Best Liberal Arts Colleges in the Northeast

Getting a liberal arts education can be one of the best decisions you can make as it offers a comprehensive and well-rounded opportunity.  The Northeast part of the United States has among the best liberal arts colleges in the country.  As a fellow liberal arts graduate (Colgate University), I can attest to the value of a liberal arts education whether you go on to the sciences or finance as I did.

Best Liberal Arts Colleges in the Northeast USA

Six of the top 10 best liberal arts colleges in the country (as ranked by U.S. News & World Report) come from the Northeast. In the 2018-2019 academic year, 74 students earned an associate’s degree in liberal arts/sciences and humanities from the Northeast. About 62% of these graduates were women and the other 38% were men.

Best Liberal Arts Colleges in the Northeast
Source: College Factual

To come with a list of the best liberal arts colleges, Stoodnt looked at a number of factors including:

  • National and international rankings
  • Curriculum
  • 20-year Return on Investment (ROI), as determined by PayScale
  • Freshman retention rates
  • Notable faculty and alumni

We also limited the Northeast to the following areas:  Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, and Vermont. Here are the colleges we selected in alphabetical order:

Amherst College

Amherst College is a private liberal arts college in Amherst, Massachusetts.  It is one of the best-known liberal arts colleges in the United States. Founded in Amherst, Massachusetts in 1821, it is the state’s third-oldest institution of higher education. Amherst College offers its students amazing 850-course options in 36 different areas of study. While the vast majority of these subjects fall within the liberal arts, there are also more than enough options in mathematics and the natural sciences.

Bard College

Bard College is a private liberal arts college in Annandale-on-Hudson New York.  The campus overlooks the Hudson River and the Catskill Mountains and is within the Hudson River Historic District, a National Historic Landmark. Besides its highly regarded liberal arts program, Bard is comprised of a conservatory, plus eight graduate programs.

Undergraduate students can choose from a long list of Bachelor of Arts or Bachelor of Science degrees in more than 40 majors and 12 interdisciplinary concentrations. Bard consistently ranks among the top schools in the nation on lists compiled by U.S. News & World ReportThe Princeton ReviewForbes, and Newsweek.

Barnard College

Barnard College of Columbia University is a private women’s liberal arts college in New York City. It was founded in 1889 by Annie Nathan Meyer as a response to Columbia University’s refusal to admit women and is named after Columbia’s 10th president, Frederick Barnard. 

Students at Barnard have more than 50 Bachelor of Art programs from which to choose, though they also have the option of registering for courses at nearby Columbia University and earning a dual Bachelor of Science degree. Regardless of the major chosen, all Barnard students study one of the most comprehensive core curriculums of any liberal arts college. For all this, U.S. News & World Report has ranked Barnard the 29th best liberal arts school in the country, while Forbes has declared it the 37th best college overall.

Bates College

Bates College is a private liberal arts college in Lewiston, Maine.  It is equidistant from the state capital, Augusta, to the north, and the cultural hub Portland to the south.  Students at Bates may choose to pursue either a Bachelor of Science or a Bachelor of Arts in one of 36 different programs. Twenty-five secondary concentrations are also offered.

Bates is an excellent choice of school for any student intent on receiving a well-rounded liberal arts education, but who is also interested in the field of engineering. Uniquely, Bates offers these types of students its Liberal Arts-Engineering Dual Degree Program, in which students participate in engineering courses at Washington University, Dartmouth College, or Columbia University.

Bowdoin College

Bowdoin College is a private liberal arts college in Brunswick, Maine.  Bowdoin College is an excellent choice of liberal arts school for those who prefer to study outdoors in some of the country’s most beautiful natural settings. Bowdoin’s core curriculum is very strong in the liberal arts. Once they’ve completed the core, students may then choose from 33 majors and four minors.

Bryn Mawr College

Bryn Mawr is a women’s liberal arts college in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania.  Founded as a Quaker institution in 1885, Bryn Mawr is one of the Seven Sister colleges, a group of elite, historically women’s colleges in the United States.  Students have their choice of over 300 majors, nearly all of which are related to the liberal arts. 

Bryn Mawr’s core curriculum, however, is a well-rounded collection of courses that includes classes in the humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences (including some lab classes). Students must also complete a minimum of one year of studying a foreign language.

Bucknell University

Bucknell University is a private liberal arts college in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania.  The university consists of the College of Arts and Sciences, Freeman College of Management, and the College of Engineering. 

Bucknell students have the option of 44 different majors and more than 70 minors, which they may choose after completing a well-rounded core curriculum. Uniquely, Bucknell University provides its students, regardless of major, to take part in research programs with university faculty and staff.

Colby College

Colby College is a private liberal arts college in Waterville, Maine. It was founded in 1813 as the Maine Literary and Theological Institution until it was renamed after the city it resides in with Waterville College.  Colby College attracts students from over 60 different countries. 

This top-ranked liberal arts school offers 54 different majors, plus the opportunity for students to design their own degree program based on their interests. No matter which degree program they choose to pursue, students are also encouraged to take part in a study abroad program at one of more than 200 international universities with which Colby has a relationship.

Colgate University

Colgate University is a private liberal arts college located in Hamilton, New York. It is consistently ranked as having one of the most beautiful campuses in the country – I can attest to this fact.  Students may choose from 55 different undergraduate concentrations in which to earn a Bachelor of Arts degree.

Colgate is no stranger to national rankings. The Princeton ReviewU.S. News & World Report, and The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education have all ranked Colgate amongst the best colleges nationwide. Perhaps even more impressive is the fact that Colgate has been included on the list of “Hidden Ivies” released by Newsweek.

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College of the Holy Cross

The College of the Holy Cross is a private Jesuit liberal arts college in Worcester, Massachusetts. Founded in 1843, Holy Cross is the oldest Catholic college in New England and one of the oldest in the United States.  The college has approximately 2,800 students each of which is pursuing one of the school’s 28 Bachelor of Arts degrees. College of the Holy Cross is an especially attractive choice for students interested in the Classics, as it is home to the second-largest Classics program of any liberal arts school in America.

Connecticut College

Connecticut College is a private liberal arts college in New London, Connecticut. It is a residential, four-year undergraduate institution with nearly all of its approximately 1,815 students living on campus.  The college offers 41 different degree programs, but also allows students to design their own course of study if appropriate. Connecticut College’s most popular majors include anthropology, art, English, and history.

Dickinson College

Dickinson College is a private liberal arts college in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. Founded in 1773 as Carlisle Grammar School, Dickinson was chartered September 9, 1783, six days after the signing of the Treaty of Paris, making it the first college to be founded after the formation of the United States.

A unique and innovative core curriculum is offered to every student, as are 40 different options of major. Students who want to study both the liberal arts and engineering also have the option of spending two years studying at either Case Western Reserve University, Columbia University, or Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.

Franklin & Marshall College

Franklin & Marshall College is a private liberal arts college in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. It employs 175 full-time faculty members and has a student body of approximately 2,400 full-time students.  Admissions is fairly competitive as the Franklin & Marshall acceptance rate is 30%. Popular majors include Liberal Arts and Humanities, Political Science and Government, and Business. 

Gettysburg College

Gettysburg College is a private liberal arts college in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Founded in 1832, the 225-acre campus is adjacent to the Gettysburg Battlefield. Gettysburg College has about 2,600 students, with roughly equal numbers of men and women.  Gettysburg students study an excellent core curriculum steeped in classical studies, foreign language, history, and art, among other subjects important to the liberal arts.

Hamilton College

Hamilton College is a private liberal arts college in Clinton, New York. It was founded as Hamilton-Oneida Academy in 1793 and was chartered as Hamilton College in 1812 in honor of inaugural trustee Alexander Hamilton.  Hamilton students have more than 50 areas of study from which to choose for their major and/or minor(s).

They also have the option of a dual-degree engineering program in which students ultimately earn degrees from both Hamilton and Dartmouth College or Columbia University.

Hampshire College

Hampshire College is a private liberal arts school in Amherst, Massachusetts. Hampshire is a member of the Five Colleges, and therefore students can cross-enroll in classes at Amherst, Mount Holyoke, Smith, and the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Hampshire has a unique alternative curriculum that focuses on building portfolios and “grading” not with letter grades, but with narrative evaluations.

Haverford College

Haverford College was founded in 1833 by Quakers and is located in the Philadelphia suburb.   Suburb.  Haverford offers students 31 majors spanning the humanities and sciences. Students are also allowed to register for courses at nearby Swarthmore College, University of Pennsylvania, or Bryn Mawr College. The school has produced six Pulitzer Prize winners, three Nobel Prize laureates, 20 Rhodes Scholars, and 104 Fulbright Scholars.

Lafayette College

Lafayette College is a private liberal arts college based in Easton, Pennsylvania, with a small satellite campus in New York City. Founded in 1826 by James Madison Porter and other citizens in Easton, the school first held classes in 1832.  Students here have more than 50 choices of major, including biology, English, and psychology, three of the most popular.

Middlebury College

Middlebury College is a private liberal arts college in Middlebury, Vermont. Founded in 1800 by Congregationalists, Middlebury was the first operating college or university in Vermont.  Students have more than 40 departments from which to choose their courses, and ultimately, their major.

Like many liberal arts colleges, Middlebury offers a 4-1-4 schedule consisting of two four-course semesters in the fall and spring, plus a one-class winter term during which students focus on either an intensive class, an internship, or a research program.

Mount Holyoke College

Mount Holyoke College is a private liberal arts women’s college in South Hadley, Massachusetts. It is the oldest member of the historic Seven Sisters colleges, a group of elite women’s colleges in the Northeastern United States. The college offers 50 majors and students can design their own degrees.  However, all students, regardless of major, are required to complete 128 credits beyond courses from their major department.

Applicable courses include science, mathematics, social sciences, and of course, the humanities.  Mount Holyoke College students are also able to enroll in classes at nearby schools such as the University of Massachusetts Amherst, Smith College, Hampshire College, and Amherst College.

Skidmore College

Skidmore College is a private liberal arts college in Saratoga Springs, New York. Approximately 2,650 students are enrolled at Skidmore pursuing a Bachelor of Arts or Bachelor of Science degree in one of more than 60 areas of study.  Skidmore has a core curriculum rich in the humanities. Students may choose to pursue either a bachelor of arts or a bachelor of science in over 60 different majors of study.

Smith College

Smith College is a private liberal arts women’s college in Northampton, Massachusetts. It was chartered in 1871 by Sophia Smith and opened in 1875. It is the largest member of the historic Seven Sisters colleges, a group of elite women’s colleges in the Northeastern United States.  Since Smith is a member of both the Seven Sisters and the Five Colleges Consortium, students may also take classes at other top-ranked schools.

St. John’s College

St. John’s College is a private liberal arts college with dual campuses in Annapolis, Maryland, and Santa Fe, New Mexico.  St. John’s offers a curriculum designed entirely around Western Civilization’s “Great Books.” Over the course of their undergraduate career, students read and discuss the Western heritage’s most important texts, beginning with The Iliad and The Odyssey, and ending with To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf. All students attending St. John’s receive a Bachelor of Arts in the Liberal Arts.

Swarthmore College

Swarthmore College is a private liberal arts college in Swarthmore, Pennsylvania. Founded in 1864, with its first classes held in 1869, Swarthmore is one of the earliest coed colleges in the United States. About 11 miles outside of Philadelphia is Swarthmore College. Swarthmore students have access to courses taught at nearby (and also formerly Quaker) Haverford College, Bryn Mawr College, and the University of Pennsylvania.

Trinity College

Trinity College is a private liberal arts college in Hartford, Connecticut. Founded as Washington College in 1823, it is the second-oldest college in the state of Connecticut.  Trinity students may choose from 41 majors and more than 25 minors but are also encouraged to supplement their chosen degree program with internships, research, and study abroad opportunities.

Union College

Union College is a private liberal arts college in Schenectady, New York. Founded in 1795, it was the first institution of higher learning chartered by the New York State Board of Regents, and second in the state of New York.  Union’s core curriculum covers a wide variety of classes typical for liberal arts schools. And while students have 21 liberal arts-themed academic departments from which to choose their major, they are also encouraged to take courses in engineering.

Vassar College

Vassar College is a private liberal arts college in Poughkeepsie, New York. Founded in 1861 by Matthew Vassar, it was the second degree-granting institution of higher education for women in the United States, closely following Elmira College.  More than 50 majors are offered to Vassar students, though they are also given the opportunity of a flexible curriculum by which they can experience a wide breadth of knowledge and experiences. 

Wellesley College

Wellesley College is a private women’s liberal arts college in Wellesley, Massachusetts, United States. The women of Wellesley have nearly 60-degree programs from which to choose, but may also register for classes at Brandeis University, Babson College, or Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), all of which are located nearby.

Wesleyan University

Wesleyan University is a private college located in Middletown, Connecticut. Students have upwards of 900 courses and 45 majors from which to choose, though they may also customize their academic experience and degree program to suit their personal interests. In addition, a little more than half of Wesleyan students take part in an independent study program.

Williams College

Williams College is a private liberal arts college in Williamstown, Massachusetts.  Williams offers its students a variety of courses in humanities, social sciences, and the natural sciences. The college’s core curriculum is based on the tutorial system of Cambridge and Oxford, in which students work one-on-one, or in small groups, with a professor or “tutor.” Students have 33 majors to choose from for their degrees.

Sources: 1, 2, 3.

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Yuri Punj
Yuri Punj is the Co-founder & President of Stoodnt, Inc. He has an MBA from Harvard Business School and a BA Summa Cum Laude in Economics and Political Science from Colgate University. He has more than 25 years of experience in the financial services industries working for UBS Investment Bank, JP Morgan Chase, Schroders, and M&T Bank. He has been an equity analyst (Media & Internet sector) for a top-ranked Institutional Investor team.
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