The 50 Best Colleges in the United States

50 best colleges

Rankings of America’s best colleges exist all over the web, so why is TheBestSchools.org offering yet another? Because we have a ranking that’s interesting and useful.

Most rankings of America’s best colleges list the usual suspects: Harvard, Princeton, Yale, MIT, in the East. In the West, Stanford, Berkeley, Caltech. In the Midwest, the University of Chicago and a few Big Ten schools. In the South, Duke, Vanderbilt, and Emory.

To round out such a list, most rankings also throw in a good number of small, elite, liberal arts colleges. Our list will also include some of these colleges. But it will go well beyond that. In our ranking, you’ll find some exceptional schools that you won’t see on any other list.

In ranking the 50 best colleges in the United States, we don’t include the big research universities, which tend to invest many more of their resources into graduate rather than undergraduate education. By a “college,” in this article, we mean a school that exists primarily to teach undergraduates.

Thus, in our ranking, we list schools whose main degree is a bachelor’s or even an associate’s degree (in fact, our top-ranked school offers only a two-year degree).

Subjective factors always enter into any ranking of schools. Academic rigor, prestige, and job prospects are all legitimate factors to consider. But the weight one assigns to these and other factors is a matter of subjective preference.

In our ranking, we give high weight to the prospects for personal enrichment and advancement that await students AFTER GRADUATION. College, in our view, should not be a stepping stone to living in mom and dad’s garage or basement. It should be a springboard to a full, rich, independent life.

hire meThus, in our ranking, you’ll find Harvey Mudd College ahead of many more-famous, elite, liberal arts colleges. Why? For one thing, Harvey Mudd has an exceptional undergraduate engineering program. But there’s more. Of all the colleges in the U.S., Harvey Mudd’s graduates are looking at the biggest salary when they graduate.

To be sure, our ranking is not solely concerned with “return on investment.” For a college, as opposed to a research university, we value especially the following five factors:

(1) Record of achievement. When you graduate from any of the colleges in our ranking, you’ll have something to show for it. You’ll have a skill-set, a credential, a springboard to new possibilities. This can translate into cash, but it can also translate in other ways.

(2) Diversity of study. We think excellence in a college education need not be confined to liberal arts and sciences. Business, engineering, architecture, seafaring, aviation, musicianship, visual arts, performing arts, filmmaking, animation, etc., are all legitimate pursuits in college, and a list of top colleges should reflect this diversity.

(3) Freedom of inquiry and expression. We believe that dogmatism and political correctness hinder true education. You’ll find liberal and conservative schools in our ranking. But we’ve avoided schools whose main business is indoctrination and politicization.

(4) Academic Rigor. College should be fun, but also a time of intense concentration and effort. An undergraduate’s course of study should be thoroughgoing, empowering him or her with mastery of a subject, skill, or set of ideas. Also, more focus should be on primary sources rather than criticism.

(5) Low Cost and Minimal Debt. A college education should not load students with massive debt. Large debts drastically limit what students can do after graduation. We like schools that charge zero tuition (yes, such schools exist—read on!), or have such big endowments that students with financial need can get scholarships.

Readers also like: The 100 Best U.S. Colleges and Universities by State.

Here is our list of the 50 best colleges in the United States (note, unless stated otherwise, SAT scores include the 25th/75th percentile):

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deep springsBest Colleges: 1. Deep Springs College (Deep Springs, CA)

Deep Springs College, a unique alternative to the first half of a conventional, four-year college program, recruits students of exceptional ability. Many of its students have turned down offers from some of the nation’s most highly esteemed colleges.

Deep Springs is founded on the pillars of academics, self-governance, and labor, and prepares students for lives of service to humanity. (For our full-length feature article on Deep Springs, click here.)

Admissions officers of the top schools know and respect the name of Deep Springs College. After students participate in a two-year, liberal arts honor program, most of them complete their degree at the world’s most prestigious four-year institutions.

Students learn from their responsibilities of authentic self-government and substantial physical labor, as well as from the school’s traditional arts curriculum. Students administer the labor program. They also have the dominant decision-making authority regarding curriculum, admissions, and hiring of faculty members.

Professors live about 100 yards from students. They’re readily available to provide advice on academic life and other subjects.

Deep Springs BigIn the classrooms, students discuss subjects with their professors in a seminar format. Many students develop their own independent or directed studies.

  • Established in 1917
  • Location: East of Fresno, near the Nevada border
  • Student body consists of 26 students
  • Admissions selectivity varies from 6% to 15%, year-to-year
  • SAT: Accepted students generally average in the upper 700 range for verbal and about 700 for math
  • 4-to-1 student/teacher ratio
  • Students work at least 20 hours a week on the farm, ranch, or in positions related to the college or community
  • More than two-thirds of alumni have a graduate degree
  • Each student receives a full scholarship valued at more than $50,000 per year
  • Notable alumni include Thomas E. Fairchild, politician and federal judge; Raymond Jeanloz, geophysicist and recipient of a MacArthur “genius grant”; and Jim Olin, U.S. Congressman

Admission: The school emphasizes academic ability, leadership potential, and the desire to assume active and practical responsibility for the ongoing life of the Deep Springs community. The school regards the interview and essays as more important parts of the admission process than the SAT. Women can apply to enroll in the class of 2013.

N.B.: After this article was written, TheBestSchools.org learned that women students will not be attending in 2013–14 on account of a legal dispute over the terms of the trust on which Deep Springs College was founded. To follow this unfolding situation, see here.

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Deep Springs College

SwarthmoreBest Colleges: 2. Swarthmore College (Swarthmore, PA)

Swarthmore College, a private, liberal arts college, consistently hovers near the top of almost every ranking list of U.S. liberal arts colleges.

In 2011, Swarthmore ranked #2 among national liberal arts colleges for providing “Best Undergraduate Teaching” according to U.S. News & World Report.

The college is known for rigorous intellectual inquiry, which is shaped by its commitment to social responsibility and the legacy of its Quaker heritage. Graduates include five Nobel Prize winners (second-highest number of Nobel Prize winners per graduate in the United States).

The college provides a liberal arts and engineering curriculum. About one-third of the students pursue their degree through the school’s exceptional honors program. The college also offers community-based learning courses. Students can design their own major.

  • Established in 1864
  • Location: Near Philadelphia
  • 1545 students
  • SAT: Critical reading, 680/770; math, 670/760; and writing, 680/770
  • Accepted 14.1%of applicants to the Class of 2016; 33% of the enrolled students were valedictorians or salutatorians; 53% were in the top two percent of their high school class
  • 94% first-year student retention rate (full-time students)
  • 89% four-year graduation rate
  • 19.9% of graduates complete a doctoral program (third-highest in the nation)
  • 8-to-1 student/faculty ratio
  • Notable alumni include Nancy Roman, NASA’s first Chief of Astronomy in the Office of Space Science; Michael Dukakis, 1988 Democratic presidential nominee; and James Michener, novelist

SwarthmoreAdmission: The private college is open to all students regardless of their financial need. Applicants are evaluated on factors such as:

  • High school record
  • Class rank
  • Standardized tests
  • Essays
  • Extracurricular commitments
  • Recommendations
  • Interview (highly recommended, but not required)

Salary information:

Starting median salary: $50,700
Mid-career median salary: 104,000 (#7 in the PayScale list of Top Liberal Arts Colleges by Salary Potential, 2011–2012)

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Swarthmore College

Curtis InstituteBest Colleges: 3. Curtis Institute of Music (Philadelphia, PA)

Curtis Institute of Music, one of the world’s leading conservatories, trains and educates exceptionally gifted young musicians for careers as performing artists at the highest professional level.

The Curtis Institute offers complete musical training and liberal arts courses. Students train with some of the world’s leading musical artists.

Over 60 graduates have performed at the Metropolitan Opera. The school’s trained instrumentalists comprise 16% of principal chairs of the top 25 U.S. orchestras. They have also been members of the Berlin Philharmonic and the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra in Amsterdam. Two New York Philharmonic music directors have come from the Curtis Institute.

Graduates are regularly among the winners of the most prestigious honors and awards in classical music, including prizes, competitions, and career grants. Graduates have received Pulitzer Prizes, Grammy and Tony awards, and Guggenheim Fellowships.

The institute enrolls just enough students to maintain a full symphony orchestra, an opera program, plus select departments in guitar, piano, composition, conducting, harpsichord, and organ.

The Curtis Institute offers a performance Diploma, Bachelor of Music, Master of Music in Opera, and a Professional Studies Certificate in Opera.

Curtis InstituteThe students participate in a busy schedule of performances. Every year, well known stage and music directors work with the Curtis Opera Theater on fully staged productions.

  • Established in 1924
  • 165 students
  • Location: Downtown
  • Students of elementary-school age or high-school age receive training from the same teachers at the same intensive levels as do older students
  • According to a U.S. News & World Report survey, the institute is the nation’s most selective conservatory, with an acceptance rate of 4%
  • Every student receives a full-tuition scholarship
  • Faculty includes about 90 top-tier musical artists and highly credentialed classroom teachers
  • The institute does not have teaching assistants
  • Notable alumni include Leonard Bernstein, composer, conductor, and pianist; Samuel Barber, composer; Gian Carlo Menotti, composer; Jaime Laredo, violinist and conductor; Richard Goode, pianist; Hilary Hahn, violinist; and many others

Admission: The school selects students based on artistic promise. The institute has no minimum or maximum age requirements. Every applicant must audition in person.
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Curtis Institute of Music

harvey mudd collegeBest Colleges: 4. Harvey Mudd College (Claremont, CA)

Harvey Mudd College—one of the nation’s leading math, science, and engineering colleges—is also a liberal arts college. Many of the engineers, scientists, and mathematicians become leaders in their fields. Harvey Mudd only offers undergraduate degrees. The college provides nine math, science, and engineering majors. All of the programs include humanities and social science courses.

In 2012, Harvey Mudd College was rated as having #2 best undergraduate engineering program for schools whose highest degree is a bachelor’s or master’s by U.S. News & World Report. The college has the highest rate of science and engineering Ph.D production among all undergraduate colleges and second-highest compared to all colleges and universities. Graduates have produced great advances in technology such as MIME Standard, SQL, Flash, and Remote Procedure Calls.

Students gain hands-on experience in high-level research projects and through the college’s world-renowned Clinic Program. They must complete at least one year of in-depth research or a challenging clinic project. They also work with notable companies in the clinics.

harvey muddThe school has a wide variety of clubs to keep students entertained and connected. The student population governs itself via a student-run Honor Code.

  • Established in 1955
  • 784 students
  • Location: Between Los Angeles and San Bernardino
  • 20.9% acceptance rate
  • 89% of the applicants ranked in the top 10% of their high school class
  • 29% of students in the entering class were valedictorian or salutatorian of their graduating high school class
  • SAT: Critical reading, 690/770; writing, 690/770; math, 740/800; and math 2 subject, 760/800
  • About 30% of the students are National Merit Scholars (second among liberal arts colleges in the nation)
  • Notable alumni include George “Pinky” Nelson, astronaut; Stan Love, astronaut; and Richard H. Jones, diplomat

Admission: Harvey Mudd College seeks students who excelled in challenging courses, show a passion for math and science, appreciate the social sciences and humanities, and participate in activities outside of the classroom. The admission procedure includes recommendations from a mathematics or science recommender and a recommendation from an English, foreign language, or social studies recommender. Applicants should have four years of English.

Salary information:

Starting median salary: $64,400
Mid-career median salary: $121,000 (#1 in the PayScale list of Top Liberal Arts Colleges by Salary Potential, 2011–2012)
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Harvey Mudd College

williams collegeBest Colleges: 5. Williams College (Williamstown, MA)

Williams College, a private, liberal arts college, consistently ranks among the nation’s top liberal arts colleges.

In 2010, 2011, and 2012, Forbes ranked Williams College as the best undergraduate institution in the United States. Williams was #6 on Newsweek‘s ranking of “Brainiac” colleges, which measured the success of alumni winning Marshall, Rhodes, and Truman scholarships.

The college ranked #1 among all colleges in the Wall Street Journal‘s list of colleges and universities whose graduates attend elite medical, business, and law schools. In 2011, Williams College was ranked #3 among national liberal arts colleges providing the Best Undergraduate Teaching by U.S. News & World Report.

Williams College ranked #1 among National U.S. colleges and universities in percentage of undergraduates participating in paid summer science research.

The faculty has received recognition for scholarship and professional achievements. Williams College ranks third among national liberal arts colleges in the number of National Science Foundation Grants held by faculty.

The school has three academic divisions: Social Studies; Language and the Arts; and Science and Mathematics. The college uses Oxford-style tutorials. Experiential programs and courses challenge students to become more personally engaged in their learning via fieldwork from research, special projects, or placement in community organizations.

williamsWilliams College encourages students to connect their community interests to their academic learning via a broad range of curricular and extracurricular programming. Its students are enrolled in over 150 off-campus program worldwide.

  • Established in 1793
  • Location: Northwest corner of the state, adjacent to New York and Vermont
  • The college has about 2,000 undergraduates
  • SAT: Critical reading, 660/770; and math, 650/760
  • In most years, the college admits about 20% of applicants
  • 7-to-1 student/faculty ratio
  • The college meets 100% of every student’s demonstrated financial need for four years
  • Notable alumni include A.R. Gurney, playwright and novelist; Stephen Birmingham, writer; and Michael Beschloss, historian

Admission: The college enrolls students without regard to their ability to pay.

Salary information:

Starting median salary: $51,800
Mid-career median salary: $105,000 (#6 in the PayScale list of Top Liberal Arts Colleges by Salary Potential, 2011–2012)
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Williams College

pomona collegeBest Colleges: 6. Pomona College (Claremont, CA)

Pomona College, one of the nation’s leading liberal arts colleges, provides an environment for intellectual development and personal growth.

The college offers a comprehensive curriculum in the arts, humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences. Professors teach all the courses.

Pomona College was included among the Best College Value by Kiplinger’s Personal Finance magazine in 2009 and 2011–2012. It was also ranked #9 in Forbes‘s list of America’s Top Colleges and Universities in 2012, and #4 in the National Liberal Arts Colleges list by U.S. News & World Report.

Pomona College was ranked #3 among colleges by number of Fulbright Fellowships for the class of 2011, and #3 college for most accessible professors, by Daily Beast/Newsweek in 2011.

pomona collegeAs a member of The Claremont Colleges, a consortium of seven independent institutions with contiguous campuses, Pomona College provides students with the personal experience of a small, high-level, liberal arts college, along with the extensive resources typically associated with major universities.

  • Incorporated in 1887
  • 1,500 students
  • Location: Between Los Angeles and San Bernardino
  • 12.6% acceptance rate in 2011, which makes Pomona College the 9th most selective private college in the nation
  • SAT: Critical reading: 680/780; math: 690/770; and writing: 680/780
  • Of those ranked, 91% of the current freshman class were in the top 10% of their high school graduating class, and 21% were valedictorians or salutatorians
  • 90% of seniors graduate on time
  • 8-to-1 student/faculty ratio
  • About 53% of the students receive scholarship assistance and no students pay the full cost of their education at Pomona College
  • Notable alumni include Roy E. Disney, senior executive, Walt Disney Company; Robert Shaw, six-time Grammy-winning conductor; and Colleen Hartman, astrophysicist and NASA administrator

Admission: Academic excellence is the school’s main consideration. The school reports that it is interested in the best students; their ability to pay doesn’t matter.

Salary information:

Starting median salary: $47,000
Mid-career median salary: $91,000 (#22 in the PayScale list of Top Liberal Arts Colleges by Salary Potential, 2011–2012)
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Pomona College

US Naval AcademyBest Colleges: 7–9. United States Naval Academy (Annapolis, MD)

United States Naval Academy, a four-year, coeducational, public, liberal arts college, is one of the nation’s most selective colleges.

The academy provides a demanding four-year program leading to a Bachelor of Science degree and a commission as an Ensign in the United States Navy, or as a Second Lieutenant in the United States Marine Corps.

Moral development is a fundamental element of all aspects of the Naval Academy experience. The four-year program focuses on integrity, honor, and mutual respect. The academic program of every midshipman includes a core curriculum providing courses in science, engineering, mathematics, social sciences, and humanities. The objective is a wide-based education to qualify students for nearly any career field in the Navy or Marine Corps. Students also have the opportunity to develop a specific area of academic interest.

In 2012, U.S. News & World Report ranked the U.S Naval Academy as the #1 Public Liberal Arts College in the nation, tied for first with the U.S. Military Academy. In a U.S. News & World Report 2011 survey of high school guidance counselors, regarding national universities and national liberal arts colleges providing the best undergraduate education the United States, the Naval Academy was tied for #1, along with the United States Military Academy and the United States Air Force Academy.

naval academyIn 2011, the United States Naval Academy was ranked the #17 best undergraduate institutions by Forbes magazine. In the 2012 U.S. News & World Report college rankings, the academy tied for 4th Best Undergraduate Engineering among non-doctorate-granting institutions.

  • Established in 1845
  • Location: South of Baltimore, on Chesapeake Bay
  • 4,576 students
  • 7% of applicants are admitted
  • SAT: Critical reading: 560/680; and math: 600/700
  • 97% average freshman retention rate
  • 88% four-year graduation rate
  • 10-to-1 student/faculty ratio
  • Tuition is fully funded by the U.S. Navy in return for an active-duty service obligation after graduation
  • Notable alumni include Jimmy Carter, 39th president of the U.S.; Charles Bolden, NASA administrator; and Alan Sheppard, astronaut

Admission: Applicants are required to apply directly to the academy. They are also required to receive a nomination, typically from a congressional representative.

Salary information:

Bachelor’s degree: $55,577–$165,646
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United States Naval Academy

US Air Force AcademyBest Colleges: 7–9. United States Air Force Academy (El Paso County, CO)

United States Air Force Academy, a public, liberal arts college, provides intellectual, physical, moral, and leadership development.

Graduates receive a Bachelor of Science degree.

The academy is a military school for officer candidates for the United States Air Force. Most graduates are commissioned as second lieutenants in the U.S. Air Force.

In a U.S. News & World Report 2011 survey of high school guidance counselors, regarding national universities and national liberal arts colleges providing the best undergraduate education, the United States Air Force Academy tied for #1 along with the United States Naval Academy and the United States Military Academy.

Air Force AcademyIn the 2012 U.S. News & World Report college rankings, the academy tied for 4th Best Undergraduate Engineering among non-doctorate-granting institutions.

  • Established in 1954
  • Location: Near Colorado Springs
  • 4,413 students
  • 11% of applicants admitted
  • SAT: Critical reading: 590/680; and math: 630/710
  • 8-to-1 student/faculty ratio
  • The U.S. government pays for tuition and room and board
  • Students have a commitment to serve a number of years of military service after they graduate
  • Notable alumni include Chelsey “Sully” Sullenberger, U.S. Airways pilot known as “Hero of the Hudson”; General Douglas M. Fraser, commander, U.S. Southern Command; and Charles L. Veach, astronaut

Admission: The academy evaluates the academic, athletic, character, and leadership potential of every applicant, as shown by their achievements and life experiences. Leadership activities are important. Applicants must also pass a fitness test and obtain a nomination, typically from the member of Congress in the applicant’s home district.

Salary information:

Bachelor’s degree: $50,317–$148,638
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United States Air Force Academy

Military AcademyBest Colleges: 7–9. United States Military Academy (West Point, NY)

The United States Military Academy, a four-year, public, liberal arts college, is one of the most selective colleges in the nation.

The United States Military academy develops cadets in four vital areas: intellectual, physical, military, and moral-ethical.

Cadets participate in Individual Advanced Development (IAD) activities. Some cadets participate in academic IADs, including at the Supreme Court, NASA, Crossroads to Africa, and the National Laboratories.

The academy provides a Bachelor of Science degree. After students graduate, they earn a commission in the United States Army as a 2nd Lieutenant. They have a five-year service requirement after graduation.

In 2012, U.S. News & World Report ranked the U.S. Military Academy as the #1 Public Liberal Arts College in the nation, tied for first with the U.S Naval Academy. In a U.S. News & World Report 2011 survey of high school guidance counselors, regarding national universities and national liberal arts colleges providing the best undergraduate education in the United States, the academy was tied for #1, along with the United States Naval Academy and the United States Air Force Academy.

westpointIn the 2012 U.S. News & World Report college rankings, the academy was ranked #3 for Best Undergraduate Engineering among non-doctorate-granting institutions.

  • Established in 1802
  • Location: On the Hudson River, north of New York City
  • 4,624 students
  • 11% of applicants admitted
  • SAT: Critical reading: 560/680; math: 590/690; and writing: 550/660
  • 8-to-1 student/faculty ratio
  • No annual cost to students
  • Notable alumni include Ulysses S. Grant, Commanding General of the Union Army during the Civil War and 18th president of the U.S.; Dwight D. Eisenhower, Supreme Commander in the European theater during World War II and 34th president of the U.S.; and Douglas MacArthur, Supreme Commander in the Pacific theater during World War II

Admission: Applicants are required to apply directly to the academy and receive a nomination from a congressional representative.

Salary information:

Bachelor’s degree: $48,350–$155,096
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United States Military Academy

william and maryBest Colleges: 10. College of William and Mary (Williamsburg, VA)

College of William and Mary is a “Public Ivy”—one of eight in the nation.

It is well known for its rigorous liberal arts curriculum and its engaged, dedicated professors. The college has a historic dedication to community service. Seventy-five percent of the students participate in community service projects.

The College of William and Mary believes in original hands-on research. Undergrads, beginning with their first class, have opportunities to work with peers and faculty mentors on inspiring projects.

william and maryThe College of William and Mary was ranked the #4 Best Value Among Colleges and Universities by Kiplinger in 2012. It was also ranked #6 in 2012 among Best Colleges: Top Public Schools, and #8 among Best Colleges: Best Undergraduate Teaching, by U.S. News & World Report, as well as #6 that same year among the Top 10 Best Value Public Colleges by Princeton Review. The college was also ranked #2 among Highest Graduation Rates: Public Research Institutions by the Chronicle of Higher Education in 2010.

  • Established in 1693
  • 6,071 undergraduates
  • 79% of freshman graduated in the top 10% of their class
  • SAT: Critical reading: 620/730; math: 620/720; and writing: 620/720
  • 95% first-year student retention (full-time students)
  • 83% four-year graduation rate
  • Notable alumni include Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence and third president of the U.S.; James Monroe, fifth president of the U.S.; and David Brown, astronaut.

Admission: School representatives use a combination of GPA, choice of curriculum, and curriculum vigor to evaluate academic potential.

Salary information:

Starting median salary: $45,000
Mid-career median salary: $96,500
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College of William and Mary

rose hulmanBest Colleges: 11. Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology (Terre Haute, IN)

Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology is one of the leading undergraduate engineering, mathematics, and science colleges in the nation. It’s one of the rare engineering schools in the U.S. focusing nearly entirely on undergraduate education.

For years, Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology has been ranked #1 among engineering schools whose highest degree is a bachelor’s or master’s degree by U.S. News & World Report. The following engineering programs have also received U.S. News & World Report‘s #1 ranking: Chemical, civil, computer, electrical, and mechanical engineering.

rose human institute of technologyRose-Hulman Institute of Technology reports that its seniors are highly sought-after by Fortune 500 firms, the nation’s best graduate schools, and emerging hi-tech companies. Rose-Hulman Ventures, situated on campus, provides students with the opportunity to work on real-world projects from an array of technology-based companies.

  • Established in 1874
  • 1,980 students (1,875 undergraduates)
  • Median class rank of typical freshman class: Top 7%
  • SAT: Critical reading: 550/670; and math: 630/720
  • 62% of applicants are admitted
  • 89% first-year student retention (full-time students)
  • Approximately 20% of students go directly to graduate school after obtaining a bachelor’s degree
  • Notable alumni include Abe Silverstein, NASA center director and Guggenheim Medal winner; Lawrence Giacoletto, transistor pioneer; and Ernest R. Davidson, National Medal of Science winner

Admission: Regarding schools that rank students, the college expects applicants to be in the top 25% of their graduating class. For schools that don’t rank students, the college gives special attention to the quality and rigor of the curriculum students pursued.

Salary information:

Starting median salary: $60,700
Mid-career median salary: $95,800
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Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology

bowdoin collegeBest Colleges: 12. Bowdoin College (Brunswick, ME)

Bowdoin College, a “New Ivy” private liberal arts college, is one of the elite colleges and universities outside of the Ivy League.

The college is consistently ranked among the top 10 liberal arts colleges in the United States by U.S. News & World Report. Due to its strengths in liberal arts and sciences, the college received a chapter of the prestigious Phi Beta Kappa honor society.

The college reports that a liberal arts education at Bowdoin College is not about being small and safe. Rather, it is about having the support to take surprising risks.

bowdoinAccording to the college, its curriculum provides a bold blueprint for liberal education designed to inspire students to become world citizens with acute sensitivity to the social and natural world.

  • Established in 1794
  • Location: Between Portland and Augusta
  • 1,762 undergraduates
  • SAT: Critical reading: 670/750; math: 660/740; and writing: 670/760
  • 20% acceptance rate
  • 97% first-year student retention rate (full-time students)
  • 90% four-year graduation rate
  • 9-to-1 student/faculty ratio
  • Over 40% of the students receive grant assistance from Bowdoin College
  • Notable alumni include George Mitchell, U.S. Senate Majority Leader; Henry W. Longfellow, poet and educator; and Nathaniel Hawthorne, novelist and short story writer

Admission: A student’s overall academic record is by far the most important credential. Bowdoin College uses a holistic selection process based on individual review. Successful applicants are bright and engaged community members who show curiosity and a willingness to take intellectual risks.

Salary information:

Starting median salary: $44,900
Mid-career median salary: $94,500 (tied for #14 in the PayScale list of Top Liberal Arts Colleges by Salary Potential, 2011–2012)
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Bowdoin College

RISDBest Colleges: 13. Rhode Island School of Design (Providence, RI)

Rhode Island School of Design (RISD, pronounced “Rizdy”), one of the nation’s oldest and best-known colleges of art and design. It is ranked #2 among fine arts programs by U.S. News & World Report.

The school offers bachelor’s degrees, including a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree, as well as master’s degrees.

RISD students can take classes at Brown University. Students can earn a dual degree from RISD and Brown University consisting of a Bachelor of Fine Arts from RISD and a Bachelor of Arts from Brown University.

Undergraduate students participate in an intensive Foundation Studies program and also work in their studio major. Students earn a third of their credits in liberal arts subjects.

rhode island school of designStudents have access to the RISD Museum, which includes more than 80,000 works of art.

  • Established in 1877
  • 2,406 students (1,975 undergraduate students)
  • 34% acceptance rate
  • SAT: Critical reading: 560/680; math: 590/660; and writing: 580/640
  • On average, 95% of freshman continue at the school
  • 71% four-year graduation rate
  • 9-to-1 student/faculty ratio
  • Notable alumni include Nicole Miller, fashion designer and businessperson; Julie Mehretu, artist; and Martin Mull, actor and comedian

Admission: Prospective applicants are encouraged to follow a college-preparatory program in secondary school and take courses in art history and studio art. Letters of recommendation from teachers or professionals who have first-hand knowledge of an applicant’s art or academic achievements are not required; however, recommendations can be very helpful in the consideration of an application.

Salary information:

Starting median salary: $41,900
Mid-career median salary: $84,900
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Rhode Island School of Design

haverford collegeBest Colleges: 14. Haverford College (Haverford, PA)

Haverford College, strong in all liberal arts and science areas, offers a personalized educational experience due to its small size.

The college earned a chapter of the prestigious Phi Beta Kappa Honor Society due to its academic strengths. Many of the students continue their studies at top national universities.

In 2012, Haverford College was ranked #10 among the Best Colleges in the National Liberal Arts Colleges list by U.S. News & World Report and was listed #7 among all colleges and universities in the 2011 edition of Forbes “Top Colleges.”

The college was ranked #7 among liberal arts colleges by the National Science Foundation for producing the largest number of science and engineering students pursuing a Ph.D per capita. In 2011, Haverford College was ranked as tied for #8 among national liberal arts colleges providing the Best Undergraduate Teaching by U.S. News & World Report.

Although all the students are undergraduates, they are involved in faculty research. Also, students can take classes at Swarthmore College, Bryn Mawr College, and the University of Pennsylvania.

haverford collegeThe connection of academics to social justice issues is extended by three interdisciplinary centers: The Center for Peace and Global Citizenship, the Hurford Humanities Center, and the Koshland Integrated Natural Science Center.

  • Established in 1833
  • Location: Northwest of Philadelphia
  • 1,177 undergraduate students
  • SAT: Critical reading: 650/750; math: 650/750; and writing: 660/760
  • 26% acceptance rate
  • 95.8% average freshman student retention rate
  • 87% four-year graduation rate
  • 8-to-1 student/faculty ratio
  • Notable alumni include Dave Barry, humorist; Gerald Levin, CEO, Time Warner; and Mark Geragos, criminal defense attorney

Admission: The academic transcript receives the greatest weight. Due to its holistic and personal application evaluation process, the college recommends all applicants have an interview, if possible. The school reports that it is interested in students who show an ability and interest in achieving at the highest levels of scholarship and service, in engaging deeply and substantially with the community, and in growing intellectually and personally.

Salary information:

Starting median salary: $39,500
Mid-career median salary: 103,000 (#8 in the PayScale list of Top Liberal Arts Colleges by Salary Potential, 2011–2012)
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Haverford College

juilliardBest Colleges: 15. Juilliard School (New York, NY)

Juilliard School, one of the world’s most prestigious performing arts schools, provides a superb performing arts education.

The school offers pre-professional training in music, dance, and drama. Graduates of the Juilliard School have won over 105 Grammy Awards, 62 Tony Awards, 47 Emmy Awards, 24 Academy Awards, and 16 Pulitzer Prizes.

Besides taking courses specific to their major, students also take liberal arts courses.

juilliardThe pre-college division teaches students enrolled in elementary school, junior high, and high school.

  • Established in 1905
  • Location: West of Lincoln Center
  • 649 undergraduate students
  • 7.4% of applicants admitted
  • 95% average freshman retention rate
  • 82% four-year graduation rate
  • 5-to-1 student/faculty ratio
  • Notable alumni include Paul Taylor, choreographer; Viola Davis, Kelsey Grammer, William Hurt, Val Kilmer, Kevin Kline, Christopher Reeve, Kevin Spacey, and Robin Williams, actors; Peter Schickele and Meredith Willson, composers; James Levine, conductor; Wynton Marsalis, trumpeter; Itzhak Perlman and Pinchas Zuckerman, violinists; and Leontyne Price, soprano

Admission: The admissions process varies by department, but often applicants are required to audition. Juilliard School evaluates the transcripts and diplomas earned by applicants. The school does not require a GPA, specific courses, standardized test scores such as SAT or ACT, or a class rank for admission.
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Juilliard School

cooper unionBest Colleges: 16. Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art (New York, NY)

Cooper Union is known for its excellent engineering, architecture, and art programs.

The college is ranked #3 in the nation among undergraduate engineering colleges, and the #1 regional college in the North in 2013, by U.S. News & World Report. It has also been included among the Best Design Schools for creative Talent by Businessweek and it has been listed among the selective colleges by the New York Times.

Graduates have received at least 18 Guggenheim fellowships, three MacArthur fellowships, three American Institute of Architects Thomas Jefferson Awards for Public Architecture, and one Nobel Prize.

cooper unionCopper Union focuses on preparing students for the architecture, art, and engineering professions. It consists of three schools: Irwin S. Chanin School of Architecture; the Albert Nerken School of Engineering; and the School of Art.

  • Established in 1859
  • Location: Near the East Village
  • 988 students (927 undergraduate students)
  • 8% of applicants accepted
  • SAT: Critical reading: 610/720; math: 650/780; and writing: 620/730
  • 94% average freshman retention rate
  • 75% four-year graduation rate
  • 9-to-1 student/faculty ratio
  • Notable alumni include Thomas Edison, inventor; Stan Allen, Dean, Princeton University’s School of Architecture; and Daniel Libeskind, architect selected to oversee the rebuilding of the World Trade Center

Admission: Cooper Union admits undergraduates only on merit and all undergraduates receive full-scholarships.

Salary information:

Starting median salary: $56,700
Mid-career median salary: $94,300
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Cooper Union

Claremont McKennaBest Colleges: 17. Claremont McKenna College (Claremont, CA)

Claremont McKenna College (CMC), a member of the Claremont Colleges, is one of the nation’s leading private liberal arts colleges.

CMC focuses mainly on undergraduate education. Almost half of its students study abroad.

The college was ranked #9 among National Liberal Arts Colleges by U.S. News & World Report, and #9 in Forbes‘s America’s Best Colleges list.

CMC was also ranked the #8 best liberal arts feeder school into elite graduate law, medicine, and business programs by the Wall Street Journal, as well as #5 in “Top Value” among private liberal arts colleges by Consumer’s Digest.

clarmeont mckennaIn 2011, the college was ranked the #20 “Most Desirable School” by Newsweek.

  • Established in1946
  • Location: Between Los Angeles and San Bernardino
  • 1,212 students
  • 19% of applicants admitted
  • SAT: Critical reading: 630/720; math: 670/760; and writing: 640/730
  • 94% first-year student retention (full-time students)
  • 92% graduation rate
  • 8-to-1 student/faculty ratio
  • 77% of CMC students attend graduate school within five years of graduation
  • Notable alumni include Thomas Pritzker, Chairman and CEO, Global Hyatt Corporation; Jonathan Rosenberg, Sr., Vice President for Product Management, Google; and Steven Grove, political commentator, YouTube News

Admission: The college weighs the following factors: Academic performance and promise; achievements and goals; personal characteristics; participation in activities and organizations; and interests, talents, and leadership potential.Salary information:

Starting median salary: $54,400
Mid-career median salary: $98,000 (#13 in the PayScale list of Top Liberal Arts Colleges by Salary Potential, 2011–2012)
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Claremont McKenna College

grove cityBest Colleges: 18. Grove City College (Grove City, PA)

Grove City College, a non-denominational, Christian college, emphasizes faith and freedom. The college provides a liberal and professional education.

To maintain its independence of thought and expression, it does not accept government funds such as federal student loans. And yet, as of June 2012, its per-year cost has been around $22,000 total %28not just tuition!). This is comparable to in-state costs for many public universities.

Grove City is renowned as a college uniquely qualified in the teaching of Austrian economics and other aspects of conservative economic and political thought at the undergraduate level.

For this reason, it has been ranked as one of the cream of the crop of America’s conservative colleges by Human Events magazine.

Grove City has also been ranked the #2 most politically conservative college in the nation by U.S. News & World Report, and the Young America’s Foundation has consistently named it as a Top Conservative College.

grove cityThe college was also included in the 2011 list of Most Popular Liberal Arts Colleges by U.S. News & World Report, and named a Best Value College by Princeton Review.

  • Established in 1876
  • Location: Between Pittsburgh and Lake Erie
  • 76% of applicants admitted
  • SAT: Critical reading: 559/692; and math: 560/677
  • 88% freshman retention rate
  • 77% four-year graduation rate
  • Notable alumni include Edward D. Breen, CEO, Tyco Corporation; C. Fred Fetterolf, president, ALCOA; and Laurence Reed, president, Mackinac Center for Public Policy

Admission: Grove City College uses a holistic admissions process. An interview is highly recommended; interviews plays a significant role in the selection of the freshman class.

Salary information:

Starting median salary: $43,400
Mid-career median salary: $82,100 (#51 in the PayScale list of Top Liberal Arts Colleges by Salary Potential, 2011–2012)
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Grove City College

colorado school of minesBest Colleges: 19. Colorado School of Mines (Golden, CO)

Colorado School of Mines, a public research institution, provides all the advantages of a world-class research institution with a size allowing for personal attention. The college is known for its excellent academic programs in engineering and applied sciences.

In 2012, the school was ranked #31 among the Top Public Schools by U.S. News & World Report. Graduates are in demand by companies and government agencies throughout the world.

Colorado School of Mines, which is devoted to engineering and applied science, provides a curriculum and research program emphasizing responsible stewardship of the earth and its resources. The Colorado School of Mines has broad expertise in resource exploration, extraction, production, and utilization.

Research funding, provided by government agencies and corporations, supports cutting-edge work in alternative and traditional energy sources, earth sciences, mineral economics, environmental science, and engineering, as well as materials.

Partnerships with government laboratories, including the Bureau of Land Reclamation and the U.S. Geological Survey, offer students great opportunities to participate in world-class research.

colorado school of minesFaculty members and student research new frontiers in resource exploration, extraction and processing; renewable energy production and distribution; and advanced materials; as well as in environmental impact, mitigation, and remediation. The college’s renowned faculty provides a challenging and supportive learning environment for students.

  • Established in 1874
  • Location: Just west of Denver
  • 5,200 students
  • About 11,000 applicants apply each year for 875 spots in the freshman class
  • 87% first year student retention (full-time students)
  • SAT: Critical reading: 570/675; and math: 630/710
  • 38 research centers on the Colorado School of Mines campus
  • #1 national ranking of student chapter of the Society of Women Engineers
  • Notable alumni include Ryan O’Hayre, recipient of the Presidential Early Career Award for scientists & Engineers; Mari Angeles Major-Sosias, vice-president, AREVA International Network; and Andrew P. Swinger, senior vice-president, Exxon Mobil

Admission: Trigonometry is the minimum math requirement for freshman; however, applicants should complete pre-calculus or calculus, if they have the opportunity. Freshmen should also rank among the upper one-third of their high school class and have strong SAT or ACT scores.

Salary information:

Starting median salary: $63,400
Mid-career median salary: $106,000
Click here to apply to
Colorado School of Mines

ReedBest Colleges: 20. Reed College (Portland, OR)

Reed College, a liberal arts and sciences college, reports that a higher percentage of its graduates earn PhDs across fields than do graduates of all but three other United States colleges and universities.

Reed ranks #2 among liberal arts colleges in producing Rhodes scholars. Students regularly win Fulbright, National Science Foundation, Watson, and other fellowships.

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