Liberal arts colleges are different from big universities in several ways. First, the type of education you’ll receive at a liberal arts college is often more well-rounded than one you might get at a larger university; most liberal arts schools encourage interdisciplinary studies, and many have the option to create your own degree program spanning several different majors.
Second, you generally won’t find majors that prepare you for a specific career at liberal arts colleges. Instead of pre-professional majors like accounting and nursing, you’ll see classical studies and mathematics. You’ll learn skills applicable to a wide variety of careers rather than just one.
Third, there’s almost always a very low student-to-faculty ratio, and your professors are easily accessible. You’ll have opportunities to work closely with professors in a liberal arts college that you might not get at a larger university. Since the focus of liberal arts colleges is undergraduate education, you won’t be competing with graduate students; faculty can focus all their attention and resources on you as an undergrad.
Even though they might not have quite the name recognition of schools like Harvard or Stanford, the best liberal arts colleges are just as competitive as the Ivy League and other top universities. Read on for the ACT scores of admitted students to the top 10 liberal arts colleges in the United States. Keep in mind that these schools view applicants holistically; they’re interested in more than just your ACT score, and the vast majority of liberal arts colleges don’t have a minimum ACT score cutoff.
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#1: Williams College
Located in Williamstown, Massachusetts, Williams College has a 7:1 student-faculty ratio and 36 available majors offered through the college’s three academic branches: arts and humanities, social sciences, and science and mathematics. About 40% of students graduate as double majors. Graduate degrees are offered in art history and economics only. Williams has a 15% acceptance rate, and the average ACT superscore for the Class of 2022 was a 33.
#2: Amherst College
Amherst has an 8:1 student to faculty ratio and the average class size is 19, allowing for discussion-based learning and close relationships with professors and other students. It’s located in Amherst, Massachusetts, and offers 40 BA degrees spanning the arts, sciences, social studies, and humanities. There are no core requirements, which means students can fully shape their own curriculum, and students have the option of completing a thesis as part of their degree. The middle 50% of accepted students in the Class of 2022 got an ACT English score of 32-35, a math score of 28-34, and a composite score of 30-34.
#3 (tie): Swarthmore College
Swarthmore is unique among liberal arts colleges in a couple of ways. First, it offers an engineering degree, which is a departure from the norm in a liberal arts education. Second, students’ first semester is essentially pass/fail. The classes you take go on your transcript, but your grades in the classes don’t. That allows students to sample a variety of classes without the fear that an unfamiliar subject will lower their GPA. Swarthmore is also one of the top producers of Fulbright scholars and students.
It’s located in Swarthmore, Pennsylvania, not far from Philadelphia, it has an 8:1 student to faculty ratio, and 27% of its graduates go on to complete a doctoral program at some point in life. Based on the 2017-18 admissions cycle, Swarthmore has a 9.5% acceptance rate, and the middle 50% of admitted applicants got an English ACT score of 33-35, a math score of 29-34, and a composite score of 31-34.
#3 (tie): Wellesley College
Wellesley is a women’s college in Wellesley, MA. It has programs with other nearby universities, allowing students to take classes (and even get degrees in conjunction with) Babson College, MIT, Brandeis University, and Olin College of Engineering. The average ACT score for accepted students is 32.
#5 (tie): Bowdoin College
Located in Brunswick, Maine, Bowdoin College was an all-men’s college until 1971. It heavily emphasizes faculty-student relationships, operating under the idea that everyone should be working together to solve problems and find answers to big questions, regardless of age or education level.
Students begin their Bowdoin education by taking 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 then declare a major in their sophomore year. The Bowdoin admissions process is unique in that it doesn’t require—or even encourage!—the majority of students to submit an ACT score. Of those who do submit an ACT score, the average is a composite score of 31-33, but submitting a score has been totally optional since 1969. The only instances in which a student is required to submit a score are when an applicant was homeschooled or attended a secondary school where they were given written evaluations instead of grades.
#5 (tie): Carleton College
Carleton is a liberal arts college in Northfield, Minnesota that values interdisciplinary thought, encouraging students to take a variety of classes outside of his or her major. The school year is broken down into 10-week terms in which you’ll take three classes each. Of the 532 incoming freshmen in the Class of 2022, a little over 100 scored 34 or higher on the ACT, about 120 scored 31-33, fewer than 50 scored 28-30, and the rest scored below 27.
#5 (tie): Middlebury College
Middlebury College is located in Vermont’s Champlain Valley. Middlebury has world-renowned language, global studies, and environmental studies programs. The school has an emphasis on writing in all disciplines—each freshman takes a first-year seminar with a major focus on writing to prepare them for the rigors of college-level work, and the teachers of this class also serve as the students’ first-year advisors. The middle 50% of admitted applicants in the Class of 2023 got an ACT score of 32-33.
#5 (tie): Pomona College
Pomona is located in Claremont, CA, not far from Los Angeles. It’s one of the Claremont Colleges, a consortium of five undergraduate colleges and 2 graduate schools within several blocks of each other that share a library and other resources. Pomona students can take courses at the other colleges in the consortium.
There’s a big emphasis on undergraduate research at Pomona—even in students’ freshman year—and small class sizes (averaging about 15 students per class) encourage seminar-based learning over lectures. Most juniors take a semester or year to study abroad, and to encourage this, Pomona charges the same for these semesters abroad as it does for semesters on-campus. The median ACT score for accepted applicants is 34.
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Another of the Claremont Colleges, Claremont McKenna is also located in Claremont, CA. As is the case at Pomona, students at CMC can take classes at other colleges in the consortium. Students are required to complete at least one major, with the option of also completing a “sequence,” or series of courses spanning multiple disciplines on a single subject, such as Legal Studies, Jewish Studies, and Ethics. The middle 50% of accepted applicants score between 30 and 34 on the ACT.
This Davidson, North Carolina college is a leader in undergraduate research. It has 29 majors for students to choose from, or students can create their own personalized major. Davidson has an honor code that students are expected to sign and follow. This code prohibits any lying, stealing, or cheating when it comes to academics, and as a result, the college allows some exams to be taken at home, unproctored, and/or scheduled at the students’ convenience. The middle 50% of admitted applicants in the Class of 2022 scored between 29 and 33 on the ACT.
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