Conservative colleges provide an important counterbalance to the progressivism and liberalism that pervade so much of American higher education. For students raised with traditional moral values, who favor limited government, who adhere to free-market economic principles, entering the world of higher education is too often an alienating experience.
For conservative students, it can be a challenge to find a college or university that embraces—or even tolerates—conservative values in its curriculum and student life. This ranking of the best conservative colleges in America helps conservative students and parents to find a school in keeping with their conservative values and commitments.
The 20 colleges and universities in this ranking are, in our view, the best schools in the United States that are friendly to conservative values. Some of the schools on this list are happy to be identified as conservative. Others might resist this designation, but nonetheless are places where conservative students can find a friendly home.
Located all over the country, some of the schools in this ranking (for example, Biola University) are boldly Christian institutions whose religious focus strongly flavors the atmosphere on campus. Others (such as Hillsdale College) take a more nonreligious or secular approach.
Several of the schools from both categories (religious and secular—for instance, Christendom College and Hillsdale respectively) refuse to accept any federal funding whatsoever, the better to maintain their intellectual and administrative independence.
But whatever their differences, all 20 schools in our ranking pride themselves on the seriousness with which they pursue their primary mission: not only maintaining rigorous academic standards and thus helping their students towards high intellectual attainment, but also inspiring in them the moral character, civic virtues, and fiscal responsibility typically associated with conservativism.
* * *
America’s 20 Best Conservative Colleges
Hillsdale College is a private, non-sectarian, coeducational, liberal arts college. It has a long tradition of patriotism. Four hundred students (proportionally, the most of any college in the country) fought for the Union in the Civil War, four of whom gained Congressional Medals of Honor. It was first college in America to officially prohibit any discrimination based on race, religion, or gender. Hillsdale College does not accept federal or state subsidies.
The rigorous core curriculum is rooted in the enduring truths of the Western tradition. It is one of only two colleges in the nation to require all students, regardless of major, to take a class in the U.S. Constitution. In addition to the core, all students take classes on Western Heritage and American Heritage. As Hillsdale’s mission states, “Through education, the student rises to self-government.”
Through Hillsdale College’s Washington, D.C.–based Kirby Center, students may take part in the Hillsdale-Washington Internship Program (WHIP), which provides students internships in places like the White House, Congress, think tanks, and media outlets.
Conservative-leaning on-campus clubs include College Republicans, Young Americans for Freedom, Students in Free Enterprise (SIFE), Classical Liberal Organization, Fairfield Society, and Students for Life.
- Established in 1844
- 1,400 students
- 1.5 hours from Detroit, 3 hours from Chicago
- Fewer than 50% of applicants admitted
- Average SAT score: 1980
- Notable alumni include Arizona Cardinals offensive tackle Jared Veldheer; U.S. Representative (Indiana) E. Ross Adair; slavery-born African-American pastor and educator Jared Maurice Arter; and U.S. Representative (Michigan) Henry M. Kimball
- See Hillsdale College’s ranking among The Top 50 Places to Study Classical Economics
(Grove City, PA)
Grove City College is a private, Christian, liberal arts school. According to their website, the college “fosters intellectual, moral, spiritual and social development consistent with a commitment to Christian truth, morals and freedom. Rather than political, ideological, or philosophical agendas, objective truth continues as the goal of liberal learning.”
Like Hillsdale College, Grove City College does not accept federal aid and is therefore able to operate free from government interference. The college has strong ties to a number of think tanks, including the conservative Center for Vision & Values and the libertarian Ludwig von Mises Institute. Although students are no longer required to sign statements of faith, any student taking 12 or more credits must attend 16 chapel services each semester.
Conservative-leaning on-campus clubs include College Republicans, College Libertarians, Entrepreneur, Life Advocates, and Student Government Association. Grove City also sponsors a College Democrats club.
- Established in 1876
- 2,500 students
- Location: About an hour north of Pittsburgh
- 76% of applicants admitted
- SAT: Critical Reading: 559/692; Math: 560/677
- Notable alumni include U.S. federal district court judge Arthur Schwab; FreedomWorks president and CEO Matt Kibbe; former U.S. Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty; and Harold Willis Dodds, 15th president of Princeton University
- See Grove City College’s ranking among The Top 50 Places to Study Classical Economics
(La Mirada, CA)
Biola University is a private, Christian university located in the heart of Southern California. It describes itself as “a community where all faculty, staff, and students are professing Christians.”
Though the university officially changed its name from Bible Institute of Los Angeles in 1949, secular Conservatives should be aware that all students are required to take 30 units of biblical studies. In addition to their chosen major, all Biola students graduate with a minor in Biblical Studies.
Perhaps as a result of the school’s biblical orientation, social issues tend to overshadow economic and policy issues at Biola. College Republicans, the only officially recognized political organization on campus, seeks to “inform, register, and empower the next generation of Christian voters to make a political impact.” A College Democrats club was formed in 2008, but is not yet officially recognized.
In 2009, Biola inaugurated a series of one-of-a-kind, annual Film Music Guild Conferences, which take advantage of the school’s proximity to Los Angeles to bring its student filmmakers and student composers together with top music and movie industry professionals.
- Established in 1908
- Location: 20 miles from Los Angeles, 10 miles from Disneyland
- 76.7% of applicants admitted
- SAT: Critical Reading: 500/620; Math: 500/620; Writing: 500/620
- Notable alumni include U.S. Senator John Thune; singer-songwriter Judith Hill; and major league baseball players Tim and Todd Worrell
The University of Dallas is a private, liberal arts university located in Irving, Texas. Affiliated with the Roman Catholic Church, the university is “committed to the recovery and renewal of the Western heritage of liberal education.”
The University of Dallas has a nationally recognized core curriculum based upon Western civilization. The 60-credit-hour sequence of classes that all students take, regardless of major, begins with the Greeks, then moves through the Scholastic thinkers of the Middle Ages, and on to the great philosophers, scientists, and men and women of letters of the modern period.
The university sponsors a chapter of the National Federation for College Republicans. Another Conservative student club is Students for Liberty at the University of Dallas (UDSFL), which connects and networks with like-minded people throughout the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex “to advance any agenda that promotes individual freedom.”
- Established in 1956
- Undergraduate population: 2,725
- Location: 15 minutes from downtown Dallas
- 88% of applicants admitted
- SAT: Critical Reading: 550/670; Math: 530/640; Writing: 530/660
- Notable alumni include presidential Special Counsel (under George W. Bush) Emmet Flood; actor Peter MacNicol; and best-selling fantasy novelist and comic book author Jason Henderson
Liberty University was founded with the mission of “Training Champions for Christ”—aiming to produce graduates with the values, knowledge, and skills required to impact the world.
Founded by Reverend Jerry Falwell, Liberty commits to a curriculum based upon biblical truth, and is strongly affiliated with the Baptist Church. All students are required to attend chapel a minimum of three times weekly.
Students at Liberty are known for their fiscally and socially conservative views. Nearly every major on campus offers an academic organization, and students are encouraged to volunteer, join a club, or get involved with social issues. The College Republicans chapter, like every other political club at Liberty, has unofficial status, meaning it can use Liberty University’s name, but does not receive any money from the university itself.
- Established in 1971
- Approximately 13,000 students in residence and 92,000 online
- Location: Two hours from Richmond; three hours from Washington, D.C.
- 23% of applicants admitted
- SAT: Critical Reading: 470/590; Math: 450/570; Writing: 450/570
- Alcohol and drugs are prohibited on and off campus
- Notable alumni include Fox News Supreme Court reporter Shannon Bream
(Point Lookout, MO)
College of the Ozarks is a Christian work college, dubbed “Hard Work U” by the Wall Street Journal. Instead of paying tuition, College of the Ozarks students work in a unique work-study program.
The college does not offer majors in politics or economics, though the academic mission of the school includes the encouragement of patriotic growth in their students. Convocations and chapel attendance are required.
Much of the curriculum is character-based. From Day One, students begin character education programs and are expected to abide by a dress code and honor code. Athletics and fine arts are the most popular activities and organizations on campus, though there is also student government.
- Established in 1906
- 1,371 students
- Location: 215 miles south of St. Louis
- 9% of applicants admitted
- SAT: Critical Reading: 510/610; Math: 440/530; Writing: 430/530
- Notable alumni include former Assistant Commandant of the United States Marine Corps General Terrence R. Dake, MediaStorm founder Brian Storm, ABC News correspondent Erin Hayes.
Houston Baptist University is a Christian liberal arts university with ties to the Baptist Church. It aims to “provide a learning experience that instills in students a passion for academic, spiritual, and professional excellence.”
Houston Baptist offers undergraduate degrees in government and economics, along with many other subjects. In an attempt to provide students with a more holistic education, the curriculum combines the liberal arts with lessons and wisdom found in the Bible.
The most popular student clubs on campus are faith-based. A College Republicans organization has recently been refounded on campus, and is currently in the process of becoming a nationally recognized chapter.
- Established in 1960
- 2,050 students
- Location: Bellaire neighborhood of Houston
- 35% of applicants admitted
- SAT: Critical Reading: 480/590; Math: 500/610; Writing: 470/580
- Notable alumni include professional golfer Colin Montgomerie and Elliot in the Morning host, Elliot Segal
(Virginia Beach, VA)
Regent University is a located on the Virginia coast, near Norfolk. It is a rigorous academic environment offering degrees in fields such as divinity, government, law, and leadership. Regent prides itself on being both conservative and Christian.
Though Regent operates through an interdenominational biblical perspective, its curriculum emphasizes smaller government, strong national defense, free enterprise, and traditional values. The Ronald Reagan Symposium—one of Regent’s signature events—features nationally and internationally known scholars who speak on topics such as “The Future of Conservatism” and “The Future of American Culture.” Another Regent event, Clash of the Titans, is an annual debate between leading political figures on topics such as the war in Iraq, presidential elections, the Middle East, and the American economic crisis.
Regent encourages all of its students to become involved on campus. Conservative clubs and organizations include chapters of the Republican National Lawyers Association and the Federalist Society. Interestingly, a Regent University Conservative Union is active on campus in place of a College Republicans chapter.
Regent is repeatedly listed as one of the best schools for home-schooled students and returning military.
- Established in 1978
- 4,800 students (onsite and online)
- Location: two hours from Richmond; from hours from Washington, D.C.
- 83% of applicants admitted
- SAT: Critical Reading: 470/580; Math: 440/540; Writing: 450/560
- Notable alumni include former Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell; former Assistant U.S. Secretary of Labor Lisa Kruska; and actor Tony Hale (“Buster Bluth” on Arrested Development)
Patrick Henry College is a classical Christian college. Its motto, Pro Christo et Libertate (For Christ and Liberty), embodies its mission to ground students in the great books of Western Civilization, history, philosophy, logic, and the foundations of freedom. Like Hillsdale College and Grove City College, Patrick Henry College does not accept federal aid or loans.
Patrick Henry College offers political tracks in Classical Liberal Arts, History, Literature, American Politics, International Politics, Political Theory, Strategic Intelligence, and Journalism. The college’s chancellor, Dr. Michael Farris, has authored 14 books, including two constitutional law textbooks, and has argued before the U.S. Supreme Court. He has also been awarded the Heritage Foundation’s Salvatori Award for American Citizenship.
The Patrick Henry curriculum culminates in apprenticeship. Students gain practical experience and conduct research through top-level internships in Washington, D.C., and beyond.
There are a number of politically conservative–themed student clubs and organizations on campus, including College Republicans, the Alexis de Tocqueville Society, and the International Justice Mission Club. Students for Life are also active on campus.
- Established in 2000
- 400 students
- Location: 40 miles from Washington, D.C.
Brigham Young University (BYU) is a private university, owned and operated by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS), better known as the “Mormons.” It is the largest religious university—and the third-largest private university—in the country.
BYU offers coursework on political thought, free market capitalism, and military service. Despite this, the University has a reputation for being more socially conservative than politically conservative. BYU strictly forbids alcohol and sex outside of marriage. Students also adhere to a dress and grooming policy. Students are required to follow an honor code in line with LDS teaching.
Though a College Republicans chapter exists on the BYU campus, the club has recently been demoted to informal status. While the club is allowed to exist on campus and use BYU’s name, it no longer receives funds from the University.
- Established in 1875
- 35,000 students
- Location: 45 minutes from Salt Lake City
- 50% of applicants admitted
- SAT: Critical Reading: 580/690; Math: 590/690
- Alcohol and drugs are prohibited on and off campus
- Notable alumni include 2012 Republican Presidential Candidate Mitt Romney; actors Aaron Eckhart and Jon Heder; Ender’s Game author Orson Scott Card; and numerous U.S. Senators, U.S. Representatives, and state governors
(New York, NY)
The King’s College is a small but growing Christian college located at 56 Broadway, just one block off Wall Street in Manhattan’s Financial District. The College, now headed by its sixth president, Dr. Gregory Alan Thornbury, seeks to “transform society by preparing students for careers in which they help to shape and eventually to lead strategic public and private institutions.”
King’s core curriculum stresses Western Civilization, writing, politics, philosophy, and economics. By contrasting ideas based on eternal truths with more “trendy” ideologies, King’s students are prepared to serve in and eventually lead government, law, business, media, the arts, civil society, education, and the church. Professors include renowned Christian and conservative authors, while some of their adjunct writing professors hail from such well-known publications as the National Review, the Wall Street Journal, and World.
Students are members of “houses,” each of which is named after a conservative great, including C.S. Lewis, Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, Winston Churchill, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer.
- Established in 1938; moved to NYC in 1999
- Nearing 550 students
- Location: New York City
- SAT: Critical Reading: 560/680; Math: 500/620; Writing: 540/650
- Notable alumni include Bronx borough president and Independence Party candidate Adolfo Carrion, Jr., and author Joanne Dobson
Harding University is the largest private university in Arkansas. Through a Christian perspective, it aims to promote an understanding of and respect for other cultures through an emphasis on liberty and justice.
All students at Harding are required to fulfill liberal arts requirements that include spiritual and moral values, in addition to communications and critical thinking, the individual and social environment, and the historical perspective. All Harding students sign a moral code and are held to high standards.
Each year, Harding students participate in a variety of programs from the American Studies Institute, including a series of lectures that expose students to conservative ideas. Past speakers have included Margaret Thatcher, John Ashcroft, William F. Buckley, Jr., Sean Hannity, Steve Forbes, and George W. Bush.
Both College Democrats and College Republicans are active on campus; the latter strives to “develop all Republicans on campus into an intelligent, aggressive, cooperative, and informative Republican group.” Students for Life is also active on the Harding campus.
- Established in 1924
- 7,100 students
- Location: 59 miles from Little Rock
- 76% of applicants admitted
- SAT: Critical Reading: 490/630; Math: 500/620
- Notable alumni include former Arkansas State Senator Jim R. Caldwell and Duck Dynasty stars Willie and Korie Robertson
Franciscan University of Steubenville is a Catholic institution. Based on the strong liberal arts tradition and the teachings of the Catholic church, Franciscan is steeped in conservative intellectual and social philosophy. Much of Franciscan’s curriculum is devoted to obtaining a deeper knowledge of the history, philosophy, and culture that shaped Western Civilization.
Many faculty members have distinguished themselves in conservative scholarship. For example, Dr. Stephen Krason, a political science professor, has written a number of books about the founding fathers and the Constitution, while another professor, Brian Scharnecchia of the Legal Studies program, is the author of a three-volume work advocating a conservative approach to family issues.
For conservative students interested in human life issues, the Institute of Bioethics at Franciscan teaches students to think, speak, and act intelligently about abortion, euthanasia, the institution of marriage, and other ethical issues that impact society.
Volunteerism, public policy, and conservative political groups are popular among Franciscan students. Franciscan does not host a College Republicans chapter, but student government—which is made up of executive staff, student senate, and justices—is popular. Students for Life is also present on campus.
- Established in 1946
- Location: 40 miles from Pittsburgh
- 76% of applicants admitted
- SAT: Critical Reading: 540/650; Math: 520/620; Writing: 520/630
- Notable alumni include U.S. Representative Jeff Fortenberry; religious author Regina Doman; and Supreme Court clerk Michael Rodak, Jr.
(Ave Maria, FL)
Ave Maria University is a private, Catholic university located in southwest Florida. It is known for its exceptional academics and faithfulness to the teachings of the Catholic Church. According to its website, Ave Maria is committed to offering “one of the finest classical liberal arts curricula available, as well as opportunities for specialized study in all of the sciences, social sciences, and humanities.”
Ave Maria offers 12 undergraduate degrees, including Economics and History. Politics is offered as a concentration. Students, regardless of major, must complete all of the core curriculum, which includes a full year of Latin and theology, though history and political science are also required.
Ave Maria is considered more socially than politically conservative. Mass is popular among students, and is offered multiple times each day. The university hosts a chapter of College Republicans. Students for Life is also one of the university’s most popular campus organizations.
- Established in 1998
- 1,200 students
- Location: 17 miles from Naples
- 61% of applicants admitted
- SAT: Critical Reading: 540; Math: 522; Writing: 522
(Front Royal, VA)
Christendom College is a small, Catholic college located in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. The college was founded by a group of Catholics concerned with the direction of higher education. The college aims to teach students to “distinguish truth from error or distortion, and then to communicate truth accurately, effectively, and convincingly to others.”
Christendom’s core curriculum includes the study of Catholic doctrine, philosophy, mathematics, and science. Students spend a junior-year semester in Rome, an opportunity offering cultural and intellectual enrichment to the college’s liberal arts curriculum.
Students at Christendom are encouraged to participate in student clubs and organizations. Conservative-leaning clubs on the Christendom campus include the Chester-Belloc Debate Society, and College Republicans. Also worth noting is the fact the entire school participates in the annual March for Life in Washington, D.C.
Like several other colleges on this list, Christendom College maintains its intellectual independence by refusing all federal funding.
- Established in 1977
- 420 students
- Location: 70 miles to Washington, D.C.
- 82% of applicants admitted
- SAT: Critical Reading: 590/710; Math: 500/620; Writing: 560/710
- Notable alumni include U.S. House of Representatives policy adviser Cyrus Artz; Federalist Society Associate Director Kate Alcantara; and U.S. diplomat Guy Smith
Pepperdine is a private, research university that overlooks the Pacific Ocean near Malibu, California. Though officially non-denominational, it is affiliated with the Churches of Christ. Pepperdine offers undergraduate students a variety of majors, including American Politics, American Studies, Economics, International Studies, and Political Science.
All students, regardless of major, take courses in the Western Heritage, Religion (three classes), and the American Experience as part of the core curriculum. The purpose of Pepperdine’s interdisciplinary core is to develop each student into a broadly educated person.
Pepperdine offers a wide variety of student clubs and organizations, including College Republicans and College Libertarians. Young Democrats is also present on campus.
Though chapel and convocation are not required, multiple chapels exist on campus for student use.
- Established in 1937
- 3,474 Undergraduate students
- Location: 30 miles from downtown Los Angeles
- 38% of applicants admitted
- SAT: Critical Reading: 550/660; Math: 570/680; Writing: 560/670
- Notable alumni include children’s book illustrator Virginia Pruitt; U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for War Crimes Issues Pierre-Richard Prosper; and Neil Warren, co-founder and chairman of eHarmony.com
Thomas More is a small liberal arts college located in southern New Hampshire. The college emphasizes classical education through the perspective of Roman Catholic traditions. The college aims to prepare a new generation of leaders to defend the Christian and free market roots of American society.
For this reason, Thomas More’s curriculum carefully guides students through the best that has been written and thought throughout the history of Western Civilization. Students graduate with a full knowledge of literature, politics, philosophy, art, and architecture. Students spend a full semester during their sophomore year in Rome, Italy, where they experience the significance of Rome on the formation of Western civilization.
While formal religious observance is not required of Thomas More students, most are practicing Catholics. The school is more socially than politically conservative, and there are no politically themed on campus.
Instead, Thomas More has established a series of guilds inspired by those of medieval times. In their spare time, students participate in these guilds and gain practical skills and experience in areas such as woodworking, sacred art, homesteading, and music.
- Established in 1978
- 100 students
- Location: 50 miles from Boston
(Santa Paula, CA)
Thomas Aquinas College (TAC) is a small Catholic college located in Southern California. Thomas Aquinas does not offer any majors or minors. Rather, the entire curriculum is comprised of the Great Books of Western civilization.
All TAC students graduate with a Bachelor of Arts in Liberal Arts. Music, mathematics, science, philosophy, language, and theology are all included in the program. Classes are taught using the Socratic method, without textbooks.
Thomas Aquinas College encourages its students to participate fully in their close-knit community, and there are many campus-based groups students can sign up for. The most popular clubs include the St. Genesius Players (a drama club), the choir, and the Bushwhackers, a group that maintains local trails and organizes hiking trips.
- Established in 1971
- 350 students
- Location: 65 miles from downtown Los Angeles
- 80% of applicants admitted
- SAT: Critical Reading: 620/700; Math: 560/660; Writing: 580/690
(Hampden Sydney, VA)
Hampden-Sydney is an all-men’s liberal arts college located in central Virginia. Founded in 1775, it is the oldest private charter college in the Southern United States. The college’s mission is to “form good men and good citizens in an atmosphere of sound learning.”
Every Hampden-Sydney student must prepare for and pass the Rhetoric Proficiency Exam, a three-hour essay that is graded on coherence of argument, quality of argument, style in which the argument is presented, and grammatical correctness. To prepare, students must pass two rhetoric classes in their first two semesters.
Hampden–Sydney’s honor code is one of the strictest in the nation. Each man must pledge not to lie, cheat, or steal, or to tolerate others who do. This oath is considered binding for life.
Each of Hampden-Sydney’s more than 40 student clubs is student-run. There are sports clubs, religious clubs, a radio station, and multiple social fraternities. Political clubs include College Republicans, the Madisonian Society, Students for Liberty, and Young Democrats.
Hampden-Sydney’s College Republicans host special guest speakers and are actively involved in a number of campaigns on the local, state, and national levels. The club has been recognized as “The Most Outstanding Middle-Size Organization” at past annual state conventions.
- Established in 1775
- Location: 60 miles from Richmond; 65 miles from Charlottesville
- 55% of applicants admitted
- SAT: Critical Reading: 490/620; Math: 510/615; Writing: 470/580
- Notable alumni include ninth U.S. President William Henry Harrison; author and theologian Francis Schaeffer; Sounder author William H. Armstrong; TV comedian Stephen Colbert; and numerous U.S. Senators and Representatives
- See Hampden-Sydney College’s ranking among The Top 50 Places to Study Classical Economics
(College Station, TX)
Texas A&M is a public research university located in east central Texas. The first public institution of higher education in Texas, it is now the fourth-largest university in the United States. The campus is also the home of the George H.W. Bush Presidential Library.
Though a secular institution, Texas A&M has a reputation for being both socially and politically conservative. The university’s general education requirements are standard for a large public university, with classes required in the humanities, U.S. history, and political science.
There are over 800 student clubs on campus, many of them politically themed. The school also has a strong military tradition.
In recent years, there has been some tension among the political groups on campus. One group, Texas Aggie Conservatives, petitioned to ban radical leftist speakers from the campus. In another incident, the same group sued the university when their request for club funding was denied (though funding was eventually offered).
- Established in 1876
- 56,200 students
- Location: 100 miles from Austin; 105 miles from Houston
- 67% of applicants admitted
- SAT: Critical Reading: 520/640; Math: 560/670; Writing: 500/610
- Notable alumni include Libertarian radio personality Neal Boortz; Texas Governor Rick Perry; and NFL placekicker Tony Franklin (who pioneered the barefoot soccer style of place kicking in the NFL)