44 Liberal Arts Colleges You’ve Probably Never Heard Of, But Should Know

Most people can name 20-30 colleges off the top of their head, but there are over 4,000 universities worldwide. I want to introduce you to 44 excellent liberal arts-focused universities that you might not have heard of.


If you are a high school student or parent seeking a great liberal arts college for the next four years, you should check out the non-profit organization CTCL (Colleges That Change Lives) and look for the accompanying best seller written by Loren Pope. CTCL’s member institutions are a perfect fit for students looking for a challenging academic curriculum and hands-on experience in their undergraduate environment.

What does CTCL do as an organization? – Their main goal is to educate students, counselors and family members about colleges that they might not have heard of. Their process is more informed, streamlined and introspective than many other college search websites. They are strong advocates for the liberal arts, and all their member schools are known for their quality liberal arts programs.

How are the colleges selected? – The late Loren Pope, a former New York Times education journalist who was responsible for the original list, believed that the residential liberal arts experience is the ideal way for college students to learn. As of 2016, CTCL represents 44 member schools that work together with students and parents to educate them about the liberal arts college scene. Colleges can be added if they follow the founding principles of a strong liberal arts program and a student-centered educational system and admissions process, and no school has yet to be removed from the organization.  

Who are the ideal candidates for the CTCL member institutions? – Any student who is looking for a college experience that includes extensive interaction with the faculty members will be well served by the CTCL schools. Since the class sizes are small, the faculty members act as mentors and not just advisors. Small schools create an excellent intellectual space in which the students get to live and learn. They are challenged, supported, and they get to interact with a diverse group of both domestic and international students.

Where can I learn more about CTCL? – If you want to know more about CTCL and its attendant institutions, visit their website. You can also follow them on Twitter and Facebook using the hashtag #CTCLColleges. They post regular updates on their specially curated tours for parents and students across the nation. They also have a lot of smaller events in which the executive director of the organization talks more about CTCL and the process of the college search.

College Spotlight

Agnes Scott CollegeEst. 1889, Decatur, GA

This Presbyterian-founded, women-only liberal arts college, with its current student population of 914, boasts some impressive distinctions despite its size. Renamed in 1906 in honor of the mother of a magnanimous benefactor, Col. George Washington Scott, this is “the first institution of higher learning in Georgia to receive regional accreditation.” Since 1920 Agnes Scott has been in the top 10% of American colleges whose students go on to complete their Ph.D. degrees. Agnes Scott is also listed among 2018’s Best Colleges’ National Liberal Arts Colleges.

This particular institution has a rich and fascinating history, more than can adequately be conveyed in this summary. It is ranked NCAA Division III – U.S. South, and one of its guiding philosophies is to operate on an Honor System that trusts the integrity and best judgement of every individual. I would strongly recommend learning more about this enchanting and well-respected college.

Cornell CollegeEst. 1853, Mount Vernon, IA

This institution, often confused with Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, even includes a page on their website which proudly states “We’re Not In Ithaca”. Cornell College also has a proud history, and their picturesque campus is on the National Registry of Historical Places. Cornell should be considered a pioneer in human rights: in 1858 it was the first college “West of the Mississippi” to award a degree to a woman, and a few years later to give equal pay to a female faculty member. In 1870 Cornell declared that “color and race shall not be considered a basis of qualification in the admission of students”.

Cornell College also has a very unique curriculum, “One Course At A Time,” which was introduced in 1978: students attend one intensive, complete course for 3.5 weeks before moving on to another course.

Other notable facts about this college include Cornellians being regular recipients of Fulbright Scholarships, and the school’s annual “Eyes of the World” multicultural show. Also, Mount Vernon, Iowa is listed among Arthur Frommer’s “America’s Coolest Small Towns.” Frommer is known for the magazine Budget Travel.

Ohio Wesleyan UniversityEst.1842, Delaware, OH

This institution has perhaps the most unusual and storied history of these few spotlights: it had its beginning in a repurposed old hotel building, the purchase of which was essentially crowdfunded by the townspeople for $10,000 in that time. Now many of their sites are also listed on the National Registry of Historical Places.

A phrase from Wesleyan’s website which captivated me was the school’s offering of an “all-you-can-experience buffet” for those with a passion “for life and learning.” There many other amazing facets to this university, particularly if you have a zeal for international issues. A distinguishing feature is the Global Scholars Program, the motto of which is “Think Big, Go Global, and Get Real”. Described as a “competitive” program for “high-achieving first year students”, once accepted, these students retain that designation for their four years, and those upperclassmen who maintain the required high standards throughout their time have the opportunity to earn a $2000 theory-to-practice grant, specifically intended to fund “an approved international research or study project of their choice”.

A few more impressive factoids: Wesleyan’s Selby Stadium is the fourth largest privately-owned Division III stadium in the country, according to their website. Wesleyan has also been listed among Forbes’ “Most Entrepreneurial Colleges.” I truly want to tell you more about this remarkable university, but we have to move on. Be sure to read about the three objectives that constitute a success for their students.

Guilford CollegeEst. 1837, Greensboro, NC

Guilford still operates by the Core Values adopted by its Quaker founders. These guiding Values are: Community, Diversity, Equality, Excellence, Integrity, Justice, and Stewardship.

This college has been a member of CTCL for 21 years. Guilford offers 41 majors and 52 minors, and 83% of their graduates are employed within their first year after leaving, which is 15% higher than the national average. Their teacher-to-student is an incredible 1:1, and this institution was included in the 2016 Fiske Guide to Colleges as a “Best Buy”.

Discussing Stewardship and Diversity, Princeton designates Guilford as a “green” college, the grounds of Guilford were once part of the Underground Railroad, and 40% of the incoming 2020 class are students of color. Guilford adds yet another notable history to CTCL’s list, and their website displays “Your 4-1-0 Guarantee: Four Years, One Tuition, No Worries.”

Southwestern UniversityEst. 1840, Georgetown, TX

Southwestern claims to be the second oldest private liberal arts university to provide coeducational opportunities west of the Mississippi. Another self-descriptor which features prominently in Southwestern’s mission statement: “Education for Tomorrow: Creating the 21st Century Thinker.” Once again, it is impossible to list all of the compelling facts about this school in only a few paragraphs.

Just one example of Southwestern’s unique offerings is their annual Shilling Lecture Series; this year’s speaker was Jonathan Haidt, a prominent social psychologist and author of the NY Times Bestseller The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided By Politics And Religion. His lecture was title “The Age of Outrage: What It Is Doing To Our Universities, and Our Country.” If that doesn’t captivate you enough, past speakers include conservationist Jane Goodall, former U.S. Senator Bill Bradley, anti-death penalty activist and author Sister Helen Prejean, former Secretary of State James Baker III, Former Prime Minister of Pakistan Benazir Bhutto, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and our 39th POTUS, Jimmy Carter — just to name a few.


What all CTCL colleges have in common, and what sets them apart from thousands of other educational options, is that they are truly student focused learning institutions. The member colleges of CTCL challenge the notion that only Ivy League universities are capable of offering difficult and enriching courses and top-notch faculty. The CTCL metrics of what constitutes a great learning environment are more varied and interesting than the ones used by most college guidebooks, and their effectiveness as a measure of quality education is evident in the results they produce. In addition, all of these member colleges have plentiful resources available for students who have learning disabilities. Whatever your circumstances, CTCL’s site will help you make a more informed decision about your path towards a liberal arts education.