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20 Top Liberal Arts Colleges

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

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My list of the ten 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.

Bates College

Bates College
dvs / 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.

Bowdoin College

Bowdoin College
sglickman / 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

Bryn Mawr College

Bryn Mawr College
thatpicturetaker / 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

Claremont McKenna College

Claremont McKenna College
Bazookajoe1 / 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.

Colby College

Colby College
bonimo / Flickr

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.

Colgate University

Colgate University
bronayur / 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.

College of the Holy Cross

College of the Holy Cross
GeorgeThree / 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.

Davidson College

Davidson College
functoruser / 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.

Denison University

Denison University
Bluebank83 / Flickr

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.

Dickinson College

Dickinson College
ravedelay / Flickr

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.

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