The 10 Best “Hidden Gem” Liberal Arts Colleges

5. McDaniel College (Westminster, MD)

photo by Alan Levine via Wikimedia Creative Commons

McDaniel’s mission starts with building a student’s education through The McDaniel Plan, an initiative designed to help students attain specialized knowledge of their major through directed studies, internships, and more.

With approximately 1,600 students in the entire college, this small liberal arts college is a true hidden gem in the landscape of academia.

Formerly known as Western Maryland College, McDaniel has one of the most flexible curriculums of any liberal arts college. Students at the school can even participate in self-designed majors to fully take advantage of all the ambitions they have for an undergraduate experience.

One particularly interesting facility the school has is the CEO – Center for Experience & Opportunity. This is where the classroom meets the real world for McDaniel’s 1600+ students, as this unique kind of career center assists students with internships, scholarship acquisition, and even study-abroad opportunities.

Speaking of study-abroad opportunities, the school has a dedicated satellite campus in Budapest, Hungary, where students of McDaniel can go study during their undergraduate tenure.

4. Knox College (Galesburg, IL)

Knox College – photo by Jimmy Thomas via Wikimedia Commons

Knox implements an unusual academic system, what they call a “3-3” approach.

Essentially there are three 10 week semesters each year, and in those 10-week semesters, students take three courses.

To promote a greater bond and tutorship between faculty and student, the faculty are only allowed to teach two courses in each of these semesters. This allows for greater 1-on-1 learning experiences.

Knox is widely known as one of the best liberal arts colleges for funding student research. Annually, Knox funds more than a quarter-million dollars to students for research work.

One amazing effect of this funding is the school’s awarding $2,000 experience grants, money that is available to all juniors and seniors at the school for experiential study & research. Students can use this towards community service, internships, study-abroad, or even equipment to fund the experience.

Recent projects included students who explored green chemistry, dancing classes for at-risk youth, and an internship with the United Nations.

Knox College is a selective institution, with only half of its applicants being admitted. Over 15,000 Knox alumni are now working with some of the prestigious companies worldwide.

3. Evergreen State College (Olympia, WA)

photo by Farwestern via Wikimedia Commons

Evergreen State College is one of the most unique colleges in the entire world.

At most colleges, students will take multiple courses per semester, a normal tradition that has been held for centuries.

However, Evergreen’s approach is entirely unconventional and effective – students study just one course each semester, and have multiple classes only affiliated with that course. This allows for intensive, deeply focused study on a single subject of a student’s interest, rather than spreading attention out over other courses.

Additionally, unlike just about every other school, there are no majors in the undergraduate program.

Some may balk at this revolutionary idea, but considering that approximately 80% of students change their majors at least once before graduating, perhaps more colleges should follow in Evergreen State’s path of allowing students to explore different passions at the undergraduate level, rather than having them choose a specialty.

Cited as one of the most liberal public colleges in the US, Evergreen State does not issue grades; rather, faculty give students oral narratives telling them about their classroom performance.


  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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