Top liberal arts colleges may not offer the same name recognition as Ivy Leagues or other top universities like Stanford or MIT, but they do give students a similarly excellent education. There are a few ways in which liberal arts colleges and big universities differ in how they approach education.
First, liberal arts colleges are usually very small, with a low student-to-faculty ratio. Because of this, students have easier and more frequent access to professors than they might get at a big university. And because liberal arts colleges focus almost exclusively on undergraduate education, you’ll have opportunities to perform research and work on projects during your undergrad that are exclusively reserved for graduate students at larger universities. Second, liberal arts colleges focus more on interdisciplinary studies, encouraging students to take classes from multiple majors and even, in some cases, allow students to design their own program of study to fit their exact interests. Third, you usually won’t find pre-professional majors at liberal arts colleges. Majors like accounting, nursing, and engineering are hard to find, but you’ll always find majors like classical studies, biology, and humanities.
The best liberal arts colleges are just as competitive as the best universities. We’ve taken a list of the top 10 liberal arts colleges (as ranked by U.S. News and World Report) in the United States and are giving you the SAT scores of recently admitted students to each. Keep in mind, though, that none of these colleges have an SAT minimum score cutoff, and your SAT score is far from the only factor considered in your application. Each of these schools views your application holistically, meaning that other factors such as GPA, extracurriculars, and who you are as a person will also come into play.
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#1: Williams College
Williams College was founded in 1793 in Williams, Massachusetts. It has three academic branches: arts and humanities, social sciences, and science and mathematics. Within these three branches, there are 36 majors students can choose from. Instead of a minor, students at Williams chose a “concentration,” which is a grouping of classes spanning multiple disciplines centered on a broad topic such as Maritime Studies or Public Health. As is typical of liberal arts colleges, the focus of Williams is undergraduate education, though there are graduate degrees offered in economics and art history.
The Class of 2022 had an average SAT ERW score of 733 and an average Math score of 747.
#2: Amherst College
Amherst College in Amherst, Massachusetts doesn’t have any core requirements, which allows students to completely create their own curriculum. There are 40 total majors offered at Amherst in the arts, sciences, social studies, and humanities. Thanks to small class sizes—the average is 19 students per class—and an 8:1 student to faculty ratio, students at Amherst have lots of opportunities for discussion with classmates and faculty members.
The middle 50% of admitted students of the Class of 2022 got an ERW score of 700-770 and a Math score of 720-790.
#3 (tie): Swarthmore College
Swarthmore is located in Swarthmore, Pennsylvania, and is a somewhat unique liberal arts school for a couple of reasons. First, Swarthmore wants students to explore their interests and see what Swarthmore has to offer. To encourage this, first-semester classes are essentially pass/fail—the classes you take go on your transcript, but your grades don’t. Second, you can study engineering at Swarthmore, whereas usually liberal arts colleges don’t have pre-professional programs.
In the 2017-2018 admissions cycle, the middle 50% of admitted applicants got an ERW score of 680-760 and a Math score of 700-790.
#3 (tie): Wellesley College
Wellesley is a women’s college in the educational hub of Wellesley, MA. Located not far from Babson College, MIT, Brandeis University, and Olin College of Engineering, a Wellesley education includes opportunities to study at—and even get a joint degree with—any of the aforementioned schools.
The average composite SAT score of the Class of 2023 was 1438.
#5 (tie): Bowdoin College
Students at Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine, begin their studies with foundational courses in each of the following basic disciplines: mathematics, computational or statistical reasoning, inquiry in the natural sciences, exploring social differences, international perspective, and visual and performing arts. Students declare majors as sophomores. The admissions process at Bowdoin is unique in that most applicants aren’t required to submit GPAs or standardized test scores. They can submit scores if they wish, but Bowdoin hasn’t required (or even encouraged!) applicants to submit scores since 1969.
Of the Class of 2021 applicants who did choose to submit SAT scores, though, the middle 50% of ERW scores was 640-760, and Math was 650-750.
#5 (tie): Carleton College
Carleton approaches the academic calendar differently than most other colleges; instead of being broken down into semesters or quarters, the school year at this Northfield, Minnesota liberal arts college is divided into 10-week terms. Students take three classes each term. Students at Carleton are, as is the case at many liberal arts colleges, encouraged to take many classes outside of his or her major.
The middle 50th percentile of admitted applicants of the Class of 2023 got an SAT score of 680-760 on ERW and 680-770 on Math.
#5 (tie): Middlebury College
Middlebury is known for its world-renowned language, global studies, and environmental studies programs. In an effort to ensure that each student can write at an advanced level, each freshman is required to take a writing-focused first-year seminar to prepare them for the academic rigors of college-level work. Middlebury’s main campus is located in Vermont’s Champlain Valley, but it also has an English graduate school with a main campus in Ripton, VT, and language-intensive programs in Monterey, CA, along with various campuses abroad.
For the class of 2023, the middle 50% of composite SAT scores was 1390-1460.
#5 (tie): Pomona College
Pomona College is located about 30 miles from Los Angeles in Claremont, CA. It’s one of the Claremont Colleges, a consortium of five undergraduate colleges and 2 graduate schools within several blocks of each other, including Pomona, Claremont McKenna, Harvey Mudd, and Claremont Graduate University, that share a library and other resources. Students at Pomona are encouraged to participate in research, and small class sizes facilitate seminar-based learning. In an effort to encourage students to study abroad, Pomona charges the same tuition for semesters abroad as it does for semesters at the main campus.
The median SAT score for the Class of 2023 was 730 for ERW and 760 for Math.
Claremont McKenna is another of the colleges in the Claremont Colleges Consortium, located about thirty miles from Los Angeles in Claremont, CA. As is the case with all colleges within the consortium, students can take classes at and share resources with the other Claremont Colleges. In addition to choosing a major, students can choose to complete a multidisciplinary “sequence,” or series of courses pulled from different disciplines on a single subject, such as Scientific Modeling or Asian American Studies.
The middle 50% of admitted applicants in the 2019 admissions cycle scored between 1350 and 1500 on the SAT.
Students at Davidson in Davidson, North Carolina, sign an honor code when they begin their studies and are required to follow it throughout their undergraduate studies. This honor code prohibits any lying, stealing, or cheating when it comes to academics. Because of the honor code, Davidson allows some exams to be unproctored, taken at home, and/or scheduled by the students. Students can choose from the 29 provided majors or design their own curriculum.
The middle 50% of SAT scores of admitted applicants from the Class of 2023 was 650-720 for ERW and 660-750 for Math.
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