an excellent liberal arts education for all.

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6. Stonehill College


Score: 98

Average Net Price: $35,409
Retention Rate: 82%
Graduation Rate: 83%
ROI: $550,000

Location: Easton, MA

Degree Programs: Accounting American Studies, Anthropology Arts & Visual Culture Arts, Administration, Astronomy, Biochemistry, Biology, Catholic Studies, Chemistry, Communication, Computer Science, Criminology,Dance, Data Science, Dual Languages Early Childhood Education Earth & Planetary Science Economics Elementary Education, English, Environmental Sciences, Environmental Studies, Finance, French, Gender & Sexuality Studies, Graphic Design, Health Science, Healthcare Administration, History, Interdisciplinary Studies, International Business Management, Marketing, Mathematics, Music, Neuroscience, Performing Arts, Philosophy, Physics, Political Science & International Studies, Psychology, Religious Studies, Secondary Education, Sociology Spanish, Studio Arts, Theater Arts, Visual Studies

Rank: #124 Liberal Arts School by US News and World Report

This Massachusetts college sets out to create thinkers who not only excel in their fields but those who can apply their educations in ways that make their intellect well-rounded and helps them to be able to think outside of the traditional confines of any profession. The school makes use of techniques both classical and modern to ensure that their students are not only well-prepared for the world as it is, but to make the changes that drive the students to excel academically.

A great deal of the focus at Stonehill is on the individual students. Whether this comes from excellent advisors or a concentrated effort to keep class sizes down, students at the undergraduate level receive a great deal more attention than their peers elsewhere. This leads to more meaningful classes, better networking connections, and often a stronger sense of purpose among Stonehill’s graduating classes.

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7. Albion College

Score: 97.8

Average Net Price: $18,532
Retention Rate: 80%
Graduation Rate: 68%
ROI: $259,000

Location: Albion, MI

Degree Programs: Culture and Gender Studies, Animal Behavior, Art History, Ancient Studies, Biological, and Biomedical Sciences, Business, Communication and Journalism, Computer and Information Sciences, Dance, English, Film and New Media, Health Professions, Languages, Literature, History, Mathematics, Physical Sciences, Psychology, Religion, Social Sciences, Visual and Performing Arts

Rank: #152 Liberal Arts School by US News and World Report

Albion College puts a premium on student creativity, encouraging students not just to think but to do. This focus requires not only having a remarkably effective hands-on curriculum for its students but also giving the students a chance to put what they’ve learned into action through a variety of research activities.

Albion is also a traditional feeder school for some of the best graduate programs in the country, ranging from the social science and law to medicine and the STEM fields. Through providing students with a diverse set of viewpoints and a well-rounded liberal arts education, Albion can help ensure the success of all who pass through its halls.

8. University of Puget Sound


Score: 96.8

Average Net Price: $359,011
Retention Rate: 81%
Graduation Rate: 79%
ROI: $363,000

Location: Tacoma, WA

Degree Programs: African American Studies, Art & Art History, Asian Languages & Cultures, Asian Studies, Biochemistry & Molecular Biology, Bioethics, Biology, Business & Leadership, Chemistry, Classics, Communication Studies, Computer Science
Economics, Education Studies, Engineering, English, Environmental Policy & Decision Making, Exercise Science, French Studies, Gender & Queer Studies, Geology, German Studies, Global Development Studies, Hispanic Studies, History, International Political Economy, Latin American Studies, Latina/o Studies, Mathematics and Computer Science, Music, Natural Science, Neuroscience, Philosophy, Physical Education, Physics
Politics & Government, Psychology, Religious Studies, Science, Technology & Society
Sociology & Anthropology, Theatre Arts

Rank: #72 Liberal Arts School by US News and World Report

Founded in 1888, this Washington-based liberal arts school is one of the west coast’s best-known institutions for studying the humanities, literature, and the social sciences. The mission of the school is not only to educate, but also to change the lives of students and faculty alike. As such, there is a significant emphasis on exploring educational opportunities both on campus and abroad, giving students more of an ability to apply their educations in real-world scenarios.

Of course, there’s more to the school than just practical work. The school offers an extensive range of majors, including both traditional liberal arts subjects and cutting-edge STEM options. The school’s focus means that even its more science and math-oriented professors tend to spend more time with students, giving those who pursue an education here a chance to learn directly from not only leaders in the field but from those who have a real passion for teaching.

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2019-2020 Best Liberal Arts Colleges Rankings:

1. Carleton College
2. College of the Holy Cross
3. Wesleyan University
4. Trinity University
5. Hope College
6. Albion College
7. Mount Holyoke College
8. Wheaton College Massachusetts
9. Stonehill College
10. University of Puget Sound
11. The College of Wooster


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