Some people long to go to a college that is large, maybe located in a big city, maybe with lots and lots of students. Some prefer to study from the comfort of their home with an online college. Some people need a regimented curriculum to keep them on track. Others like small colleges, or more liberal colleges that allow them to design their own curriculum. If you’re that kind of person, this list is for you. What follows is a list of the top ten most liberal and smallest colleges in the United States. They are listed largest to smallest, not least liberal to most liberal, since that’s harder to quantify, and numbers don’t lie.
10. Eugene Lang College – New York, NY
With 1511 students in 2011, this is the largest school on our list. Eugene Lang College The New School for Liberal Arts was established in 1985 – because of a gift given by Eugene M. Lang, The New School was able to become a four-year college that offers tons of cultural and intellectual resources to its students. Located in Greenwich Village, New York City, The New School for Social Research was established in 1919 under the efforts of philosopher and education reformist John Dewey and his colleagues. The Eugene Lang College The New School for Liberal Arts is an autonomous college under the umbrella of The New School (one of seven) and boasts a “student-directed curriculum” that does not require students to take gen ed classes – they only have two “required” classes. They are both in regards to how to write an essay. Hey, that IS the most important thing. Notable alumni include Degrassi: The Next Generation actress Stacey Farber, and musician Ani DiFranco.
9. Reed College – Portland, Oregon
Reed College has about 1418 students, and is located in the Eastmoreland neighborhood of Portland. The college was founded in 1908 and is named for Simeon Gannett Reed and Amanda Reed, pioneers who helped bring the fine arts to Oregon. The college’s liberal outlook is a direct response to the Ivy League way of doing things, and eschews things like varsity sports and fraternities. The school’s curriculum focuses on traditional liberal arts but also natural sciences, and all freshmen have to take Humanities 110 which covers the Classics. Reed College is the only college in the US that has a nuclear reactor, and it is operated by the undergrads. While the school does give out grades, they are not the driving force at Reed, and many students will pass a class and not know their grade. While this liberal arts college does not have traditional sports teams, a physical education class has to be completed in order to graduate. Kayaking and juggling are among the options. Notable alumni include White Oleander author Janet Fitch, Wikipedia co-founder Larry Sanger, and radio personality Barret Hansen, also known as Dr. Demento.
8. Beloit College – Beloit, WI
With about 1300 students, Beloit is a small school, but the oldest in Wisconsin that is still and has continuously operated since its establishment in 1846. The college was founded by seven New Englanders who settled in the Wisconsin Territory. The college boasts an unusually large amount of graduates who go on to get PhDs in anthropology, and psychology is the most popular major. There is a study abroad program in Morocco and in Estonia. Some notable graduates of Beloit College are Olympic medalist Ron Bontemps, US Air Force Major General Fred Ascani, and Gunsmoke actor James Arness.
7. Sarah Lawrence College – Broxville, NY
Sarah Lawrence College has about 1244 undergraduates on campus, and was founded in 1926 as a women’s college. It started accepting male students in 1968. It is the most expensive college in the U.S. and rather than choosing a traditional major, students graduate with a Bachelor of Arts in one of four different disciplines – the creative arts, history and the social sciences, the humanities, or natural science and mathematics. Grades exist only for academic transcripts, instead, professors give “academic evaluations.” Sarah Lawrence College has an exchange program with Reed College and Eugene Lang College, which is interesting. Some notable graduates of Sarah Lawrence include J.J. Abrams, creator of Lost, Barbara Walters, and Yoko Ono. Also, Vera Wang, Alice Walker, Kyra Sedgwick, Win Butler, Cary Elways, Joanne Woodward, and Lesley Gore. Carrie Fisher dropped out to film Star Wars.
6. Mills College – Oakland, CA
With 948 undergraduates, Mills College has the distinction of being the first women’s college to be founded west of the Rockies. It started out as a women’s seminary in Benica in 1852, but was bought by Susan Tolman Mills in 1865, renamed, and moved to Oakland. The undergraduate program is all female, though it was voted in 1990 to enroll males. There was a large protest, and the college reconsidered. 81% of the college’s 584 graduate students are female, and more than half of the total student body is from California. Students can create their own major at Mills, and it is considered as one of the best colleges on the West coast. Notable alumni include actress Olivia de Havilland, director Sofia Coppola and musician Joanna Newsom.
5. Warren Wilson College – Asheville, NC
With a total student body of 970 students (including undergraduates and postgraduates), Warren Wilson College is unique in it’s “the Triad” curriculum. Each student not only has to complete their academic work, they also have to do one hundred hours of community service, and hold an on-campus job. The college is surrounded by a 300-acre working farm, which helps provide jobs. The work the students do helps to pay their tuition, and there are over 127 different work crews, including the Farm Crew, the Dining Services and Cowpie Cafe Crews, and the Plumbing Arts Crew. Notable alumni include James Franco, solo rower Katie Spotz, and musician David Wilcox.
4. New College of Florida – Sarasota, FL
With 825 students, the New College of Florida works on the academic philosophy that a student is responsible for his or her education, that teachers need to be excited and students need to be able, that progress should be measured based on competency rather than a grading system, and that students should pursue subjects that interest them. The students do not get graded on their work, they receive a narrative evaluation upon completion of a course. The student negotiates and signs a contract with their adviser stating the work they plan to do that semester, and at the end of the semester the contract is reviewed to make sure the student met the requirements of the contract. Notable alumni include New York Federal Reserve Bank president William C. Dudley, journalist Jose Diaz-Balart, and singer Paul Cebar.
3. Prescott College – Prescott, AZ
With a student body of about 769, Prescott College is known for its outdoor activities, which include rock climbing at Granite Mountain, hiking in Prescott National Forest, and paddling and sailing in the Verde River. Students who live on campus start out with a three-week “wilderness orientation” wherein they explore the Arizona, well, wilderness. Students don’t typically design their degree plan until the third year, and that is based on their Competence (major) and Breadth (minor). The course of study will fall under Adventure Education (AE), Education (ED), Environmental Studies (ES), Arts & Letters (AL), Cultural & Regional Studies (IS), or Human Development (IS).
2. Bennington College – Bennington, VT
With 668 students, Bennington College is situated on 550 acres in Vermont, and started out as a women’s college in 1932. They started admitting males in 1969. Since the beginning, the college has been interested in visual and performing arts, and though the school didn’t admit men full time until 1969, young men were admitted into the Bennington Theater Studio program as early as 1935, since men were needed in the theatrical productions. One thing that set the collage apart was the Field Work program, where students were required to seek winter internships all around the world to get real-life experience. Some notable graduates of Bennington College are Carol Channing, Peter Dinklage, Alan Arkin, and Bret Easton Ellis.
1. Marlboro College – Marlboro, VT
With only 311 students, Marlboro College is the smallest school on our list. Founded in 1946 for veterans returning from the war, the school’s first funding came from GI Bill money. The curriculum requires a student to take a lot of writing classes to boost his or her writing skills, and the student is required to submit a 20-page work of nonfiction by the end of the second semester. If it is determined that the student needs more instruction to improve their writing, they get more classes, and have to prepare another 10 pages for evaluation. A student only has three chances to pass this writing evaluation. If they fail, they are asked to leave, but told they can come back after successfully completing English classes at another college. Once the student is a Junior, he or she develops a Plan of Concentration (like a major) wherein the rest of the coursework will be established. Some notable alumni include Selena Mooney (“Missy Suicide”), poet Sophie Cabot Black, and actor Ted Levine (Buffalo Bill in The Silence of the Lambs).