A liberal arts education places emphasis on the study of the humanities and the arts. A common misconception of a liberal arts degree is that it excludes mathematics and STEM-related courses. However, this degree allows students to take STEM classes while building their writing and problem-solving skills. Many schools in the United States and other Western nations have adopted a liberal arts-style of teaching.
Liberal arts colleges are typically smaller, allowing for more interaction with faculty and smaller, more engaging classes. As private schools, in and out of state tuition is the same, however, they typically offer ample financial aid to a majority of their students. Liberal arts graduates have a wide variety of career options, including journalists, editors, publicists, politicians, and writers. Employers value the critical thinking skills that are emphasized in a liberal arts education, the diverse perspectives a liberal arts education exposes, and the community activism that these students and alumni tend to have. Here are 6 of the most highly valued liberal arts schools (according to Times Higher Education, College Consensus, Niche, U.S. News, and other sources), ranked from most to least selective.
1. Pomona College
Pomona is one of the nation’s most renowned liberal arts colleges. It was the only small liberal arts school to make it on the Forbes’ Nation’s Top 10 Colleges list in 2017. Pomona’s acceptance rate of 8% sets it apart from other schools. With about 1,500 undergraduate students and a student to faculty ratio of 7:1, Pomona is the smallest school on our list. Students at Pomona can take classes at neighboring colleges, offering a broader range of opportunities. As the founding member of the Claremont Colleges Consortium, Pomona provides its students with the personalized education of a small school and pooled resources that rival a mid-sized or large university. Pomona’s commitment to its students sees 94% of them graduate and 90% employed within two years of graduation. This level of support extends to financial aid, with 66% of its students receiving some amount of aid. Pomona students are about 80% democratic, and the majority are politically involved and encourage others to become involved. Located near Los Angeles, Pomona students receive the benefits of a national hub for both artistic and tech careers and the benefits of Claremont as a college town. Its small size, combined with the resources of L.A. and the Claremont Colleges Consortium, opens up many opportunities for its students.
2. Bowdoin College
Like other liberal arts schools, Bowdoin is committed to providing its students with an independent mindset through a liberal arts education. What makes Bowdoin unique is its emphasis on sustainability, more so than other similar schools. This mission is realized not only through the education of its students but also through its own efforts to lessen the campus’s environmental impact. Its acceptance rate of 10% allows Bowdoin to create a class of equally passionate students. Bowdoin enables its students to pursue these passions through the financial and academic aid of a small college (1,800 undergraduate students and a 9:1 student to faculty ratio), with 56% of students receiving financial aid, 95% graduating, and 93% employed within two years of graduation. About 70% of Bowdoin students identify as Democratic, and the school has produced important activists such as Deray Mckesson of Black Lives Matter. In addition to Mckessey, Bowdoin boasts alumni such as Reed Hastings (the CEO and founder of Netflix), Nathaniel Hawthorne (The Scarlet Letter), Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (Paul Revere’s Ride), Franklin Pierce (14th U.S. president), and other politicians, war heroes, and successful businessmen. Bowdoin continues to offer its students the curriculum and resources that brought its graduates to these levels of success.
3. Williams College
Unlike most of the schools on this list, Williams offers both undergraduate and graduate degrees in liberal arts. With its 13% acceptance rate, Williams is one of the country’s most prestigious schools, outranking even Harvard on the Forbes list in 2014. To ensure that all of its students are able to receive equal access to this education regardless of economic background, Williams upholds a 100% of demonstrated need met policy. Although Williams is one of the larger schools (2,000 undergraduate students), its 6:1 faculty ratio is proof that an individualized liberal arts education remains its priority and is consistently successful, with 95% of students graduating and 90% of them securing a job within two years of graduation. Williams has one of the most diverse campuses on our list; with half of its students identifying as a race other than white. Its students are mostly Democratic or Independent. William’s tutorials, research, experiential learning, study abroad, and other hands-on academic programs offer unique opportunities for students to receive a prestigious education and achieve success in their fields after graduation.
4. Amherst College
Amherst was founded in 1821 as an attempt to relocate Williams College. Two hundred years later, Amherst continues to uphold a highly-rated liberal arts education for its 1,800 undergraduate students, as well as the same acceptance rate as Williams (13%) and the same 100% of need met policy. Amherst is even more diverse than Williams and its other liberal arts counterparts, with the minority of its students identifying as white. This diversity also extends to its students’ political beliefs. Amherst’s commitment to its students’ academic access and opportunities maintains a 93% graduation rate. Like Pomona, Amherst’s students benefit from the Five Colleges Consortium, allowing them to take classes not only at Amherst but at four other liberal arts colleges. Together, they provide students a greater number of majors and other academic opportunities. In addition to being a part of the Five Colleges Consortium, Amherst stands out with its open curriculum that allows students to tailor their academic path to their needs and goals.
5. Carleton College
Carleton is the leading liberal arts school of the midwest. With a 20% acceptance rate, Carleton is not as selective as most of the other schools on our list. It provides its students the most financial support for its 2,000 students, with 80% of its students receiving financial aid, 100% of demonstrated need met, and no application fee. This assistance allows 93% of its students to graduate with a liberal arts degree and 91% of them to secure employment within two years of graduation. Among undergraduate colleges, Carleton ranks second for the number of students who end up earning academic doctorate degrees. Although one of the larger schools on our list, Carleton still provides students with a highly individualized liberal arts education and the resources of the Twin Cities, less than an hour’s drive away.
6. Washington and Lee University
Like Williams, Washington and Lee is both an undergraduate and graduate school. Unlike its counterparts on this list, Washington and Lee is located in the American South, reflects mostly conservative political views, and has the least amount of racial and ethnic diversity (88% white). However, Washington and Lee is similar to Carleton in its 21% acceptance rate, and like Amherst and Bowdoin, Washington and Lee has about 1,800 undergraduate students and a student to faculty ratio of 8:1. Washington and Lee offers debt-free aid for both need-based and merit qualifications. One notable opportunity for its student leaders is the Johnson scholarship, offering a full-ride merit scholarship and including $7,000 for summer internships, community service, research, study abroad programs, and leadership projects. Just like other liberal arts schools, Washington and Lee’s strict commitment to its students gives it a respectable graduate rate of 95%, with 94% of them securing a job within two years of graduation. Some features that set Washington and Lee apart, in addition to the Johnson Scholarship, are the strict Honor System, the Shepherd Program, and the Mudd Center for Ethics. These features assist students with a passion for community service and ethics as defining factors of their education.
There are many kinds of colleges and universities in the United States and in the world. Some are small, some are large, some are in the middle of big cities, and some are in college towns. Some offer graduate degrees, some don’t. Some are research-focused and some place their emphasis on the humanities and the arts. All of these different aspects have their own benefits and drawbacks, and each of these schools have their own unique benefits to you. Deciding which college or university to attend for four years is a difficult decision, and it is important to research extensively about the type of education you want, what that entails, and what each school has to offer.
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