30 Best Liberal Arts Colleges in the Northeast, Ranked by Return on Investment (ROI)

By BVS Staff
September 2017

There is a good reason why six of the top 10 best liberal arts colleges in the country (as ranked by U.S. News & World Report) come from the Northeast. Since well before the signing of the Declaration of Independence, the Northeast has remained a bastion of learning, and many of the best known colleges and universities in the world are located here. Many of these schools are liberal arts colleges, which unlike the larger research universities like Yale or Harvard, seek to expose students to a wide range of academic disciplines. A core curriculum at a liberal arts institution often includes classes across the humanities and social sciences.

Ranking Methodology

To find the 30 best liberal arts colleges in the Northeast, we started by considering only those colleges in the states of Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, and Vermont. There are far more than 30 liberal arts colleges in the Northeast, so we narrowed down our list by considering factors such as:

- National rankings (40%)
- Freshmen retention rates (20%)
- Unique curriculum (30%)
- Membership in a college consortium (5%)
- Historical significance (5%)

After deciding on our 30 best liberal arts colleges in the Northeast, we used PayScale to rank each school based on its estimated 20-year net return on investment.

1. Bucknell University

Lewisburg, Pennsylvania


20-Year Net ROI: $541,000
Bucknell University, located along central Pennsylvania's Susquehanna River, is a private liberal arts college consisting of a College of Arts & Sciences, College of Engineering, and School of Management. Students studying at Bucknell's College of Arts & Sciences can choose from 44 majors and a whopping 70 minors, though they also complete a well-rounded core curriculum. Unlike so many other college liberal arts programs, Bucknell University allows students of any major to participate in research programs.

2. Hamilton College

Clinton, New York


20-Year Net ROI: $509,000
Hamilton College is a private liberal arts school located in the foothills of the beautiful Adirondack Mountains. The college offers bachelor of arts degrees in more than 50 areas of concentrations, plus the choice of completing a dual-degree engineering program with Columbia University or Dartmouth College. According to U.S. News & World Report, Hamilton College is the 12th best liberal arts college in the country, while Forbes ranked it 50th in their ranking of 650 American colleges and universities.

3. Williams College

Williamstown, Massachusetts


20-Year Net ROI: $504,000
Williams College has spent 14 consecutive years in the top spot of U.S. News & World Report's rankings of the best liberal arts colleges, making it an easy addition to our own list. Students at Williams take a variety of classes across the humanities, sciences, and social sciences, and can choose from 33 majors over 24 departments. The unique curriculum is inspired by the tutorial systems as seen at Oxford and Cambridge, while the academic calendar follows the 4-1-4 schedule, with the middle "Winter Term" consisting of one intensive course, tutorial, or internship.

4. Lafayette College

Easton, Pennsylvania


20-Year Net ROI: $502,000
Located about 70 miles west of New York City in the beautiful Lehigh Valley is Lafayette College, one of the best liberal arts colleges in the Northeast. Indeed, Lafayette has a strong reputation for excellence, and publications such as Forbes, U.S. News & World Report, PayScale, Kiplinger, and Business Insider have all included it among their rankings of the best colleges. Students at Lafayette College can choose from more than 50 fields in which to major, and the most popular majors include the fields of social sciences, biology, English, and psychology.

5. Colgate University

Hamilton, New York


20-Year Net ROI: $498,000
Colgate University, a private liberal arts college located in Hamilton, New York, offers students the opportunity to earn a Bachelor of Arts degree in any of 55 different undergraduate concentrations. Colgate is consistently ranked among the best schools in the nation by such publications as U.S. News & World Report, The Princeton Review, Payscale, CollegeNet, and The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education, among many others. Colgate was also named as one of Newsweek's 30 Hidden Ivies.

6. Union College

Schenectady, New York


20-Year Net ROI: $453,000
Union College, located in Schenectady, New York, has a long history of excellence. Founded in 1795, it remained an all-male school for 175 years before becoming co-ed, and was one of the very first colleges to establish fraternity organizations. Students at Union College take a wide variety of courses in the arts, sciences, literature, and foreign language, and can choose majors across 21 academic departments. Despite its solid emphasis on the liberal arts, Union also encourages its undergraduate students to pursue courses in various engineering disciplines.

7. Swarthmore College

Swarthmore, Pennsylvania


20-Year Net ROI: $431,000
Though founded by the Quakers, Swarthmore College is a non-religious liberal arts college located about 11 miles from Philadelphia. Still, its Quaker history does benefit current students. As part of the Quaker Consortium, those pursuing a degree at Swarthmore are able to cross-register for classes at Bryn Mawr College, Haverford College, and University of Pennsylvania. The college has a long history of excellence, and has produced a number of notable figures in the fields of law, art, science, business, and politics, to name but a few.

8. College of the Holy Cross

Worcester, Massachusetts


20-Year Net ROI: $411,000
College of the Holy Cross, located in Worcester, Massachusetts, is a private liberal arts school associated with the Jesuits. Its approximately 2,800 students can choose between 28 liberal arts-centered majors in which to pursue a Bachelor of Arts degree. Also of interest is the fact that the college is home to the nation's second largest Classics program of any liberal arts school in the country. This impressive program played a major role in the editing of the Homer Multitext Project, and is also a primary collaborator on the Perseus Project, a huge digital database of Greek antiquity.

9. Amherst College

Amherst, Massachusetts


20-Year Net ROI: $396,000
Amherst College is a top-ranked liberal arts college in Amherst, Massachusetts. Founded in 1821, it is the third oldest college in the state, and has been well-regarded for most of its history. U.S. News & World Report ranked Amherst the 2nd best liberal arts school in the country, while Forbes has named it the 12th best college or university in America. Amherst offers students 850 courses within 36 fields of study. While most of these are in the liberal arts, there are also options in the sciences and mathematics.

10. Haverford College

Haverford, Pennsylvania


20-Year Net ROI: $357,000
Founded by the Quakers in 1833, Haverford College is a private liberal arts college located in a suburb of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Students set on receiving an education in the liberal arts will love the flexibility provided by Haverford's degree programs. Students can choose from 31 majors across the disciplines of humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences, as well as register for classes at Bryn Mawr College, Swarthmore College, or University of Pennsylvania. Finally, consider this: this top northeastern liberal arts college has produced 3 Nobel laureates, 20 Rhodes Scholars, 104 Fulbright Scholars, and 6 Pulitzer Prize recipients.

11. Trinity College

Hartford, Connecticut


20-Year Net ROI: $346,000
Trinity College is the second oldest institute of higher education in Connecticut, and one of the best liberal arts colleges in the Northeast. This Hartford-located college offers students the choice of 38 majors and 26 minors, plus great encouragement when it comes to supplementing their liberal arts education with a study abroad experience. Currently, Trinity College is ranked the 38th best liberal arts college in the country by U.S. News & World Report.

12. Bowdoin College

Brunswick, Maine


20-Year Net ROI: $336,000
Maine's Bowdoin College isn't only one of the best liberal arts colleges in the country, it's also one of the most beautiful. Besides the main campus located near Casco Bay and the Androscoggin River, Bowdoin owns 118 acres of Orr's Island, plus a 200-acre scientific field station on Kent Island in the Bay of Fundy. But despite owning such wonderful and unique scientific research facilities, Bowdoin is well known for its liberal arts curriculum. Students can choose between 33 majors and four additional minors.

13. Middlebury College

Middlebury, Vermont


20-Year Net ROI: $324,000
Founded in 1800, Middlebury College was the first operating institute of higher education in the state of Vermont. Today, it's one of the very best! This private liberal arts college offers its undergraduate students more than 40 departments and programs from which to choose a major. Interestingly, Middlebury operates on a unique 4-1-4 schedule of two four-course semesters in the autumn and spring, then a January "Winter Term" during which students take one intensive course, participate in a research program, or pursue an internship.

14. Bates College

Lewiston, Maine


20-Year Net ROI: $318,000
Bates College, located in Lewiston, Maine has a long history of excellence in the liberal arts and sciences. Students can choose to pursue a Bachelor of Arts or Bachelor of Science in 36 departments and programs, plus 25 secondary concentrations. Uniquely, Bates also offers a Liberal Arts-Engineering Dual Degree Program in conjunction with Dartmouth College, Columbia University, and Washington University — an extremely valuable option for those who want to pursue engineering while also gaining the well roundedness of a liberal arts education.

15. Colby College

Waterville, Maine


20-Year Net ROI: $316,000
Students from more than 60 countries have come to Colby College. The liberal arts school — which U.S. News & World Report ranks as the 12the best liberal arts college in America — offers students 54 major fields, or the opportunity to design one's own independent study program. To supplement their liberal arts education, students are encouraged to study abroad at one of more than 200 international colleges and universities and by the time of graduation, 2/3 of Colby students have done so.

16. Gettysburg College

Gettysburg, Pennsylvania


20-Year Net ROI: $304,000
Located adjacent to the famous Civil War battlefield in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania is Gettysburg College, one of the best liberal arts colleges in the Northeast. Students have come from 43 states and 35 countries to pursue Gettysburg's excellent liberal arts curriculum that includes choices of majoring in things like art history, art studio, classical studies, english, French, German Studies, Religious Studies, and a range of other options. It consistently ranks among the top colleges in the country, and in 2015, was ranked by Princeton Review as one of the four top liberal arts college for placing students in strong internship programs.

17. Franklin and Marshall College

Lancaster, Pennsylvania


20-Year Net ROI: $272,000
Franklin & Marshall College is a private liberal arts college in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. It has racked up a number of mentions on ranked lists of the best colleges. U.S. News & World Report named Franklin & Marshall the 37th best liberal arts college in the nation, The New York Times called it the 26th most economically diverse top college, Forbes declared it the 36th best school overall, and The Princeton Review said that Franklin & Marshall had the most accessible professors of any college.

18. Connecticut College

New London, Connecticut


20-Year Net ROI: $263,000
Connecticut College has been ranked among the best liberal arts colleges by such publications as Forbes (81st best college) and U.S. News & World Report (45th best liberal arts college), among others. The nearly 2,000 students who call Connecticut College home are able to choose from 41 different majors, including one in which they are able to design their own course of study. As one might expect from one of the best liberal arts colleges in the Northeast, the most popular majors include English, History, Anthropology, and Art.

19. Wesleyan University

Middletown, Connecticut


20-Year Net ROI: $261,000
Wesleyan University is a liberal arts college that places a big emphasis on both the arts and the sciences. Each semester, more than 900 classes and tutorials are offered, and students have the option of more than 45 majors from which to choose. Like a number of other schools on our list of the best liberal arts colleges in the Northeast, Wesleyan allows students to tailor their choice of major to fit their interests exactly, while more uniquely offering an independent study program that an estimated 52% of Wesleyan students undertake.

20. Wellesley College

Wellesley, Massachusetts


20-Year Net ROI: $257,000
Wellesley College is a women's liberal arts college located just west of Boston. It is consistently ranked among the best schools in the country by such publications as U.S. News & World Report (#3, Best Liberal Arts Colleges), The Princeton Review (#1, Best Professors), and Forbes (#26, Best Colleges and Universities). Wellesley women can choose to major from more than 56 fields, supplement their liberal arts education with over 150 clubs and organizations, and cross-register at such esteemed colleges as Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Brandeis, and Babson College.

21. Barnard College

New York, New York


20-Year Net ROI: $238,000
Barnard College is a prestigious liberal arts college in New York City. Since its founding in 1889, it has been one of the foremost universities for women in the United States. The school offers more than 50 Bachelor of Art degree programs as part of its liberal arts curriculum, though students wanting to receive both the top-notch liberal arts education and a Bachelor of Science degree are able to take joint classes at nearby Columbia University. The very selective Barnard consistently ranks among the top colleges in the country, liberal arts or not. U.S. News & World Report has ranked it the 29th best liberal arts college in the country, while Forbes listed it #37 on its list of the best colleges in the country.

22. Skidmore College

Saratoga Springs, New York


20-Year Net ROI: $224,000
Skidmore College is a private liberal arts college that places a big emphasis on the "arts" part of the liberal arts. The college offers bachelor of arts and bachelor of science degrees in more than 60 areas of study, and for each, only a small percentage of the required credits should be of the "non liberal arts" variety. U.S. News & World Report currently ranks Skidmore the 38th best liberal arts school in the nation, while also including it on their lists for the Best Value Schools (#53) and High School Counselor Rankings (#29).

23. Dickinson College

Carlisle, Pennsylvania


20-Year Net ROI: $203,000
Founded in 1773, Dickinson College was a grammar school before it was chartered into a college in 1783, only six days after the signing of the Treaty of Paris. This makes Dickinson the very first college to be founded after the official formation of the United States. Today, Dickinson is a top-ranked liberal arts school according to nearly every college-ranking publication. The college's innovative and unique curriculum offers students more than 40 disciplinary and interdisciplinary majors, or the opportunity to spend two (of five total) years studying engineering at Columbia University, Case Western Reserve University, or Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.

24. Vassar College

Poughkeepsie, New York


20-Year Net ROI: $181,000
Founded in 1861, Vassar was the first college in America to grant degrees to women. Today, this co-educational school is one of the best liberal arts colleges in not just the Northeast, but the country. Students can choose from more than 50 major options, though like so many of the top-ranked liberal arts colleges, Vassar also offers a flexible curriculum in which students can experience a wide breadth of studies and knowledge. Vassar is currently tied as the 12th best liberal arts college in the country on U.S. News & World Reports annual ranking.

25. Mount Holyoke College

South Hadley, Massachusetts


20-Year Net ROI: $132,000
Students at Mount Holyoke College have tons of options for pursuing their liberal arts education. The college offers 50 different majors, plus the option to design one's own. Regardless of major, a healthy portion of the required 128 credits must come from classes outside of the major department and in the divisions of the humanities, science, mathematics, and social sciences — a combination that ultimately provides a well-rounded curriculum to every student. Because Mount Holyoke is part of the Five College Consortium, students may also enroll in classes at Amherst College, Smith College, Hampshire College, and University of Massachusetts Amherst.

26. Bryn Mawr College

Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania


20-Year Net ROI: $118,000
Like Barnard College described above, Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania is an all-women's liberal arts school. The college offers an incredible 331 bachelor's degree programs, most of which are in the liberal arts, but the core curriculum includes a well-rounded list of requirements that include social sciences, natural sciences (with lab skills), humanities, and a complete year of a foreign language.

27. Smith College

Northampton, Massachusetts


20-Year Net ROI: $101,000
Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts is an all-women's liberal arts school. Students have a wide range of course and major options, and because Smith is a member of both the Five Colleges consortium and the Seven Sisters, students can cross-register at a number of top-ranked institutions. Currently, Smith is tied for 12th on U.S. News & World Report's list of the best National Liberal Arts Colleges.

28. Bard College

Annandale on Hudson, New York


20-Year Net ROI: $77,400
New York's Bard College is a selective private college and one of the best liberal arts colleges in the Northwest. Besides its highly regarded liberal arts program, Bard is comprised of a conservatory, plus eight graduate programs. Undergraduate students can choose from a long list of Bachelor of Arts or Bachelor of Science degrees in over 40 majors and 12 interdisciplinary concentrations. Bard consistently ranks among the top schools in the nation on lists compiled by U.S. News & World Report, Princeton Review, Forbes, and Newsweek.

29. Hampshire College

Amherst, Massachusetts


20 Year Net ROI: $1,900
Hampshire College is a private liberal arts school in Amherst, Massachusetts. Like its neighbor, Amherst College (also on our list of the best liberal arts colleges in the Northeast), Hampshire is a member of the Five Colleges, and therefore students can cross-enroll in classes at Amherst, Mount Holyoke, Smith, and University of Massachusetts Amherst. Hampshire has a unique curriculum that focuses on building portfolios and "grading" not with letter grades, but with narrative evaluations. This method may be different from so many others, but it must be doing something right as a whopping 56% of Hampshire grads go on to achieve at least one graduate degree.

30. St. John's College

Annapolis, Maryland


20-Year Net ROI: Data Unavailable
St. John's College, a liberal arts school Annapolis, Maryland, is perhaps one of the most unique schools of its kind. The college places a huge focus on the Great Books of the Western Civilizations, and students read and discuss the world's greatest books in chronological order (the first book is Homer's Iliad and Odyssey, while the last is Virginia Woolf's To the Lighthouse). This unique curriculum traces its origins to King William's School, and is one of the last programs in the country to offer such a literal liberal arts education. Indeed, St. John's College offers only one major and that is a bachelor's degree in the Liberal Arts.