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Big universities and well-known liberal arts colleges on the two coasts might command most of the attention, but for those students seeking a quality liberal arts education in a familiar setting, there’s no need to look further than the Midwest.

To find the 30 best liberal arts colleges in the Midwest, we started by considering only those colleges in the states of Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Dakota, and Wisconsin.

Ranking Methodology:

There are far more than 30 liberal arts colleges in the Midwest, so we narrowed down our list by considering factors such as:

– National rankings (40%)
– Freshmen retention rates (20%)
– Unique curriculum (30%)
– Membership in a college consortium (5%)
– Historical significance (5%)

Though we didn’t directly consider the 4-year cost of attending these liberal arts colleges, we did order our 30 best liberal arts colleges in the Midwest based on their average 20-year net return on investment, as decided by PayScale.

Rank School Location
1 Washington University in St. Louis Saint Louis, MO
2 Rockhurst University Kansas City, MO
3 DePauw University Greencastle, IN
4 Truman State University Kirksville, MO
5 Carleton College Northfield, MN
6 William Jewell College Liberty, MO
7 Illinois Wesleyan University Bloomington, IL
8 Denison University Granville, OH
9 Wheaton College Wheaton, IL
10 Albion College Albion, MI

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  • Washington University in St. Louis

    Saint Louis, MO

    20-Year Net ROI:  $430,000
    Prestigious Washington University in St. Louis is a great option for those students who want both an urban college experience and a liberal arts education. Seven undergraduate and graduate schools offer students an impressive number of degree choices, many of which are in areas directly relating to the liberal arts. Impressively, Washington University in St. Louis has produced 25 Nobel laureates, and is ranked #20 on the 2017 Academic Ranking of World Universities.

  • Rockhurst University

    Kansas City, MO

    20-Year Net ROI:  $352,000
    Prestigious Rockhurst University is a private liberal arts college which aims to provide its students with "Learning, Leadership, and Service in the Jesuit Tradition." Rockhurst consistently makes the rankings of the best colleges in the country, including those done by Forbes and U.S. News & World Report. Its reputation as one of the best liberal arts colleges in America has to do in large part with its rigorous academics. Before choosing from more than 50 degree programs, students must complete a well-designed core curriculum meant to expose students to a variety of subjects.

  • DePauw University

    Greencastle, IN

    20-Year Net ROI:  $291,000
    DePauw University is a well-respected liberal arts college located in Indiana. DePauw's 4-1-4 calendar allows students to participate in a four-week Winter Term class as part of the college's mission to provide student's with a well-rounded education. Students are encouraged to take classes both inside and outside of their major, while also participating in extracurricular programs such as study abroad or team sports. U.S. News & World Report almost always includes DePauw University among the very top liberal arts colleges in the country, while Forbes has included it as the 2nd best college in Indiana (after Notre Dame) and the 14th best in the Midwest.

  • Truman State University

    Kirksville, MO

    20-Year Net ROI:  $241,000 (in-state); $217,000 (out-of-state)
    Truman State University is one of the few public liberal arts schools to make our list. As a member of the Council of Public Liberal Arts Colleges, Truman offers its students 48 undergraduate degrees and eight graduate degrees. Truman's curriculum is carefully organized into three tenets of the liberal arts — essential skills, modes of inquiry, and interconnecting perspectives — and every student must complete a set of classes that include critical thinking, public speaking, history, and literature, among others.

  • Carleton College

    Northfield, MN

    20-Year Net ROI:  $232,000
    Carleton College is a well-respected liberal arts college located in Northfield, Minnesota. Carleton, which is one of the few liberal arts colleges to run on a trimester system, offers more than 30 undergraduate majors, including its top-ranked program for education. Students may also design their own major, or earn a Certificate of Advanced Study in Spanish, French, German, Chinese, Japanese, Russian, Arabic, Latin, or Greek. Carleton is almost always included on "top colleges" lists and is highly selective when it comes to admitting applicants. Since 2000, Carleton has produced over 120 National Science Graduate Fellows, 112 Fulbright Scholars, 20 NCAA Postgraduate Scholars, 13 Goldwater Scholars, 2 Rhodes Scholars, and 22 Watson Fellows.

  • William Jewell College

    Liberty, MO

    20-Year Net ROI:  $232,000
    William Jewell College is a small liberal arts college with a population of just over 1,000 students. Though it was founded by members of the Missouri Baptist Convention, the college is now an independent institution and one of the top liberal arts colleges in the Midwest. Honors students at William Jewell have the unique opportunity to take part in the Oxbridge Honors Program, during which they take English-style tutorials throughout their degree program, study abroad at either Oxford or Cambridge, and complete their senior year after passing comprehensive exams.

  • Illinois Wesleyan University

    Bloomington, IL

    20-Year Net ROI:  $228,000
    Illinois Wesleyan University offers its students an entire College of Liberal Arts (along with colleges of fine arts and nursing) through which they can obtain a liberal arts education. In that College are 17 different departments and classes, each with an 11:1 student-faculty ratio. Students wishing to pursue the liberal arts at Illinois Wesleyan can be sure that they are a part of the university's mission to "foster the traditional liberal arts of creativity, character, and knowledge."

  • Denison University

    Granville, OH

    20-Year Net ROI:  $219,000
    Denison University was founded in Granville, Ohio in 1831, which makes it the state's second-oldest liberal arts college. As a private liberal arts college, Denison offers a number of undergraduate majors, while also offering students the opportunity to create their own. Technology-minded applicants in search of a liberal arts education will also be happy to know that Denison is one of the few liberal arts schools to offer a major in data analytics. Denison is ranked among Forbes's 100 best universities in the nation, while U.S. News & World Report and Washington Monthly both include Denison on their lists of the country's best liberal arts colleges.

  • Wheaton College

    Wheaton, IL

    20-Year Net ROI:  $194,000
    Wheaton College, located in Wheaton, Illinois, has a long and impressive history that includes being a one-time stop on the Underground Railroad. Today, it's one of the top liberal arts colleges in the nation and has been recognized for its two traditions of academics and faith. Time Magazine ranked it the 20th best liberal arts college, while U.S. News & World Report and Forbes also include Wheaton on their respective lists. Wheaton College is also one of the schools included in Loren Pope's "Colleges That Change Lives" book.

  • Albion College

    Albion, MI

    20-Year Net ROI:  $184,000
    Albion College is a private liberal arts school located in rural Michigan and affiliated with the United Methodist Church. Albion's curriculum includes 30 undergraduate majors, including pre-professional programs in engineering, medicine, and law. The college is consistently included on U.S. News & World Report's list of the best liberal arts colleges and Forbes's list of America's Top Colleges.

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