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The 28 Best Liberal Arts Colleges in the Country

Posted by Francesca Fulciniti | Sep 13, 2015 7:00:00 PM

College Info

 

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There are a lot of different ranking systems out there for almost any type of college you can imagine. Even though these rankings purport to use sophisticated algorithms and calculations, all the final lists seem to differ from each other. How should you be able to figure out what the best liberal arts colleges are when there so many different ranking systems out there? 

I did the work for you by considering many of the top lists and compiling rankings of liberal arts colleges; in the beginning of this article, I'll lay out how exactly these ranking systems work. I then organized schools based on tiers, not by specific rankings - this gives you a better sense of the realistic and respective caliber of these schools. If you're looking for a realistic, reliable ranking list for the best liberal arts colleges in the country, then you're in luck. 

 

How Are These Schools Ranked? 

There are many methodologies for ranking any type of school - they often involve complicated formulas, taking all sort of variables into account. How can you quantify exactly how good a school is, especially in relation to so many others? Well, you can’t, exactly. But if you consider concrete variables that people care about, you can get a pretty solid idea of whether a school is good or not

I’ve pored over some of the most popular lists that rank liberal arts colleges and looked into what measures are used when determining a school's quality. If some of these factors are more important to you than others, you can use those preferences to guide your college admissions decisions.

The methods used to calculate each school’s ranking tend to take the following variables into account:

 

Undergraduate Academic Reputation

Education experts (like deans, provosts, and presidents) are surveyed on their opinions of each school’s academic excellence. What do leading experts think about a particular school’s offerings?

 

Retention

How many students who started as freshman return each year, and end up graduating? The greater this percentage, the higher the retention rate; the higher the retention rate, the better the ranking.

 

Faculty Resources

What’s the average class size? How well are professors compensated? How many professors have the highest degrees available in their field? The more access that students have to professors and the happier and more educated professors are, the higher the school’s ranking on this criterion.

 

Student Selectivity

The more competitive the students are who attend a school, the better its score. Students with impressive abilities and ambitions are thought to contribute positively to an institution’s academic environment. Variables used to assess selectivity include admissions rate, average GPA, and average standardized test scores (SAT and ACT). 

 

Financial Resources

Ranking systems consider schools’ per-student spending - the higher the amount, the better the ranking. More spending per student generally means more resources and opportunities available to the student body.

 

Alumni Giving Rate

If alumni are happy with their undergraduate experience, they tend to give more. Greater giving rate = higher ranking.

 

Top Liberal Arts Colleges Rankings

There are some definite patterns in looking over some of the most popular liberal arts ranking lists (including US News & World Report, Niche, Forbes, and College Choice). All of these lists will have their own ranking systems, so schools’ exact place on the list will tend to differ, even from year to year.  What’s more helpful is if you can get an idea of where these colleges stand in relation to each other on average.

I've separated schools into 4 tiers, with Tier 1 including the highest ranking schools. There's no specific rankings within schools; they're simply listed in alphabetical order. I've also included each school's ranking on several lists. 
 
 

Tier 1 Schools

 

SCHOOL

US NEWS

NICHE

FORBES

COLLEGE CHOICE

Amherst

2

6

4

1

Bowdoin

4

1

8

14

Middlebury

4

7

14

6

Pomona

4

2

1

4

Swarthmore

3

16

3

3

Williams

1

3

2

2

 

 

Tier 2 Schools

 

SCHOOL

US NEWS

NICHE

FORBES

COLLEGE CHOICE

Carleton

8

4

12

25

Claremont McKenna

9

9

6

12

Haverford

12

12

7

17

Vassar

12

17

10

8

Washington and Lee

14

8

11

9

Wellesley

4

10

9

10

 

 

Tier 3 Schools

 

SCHOOL

US NEWS

NICHE

FORBES

COLLEGE CHOICE

Bates

25

24

--

15

Colgate

19

18

15

7

Davidson

9

20

13

23

Grinnell

19

11

--

21

Hamilton

14

19

22

13

Harvey Mudd

14

--

--

5

Oberlin

23

33

19

46

Smith

14

21

25

22

Wesleyan

14

5

5

16

 

 

Tier 4 Schools

 

SCHOOL

US NEWS

NICHE

FORBES

COLLEGE CHOICE

Barnard

29

14

16

26

Bucknell

32

13

17

28

Colorado

25

22

--

30

Franklin and Marshall

40

32

--

27

Macalester

23

26

--

29

Reed

93

35

23

32

Union College - NY

38

29

--

40

University of Richmond

32

23

--

20

 

 

How Do You Get Into These Colleges? 

 

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Follow these steps to come out on top. 

 

The first step in getting into any of the top liberal arts colleges is figuring out how competitive of an applicant you are. If you click on the name of any of the schools in the chart above, you'll be directed to PrepScholar's admission page for that college. You can get more information about admissions rates, average GPA, and average ACT/SAT scores. There's even a tool built into the pages to help you estimate your chances of admission. 

Many of the top tier schools are very competitive, with admissions rates <20%. If you want to strengthen your application, work on:

 

What's Next? 

It's time to get to work! If you have your eye on one (or more) of the schools above, figure out what SAT score you should be aiming for. 

Are you worried that some parts of your application might be a little weak for your target schools? Learn about what to do if you have a low GPA  or low test scores

 

Want to improve your SAT score by 160 points or your ACT score by 4 points? We've written a guide for each test about the top 5 strategies you must be using to have a shot at improving your score. Download it for free now:

Get eBook: 5 Tips for 160+ Points

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Francesca Fulciniti
About the Author

Francesca graduated magna cum laude from Harvard and scored in the 99th percentile on the SATs. She's worked with many students on SAT prep and college counseling, and loves helping students capitalize on their strengths.



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