best liberal arts colleges

Best Liberal Arts Colleges and Beyond: An Introduction 

A liberal arts degree can get you a long way. If you’re wondering about the best liberal arts colleges in the U.S. or curious about popular liberal arts majors, this guide is for you.

In this “Best Liberal Arts Colleges” guide, we’ll break down the best liberal arts colleges in the U.S. to help you find your perfect fit. We’ll also discuss some common liberal arts majors at research universities, discussing the best colleges for psychology, political science, and international relations.

Firstly, we’ll provide a list of liberal arts colleges. Then, we’ll discuss the differences between the best liberal arts colleges and larger universities. Also, after we dive into the top 10 college majors at the best liberal arts colleges in the U.S., we’ll detail what you can achieve with a degree from one of these schools.

Then, we’ll dive into liberal arts degrees more generally. After all, the best liberal arts colleges aren’t the only place to get a liberal arts degree. In this section, we’ll walk you through a list of the best universities by major. We’ll include the best colleges for psychology majors, best colleges for political science majors, best colleges for international relations majors, best colleges for English majors, and the best colleges for history majors. 

The best liberal arts colleges examine a broad range of subjects across the humanities and arts. Students who attend the best liberal arts colleges will learn to think critically, solve problems, and communicate across disciplines. 

What is a liberal arts college? 

A liberal arts college is an institution of higher learning that caters toward undergraduates, often with an emphasis on the humanities. Unlike research universities, liberal arts colleges do not often offer graduate programs. So, at one of the best liberal arts colleges, you can expect more attention from professors and smaller classes. You may also find more research opportunities as an undergraduate.

Liberal arts colleges tend to be smaller than research universities. Many liberal arts colleges are also located in less urban settings. Specifically, some of the best liberal arts colleges include Williams, Swarthmore, and Amherst—just to name a few. All of these schools offer a small-town feel and an undergraduate focus.

Why attend a liberal arts college?

So, why should you attend a liberal arts college? Firstly, liberal arts colleges train students to approach problems broadly. Moreover, students at the best liberal arts colleges or the best colleges for psychology will cultivate their analytical and critical thinking skills. 

A liberal arts degree can prepare students for all types of leadership positions and job opportunities. For instance, if you want to study psychology, you can get an excellent education at a wide variety of schools—including the best psychology colleges listed here. Whether you attend a school listed among the best psychology colleges or somewhere different, you’ll develop valuable skills.

In addition, the best liberal arts colleges value exploration across disciplines. Students at the best liberal arts colleges explore new ideas both inside and outside the classroom. 

Liberal arts colleges and/or research universities

So, how do the best liberal arts colleges differ from larger schools? For one thing, the best liberal arts colleges encourage students to explore a wide range of disciplines. In fact, if you attend one of the best liberal arts colleges, you’ll likely take plenty of classes outside your major. You’ll also get more personal attention from your professors.

Let’s return to our psychology example. If you pursue psychology within a liberal arts curriculum at one of the best colleges for psychology, you’ll take many classes outside your major. However, at any of these best colleges for psychology, you’ll also develop other skills. This can help you expand your horizons and engage deeply with interdisciplinary topics. Plus, many of the best colleges for psychology are also the best colleges for English and/or the best colleges for political science.

So, let’s first examine some of the best liberal arts colleges and find out what makes them great. Later, we’ll look at the best psychology colleges, as well as the best colleges for other college majors.

To learn more about “What is a Liberal Arts College?” check out this webinar.

List of Top Liberal Arts Colleges

best liberal arts colleges

U.S. News publishes its list of the best liberal arts colleges in the U.S. each year. The following colleges are the Top 5:

#1 Williams College

Sitting at the top of the U.S. News list of liberal arts colleges, Williams College is a private college located in Williamstown, MA. Williams College is one of the oldest and most prestigious liberal arts colleges in the nation and has an acceptance rate near 15%. 

#2 Amherst College

Next, on the list of liberal arts colleges is Amherst College. This is a private college located in Amherst, Massachusetts. Amherst is known for its rigorous emphasis on academics, with an acceptance rate of 12%

#3 Swarthmore College

Swarthmore College comes in at #3 in this list of liberal arts colleges. Swarthmore is located about 10 miles outside Philadelphia. The school is highly selective, with an acceptance rate of 9%. In addition, Swarthmore is part of a consortium of schools that allows students to access a variety of resources and faculty beyond Swarthmore’s individual offerings. 

#4 Pomona College 

Pomona College is next on this list of liberal arts colleges. It’s a private institution located in Claremont, CA. Pomona College is known for its small class sizes, often with only 10-15 students, and close-knit student-faculty relationships. Pomona College has an acceptance rate of 9%. It is also part of a consortium of schools called the The Claremont Colleges.

#5 Wellesley College

Rounding out the Top 5 of the best liberal arts colleges is Wellesley College. Wellesley is a private liberal arts college for women in Massachusetts. Wellesley has an acceptance rate of 20%

All of the best liberal arts colleges in the U.S. value academic rigor and boast tight-knit communities. They’ll help you develop strong critical thinking and problem-solving skills. So, a degree from one of the best liberal arts colleges can help you succeed in many professional fields.

We’ve walked you through the best liberal arts colleges in the country. Next, let’s compare these schools to a different kind of institution—the university.  

More Lists of Liberal Arts Colleges to Consider

Forbes also puts out a top list of liberal arts colleges. Below are some more liberal arts colleges to consider. Use this list as a starting point to begin your own research on which liberal arts colleges will best for you and your interests! 

best liberal arts colleges

More of the best liberal arts colleges in the U.S. to consider are:  

  1. Davidson College
  2. Dillard University
  3. Colby College
  4. Colgate University
  5. Barnard College
  6. Carleton College
  7. Wellesley College
  8. Haverford College
  9. Vassar College
  10. Bryn Mawr College

Finally, check out the other best liberal arts colleges in the U.S. here. Later, we’ll dig into the best colleges for psychology and other lists of the best college by major.

best liberal arts colleges

Liberal Arts Colleges vs. Universities

As you apply to college, you’ll hear the term “liberal arts” a lot. Some schools, like the best liberal arts colleges, use liberal arts as the foundation of their programs. However, schools like Harvard and Stanford also offer a liberal arts education. This means that these universities require students to take classes outside of their major and fulfill certain humanities requirements.

So, how should you decide whether you should attend a liberal arts college or a university?

We’ll look at the differences between the best liberal arts colleges and universities below. Keep these in mind when we analyze the best psychology colleges later in this “Best Liberal Arts Colleges” guide. 

Here are some things to help you understand the difference between liberal arts colleges and universities:

1. Campus size

Liberal arts colleges, including the best colleges for psychology, are typically smaller than universities. If you are looking for a more intimate college setting, liberal arts colleges might work well for you. The best liberal arts colleges have smaller campuses that foster relationships between students and faculty. 

2. Graduate Students 

Another key difference between the best liberal arts colleges and universities is the presence of graduate students. Most liberal arts colleges do not focus their academic offerings on graduate students, meaning there are fewer or even sometime no graduate students on campus. The lack of graduate students at the best liberal arts colleges can lead to more research opportunities for undergraduate students. 

3. Student to Faculty Ratio 

Since the best liberal arts colleges are smaller than universities, the student-to-faculty ratio tends to be smaller. For example, the second-best college on the list of liberal arts colleges in the U.S. – Amherst College – has a student-to-faculty ratio of 7:1. With such low student-to-faculty ratios, you’ll get individual attention. You’ll find this support whether you go to the best liberal arts colleges, the best colleges for psychology, or best school for other college majors. 

best liberal arts colleges

4. Class Size

The class size at liberal arts colleges is another factor that differs from universities. Most classes at the best liberal arts colleges have fewer than 20 students. If you are looking for a classroom environment that facilitates lots of interaction between peers and professors, consider applying to the best liberal arts colleges or any of the best colleges for psychology. 

5. Campus Feel/Culture

Another important distinction between the best liberal arts colleges, including the best colleges for psychology, and universities is the campus feel/culture. Liberal arts colleges promote a culture of exploration and self-realization. Students that attend the best liberal arts colleges discover new ideas and perspectives while building skills that can be applied to any field of study.  

5. Diverse College Majors

Another key difference between the best liberal arts colleges and universities is the option for diverse college majors. Liberal arts colleges might not offer as many college majors as universities would. This should be a key factor as you begin the college application journey. 

We’ll discuss the college majors you can expect to find at the best liberal arts colleges later in this “Best Liberal Arts Colleges” guide, starting with the best colleges for psychology. 

Both liberal arts college + research university

While some schools are classified as either a liberal arts college or a research university, some schools can be both! In fact, many of the best colleges in the US and the best universities in the world have the resources and facilities to provide students with both a liberal arts college and research university experience. This means that as you build your college list and consider whether you want to attend one of the best colleges for liberal arts or one of the best universities for psychology or political science, you might not have to choose. You can have both!

Some of the most famous schools that are both research universities AND liberal arts colleges include many of the Ivy League schools. Harvard University, Yale University, Columbia University, and Princeton are all liberal arts/research universities!

Liberal Arts Majors & Programs

best liberal arts colleges

We now understand the difference between the best liberal arts colleges and universities. It’s time to dive into some of the most popular college majors at the best liberal arts colleges. 

Liberal arts college majors and programs help students learn how to communicate, problem-solve, and come up with new ideas and arguments. You’ll see these values in action at any of the best colleges for psychology. 

Remember, the best liberal arts colleges might not offer the same college majors as universities. For this reason, as you begin your application journey, consider your preferred major in college. 

Common college majors and programs you might find at the best liberal arts colleges include history, English, psychology, political science, and international relations. We will examine each of these college majors later in this “Best Liberal Arts Colleges” guide. We’ll also look at the best undergraduate psychology schools and the best college by major. 

Although most liberal arts colleges offer similar college majors, there is a difference between liberal arts/humanities and social sciences majors. 

Develop critical thinking skills

Studying liberal arts or a humanities major in college, like English and History, helps students develop into well-rounded critical thinkers. 

Specifically, social science majors, like psychology, political science, and international relations, offer more of an in-depth examination of society and human behavior. Study a social science major like psychology at any of the best colleges for psychology and you’ll build analytical skills that can be used in any field. 

Aside from the liberal arts college majors listed above, students are increasingly combining liberal arts with the hard sciences. For example, Brown University offers a Program in Liberal Medical Education (PLME). This course gives students a nontraditional medical degree while they explore other academic fields or interests. 

Although you can pursue any major in college, it is important to complement your major in college with a liberal arts methodology. In fact, adopting a liberal arts holistic and interdisciplinary approach to learning can complement any major in college you choose. 

best colleges for psychology

What is a liberal arts degree good for? 

There are plenty of misconceptions about liberal arts degrees. You may have heard that attending the best liberal arts colleges or studying a liberal arts major in college will lead to zero job opportunities. However, this is not true

Earning a degree in psychology from one of the best psychology colleges in the world will provide you with countless opportunities. As one of the Top 10 college majors, there are plenty of prospects and job pathways you will encounter with a psychology degree from any of the best colleges for psychology. 

A degree from the best liberal arts colleges in the U.S. prepares you for a career in a wide variety of fields. Students that attend the best liberal arts colleges develop important soft skills such as collaboration, critical thinking, creativity, and effective communication. 

Studying a liberal arts major in college will help hone your research, writing, and critical thinking skills. You’ll also gain general knowledge about a variety of subjects. Students that attend the best liberal arts colleges in the U.S. or study a liberal arts major in college could enter careers in politics, education, STEM, business, public service, or other helping professions. 

Famous people with liberal arts degrees

Pythagoras, Aristotle, and Socrates were some of the first forefathers to use the study of liberal arts to understand the principles of society and humanity. In modern times, quite a few famous people have liberal arts degrees. Oprah Winfrey has a Bachelor of Arts in Communications, author Toni Morrison has a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology, and the Chairman and CEO of American Express, Ken Chenault, has a Bachelor of Arts in History. You may also want to check out Time Magazine’s list of famous CEOs that prove a liberal arts degree can be worth it!  

According to The Princeton Review, five of the Top 10 college majors are in the liberal arts/humanities subjects. We will explore three of the Top 10 college majors, political science, English, and psychology later in this “Best Liberal Arts Colleges” guide. We will also list the best colleges for political science, best colleges for English majors, the best colleges for psychology, and the best undergraduate psychology schools in the upcoming sections. 

Possible careers for two of the Top 10 college majors: English & psychology

Students who study English at the best liberal arts colleges are well prepared for jobs in writing/editing, advertising, or public relations. One potential career for an English major is as a technical writer, which will have you creating documents for web content and other products and services. 

Students who study psychology at the best colleges for psychology can pursue careers in social services, human resources, or market research. One possible career for a graduate of the best psychology colleges in the world is a market research analyst. Market research analysts have strong analytical and critical thinking skills. This helps them determine and forecast market trends.

We’ve barely scratched the surface of the Top 10 college majors and potential careers for liberal arts/humanities. Therefore, know there are endless possibilities for what you can accomplish with a liberal arts degree. 

Next, let’s jump into the best colleges for psychology and the best undergraduate psychology schools. Then, we’ll look at the best college by major and best universities by major in more depth. 

best colleges for psychology

Spotlight on Liberal Arts Majors: Psychology

Psychology is one of the most popular college majors. In fact, psychology comes in at #7 in The Princeton Review’s Top 10 college majors. The best psychology colleges are located all across the U.S. In addition, the best undergraduate psychology schools and the best psychology colleges in the world all boast strong academic programs alongside world class faculty. 

Studying psychology at any of the best colleges for psychology or best undergraduate psychology schools will help you learn skills like communication, research, and decision-making. 

Because psychology is such a broad-based degree, studying at one of the best psychology colleges or best undergraduate psychology schools will help you learn concepts that can be applied to virtually any job or field. 

What is the best college for psychology? 

Some of the best colleges for psychology are liberal arts colleges, while others are research universities. Many of the best colleges for psychology have substantial research programs, so you’ll find some big-name universities on this list, too.

The following list of best colleges for psychology is from the Princeton Review’s Gourman Report, which is a great resource for undergraduate college major rankings. Scholarly impact and outstanding faculty are a few of the factors contribute to the list of best colleges for psychology and the best undergraduate psychology schools. 

Here are the top ten best psychology colleges:

  1. Stanford University
  2. Yale University
  3. University of Pennsylvania
  4. University of Michigan- Ann Arbor
  5. University of Minnesota- Twin Cities
  6. University of California- Berkeley
  7. Harvard
  8. University of Illinois- Urbana-Champaign
  9. University of Chicago
  10. Columbia University

Studying a psychology major in college at any of the best psychology colleges in the world can lead to lots of jobs. Some obvious potential career paths for psychology majors at the best colleges for psychology include: clinical psychologist, school counselor, educator, or mental health counselor. 

There are many other options for students that pursue a psychology major in college at one of the best psychology colleges in the world. For example, you could enter a career in marketing, human resources, or business management. 

Finally, check out our psychology panel for more information on the best colleges for psychology, the best undergraduate psychology schools, and the best psychology colleges in the world. 

Now that we know more about the best colleges for psychology, let’s move on to the best colleges for political science, best college by major, and best universities by major. 

best liberal arts colleges

Spotlight on Liberal Arts Majors: Political Science

So, what are the best colleges for political science? Well, much like the list of best colleges for psychology this top ten list of best colleges for political science includes many schools that are considered both liberal arts colleges AND research universities.

Political science ranks #3 in The Princeton Review’s Top 10 college majors. Specifically, political science is the study of politics of government. Students that pursue a political science major in college will study subjects like race relations, civics, and world politics. 

Political science is an attractive college major because it is interdisciplinary. It’s an excellent option for students interested in activism, law, or public service. Studying one of the Top 10 college majors like political science allows you to learn about how policy and legislation are created. 

Most of the best colleges for political science have already been listed above as the best colleges for psychology! 

What is the Best College for Political Science? 

You will recognize many of these best colleges for political science from the previous lists we’ve reviewed. But, it is worth taking a closer look at exactly which colleges are leading in the field of political science if that is the college major you are aiming for.

Here are the best colleges for political science: 

  1. Harvard University
  2. Georgetown University
  3. Duke University
  4. Stanford University
  5. Vanderbilt University
  6. Princeton University
  7. University of Chicago
  8. Yale University
  9. Rice University
  10. Washington University in St. Louis

Like the best psychology colleges, studying at one of the best colleges for political science is a great starting point for a host of different careers. Some potential career paths for political science majors include historian, economist, legislator, or urban planner.  

Now that we’ve learned about the best colleges for political science and the best colleges for psychology, let’s turn our attention back to liberal arts colleges and discuss another list of liberal arts colleges. 

best liberal arts colleges

More liberal arts majors and best colleges for liberal arts

In addition to psychology and political science, there are many other popular liberal arts majors that deserve exploration. Let’s take a look at few more: international relations, English, and history. Remember, these are just a few of many possible college majors you can choose.

International Relations

International relations is the study of how the impact of culture, politics, and economics affects global affairs and the world. Students that study international relations at any of the best colleges for international relations will study history, politics, sociology, economics, data science, statistics, and anthropology. 

Best Colleges for International Relations

Niche compiles lists of best universities by major.  Here’s a list of the Top 5 best colleges for international relations: 

  1. Georgetown University
  2. University of Southern California
  3. Brown University
  4. Stanford University
  5. Yale University 

Hoping to declare international relations major in college? Consider all the best colleges for international relations on the list above. However, just because a school makes it onto the list of best colleges for international relations or best colleges for psychology doesn’t mean it is right for you. Therefore, as you decide on your college list, consider other lists and factors such as college majors, best college by major, best universities by major, location, etc. 

Liberal Arts Majors: English & History

best liberal arts colleges

Coming in at #6 in The Princeton Review’s Top 10 college majors, English majors can expect to take classes in subjects like literary history, creative writing, or critical theory. 

You’ll learn how to become an effective critical reader and writer in this college major. You can choose courses that focus on particular time periods, geographic areas, or themes. 

Best Colleges for English Majors 

Surprisingly, none of the best liberal arts colleges in the U.S. were ranked on Niche’s list of the best colleges for English majors. We’ll look at the best universities by major for English majors below:

  1. Brown University
  2. Columbia University
  3. Harvard University
  4. Stanford University
  5. Princeton University

Even though the best liberal arts colleges in the U.S. are not included on the list above for the best colleges for English majors, don’t worry! There are plenty of other things you ought to consider as you research the best college by major or best universities by major. Just because a certain college doesn’t make it onto a list like the best colleges for English majors doesn’t mean that their program isn’t worth acknowledging. 

In fact, lists like the “best colleges for English majors” or “best psychology colleges” are just one piece of the college application puzzle. So, don’t put too much emphasis on the best colleges for English majors list, best college by major, or best universities by major list. Remember, you want to choose the best college for you

Best Colleges for History Majors

best liberal arts colleges

History is the study and exploration of the past. With a history degree from any of the best colleges for history majors, you’ll develop an understanding of societies and culture. 

Students that study history at the best colleges for history majors can expect to take courses in the history of geographic areas or certain time periods.

Here’s a list of the top 5 best colleges for history majors: 

  1. Princeton University
  2. University of California – Los Angeles
  3. University of Pennsylvania
  4. Yale University
  5. Stanford University

If looking at lists of the best colleges for history majors or best colleges for psychology has you overwhelmed, don’t worry! Start by focusing on what aspects of a history degree excite you. Then, match that to the list of best colleges for history majors or best college by major. 

You could also narrow down the best colleges for history majors to determine which colleges offer access to archives. Or maybe you want to study with a certain faculty member. Look at the history programs at the best colleges for history majors and determine which faculty members stand out to you. 

It’s possible that the perfect college for you is on the list of best colleges for history majors or another list of best college by major or best universities by major. It’s also possible that the right place for you is not on the list of best colleges for history majors, best psychology colleges, or any other best-of list. That’s okay too. 

Best Colleges for Liberal Arts: Final Thoughts 

best liberal arts colleges

Liberal arts degrees offer you an invaluable experience that will hone your critical thinking skills. In addition, there are endless possibilities as to what you can do with a liberal arts education.

As we have seen, there are many options when it comes to choosing the best liberal arts colleges to fit your interests, so now is the time to begin brainstorming what YOU want in a college experience!

You might want to choose from the list of liberal arts colleges if you:

  • value a culture of intellectual exploration
  • are interested in smaller class sizes and more discussion based learning
  • hope to build strong relationships between yourself, your peers, and faculty members 

This “Best Liberal Arts Colleges” guide has taken you through the best liberal arts colleges. In addition, we’ve looked at the best universities by major, including best colleges for psychology, best colleges for political science, best colleges for international relations, best colleges for English majors, and best colleges for history majors. 

The most important part of your college application journey is figuring out what type of college you want to attend. Research the best college by major or best universities by major and use that as a starting point to determine where you want to apply.

Deciding your major in college can be a difficult task. Know that if you choose a liberal arts major you will graduate with a set of useful skills that will be applicable in a variety of career settings. Get excited about the process. Start creating your best colleges for liberal arts today! Good luck!

This article was written by Claire Babbs. If you want to get help with your college applications from Claire or other CollegeAdvisor.com Admissions Expertsregister with CollegeAdvisor.com today. Also, check out our other guides to Top Engineering Colleges and Best Business Schools as you build your college list!