Since the 2016 presidential campaign, college students have become more involved in politics than before, according to a survey from the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC). Additionally, these findings correlate with an increased political activism at 52% of high schools in America.
Naturally, college seekers may choose schools that support their political leanings and ideologies. Many factors influence a college’s political leanings, including location, administration, and faculty. Some institutions simply have a history of being more liberal or conservative, and such legacies are often determined by its founders and values.
While you’ll likely find Republicans, Democrats, and everything in between at college, attending a college that’s aligned with your beliefs can ensure you’re surrounded by professors and classmates who think similarly.
If you’re a Democratic voter who is passionate about learning from left-leaning viewpoints, here’s a look at the most liberal colleges in America.
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University of California, Berkeley
There are good reasons why UC Berkeley is ranked No. 1 Public University and fourth best globally by the U.S. News & World Report. The University of California at Berkeley is one of the most liberal colleges in the United States due to its history of anti-war and anti-racist political activism.
Founded in 1868, UC Berkeley is the oldest institution in the University of California college network and is often considered a public Ivy, meaning it upholds similar academic standards to private Ivy League schools. The student body at Berkley is large, with 35,000 undergrads and roughly 12,000 graduate students.
Out of the 184 academic programs, the most popular majors at Berkeley are in sciences, with engineering, computer science, political science, biology, and economics topping the list. Yet Berkeley itself is an artistic town, and there’s a range of art museums and cultural centers that creative students can peruse.
Berkley is known for its successful athletics department, and students on campus can participate in programs or attend sporting events. Notable alumni include:
- Steve Wozniak
- Joan Didion
- Rube Goldberg
- Chris Pine
- Gregory Peck
Related Resource: Best College Towns in America
Mount Holyoke College
Founded in 1837, Mount Holyoke is a private liberal arts college located in South Hadley, Massachusetts. As a women’s college, Mount Holyoke belongs to the Seven Sisters program, founded by Mary Lyon to provide equal access to education for women.
The Mount Holyoke student body can take a range of classes across three core categories: humanities, science and math, and social sciences. This college is particularly liberal because it’s rooted in the belief that women can and should make a difference in the world, and they’re taught how to break down traditional structures of oppression by championing equality for all.
Mount Holyoke also partners with Amherst College, Smith College, Hampshire College, and the University of Massachusetts Amherst (as part of the Five College Consortium), so students can enroll in courses at these institutions as well. Students can get involved in a range of on-campus activities and clubs, including art, club sports, politics, performing arts, and religion.
Mount Holyoke is known for having numerous quirky traditions, like other liberal arts schools. Take the Canoe Sing, for example, where graduating seniors decorate canoes with lanterns and sing songs. Famous alumni include:
- Emily Dickinson
- Elaine Chao
- Frances Perkins
Founded in 1833, Oberlin College is a liberal arts school and conservatory that emphasizes individualism and creativity. This college was one of the first in the United States to admit African Americans and women, and it continues to lead in equality and activism. Oberlin College is located in Oberlin, Ohio and is known for having liberal students focused on political activism, equality, and LGBTQ rights.
Oberlin’s conservatory is the oldest operating conservatory in America and is highly selective. There are many other ways students can pursue musical and artistic passions at Oberlin outside the conservatory. For example, the art department is home to majors like art history, studio art, and visual art. Of the 44+ majors, common areas of study at Oberlin include:
- Environmental studies
With a total undergraduate enrollment of just 2,846, Oberlin is one of the smaller college campuses on our list. Oberlin has graduated a number of notable individuals, including Mary Church Terrell, the first African American woman to earn a college degree who became a civil rights activist.
Other notable Oberlin alumni include:
- James McBride, author and jazz musician
- Lena Dunham, writer
- Josh Ritter, singer, songwriter, and musician
- Avery Brooks, actor, director, and singer
Wesleyan University is among America’s top liberal colleges and located in Middletown, Connecticut, which is about 2.5 hours driving distance to New York City. Wesleyan has a low acceptance rate and is known for promoting independent study and interdisciplinary learning.
Wesleyan University is known for creative majors like:
- Visual and performing arts
- English literature
- Gender and culture studies
More than 70% of Wesleyan students study language, which often leads to studying abroad. In fact, more than 300 students study abroad each year.
The university part of the Little Three, which is a trio of prestigious regional liberal arts schools (alongside Williams and Amherst). This designation belongs to a greater group of institutions called the Little Ivies, which includes a handful of the most liberal colleges across the Northeast, including Colgate, Middlebury, and Swarthmore.
Wesleyan students can join student groups like Artifex Magazine, the on-campus literary magazine, and the Natural Science and Mathematics Coalition, among nearly 300 groups total. Notable Wesleyan alumni include:
- Lin-Manuel Miranda, actor, producer, and musician
- Joss Whedon, filmmaker and comic book writer
- Santigold, singer and songwriter
- Majora Carter, urban revitalization strategist
- Matthew Weiner, television writer, director, and producer
Bard College is located in Upstate New York, in Annandale-on-Hudson in Dutchess County and is one of the most liberal colleges in America. Known as “a private college for the public good,” Bard College is passionate about fostering civic participation and political activism. Bard College was also the first higher education institution to offer a major in human rights.
Bard students can choose from 40 different majors across Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Science degrees, but the most popular disciplines are English, social sciences, performing arts, and multidisciplinary studies. Entrepreneurship and policy are additional popular study areas that Bard College encourages students to pursue.
The campus is within the Hudson River Historic District, a national public landmark, and students have access to thousands of historic documents and volumes at the Charles P. Stevenson library. Notable alumni include:
- Donald Fagen, musician
- Chevy Chase, actor and comedian
- Ronan Farrow, journalist
- Blythe Danner, actress
- Ali Wentworth, actress, comedian, producer
- Gia Coppola, screenwriter and film director
Bryn Mawr College
Bryn Mawr is another women’s liberal arts college that belongs to the Seven Sister college consortium. This school has a reputation for being highly liberal, and it’s known for focusing on public engagement and academic excellence. Bryn Mawr students can take classes at Haverford, Swarthmore, and the University of Pennsylvania.
Each freshman student at Bryn Mawr college attends the Emily Balch seminars, which prepare students to take a probing, thoughtful approach to both academics and the world beyond. Students can choose from a wide range of liberal arts majors, including:
- Comparative literature
- Film studies
- Women’s studies
- Romance languages
Bryn Mawr students are encouraged to choose a niche area of study, but explore different fields and interests for a well-rounded education. Popular alumni include:
- Katharine Hepburn, actress
- Emily Green Balch, economist, and sociologist
- Edith Hamilton, educator, and author
- Maggie Siff, actress
- Marianne Moore, poet, and editor
Mills is a top liberal college in Oakland, California. This liberal arts school is for women and gender non-binary students, but accepts graduate students of all gender identities. Mills is less selective than other schools on this list, making it a great option for students applying to multiple schools.
Mills students often attend to study social sciences, marketing, business, management, English, and interdisciplinary studies. Mills College is also often ranked highly for its value, as it offers a high-quality education at a relatively low price, especially in comparison to other liberal arts schools.
Students at Mills can choose to create their own individualized major. This path enables undergraduates to explore a range of interests and passions outside the traditional realm of majors. American politician Barbara Lee, radio personality and broadcaster Renel Brooks-Moon, and singer and actress Joanna Newsom are all notable Mills College alumni.
Portland State University
Portland State University (PSU) is one of a handful of public research universities that are considered exceptionally liberal. Likewise, U.S. News & World Report ranks PSU as one of the nation’s most innovative universities.
Portland is one city that’s passionate about doing good in the world, and its university demonstrates this ethos. While Portland’s admissions rate is fairly high, students at PSU will be challenged to think critically in new ways.
PSU is also less of a party school, and both students and faculty members are focused on enacting positive change through environmentalism, social justice, and redefining what it means to be an American university in the current era.
Portland State University is located in the heart of Portland, Oregon, yet students still have access to traditional campus elements like rolling green lawns and elegant libraries. Famous PSU alumni include:
- Carolyn Davidson, graphic designer (designed the Nike Swoosh logo!)
- Holly Madison, American television personality
- Clint Didier, American football player and politician
- Mike Richardson, professional football player
Sarah Lawrence College
Sarah Lawrence College is among the best liberal colleges located outside of New York City in Bronxville, New York. Sarah Lawrence is also known for being one of the best colleges to attend for creative writing, but it also offers a range of study areas in the social and life sciences.
Sarah Lawrence College boasts one of the most intimate student-to-faculty ratios of all college campuses, with a 9:1 ratio. This makes it a great choice for liberal arts students longing for personalized study and guidance from dedicated faculty members. Students who want to work closely with experts in their fields, especially in the visual and performing arts, will likely succeed at Sarah Lawrence.
Sarah Lawrence was at one time a women’s school and continues to maintain more female students than men, but it’s open to all genders. Some famous Sarah Lawrence College alumni include:
- Barbara Walters, journalist, and author
- Alice Walker, novelist, poet, and social activist
- Ann Patchett, author
- Yoko Ono, multimedia artist and singer
- Carly Simon, singer, songwriter, and author
- Jordan Peele, actor, and comedian
- Louise Gluck, poet, and essayist
San Francisco State University
Similar to Portland State University, San Francisco State University is a public university that’s known for having strong political leanings toward the left. SF State is one of the best liberal colleges in California and is home to the nation’s first College of Ethnic Studies.
SF State belongs to the California State University system, which comprises 23 campuses across the state. San Francisco State offers a wide range of majors and has a lower cost than most other schools on this list, making it a solid choice for liberal students who want an interdisciplinary education for a great value.
The student body is around 25,917, making it considerably larger than most liberal arts schools. To date, more than 280,000 graduates across the globe are making a difference in science, public service, business, and more. Notable alumni include:
- Danny Glover, actor and director
- Dana Carvey, comedian, actor, and producer
- Annette Bening, actress
- Rebecca Solnit, writer
- Kirk Hammett, musician
Choosing From the Most Liberal Colleges in the US
From coast to coast, there are various top liberal arts schools students can choose from. However, each school has its own unique offerings, and it’s important to think about elements like campus life, extracurricular opportunities, and location.
For more information on school rankings, including how to choose the best college and major for you, visit CollegeRank.