By BVS Staff
As trends in education come and go, there is one academic tenet that has never managed to disappear entirely — the classical education. Throughout history, millions of students have received an education in the classics, from kings and their courtiers, to Winston Churchill and Mark Zuckerberg. The pursuit of knowledge about what is good, true, and beautiful has never gone out of style.
What is Classical Education?
There is a fundamental difference between training and education, and classical education falls squarely into the latter category. A classical education is rooted in three pillars: the classic languages (Greek and Latin), art and music, and mathematics. An education focusing on these core subjects not only teaches a student how to think, but the value of always seeking the good, the true, and the beautiful. Classical education is timeless, provides knowledge, virtue, and desirable skills, and can enhance the understanding of any other subject. And while classical education is often associated with the Christian tradition (to understand Western Heritage, one must necessarily have a knowledge of the Bible), classical education is not dependent upon any religion.
While there aren’t necessarily classical colleges in the way that there are classical schools for grades K-12 (the Great Books schools do come close), there are certain schools where classically educated students, or those students seeking a classical education, would be most happy. To organize our list of the 30 Best Small College for a Classical Education, we began by looking at those institutions which espouse the liberal arts, as liberal arts curricula inherently espouse many of the same principles. Then we narrowed down our list based on factors such as: core curriculum, the number of classically themed majors, the existence and reputation of a Classics department, and classical opportunities available both on and off campus.
If the chance to study at one of the best liberal arts colleges in the country isn’t enough to entice classically inclined students, then certainly Amherst’s strong Classics Department will prove enough to sway them. The department focuses on Greco-Romano history, with classes on Greek and Latin, ancient literature, archaeology, history, mythology, religion, and more. If reading some of the Western Heritage’s most beautiful texts isn’t enough, students can supplement their education in the Classics by taking part in a study abroad program in Rome or Athens, or an excavation trip to Greece.
Annandale-on-Hudson, New York
No matter what element of classical education a student finds most appealing, Bard College will have something for them. Students have their choice of two interdisciplinary focuses: Classical Studies or Ancient Studies. Each focus includes classes on history, philosophy, rhetoric, art historic, and literature, to name but a few, plus opportunities to attend lectures and gatherings in New York City and beyond.
This nationally ranked Christian university in Texas isn’t exclusively a liberal arts college, though it can provide a solid classical education for those who seek it. Specifically, students can choose to join the Honors College, from which they can then pursue a Bachelor of Arts in Great Texts of the Western Tradition. This classical major is one of the best of its kind, and many of its graduates go on to teach at some of the top classical schools in the country.
Though Belhaven University does not offer a Classics major like so many other schools on our list, the university is still an ideal choice for students wishing to pursue or continue a classical education. Belhaven offers a wide variety of established majors, though students can also choose to build their own Classics major through the “Omega College” or pursue a degree in Classical Education Studies, a major within the Education department. Furthermore, as a dedicated Christian institution, each class is taught from the Christian perspective by a committed Christian faculty member.
La Mirada, California
Biola University is home to the Torrey Honors Institute, through which students can pursue a Christian-centered Great Books education. Students complete a series of required courses, plus a capstone project that can be either a 12,000-word paper or a 100-hour project. By participating in Torrey, students are given a number of unique opportunities that range from reading and discussing the classics at Cambridge, participating in a Scholar’s Semester at Oxford, staging a theater production, or taking part in an off-campus study program in Nashville or Uganda.
Brandeis University is one of the best small colleges for classical education thanks to its strong Department of Classical Studies. Brandeis students choosing to pursue a Bachelor’s degree in Classical Studies or a Master’s degree in Ancient Greek and Roman Studies have the benefit of studying in a department dedicated to seeking the good, the true, and the beautiful. Another benefit of obtaining a classical education at Brandeis is the number of opportunities to gain fieldwork experience in places like Israel, Petra, Greece, and more.
Bryn Mawr College
Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania
Bryn Mawr’s Department of Greek, Latin, & Classical Studies is well known even internationally, and students seeking a classical education come from all over to study with professors who specialize in everything from Roman archaeology to Greek magic. Many students studying in this department read and contribute to the Bryn Mawr Classical Review, the internet’s second-oldest scholarly journal with a humanities theme. The college also hosts its Classics Colloquia, a gathering for students and faculty that features distinguished figures speaking about literature, archaeology, and history.
Grand Rapids, Michigan
Classically inclined students at Calvin College have the option of joining a top-ranked Classics department. The department is especially strong in its classes relating to the ancient world, including Biblical studies, history, and archaeology. Fans of Latin will also love the Biduum Latinum Calvinianum, Calvin’s annual two-day themed conference during which Latin is spoken.
Carleton College offers classically minded students a solid Classics Department where they can immerse themselves in the histories, literatures, and languages of ancient Rome and ancient Greece. Students can choose to major in Classical Studies, Latin, Greek, or Classical Languages, and each major requires both a junior skills portfolio and a senior symposium. Because of the nature of their studies, students are also encouraged to study abroad in either Rome or Athens.
Hamilton, New York
Colgate University’s reputation as a top-ranked liberal arts school is just one of many reasons it’s one of our best small colleges for classical education. Colgate is home to a fantastic Classics department, in which students have the option of minoring in classics, or going the whole nine yards and majoring in classics, classical studies, Greek, or Latin. Consistent with a true classical education, the classes explore the Greco-Roman heritage from mythology and language, to history and politics, and every angle in between. Classics students also have the unique opportunity of completing a three-week extended study in either Greece or Italy.
College of Charleston
Charleston, South Carolina
Students studying in the Department of Classics at College of Charleston can choose between a Bachelor of Arts degree or a Bachelor of Science degree in Classics, Latin, or Ancient Greek. The course list is a collection of delightfully varied classes ranging in subject from the traditional (classical religion, mythology) to the uncommon (Romans in cinema, ancient medicine and science). As with any vibrant Classics department, College of Charleston offers research and fieldwork opportunities to students, usually with especially accomplished professors, and hosts a yearly lecture series on varying themes related to the Classics.
St. Davids, Pennsylvania
Eastern University is home to the Templeton Honors College, which admits a maximum 36 talented undergraduates per year. Templeton is a Great Books college, and each course — including mathematics, is taught using primary sources. Besides reading through the Great Books canon, students are expected to participate in class discussions, as most courses are taught in the Socratic style.
Greenville, South Carolina
Furman University, one of the country’s top-ranked liberal arts colleges, provides each and every undergraduate student with a personalized experience — a common tenet of classical education institutions. Furman students have the option of majoring in Classics, Latin, or Greek, and take a wide variety of classes in the sciences, literature, mathematics to supplement. Finally, students pursuing a classical education at Furman have the opportunity to study abroad in either Rome or Athens.
Gordon College offers a number of options to students desiring a classical education. Students can choose to pursue a Classical Studies minor, for which they’re required to take various liberal arts courses, or they may join the Jerusalem & Athens Forum, an interdisciplinary honors program with a Great Books-style curriculum. However a student decides to pursue the classics at Gordon, he or she are also be encouraged to attend the Logos Conference, a workshop held at Oxford University each summer.
Students at Grinnell College in Iowa can pursue a classical education by majoring in Classics. Once a student has completed Grinnell’s core requirements, he or she can choose to focus their Classics degree on either classical languages and literature, or Classical Studies. Besides on-campus education, students also have the option of conducting intensive work in classical Greek in Athens for one year, or studying in Rome or Istanbul.
Grove City College
Grove City, Pennsylvania
Grove City College is a small liberal arts college in Grove City, Pennsylvania. The college is considered a bastion of classical thought, and actively recruits students with a classical education background. Though it does not offer a classics major like some other schools on this list, Grove City has developed a classical studies minor that will supplement well any major on its list of degree programs.
Gutenberg College is a small, private Christian college in Oregon. Consistently ranked as one of the top choices of college for homeschooled students — many of whom are classically educated — Gutenberg offers just one degree: a Bachelor of Arts in the Liberal Arts. To achieve their degree, students read and study the Great Books cannon, a series of the best works in the Western Heritage.
With a reading list that includes Homer and Sophocles, Cicero and Livy, Plutarch and Augustine, it should come as no surprise that Haverford College is included on our list of the 30 best small colleges for classical education. Through its Department of Classics, Haverford offers a major (and minor) in Classical Culture and Society. This unique course of study requires students to “explore life in Classical antiquity in all of its dimensions — from language, to literature, to history, philosophy, archaeology, and more.” Alternatively, students can major in Classical and Near Eastern Archaeology, Greek, Latin, or Classical Languages.
Hillsdale College is one of those colleges that has always been intended for students who love classical education and seeking the good, the true, and the beautiful. Though Hillsdale offers dozens of major and minor options, including an impressive number of pre-professional programs, every student is required to take a series of classes rooted in the classics. These include Western Heritage, American Heritage, Great Books, and the U.S. Constitution — all of which are taught using primary sources.
While a classical education will always be, at least to some degree, an inherent part of the experience at a liberal arts college, Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio also hosts a Department of Classics. Students choosing to major or minor in Classics at Kenyon are asked to dive into the Western Heritage and intellect through classes in mythology, history, literature, archaeology, and of course, Greek and Latin.
The King’s College
New York, New York
Obtaining a classical education in the modern metropolis of New York City? It’s possible at The King’s College. This small college holds classes in the Empire State Building, and offers four majors: business management; finance; politics, philosophy, and economics; and media, culture, and the arts. Regardless of major, every student takes a 20-class core curriculum. This core is deeply rooted in the classics, and includes courses on logic, the Western Heritage, Judeo-Christian thought, and persuasive speaking.
Contrary to myth, classical education does not oppose science or technology. As such, LeTorneau University, located in Longview, Texas, is a great option for the student who values a classical education but desires to major in a technical program like engineering, aeronautics, or computer science (all of which LeTorneau is well known for). Students choosing a technical major can be sure that they are still receiving a liberal arts core curriculum faithful to the traditions of a classical education.
Messiah College, a small Christian private school located in Pennsylvania, offers a very thorough classics department consisting of Classics, Medieval, and Renaissance majors. The department’s list of offered courses — perhaps the dream list for those who love classical education — involves classes in Latin, Greek, Roman, and medieval history, medieval and British literature, Shakespeare, and even an archaeology class taken on-site in Cyprus! Students who choose to major in Classics may also minor in either Medieval or Renaissance Studies. Other strong departments rooted in classical education are the English and philosophy departments.
New Saint Andrews College
New Saint Andrews College in Moscow, Idaho may be small, but it’s a powerful and inspiring place for those seeking a classical education. There’s only one course of study, or “major,” which consists of liberal arts classes based on some of the Western Heritage’s most important works. New Saint Andrews College is especially well-known for its unique Latin program, and after graduation, students have the opportunity to pursue a graduate fellowship while translating theological works of the 16th and 17th centuries.
Patrick Henry College
Though less than 20 years old, Virginia’s Patrick Henry College is one of the best small colleges for classical education. Though a number of different majors are offered, students at this Christian college must all complete a very classical core curriculum that includes courses in the Bible, Constitutional law, Western literature, music appreciation, a foreign language, logic, and Euclidian geometry, to name but a few.
St. John’s College
St. John’s College in Maryland (as well as its sister school in New Mexico) is another college that makes for a great option for those students who seek a true classical education. The college offers only one major, a bachelor’s degree in the Liberal Arts, and each student follows a curriculum rooted in the Great Books. Classes are usually taught in the Socratic style, in which discussion is important, and all books and materials are primary sources.
Students at Swarthmore College have the privilege of studying in a top-ranked liberal arts environment and, should they so choose, a solid Classics Department. Swarthmore’s Classics Department, which also houses the honors program, offers both minors and majors in Greek, Latin, Classical Studies, and Ancient History. Students are required to complete a senior course study and oral exam. Those studying the classics at Swarthmore have the option of participating in study abroad programs at the Intercollegiate Center for Classical Studies in Rome, or in countries like Ireland, Greek, and Italy.
Thomas Aquinas College
Santa Paula, California
Homer, Plato, St. Augustine, Descartes, Shakespeare — not only are these all necessary for a true classical education, but they’re all required reading at Thomas Aquinas College. This small Roman Catholic college is one of the Great Books colleges, and is deeply rooted in the classical tradition. All classes are taught using primary sources, and students complete a solid curriculum in order to achieve a Bachelor of Arts in the Liberal Arts.
University of Dallas
Consistently ranked as one of the best Catholic colleges in the country, University of Dallas is a bastion of academic pride and classical thought. The university employs both the Great Books and the liberal arts, providing students in search of a classical education with the best of both worlds. The politics and art departments are especially strong here, and nearly 80% of students study abroad (mostly in Rome).
Students looking for a classical education will feel right at home at Wheaton College, a top-ranked liberal arts school. Wheaton’s rigorous core curriculum exposes students to a variety of subjects, including mathematics, literature, philosophy, history, natural and social sciences, art, and foreign languages. Each class is rooted in classical ideals, ensuring that students graduate with the knowledge and virtue that such an education provides.