The 10 Best “Hidden Gem” Liberal Arts Colleges

8. Allegheny College (Meadville, PA)

photo by Joshtys via Wikimedia Commons

A college over 200 years old, Allegheny’s rich history and unique people has fostered one of the most interesting colleges in the world.

The school is known for taking on bold topics in sponsored discussions with top academics, including a presentation in 2009 on the unusual topic of face transplants.

Students themselves have the opportunity to present their own topics of interest in ACRoSS, which stands for Allegheny College Research Seminar Series. Topics in 2018 include growing Meadville, the city Allegheny is based in, shared work programs, neoliberalism, and the Jewish community farming movement.

One of the most well-known personalities of the campus, professor Michael Maniates, is one of the foremost experts on material consumption in humans. Having worked on the famous Story of Stuff short movie, he was quoted in the Los Angeles Times as saying “We really need to think of ways of making it possible for people to think about working less and getting by on less.”

Liberal, forward-thinking ideas like these are at the heart of Allegheny College, which has committed itself towards a new generation of students, faculty, and alumni impacting the world in unusual, unique, and powerful ways.

7. Austin College (Sherman, TX)

photo by Urbanative via Wikimedia Commons

Like many excellent schools on this list, one of the great advantages Austin College provides for its students is an undergraduate-only education.

Why is this a unique benefit? All of the resources Austin College has are poured directly into the undergraduate curriculum, ensuring no sharing or competition of resources and attention with older graduate students.

This is a school known for having an intimate, liberal arts environment with less than a total of 1,500 students. The student-faculty ratio is a comfortable 12:1, assuring every student ample time with high-level professors who are among the best at what they do.

One unique attribute of Austin College is that every student has a personal faculty mentor they work with for all four years of college. This 1-on-1 guidance helps foster a close-knit relationship essential for advising a student through their own educational journey.

Cited by the Princeton Review as a Best Western College, Austin College recently created the IDEA Center under the leadership of Marjorie Hass, an impression 103,000 square foot facility hosting laboratories, lecture halls, and even the Adams Observatory holding the region’s largest telescope.

The newest president is Steven P. O’Day, a law school graduate who took his office about one year ago in August of 2017.

6. Reed College (Portland, OR)

Reed College – photo by Kkmd via Wikimedia Commons

Reed College is one of the most unusually fascinating institutions in the US.

The school emphasizes small, almost-entirely undergraduate classes where the teacher often acts as a moderator of discussion among the students, rather than as a traditional professor who simply lectures. Student to faculty ratio is a notable 9:1 size.

The school is the only in the country that has a nuclear reactor on campus operated primarily by undergraduate students (and a supervisor). Called the Reed Research Reactor, the unusual facility was built in 1968 and serves as a focal point in many of the Physics, Chemistry, and science classes.

What is interesting about the school is that they do not tell student’s their grades if they are a C or above. As a result, a number of Reed alumni never knew what their GPA was coming out of college.

Reed also has no fraternitities or sororities, and is not considered a “sports” kind of school. However, physical education is noted as a requirement for students to graduate.

The city of Portland, Oregon has long been regarded as one of the most uniquely liberal in the country, due in large part to the presence of Reed College, perhaps the most unique institute of higher learning in the world.


  1. I am a 1962 graduate of St. Olaf College as are two of my daughters. St. Olaf provided me with an excellent academic education in preparation for graduate school and good jobs. Excellent faculty and many opportunities…mine was with the St. Olaf Orchestra….and friendships that have lasted a lifetime.

    • Me too, but a decade later. I was a music major and bass section leader my senior year in the St. Olaf Choir. A formative and life changing experience so sing with that group and go on four tours.

    • Good to see you here, Mary. As a fellow orchestra member I’ve been impressed by the recent awards of that musical group.

    • Possibly because St John’s is not “liberal arts” like the ones listed are. St John’s is a wonderful excellent college, but with one basic major and not a variety of “liberal arts” majors. Just a guess.

  2. So happy and proud that you included Lawrence on your list. I’m working on the planning team for our 40th reunion next June, and we’re all just as passionate about the impact Lawrence has had on our lives as we were in the summer of 1980. Thanks for shining some welcome light on LU!

  3. My son attends Lawrence University and absolutely loves it. I’m so glad ot was #1 on the list a great college in a fantastic city. They also peovide a lot od sports. The stud9are a name not a number. I was skeptical when we firat visited LU but the ref carpet waa layed out for us and my son knew before we left out visit this was his college. Great school. I cant rave enough.

  4. North Park University (Chicago, Illinois) is another hidden gem. At one time, the majority of students came from Covenant Churches. The Covenant was founded by Swedes, and at one time the majority of on campus students were Swedish. There is a great deal of diversity today. When North Park College began adding graduate programs they eventually changed to the title of University. In that there is also North Park Seminary on the same campus, there remains a strong Christian influence.

  5. University of Puget sound in Tacoma is a hidden gem. My husband and I are Austin College alums(6th on the list) & my daughter goes to UPS (very similar to AC but in a prettier setting)

  6. Well deserved praise for Lawrence University! Graduated in 1987 and am grateful each day for all I learned in and out of class. LU’s “light more light!” -Goethe…is what we need more of today. If Lawrence is a good fit for your future college student and they’d like to attend…do all you can to calmly support their decision!

  7. I’m a proud ‘72 graduate of Eckerd College, then Florida Presbyterian College. It is a beautiful campus on Boca Ciega Bay with wonderfully diverse programs. It deserves to be on this list, for sure.
    My niece is at Lees McRae College in Banner Elk, NC. I thought it might make this list.

  8. Eckerd was the most amazing experience. I traveled abroad to London my sophomore year, Morocco my junior year and Bond University in Goldcoast Australia my senior year. I have lifetime friends from Eckerd that are more like family. So proud that Eckerd consistently makes top Liberal Arts school lists.


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