10 Incredible Liberal Arts Colleges On the Rise

For some students, the best choice in an education is simple; attend a liberal arts college.

A liberal arts education, in many ways, is radically different than a traditional university experience.

In a traditional university, students are normally surrounded by well over 15,000+ peers. 

However, liberal arts colleges are small, intimate, and typically keep enrollment to less than 2,500 total students.

Many liberal arts colleges are widely known, such as those that frequent the US News top 15 liberal arts college listings.

However, there are a handful of liberal arts colleges that are on the rise, quickly gaining recognition as being equal to many schools already at the top of most college rankings lists.

So, how did we determine a school as rising?

One, the school cannot yet be placed in the top-75 of the US News liberal arts colleges list as of this year, 2019.

Secondly, the school has to have demonstrated amazing success over the past 15 years in its programs, student/alumni accomplishments, faculty accolades, or other similar metrics.

Here are College Gazette’s picks for the top 10 rising liberal arts colleges in the country. Keep in mind this list is just our opinion, and that yours may be different for the best rising liberal arts colleges.

10. Albion College (Albion, MI)

kennethaw88, Albion College Observatory, CC BY 4.0

In a recent 2018 study produced by Zippia.com, Albion College was ranked the #1 small school in the entire state of Michigan with the highest-earning graduates. 

That’s quite an impressive feat, considering that in the entire state of Michigan, there are a respectable number of other excellent, highly-ranked liberal arts colleges.

In the last decade, students at Albion have won significant academic awards; these include a prestigious Goldwater award in 2014, a National Institutes of Health Scholar in 2011, and several National Science Foundation Postdoctoral fellows.

One thing that makes Albion unique is its environment; students and parents who review their experience consistently note how close students are with their professors, forging not only an academic relationship, but a personal one as well. 

This level of attention can be difficult to access at larger universities, making Albion a great choice for the liberal college seeking student.

9. St. Norbert College (De Pere, WI)

St. Norbert College
Ninaknr, Fr. Eugene E. Gries, O.Praem., Hall, CC BY-SA 4.0

One-hundred and eleven acres bordering a river make up the campus of this rising liberal arts college, located just outside Green Bay, Wisconsin.

When the now President Emeritus of St. Norbert, educator Thomas Kunkel, started his position in 2008, St. Norbert underwent a radical change; it instituted a plan to offer a significantly improved education and experience for their students.

Since then, numerous facilities have been built at St. Norbert, including a significant fitness center, stadium, science center, library, and several other academic constructions. Within St. Norbert’s last decade, the school has raised an amazing $150+ million in funding!

St. Norbert’s student outcome is impressive; 96% of all alumni find themselves employed – or in graduate school – within 12 months of graduating from St. Norbert.

8. Goucher College (Towson, MD)

Wikieditor19920, Pagliaro-Selz Hall, CC BY-SA 4.0

Profiled as one of the 40 institutions in Loren Pope’s classic text Colleges That Change Lives, Goucher is a phenomenal liberal arts college based in Maryland.

One hallmark of the Goucher College education is that all students must participate in a study abroad program. Goucher offers over 60 year-long study-abroad programs in 30 different countries! As of 2006, all students attending Goucher have to participate in at least one study-abroad.

Goucher is one of the few liberal arts colleges that places an emphasis on Data Analytics – one of the most important subjects for understanding 21st century technology – in its curriculum for all students. 

To this end, as part of Goucher’s recently instituted “Goucher Commons,” all students take not only take a class in data analytics, but also a capstone course in a student’s senior year.

From a community & environment perspective, Goucher is known as a great school for individuals who “march to the beat of their own drum.” Parents and students consistently cite Goucher as a haven for fostering individual, unique discourse and ideas.

7. Gustavus Adolphus College (St. Peter, MN)

McGhiever, Gustavus Adolphus Old Main, CC BY-SA 4.0

In a 2017 ranking from The New York Times, Gustavus Adolphus College ranked in the top 40 colleges and universities nationwide in a unique list. The list, titled “Top Colleges Doing the Most for the American Dream,” ranked schools based on their commitment to economic diversity.

Gustavus Adolphus is widely known as the home of the Nobel Conference, a forum in which members of the public can listen to – and engage with – scholars based on topics in the social sciences.

This unique institution is a school on the rise; For its 2020 ranking Niche.com rated it a top-50 liberal arts college in the country.

Alumni of this school include world-famous jazz vocalist Kurt Elling, Pulitzer-prize winning journalist James McPherson, and theatre director David Esbjornson.

6. St. Anselm College (Manchester, NH)

St. Anselm College
Ericci8996, Gym23, CC BY-SA 3.0

Ranked in 2019 as one of the top-50 “Best ROI” liberal arts colleges in the country by Payscale.com, Saint Anselm has historically played an important role in national politics, serving as the location to many presidential & political debates.

Indeed, St. Anselm is home to the New Hampshire Institute of Politics. Founded in 2001, this unique place has hosted hundreds of potential presidential candidates. In today’s world, you cannot run for president without taking a trip to this Manchester staple.

However, what makes St. Anselm special is not only its status as a political forum, but rather with what goes on in their classroom.

Since 1977, over 40 campus buildings have been constructed. One recently created facility is the Roger and Francine Jean Student Center, a central hub of activity for the school’s “Anselmians.”

Additionally, one-hundred student organizations on campus comprise this school’s extra-curricular offerings, including those in arts & culture, religion, politics, and more.

5. Luther College (Decorah, IA)

Bobak Ha’Eri, Luther Lab, CC BY 3.0

In recent years, Luther College has been home to one of America’s top collegiate choir programs; the school’s premiere ensemble, the Nordic Choir, has toured internationally throughout Europe, China, Russia, Japan, and many other countries. 

Artists who have performed in recent years with the Luther College Choir include Dave Matthews & Tim Reynolds of The Dave Matthews Band, musician Ben Folds, the Empire Brass, and more.

The school’s symphony is equally impressive to the choir, maintaining a yearly residency in Vienna as well as an active touring schedule.

Luther’s ascendency as a top liberal arts college is not only because of its music program, however; it is also a premiere liberal arts college for the cultured student.

To this end, over two-thirds of the student body participate in a study-abroad program every year in over 40 countries. Few Baccalaureate schools have a higher percentage of students who participate in a study-abroad program than Luther.

A close-knit relationship between students and professors is at the heart of the Luther experience. In fact, 95% of professors live within 5 miles of campus.

4. Illinois Wesleyan University (Bloomington, IL)

Emilymarvin, Shirk-center, CC BY-SA 4.0

According to Wallethub, Illinois Wesleyan is now regarded as a top-25 liberal arts college in the nation.

What has led Illinois Wesleyan to ascend to such heights – and what is continuing to lead its trajectory upwards?

Let’s start with the quality of the schools offerings. The Ames School of Art, as well as the Illinois Wesleyan School of Music, are considered two of the best specialty arts programs in liberal arts colleges today. One alumnus of Illinois Wesleyan started his own orchestra; others have placed in the country’s most prestigious competitions.

According to Niche.com’s most recent rankings, Illinois Wesleyan now stands in the top-70 nationwide for programs in Nursing, Education, Performing Arts, and Physics.

The campus life separates Illinois Wesleyan from many other liberal arts schools; sports, greek life, and more are central components to the unique experience at Illinois Wesleyan. 

In 2018, 97% of the school’s graduating student found work or placement into graduate school within 6 months of graduation. A study by Zippia found that Illinois Wesleyan is the top school in Illinois for getting a job after graduation.

3. Susquehanna University (Selinsgrove, PA)

Public domain photo by Janey Apfelbaum via Wikimedia Commons

In a recent report from Georgetown University, Susquehanna University, frequently abbreviated SU, was ranked in the top 10% of colleges for students with the highest graduate earnings

In 2013, SU’s GO Program won the Andrew Heiskell Award for Innovation in International Education. The GO Program, instituted in 2009, requires every student to engage in a cross-cultural learning experience off campus. This experience can be as short as a few weeks or as long as an entire semester.

In the last 5 years, SU has been ranked by many of the nation’s top publications, including Washington Monthly (#54 best liberal arts college) and the Princeton Review (A Best Northeastern College).

Students find themselves employed in the top companies worldwide after graduation. Some of the companies alumni have recently been placed into include IBM, The New York Times, Fidelity Investments, the Boston Red Sox, KPMG, and many, many more.

2. Juniata College (Huntingdon, PA)

Juniata College
Public domain photo by Jason Jones via Wikimedia Commons

More and more, top publications are recognizing Juniata College for significant learning outcomes, unique curricular offerings, and alumni who are changing the world.

The core of the Juniata College experience is the “Program of Emphasis.” Rather than participating in a traditional academic major system, students have the option to choose their own program of emphasis, the courses they will take to achieve proficiency in the subject, and graduate with a degree in it.

It’s hard to argue with the effectiveness of this approach; Juniata has produced 8 Academic All-Americans, 14 Goldwater fellows, 19 Fulbright scholars, and places at least one student into Harvard’s prestigious Summer Research Scholar program.

Juniata is one of the most diverse liberal arts colleges in America, representing 37 countries in a student body of just 1,600!

Graduating students have been placed into the world’s top universities for Master’s degrees, including Stanford, MIT, and Princeton. Additionally, for those who seek employment, consistently 90%+ find a job within months of graduation. 

Experiential education is at the heart of the Juniata; 80% of all students participate in an internship during their 4 years at the school.
One of the most important liberal arts colleges in the country, thanks to recent recognition in the Princeton Review, Fiske’s Guide, and more, Juniata is on the rise.

1. Hendrix College (Conway, AR)

Hendrix College
Valis55, Martin Hall, Hendrix College, CC BY-SA 3.0

Is Hendrix College America’s best kept secret in liberal arts college education? 

We think so…and here’s why:

In 2013, US News and World Report ranked Hendrix College the #1 “up-and-coming” liberal arts college in the nation; when looking into the data, it is easy to see why.

Hendrix’s seniors engage in “high-impact” projects; 68% participate in internships, 66% engage in research study alongside faculty, and over 80% complete a thesis-type project. 

Hendrix is widely considered one of the best “bang-for-your-buck” institutions, with Kiplinger as well as Forbes calling it a “Best Value” college in 2019.

A new initiative at Hendrix is the Murphy Scholars Program; sponsored by the Hendrix-Murphy Foundation, students in this selective offering received significant resources in pursuing their passion for literature and language studies.

Students consistently rave at the excellence of their education at Hendrix, and the learning outcome speaks for itself; 90%+ of their graduating students either go into a doctoral-degree track system, or find employment otherwise soon after graduation.