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Top Liberal Arts Colleges

Choosing a liberal arts college for its reputation of offering strong academics is a great reason, and selecting a liberal arts college with the best return on investment makes that choice even better.

There are many reasons students enroll in liberal arts colleges. Liberal arts colleges offer a well rounded education, and many liberal arts colleges boast a strong return on investment. In fact, according to payscale.com, the best 30 year average net return on investment in the United States belongs to a liberal arts college-Harvey Mudd College.

Trademarks of the liberal arts college are small class size, and schools themselves tend to be small, most falling under or just at 2,000 students. One of the best reasons to choose a liberal arts college is that the majority of them are focused primarily on providing a strong undergraduate education. Many of the best liberal arts colleges in the world don’t even offer graduate programs. This makes them the perfect choice for students seeking an interdisciplinary approach, intimate setting, and a college where they know the professors’ primary reason for being there is to provide undergraduates with a strong education.

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Top 10 Liberal Arts Colleges with the Best Return on Investment

Rank School Location
1 Harvey Mudd College Claremont, CA
2 Claremont McKenna College Claremont, CA
3 Williams College Williamstown, MA
4 Haverford College Haverford, PA
5 Swarthmore College Swarthmore, PA
6 Washington and Lee University Lexington, VA
7 Hamilton College Clinton, NY
8 Amherst College Amherst, MA
9 Colgate University Hamilton, NY
10 College of the Holy Cross Worcester, MA

Ranking the Best Liberal Arts Colleges Based on ROI

Ranking Methodology

Below is our list of the top ranked 25 liberal arts colleges in the United States. Colleges were included in the list based on their ranking among liberal arts colleges by  U.S. News and World Report . Because we are focused on value, our list is ranked from highest to lowest 30 year net return on investment as listed by  Payscale.com . This will provide students the basic information necessary to evaluate liberal arts colleges according to earning potential.

  1. Harvey Mudd College

    Claremont, CA

    Harvey Mudd has the highest 30 year average net return on investment of any college in the United States according to payscale. The college is just as unique as this fact indicates, as liberal arts colleges typically do not boast such a high ROI. One of the primary reasons for the high ROI at Harvey Mudd is because while it is a liberal arts college, its primary focus is on engineering, mathematics, and the sciences. The school seeks to train up leaders in these high paying fields by using a comprehensive liberal arts core to instill in students an understanding of how these fields and their role in them have an influence on modern society.

    School Website

    U.S. News Top Liberal Arts College Ranking: #16

    30 Year Average Net ROI: $2.11 Million

  2. Claremont McKenna College

    Claremont, CA

    Claremont McKenna is one of five undergraduate liberal arts universities located in Claremont, California (along with two graduate universities) that make up the "Claremont Colleges." The area, being saturated with high quality schools that work in cooperation with each other, is proud of its academic culture. The town is located outside the city of Los Angeles and three of the five liberal arts institutions are on this list, including Claremont McKenna here at #2, and Harvey Mudd sitting a #1.

    School Website

    U.S. News Top Liberal Arts College Ranking: #9

    30 Year Average Net ROI: $1.34 Million

  3. Williams College

    Williamstown, MA

    Williams College is widely considered to be the best liberal arts college in the United States. U.S. News ranked the school at #1 among liberal arts colleges for 2013, and in 2010 and 2011 Forbes ranked the school #1 in the United States, ahead even of the Ivy League universities. Even for 2013, Forbes ranked the school #9 in the nation, the change likely because of a change in their methodology, not the quality of the school, the reputation of which has remained high since its founding in the 1790s.

    School Website

    U.S. News Top Liberal Arts College Ranking: #1

    30 Year Average Net ROI: $ 1.25 Million

  4. Haverford College

    Haverford, PA

    Originally founded as a quaker school, Haverford College has no formal ties to any religion, though it is still greatly influenced by the spirit of the philosophy of its founders, particularly when it comes to education. The school is undergraduate only, meaning undergraduate students never have to compete with graduate students for attention. The school has a strong relationship with surrounding colleges and universities, particularly the University of Pennsylvania, where students of Haverford may cross-register in either general studies or Wharton Business School classes.

    School Website

    U.S. News Top Liberal Arts College Ranking: #9

    30 Year Average Net ROI: $1.22 Million

  5. Swarthmore College

    Swarthmore, PA

    Swarthmore is a member of the tri-college consortium along with Haverford College and Bryn Mawr. Like its fellows in the consortium, students may cross register at the other colleges, and Swarthmore has a cross-registration agreement with the University of Pennsylvania, which shares the school's quaker heritage. 90% of students graduating from Swarthmore pursue graduate school.

    School Website

    U.S. News Top Liberal Arts College Ranking: #3

    30 Year Average Net ROI: $1.14 Million

  6. Washington and Lee University

    Lexington, VA

    The second oldest school in Virginia and the ninth oldest in the United States, Washington and Lee University was founded by Presbyterian pioneers, and was supported in its early years by one of its namesakes, George Washington. The other namesake, confederate General Robert E. Lee, served as the school's president after the Civil War until his death, at which point the name was changed to honor him as well. Students may study at one of the three schools within the university. The College for a general curriculum; The Williams School of Commerce, Economics, and Politics; or the School of Law.

    School Link

    U.S. News Top Liberal Arts College Ranking: #14

    30 Year Average Net ROI: $1.05 Million

  7. Hamilton College

    Clinton, NY

    Hamilton College was named by its founder, Samuel Kirkland, after Alexander Hamilton, the first Secretary of the Treasury of the United States, who also sat on the school's board. Long recognized for its distinguished academic tradition, Hamilton College is considered to be one of the "little ivies", an unofficial title bestowed upon a select few small, selective, high quality liberal arts colleges.

    School Website

    U.S. News Top Liberal Arts College Ranking: #14

    30 Year Average Net ROI: $1.03 Million

  8. Amherst College

    Amherst, MA

    Amherst College was originally an attempt to relocate Williams College and nearly two hundred years later, Amherst and Williams College are ranked #1 and #2 among liberal arts colleges, which is indicative of their close ties, and the devotion of each to providing high quality education. The school is exclusively undergraduate, making it a prime choice for students seeking a focused, attentive setting. Unlike larger research universities, the faculty is there exclusively to give undergraduate students their undivided attention.

    School Website

    U.S. News Top Liberal Arts College Ranking: #2

    30 Year Average Net ROI: $1.02 Million

  9. Colgate University

    Hamilton, NY

    Founded by Baptists in the early 19th century, Colgate has gone through many transformations, but one thing that hasn't changed is the school's commitment to quality education. While the school is non-sectarian, it recognizes the importance of religion in many of its students' lives, and fully supports on campus religious (or non-religious) life organizations for students of various faiths. The school actively encourages students to integrate their learning with the spiritual and ethical beliefs of their faith. This makes the school a fantastic choice for students devout in any faith, as most non-sectarian schools go to great lengths to ignore the religion of their students, whereas Colgate seeks to provide students with all possible support.

    School Website

    U.S. News Top Liberal Arts College Ranking: #20

    30 Year Average Net ROI: $1.02 Million

  10. College of the Holy Cross

    Worcester, MA

    This Roman Catholic liberal arts university adheres to the Jesuit academic and spiritual tradition. In addition to receiving a top notch education, which is one of many things for which the Jesuit tradition is known, students are also encouraged toward service. The Jesuit tradition encourages students to take up advocacy for social justice, particularly the world's poor and disenfranchised.

    School Website

    U.S. News Top Liberal Arts College Ranking: #25

    30 Year Average Net ROI: $840,900

Basing your decision about your higher education solely on the notoriety of the school and the name it holds is not always the wisest way to plan for your future. There are many great smaller and lesser-known colleges that offer an excellent education at a more affordable rate, especially when you take ROI into account. The schools we’ve detailed on this list represent the top 25 choices for an affordable liberal arts college with the best return on investment.

See also:  Top 10 Cheap Online Interdisciplinary Studies Degree Programs (Bachelor’s) 2014

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