Sure, the West Coast is typically associated with tech companies and big research universities, but deep thought about things like literature, language, and the social sciences occur here, too, at the many liberal arts colleges located in America’s western states.
To figure out the West’s 30 best liberal arts colleges, we began by making a list of all four-year liberal arts schools in Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming. Because there are certainly more than 30 colleges from which we could choose, we narrowed down the list based on a series of factors, including:
- Comprehensive curriculum
- National rankings
- Freshmen retention rates
- Historical significance
- 20-year Return on Investment (ROI), as determined by PayScale
Keep scrolling for the 30 best liberal arts colleges on the West Coast.
Claremont McKenna College
Claremont McKenna College is one of the seven private liberal arts colleges comprising the prestigious Claremont Colleges consortium. This connection makes it possible for Claremont McKenna students to cross-register in classes at the other member schools, thus tailoring their education. According to U.S. News & World Report, Claremont McKenna is the 9th best liberal arts college in the nation, while Forbes has the school ranked 26th on its list of the best colleges and universities in America.
Colorado Springs, Colorado
Colorado College, a beautiful liberal arts college located in Colorado Springs, has been ranked the 27th best liberal arts college in the country by U.S. News & World Report. That same publication declared Colorado College the 2nd most innovative liberal arts college in recognition of the school’s “curriculum, faculty, students, campus life, technology, and facilities.” Speaking of curriculum, Colorado College follows a unique block plan in which students study only a single subject for an intensive three-and-a-half week period.
Concordia University — Irvine
Concordia University in Irvine, California is a private Christian college associated with the Lutheran Church. The university is comprised of five schools, including a Christian seminary, a School of Education, and a School of Arts and Sciences. Students can choose from 20 undergraduate majors, or 50 specializations that include three different nursing programs. The university has an especially strong master’s program, which The Chronicle of Higher Education hailed as “one of the fastest growing private nonprofit master’s universities” in the country.
Evergreen State College
Evergreen State College was founded in 1967 as an experiment in non-traditional education. Considering this public liberal arts college consistently ranks among the very best in the nation in categories ranging from the best first-year experiences to the best master’s degree programs for teaching, we’d say the experiment has been a success.
Fresno Pacific University
Fresno Pacific University is a private liberal arts school associated with Christian education and founded by the Mennonite Brethren Churches. The university aims to develop “students for leadership and service through excellence in higher education.” It does this by offering bachelor’s degrees in 29 fields and 60 areas of study. Fresno Pacific University is currently ranked the 39th best school in the Western United States by U.S. News & World Report.
George Fox University
George Fox University is a private liberal arts college located in Newberg, Oregon. Founded in 1885 as a school for Quakers, the university now offers bachelor’s degrees in nearly 40 majors. Interestingly, George Fox participates in the Richter Scholars program, in which 15-25 students per year are chosen to conduct original research in an area of interest. The university has been included on a number of rankings, including U.S. News & World Report’s list of the best colleges in the West (#24), as well as Kiplinger’s Personal Finance’s lists of the top Christian Schools and the “Best Value” schools in the country.
George Wythe University
Salt Lake City, Utah
George Wythe University is a private liberal arts college that focuses on classical education and Great Books of the Western World. The university does not operate like most schools on this list. Rather, classes are conducted using the Socratic seminar style and the Oxford tutorial model — meaning learning is more discussion-based. Currently, George Wythe offers a Bachelor of Arts in Statesmanship, and in case you’re wondering, the school is named after George Wythe, mentor to Thomas Jefferson.
Gonzaga University, located in Spokane, Washington, is a selective liberal arts university ranked by U.S. News & World Report as the 4th best school in the West. Gonzaga employs a core curriculum that is especially strong in the liberal arts, and includes classes in mathematics, literature, natural and social sciences, philosophy and religious studies, and writing. Besides U.S. News & World Report, Gonzaga has been ranked among the best schools in the country by Forbes, The Princeton Review, and Fiske.
Like George Whyte University above, Gutenberg College in Eugene, Oregon has a liberal arts curriculum focused on the Great Books of the Western Heritage. Rather than traditional classes, students study with tutors at a round table discussion — a method of learning similar to the Oxford style. To earn Gutenberg’s one degree, a Bachelor of Arts in Liberal Arts, students complete two years each of classical Greek, German, mathematics (ancient and modern), Great Books of the Western Civilization, and Great Conversation. They also study four years of Microexegesis (reading of difficult texts) and a number of classes in art and the natural sciences.
Harvey Mudd College
Harvey Mudd College is a top liberal arts college that excels in science, engineering, and mathematics. As the school’s mission states, “Harvey Mudd College seeks to educate engineers, scientists, and mathematics well versed in […] the humanities and the social sciences. . . .” Such a mission is important to the school’s tradition of “science with a conscience.” Harvey Mudd has been included in a number of national rankings, including those by Money magazine (79th best college in the country), Forbes (23rd best college in the country), and U.S. News & World Report (18th best liberal arts college).
Imago Dei College
Oak Glen, California
Imago Dei College is a liberal arts school and an Evangelical Classical Christian institution. Like other schools on our list of the best liberal arts colleges in the West, Imago Dei has a curriculum that focuses on the Great Books of the Western Heritage. As part of this unique core, students read — in chronological order — dozens of classic primary sources from the subjects of theology, philosophy, mathematics, science, history, literature, language arts, and physical education. Students graduate from Imago Dei with a degree in Classical Liberal Arts as well as their choice of a degree in theology, philosophy, history, and literature.
Linfield College, a private liberal arts school in McMinnville, Oregon, is well-known for its strong and well-rounded curriculum. No matter their choice of major, students take a variety of general education courses, and can even become involved in faculty-led research projects as undergraduates. Linfield College is ranked by U.S. News & World Report as the 108th best liberal arts college in the country.
Loyola Marymount University
Los Angeles, California
Loyola Marymount University, a Jesuit-affiliated liberal arts college in Los Angeles, has a long history of excellence in education. The university is comprised of seven schools, including Bellarmine College of Liberal Arts. Students from every school and major complete a core curriculum that focuses on the humanities and sciences. Loyola Marymount consistently ranks among the best schools in the country by such publications as U.S. News & World Report (3rd best university in the West), The Wall Street Journal (110th best college in the country), and Forbes (138th best college in the country), to name but a few.
Located in the San Francisco Bay Area, Mills College is a women’s liberal arts school with a strong tradition in academic excellence. The college offers more than 60 majors and minors. Besides the usual liberal arts degrees in the humanities, students can choose to major in nursing, psychology, or biology, among others. Mills consistently ranks among the best schools in the country. Most recently, U.S. News & World Report included it on its lists of best universities in the West (#7) and Best Value Schools (#3).
Mount Saint Mary’s University
Los Angeles, California
Mount Saint Mary’s University is a women’s college located in Los Angeles. The university does a great job of attracting and admitting first-generation college students to its freshmen class. Additionally, more than three-quarters of the whole student body is made up of minority students. Students pursue a well-rounded liberal arts core curriculum before choosing from more than 30 majors. Mount St. Mary’s University is ranked by U.S. News & World Report as the 18th best university in the West.
Los Angeles, California
Occidental College in Los Angeles is one of the oldest liberal arts colleges on the West Coast, so it should come as no surprise that it is also one of the best. Occidental has a strong liberal arts tradition in part because of its unique three-part core curriculum. Before pursuing one of 33 available majors, students must complete two writing seminars, a set of geography courses, a language class, three math and science courses, a pre-1800s history class. Whatever the reason for its success, Occidental is indeed successful. It has produced more than 10 Rhodes Scholars and is almost always included on lists of the best colleges and universities.
Considered to be one of the “West Coast Ivy-League” equivalent schools, Pitzer College was an easy addition to our list of the best liberal arts colleges in the West. As part of the Claremont Colleges consortium, Pitzer allows its students to cross-register in classes at Claremont McKenna, Harvey Mudd, Pomona, and Scripps.All are liberal arts schools that are also included on our list. Pitzer excels in fields relating to social and behavioral sciences, and is currently ranked #41 on U.S. News & World Report’s list of the country’s best liberal arts colleges.
Point Loma Nazarene University
San Diego, California
Point Loma Nazarene University is a gorgeous liberal arts school located right on the beach in San Diego, California. As a true liberal arts university, Point Loma Nazarene’s mission is to educate students “as whole people.” This includes a well-rounded core curriculum, plus more than 60 options for pursuing a Bachelor of Arts or Bachelor of Science degree. Point Loma Nazarene is currently included in U.S. News & World Report’s ranking of the best universities in the West (#17).
Established in 1887 as one of the founding members of the Claremont Colleges consortium, Pomona College is today considered one of the best liberal arts schools in the country. Pomona itself offers more than 48 majors and 600 classes. Students are able to cross-register at any of the other schools in the consortium. Students can also choose to design their own major. Though the variety of classes included in Pomona’s core curriculum makes it a liberal arts college, it’s interesting to note that the college’s most popular majors include computer science, economics, mathematics, and neuroscience. In 2018, Forbes named Pomona College the 19th best college in the nation.
Prescott College is a unique private liberal arts college located in Prescott, Arizona. The school — which operates under the motto “For the Liberal Arts, the Environment, and Social Justice” — offers its 1,200 students the choice of three Bachelor of Fine Arts degrees (creative writing, visual arts, and interdisciplinary arts & letters), or a Bachelor of Arts or Science in Environmental Studies. The latter is especially popular, a fact that is hardly surprising when you consider that nearly all of Prescott’s environmentally friendly campus consists of buildings that have been recycled or converted from their original purposes.
Students at Reed College in Portland, Oregon receive one of the best liberal arts colleges in the western United States. As part of the core curriculum, each ‘Reedie’ completes a humanities program that consists of courses such as Introduction to Western Humanities, Early Modern Europe, Modern Humanities, and Foundations of Chinese Civilizations. Reed College has produced more than 90 Fulbright Scholars, 67 Watson Fellows, 3 MacArthur Fellows, and 32 Rhodes Scholars. The school is currently ranked the 91st best college in the country by Forbes, while Newsweek declared it to be one of the 25 “new Ivies” back in 2006.
Like the other colleges making up the Claremont Colleges consortium, Scripps College is one of the best liberal arts colleges in the West. This all-women’s liberal arts school offers students a number of majors to choose from, the most popular of which include art, biology, economics, English, French, math, politics, and psychology. Regardless of major, all students must complete some classes in the humanities, including at least one course in each of the following: women’s/gender studies, fine arts, letters, and a foreign language. Students must also complete a senior thesis or project before graduating. Scripps is currently ranked by U.S. News & World Report as the 30th best liberal arts college in America.
Aliso Viejo, California
Soka University of America, located in Aliso Viejo, California, is associated with the much larger Soka University of Japan. Both universities are liberal arts colleges that focus on the principles of pacifism, human rights, and the co-existence of humans and nature. Unlike the traditional American university, Soka University of America offers just one degree — a Bachelor’s Degree in Liberal Arts — though students choose to “track” or focus in either environmental studies, humanities, international studies, or social & behavioral sciences. Interestingly, Soka was the first liberal arts university in the country to require its students to study abroad at some point before graduation.
St. John’s College
Santa Fe, New Mexico
Like many other top liberal arts colleges, St. John’s College in Santa Fe, New Mexico has a core curriculum that focuses on the Great Books of the Western Heritage. Like the 17th century King William’s School, students at this top liberal arts college work towards a bachelor’s degree in Liberal Arts by reading and discussing the most acclaimed works of western civilization. St. John’s is currently ranked by U.S. News & World Report as the 72nd best liberal arts college in the country.
St. Thomas Aquinas College
Santa Paula, California
Students at St. Thomas Aquinas College spend four years among the beautiful hills of Santa Paula, California while receiving a top-notch liberal arts education. St. Thomas Aquinas College’s curriculum is based almost entirely on the Great Books of the Western Heritage, and students read only from primary sources — that is, works by people like Homer, Shakespeare, Plato, Euclid, St. Augustine, Descartes, and Newton in their entireties. Upon graduation, students receive a Bachelor of Arts in Liberal Arts.
United States Air Force Academy
Colorado Springs, Colorado
Some may be surprised to see the United States Air Force Academy on a list of the best liberal arts colleges in the West, but sure enough, this prestigious institution has been ranked by U.S. News & World Report as the 30th best liberal arts college in the country. All cadets must complete the same humanities-heavy core curriculum, after which they can choose a specialized field of study from more than 30 majors. While pursuing academics, cadets also participate in four years of training and athletics.
University of San Diego
San Diego, California
Perched atop a hill in San Diego, California is University of San Diego, a private liberal arts college associated with the Roman Catholic Church. The university offers more than 40 baccalaureate degrees. However, each student, whether majoring in nursing or the arts, receives an education solidly built on the core principles of the liberal arts and sciences. University of San Diego is consistently ranked among the best colleges and programs in the nation by publications such U.S. News & World Report (85th best college in America), PayScale, The Princeton Review, Bloomberg Businessweek, and Forbes (140th best college in America), among others.
Walla Walla, Washington
Students at Whitman College in Walla Walla, Washington spend the vast majority of their undergraduate careers immersed in the liberal arts. This valuable immersion begins in the freshman year when students take the two-semester Encounters course that acts as a solid base in the liberal arts. From there, students can choose from the list of 48 majors, or decide to design their own study program. Whitman has been ranked by Forbes as the 82nd best university in the nation, and by U.S. News & World Report as the 43rd best liberal arts college in America.
Whitworth University, located in Spokane, Washington, is a private liberal arts college affiliated with the Presbyterian church. Students can choose from more than 100 undergraduate majors, each of which requires a number of classes anchored in the liberal arts. To complement their chosen program of study, students are encouraged to take part in experiences such as studying abroad, internships, service learning, or research projects.
Founded in 1842, Willamette University is the oldest university in the western United States. It’s also one of the best liberal arts colleges in the region. Willamette’s College of Liberal Arts offers a strong base of liberal education, and gives students unique opportunities to design their own courses of study, publish papers, and conduct research. Currently, U.S. News & World Report has Willamette ranked as the 76th best liberal arts college in the United States.