Many students go to college to receive career training or take part in a technical degree program. However, others go to college to receive a more well-rounded education. These students often take courses in more broad, classical fields. Most liberal or liberal arts colleges offer courses and degree programs in these fields.
Most liberal colleges explore courses in art, literature, philosophy, music, theater, and social sciences. Below is our guide to the most liberal colleges in the US.
What Is a Liberal College?
A liberal college allows students to explore more than just the arts. Students in liberal colleges take courses that explore more global perspectives. Liberal colleges in America are known for their social justice efforts and providing minority students an opportunity to pursue higher education.
While many people consider liberal schools to have a particular political leaning, they are more structured toward giving students a different experience throughout their degree program.
The top liberal colleges in the US provide unique classroom experiences so students receive the best and most in-depth education they can. This means smaller class sizes, a strong emphasis on environmental sustainability, and student diversity.
Reasons to Attend Liberal Arts College or University
While more technical institutions focus on developing your skills and knowledge for a career, liberal colleges offer more freedom to focus on academic and cultural pursuits. If you’re interested in the arts and are considering a profession related to them, then a liberal arts college or university may be right for you. Below are a few reasons to attend a liberal college or university compared to a more technical school.
Most academic programs are regimented and structured. However, in liberal colleges students are allowed to take courses that cover several disciplines. Instead of being prepared for a specific career, liberal colleges prepare students for a wide array of career paths.
These colleges also give students more freedom. In some situations, students are even allowed to create a program themselves based on what interests them.
Smaller Class Sizes
Liberal colleges typically have smaller classes. There are some schools where it is not uncommon for students to take courses with several dozen students. In liberal schools, especially highly selective liberal institutions, students will also find themselves with a very small student-to-faculty ratio, which increases the chances of them developing a stronger relationship with their peers, faculty, and receiving the education they need.
Liberal colleges tend to have resources for students that are oftentimes not acknowledged or underserved in traditional universities or colleges. These college campuses have organizations and clubs for minority students, LGBTQ+ students, and females. These schools even create student unions to ensure minority students have a voice.
Liberal Colleges vs Liberal Universities
Compared to liberal colleges, liberal universities typically offer several degree tracks. In a liberal university, students may earn their undergraduate and graduate degrees at the same institution. In comparison, a liberal college may not offer a degree program beyond the bachelor’s degree level.
While overall liberal schools do have smaller class sizes, universities typically have a large enrollment size compared to colleges. This means students will be in large lecture classes at university, compared to more classroom discussion courses in college.
In terms of education, universities have a much stronger focus on research, graduate degrees, doctorates, and educating professionals. Colleges are more geared toward students who want to earn their undergraduate degrees. Education in colleges has a strong focus on a well-rounded undergraduate program.
Most Liberal Colleges in the United States
From a more well-rounded program to different college culture, there are several reasons to attend a liberal college and pursue an undergraduate or graduate degree. Below is a list of some of the most liberal colleges in the US. Schools on this list will offer you a top-notch education.
Agnes Scott College is a private liberal arts college for women. The institution is located in Decatur, Georgia, and enrolls over 1,000 students from around the world. The college has one of the oldest collegiate honor systems in the nation and student-led self-government.
In 2015, the college launched a series of core curriculum courses required by all students. The school has a strong emphasis on global learning and leadership in liberal arts. Students participate in personal career mentorship, week-long global study tours, and three-day immersion programs.
Reed College promotes free-thinking in its students. The school is located in Portland, Oregon. Students at the school take part in a diverse program that emphasizes independence, reflection, and creativity. To give students the best education it can provide, Reed College has small class sizes, easily accessible faculty members, and an honor principle that students must adhere to within and outside of class.
Reed is known for its successful STEM majors. The school is ranked first in the nation for the percentage of STEM majors who then earn PhDs in their STEM field. It is also listed as second in the US for liberal arts colleges that have graduates go on to earn doctorates.
Vassar College embraces diversity and has been a pioneer of women’s rights since 1861. The school promotes environmental sustainability and a sense of strong community. There are several centers for students of particular minority groups so that underrepresented people have a voice.
The school has an Office of Sustainability, which promotes green initiatives across the campus. This includes efforts toward being entirely green by 2030 and having a 400-acre farm and ecological preserve.
Brown University is located in Providence, Rhode Island, and is the seventh-oldest university in the United States. Undergraduate students at Brown University do not have traditional majors. Instead, students choose from over 80 academic concentrations. The school’s policy mandates that students take part in required inclusion and diversity coursework.
The university places a strong emphasis on diversity, which includes its queer legacy series and its leadership award for LGBTQ+ individuals. Students can also take part in the school’s green initiatives to reduce waste and increase water efficiency.
Harvey Mudd is a private liberal arts college located in Claremont, California. While it is a private liberal arts school, the college primarily offers STEM and STEM-related programs to students.
The institution works towards increasing diversity in its student body and the STEM workforce, particularly for female and minority students. The school has a 1-to-1 male-to-female ratio on its campus.
Emerson is a private college located in Boston, Massachusetts. Over 60 percent of the student body identifies as female and 16 percent of the students come from international locations.
The school has over 70 undergraduate, graduate, and certificate programs for students with an emphasis on the liberal arts and communication. Some of the undergraduate options available to students include gender and sexuality studies, environmental studies, and interdisciplinary programs designed on an individual basis.
The college has a strong focus on its environmental efforts. It gets all of its power from green power sources and plans to achieve carbon neutrality by 2030.
Bryn Mawr College is a private liberal arts institution located in a city that shares its name in Pennsylvania. The college enrolls over 1,600 female students and has a nearly 50 percent minority, multiracial, and international student body. Most students take part in undergraduate programs. Students choose from intercultural and interdisciplinary majors, such as women’s ecology, and gender and sexuality.
Bryn Mawr College is the first of its kind in the US to have a self-government association. This enables students to create and enforce their own rules. The school continues to push students toward independent learning.
Grinnel College is a private liberal arts school located between Iowa City and Des Moines. Nearly a fourth of the students enrolled in the college identify as people of color. The undergraduate programs only have one required course and students design the rest of their program based on whatever path they wish to take.
Grinnel puts students in a situation to pursue learning opportunities on their own, gain a global perspective, and gain more cultural awareness. The college has thousands of internship opportunities for students in the US and internationally. There are also mentor projects that over 40 percent of students take part in.
Students can expect a diverse campus culture that caters to their specific needs. There are over 150 student groups and the dining hall has local food options, which include vegan and vegetarian meals.
Sarah Lawrence College is a liberal arts school located near New York City. The college allows students to create their own programs and base their work on personal projects. Students take three classes per semester, along with independent study, with an emphasis on the in-depth study of specific topics. The school is known for its outstanding writing program.
Should You Go to a Liberal College?
Liberal colleges aren’t as strongly focused on technical skills or training students for a specific future career. While liberal schools do still have majors and other programs you’ll typically find at other institutions, the way programs are constructed is very different.
The most significant difference between liberal colleges and other universities is its campus community. Liberal schools place a strong emphasis on representation for minority groups, creating an environment where students feel free to express themselves, and exploring new ways to enhance a student’s global perspective.
If you’re interested in a well-rounded undergraduate education and want to major in a field of study that is closely related to social sciences or the arts, then a liberal college may be right for you.