If you’re politically active, you may want to go to a college where the students, faculty, and administration share your values. You’ll be more likely to find student groups that are aligned with your interests and beliefs and you'll probably have a more enjoyable college experience.
In this article, I’ll give you the names of some of the most liberal colleges in the United States. Furthermore, I’ll detail the traits of liberal colleges, explain possible advantages and disadvantages of liberal colleges, and advise you how to find liberal colleges that could be a good fit for you.
Traits of the Most Liberal Colleges
Liberal colleges are very politically left-wing. They're more accepting of different sexual orientations and gender identities, and students tend to favor liberal positions like ending the War on Drugs, outlawing private prisons, and raising the minimum wage.
The most liberal colleges tend to be private liberal arts colleges. Very liberal students are often drawn to small liberal arts colleges because these schools offer a more progressive education. For example, at Reed College, grades are recorded, but deemphasized and not distributed to students, and professors serve more as mediators in class discussions as opposed to being lecturers.
Furthermore, the most liberal colleges usually reflect the political leanings of their locations. Many of the most liberal colleges are located on the west coast and in the Northeast, both known for being extremely liberal places.
Possible Advantages of Going to a Liberal College
If you're very liberal, then you'll probably be happier and more comfortable around like-minded people. You're more likely to make friends who share your political and social views. Your professors are also likely to be very liberal, and you'll be receiving an education that coincides with your values and beliefs.
Liberal colleges are known for being extremely tolerant and culturally sensitive. LGBT students and students from underrepresented backgrounds may feel more supported at liberal colleges. The college is more likely to offer support services and organizations for these students.
Also, very liberal colleges tend to be less strict and structured. Many liberal colleges pride themselves on being less focused on grades and big lecture classes and more focused on collaboration and self-actualization. They often have a much more permissive culture, and they tend to be less likely to harshly punish students who engage in "extracurricular" activities that are stereotypically associated with college life.
If you're liberal and go to a conservative college, it's possible that you'll feel isolated and ostracized for your beliefs.
You'll find more Bernie Sanders fans at liberal colleges. (Marc Nozell/Flickr)
Possible Disadvantages of Liberal Colleges
If you're very liberal, you may benefit from being exposed to different viewpoints. Having your beliefs challenged and being around diverse opinions can help you learn and grow. If you're very liberal and attend a liberal college, you may just be surrounding yourself with people who are likely to echo your beliefs.
While liberal colleges are tolerant of people from different backgrounds, they tend to not be very tolerant of conservative viewpoints. Many of the students at the most liberal colleges view conservatives as closed-minded or ignorant. If you want to be in an environment that welcomes diverse viewpoints, you may not feel completely comfortable at the most liberal colleges. Furthermore, the most liberal colleges and students are becoming notorious for protesting and taking action against speech they consider insensitive or offensive. Many people believe these colleges and students have become hyper-sensitive.
Because most colleges tend to lean liberal, and the majority of college faculty members are liberal, you don't have to attend the most liberal colleges to be around liberal people and ideologies. The only colleges that have a reputation for being more conservative are many of the religious schools, the service academies, and public colleges in the most conservative states.
Finally, the less structured environment at the most liberal colleges may not be beneficial to you. Some students need more structure and discipline to excel. Also, the lack of emphasis on grades and a traditional curriculum at some of the most liberal colleges may not suit your educational needs and could negatively impact some of your future job opportunities.
The Most Liberal Colleges
Let's go through two rankings of the most liberal colleges, so you can get a sense of where you might want to look if you're hoping to attend a particularly liberal school.
Niche is a website that provides reviews, rankings, and statistics about neighborhoods and schools. It provides many different college ranking lists from the overall best colleges to the top party schools to the most liberal colleges.
The Niche rankings of the most liberal colleges are based on a political poll of 50,000 students from 747 colleges. A full 80% of the rankings is based on student survey responses regarding the students' personal political leanings. The remaining 20% is based on student survey responses regarding the political leanings of other students at the college.
I'm giving you the top 50 most liberal colleges according to Niche, with #1 being the most liberal. Most of these colleges are private colleges and many are small liberal arts colleges. Some of the public universities that made the top 50 are University of Vermont, UC Santa Cruz, SUNY Purchase, and Portland State University.
UC Santa Cruz (Casey Marshall/Flickr)
|1. University of California - Santa Cruz||Santa Cruz, CA||51%|
|2. San Francisco State University||San Francisco, CA||70%|
|3. Columbia College Chicago||Chicago, IL||92%|
|4. Mills College||Oakland, CA||87%|
|5. University of California - Berkeley||Berkeley, CA||17%|
|6. Mount Holyoke College||South Hadley, MA||51%|
|7. Bard College||Annandale-On-Hudson, NY||58%|
|8. Portland State University||Portland, OR||92%|
|9. American University||Washington, DC||29%|
|10. Oberlin College||Oberlin, OH||34%|
|11. New York University||New York, NY||28%|
|12. Howard University||Washington, DC||41%|
|13. Sarah Lawrence College||Bronxville, NY||53%|
|14. Bryn Mawr College||Bryn Mawr, PA||38%|
|15. Smith College||Northampton, MA||32%|
|16. Vassar College||Poughkeepsie, NY||24%|
|17. SUNY Purchase College||Purchase, NY||74%|
|18. Carleton College||Northfield, MN||21%|
|19. Wesleyan University||Middletown, CT||16%|
|20. University of Washington||Seattle, WA||46%|
|21. SUNY New Paltz||New Paltz, NY||44%|
|22. Northwestern University||Evanston, IL||9%|
|23. Kenyon College||Gambier, OH||34%|
|24. Fashion Institute of Technology||New York, NY||47%|
|25. University of California - Santa Barbara||Santa Barbara, CA||33%|
|26. CUNY Hunter College||New York, NY||40%|
|27. Western Washington University||Bellingham, WA||85%|
|28. Columbia University||New York, NY||7%|
|29. Roosevelt University||Chicago, IL||70%|
|30. Denison University||Granville, OH||37%|
|31. University of Oregon||Eugene, OR||83%|
|32. University of San Francisco||San Francisco, CA||66%|
|33. Barnard College||New York, NY||15%|
|34. Morgan State University||Baltimore, MD||64%|
|35. SUNY Buffalo State College||Buffalo, NY||58%|
|36. Occidental College||Los Angeles, CA||42%|
|37. New College of Florida||Sarasota, FL||69%|
|38. University of California - Riverside||Riverside, CA||57%|
|39. Emerson College||Boston, MA||46%|
|40. Swarthmore College||Swarthmore, PA||11%|
|41. Northeastern University||Boston, MA||27%|
|42. Hofstra University||Hempstead, NY||64%|
|43. Boston University||Boston, MA||25%|
|44. Bowdoin College||Brunswick, ME||14%|
|45. California State University - Los Angeles||Los Angeles, CA||46%|
|46. San Jose State University||San Jose, CA||67%|
|47. Spelman College||Atlanta, GA||40%|
|48. California State University - Dominguez Hills||Carson, CA||54%|
|49. Ithaca College||Ithaca, NY||71%|
|50. University of Vermont||Burlington, VT||67%|
Rally of the "Carleton College Dems" (cursedthing/Flickr)
The Princeton Review rankings for the most liberal colleges are based on students' responses to the question "Politically, are you left-wing, Democrat, middle, Republican, right-wing?"
All of these colleges are small, private colleges with the exception of Clark University (Worcester, Massachusetts) and Brown University (Providence, Rhode Island), which are progressive private research universities.
Schools that made both the Niche and Princeton Review lists are Bryn Mawr and the University of Vermont. The schools on the Princeton Review list are ranked from 1-20.
|1. Bryn Mawr College||Bryn Mawr, PA||38%|
|2. Bennington College||Bennington, VT||63%|
|3. Reed College||Portland, OR||35%|
|4. Earlham College||Richmond, IN||62%|
|5. Sarah Lawrence College||Bronxville, NY||53%|
|6. Grinnell College||Grinnell, IA||25%|
|7. Pitzer College||Claremont, CA||14%|
|8. Scripps College||Claremont, CA||28%|
|9. Mills College||Oakland, CA||71%|
|10. Brandeis University||Waltham, MA||34%|
|11. University of Vermont||Burlington, VT||67%|
|12. Clark University||Worcester, MA||55%|
|13. Skidmore College||Saratoga Springs, NY||36%|
|14. College of the Atlantic||Bar Harbor, ME||76%|
|15. Carleton College||Northfield, MN||21%|
|16. Whitman College||Walla Walla, WA||43%|
|17. Brown University||Providence, RI||9%|
|18. Mount Holyoke College||South Hadley, MA||50%|
|19. Lawrence University||Appleton, WI||68%|
|20. Wesleyan University||Middletown, CT||22%|
Marlboro College (Jared and Corin/Flickr)
Student Reviews of Liberal Colleges
Niche also offers student reviews of colleges. Here are some comments written by students about some of the most liberal colleges in the United States. I tried to include positive and negative comments about each school related to its very liberal environment.
UC Santa Cruz
There are some classes that really drill in the necessary skills needed for you future career. Other classes show you different aspects of other studies, which may be great for finding the perfect major. Overall, I would say that community is that best part of this college. It has taught me to be more open-minded and to always question the everything.
Hippies everywhere! Public service announcement: if you need to be on psychedelics or smoke weed to have a better appreciation for the nature around you, you're doing something wrong! Nature is beautiful sober.
Grinnell is extremely accepting of people from all walks of life. We have tons of programs and groups on campus to accommodate all students, such as Concerned Black Students, Cultural Diversity Panel, Spectrum, and Queer Students of Color.
It was a great experience, but it requires that you are self-motivated. I thought I was at first and it was a hard wake-up call. You will be beaten, but you will come out better for it.
Northampton is a perfect college town, very liberal, artsy, hipster, and worldly. So is the food. So many different types of restaurant options are available.
Smith trusts its students, and it's also a school very concerned with social justice, so even seemingly trivial violations are taken very seriously and reported.
I've learned a lot about issues that make people uncomfortable (especially in the United States) like race relations, radical environmental initiatives and the true significance of privilege.
If you want drugs, then you will be able to find them relatively easily, and more than just your basics. Pot is smoked by more people than not. Alcohol is also very widely used. Most of campo just wants you to be safe and discreet, so if you are then you probably won't have any problems. For the most part, you need to be pretty obvious and obnoxious to get in trouble.
How Should You Use These Lists of the Most Liberal Colleges?
If you want to go to a very liberal college, you should research the colleges on the Niche and Princeton Review lists that interest you to determine if they’re schools you should apply to. There are many factors to consider to determine if a college is a good fit for you including location, selectivity, support services, and the majors offered.
Look at the school’s website, and use guidebooks, college finders, search websites, and other ranking lists to help you in the college selection process. If possible, consult with teachers, counselors, parents, current students, and alumni.
What Should You Do If You Want to Attend a Liberal College, but a School You're Considering Isn't on Either List?
Just because a school you're considering didn't make either list doesn't necessarily mean that it's not liberal. As I mentioned previously, most colleges tend to be more liberal than conservative.
If you want to go to a college with a liberal atmosphere, look at the school's website to see if there are student groups that are aligned with your political and social views. There may be student groups for Democrats, feminists, or LGBT students. Similarly, there may be student groups that advocate for more liberal organizations or causes like Planned Parenthood, NORML (National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws), climate change, or affirmative action.
Also, you can consult other sources that evaluate or grade how liberal a college is. On the Niche profile for each college, under "diversity" for each school's guide, there is a category called "political activity" that describes the political activity on campus. For example, this is how Harvard's political activity is described:
Harvard possesses a largely liberal political base, but conservative political groups do make their presence felt. Nearly every student has an informed opinion, and the Institute of Politics provides an excellent forum for discussion and debate of current political topics.
On the College View college finder, you can select that you're "only interested in schools with a very liberal climate" and search for colleges that fit that criteria. Furthermore, there are 20 other search categories to help you narrow your college search.
Finally, remember that the political leaning of a college is often reflective of the city or town where the college is located. Colleges in the Northeast and on the west coast tend to be more liberal, and colleges in the South tend to be more conservative. You can determine if a specific city or town is liberal by looking up the candidates it supported in the last election and its views on various political and social issues.
From the city of Liberal, Kansas, which is ironically more conservative
Since liberal arts colleges are predominantly liberal, you may be interested in checking out our rankings of the 28 best liberal arts colleges in the country. Also, if you want to go to a selective college, you should take a look at the colleges with the highest SAT scores.
Finally, because college tuition prices continue to rise and you may be worried about how you're going to pay for college, I recommend you read this post on how much college really costs.
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Justin has extensive experience teaching SAT prep and guiding high school students through the college admissions and selection process. He is firmly committed to improving equity in education and helping students to reach their educational goals. Justin received an athletic scholarship for gymnastics at Stanford University and graduated with a BA in American Studies.