There are many factors that influence a college’s political leanings, including location, administration, and faculty. Other 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’s passionate about learning from left-leaning viewpoints, here’s a look at the most liberal colleges in America.
University of California, Berkeley
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. 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.
The most popular programs 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, and actors Chris Pine and Gregory Peck.
Mount Holyoke College
This private liberal arts college is located in South Hadley, Massachusetts. As a women’s college, Mount Holyoke belongs to the Seven Sisters program, which was founded to provide equal access to education for women.
Students at this college 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.
This college 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, and Frances Perkins.
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. It’s 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. Other common areas of study at Oberlin include biology, history, environmental studies, and literature.
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 Lena Dunham, Mary Church Terrell, Josh Ritter, Karen O, and Avery Brooks.
Wesleyan University is located in Middletown, Connecticut, which is about 2.5 hours driving distance to New York City. It has a low acceptance rate and is known for promoting independent study and interdisciplinary learning. Wesleyan University is known for majors like psychology, visual and performing arts, English literature, and gender and culture studies.
It is 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 alumni include Lin-Manuel Miranda, Joss Whedon, Santigold, Majora Carter, and Matthew Weiner.
Bard College is located in Upstate New York, in Annandale-on-Hudson in Dutchess County and is one of the most liberal colleges in the region. Bard College is passionate about civic participation and political activism, and it was 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, Chevy Chase, Ronan Farrow, Blythe Danner, Ali Wentworth, and Gia Coppola.
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 freshmen 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 economics, comparative literature, film studies, women’s studies, and romance languages.
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, Emily Green Balch, Edith Hamilton, Maggie Siff, and Marianne Moore.
Mills is 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. Barbara Lee, Renel Brooks-Moon, and Joanna Newsom are all notable alumni.
Portland State University
Portland State University (PSU) is one of a handful of public universities that are considered exceptionally liberal. Yet Portland is one city that’s passionate about doing good in the world, and their university demonstrates this ethos. While the admissions rate is fairly high, students at PSU will be challenged to think critically in new ways.
It’s 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. Carolyn Davidson, Holly Madison, Clint Didier, and Mike Richardson all graduated from PSU.
Sarah Lawrence College
Sarah Lawrence College is located outside of New York City in Bronxville, New York. It’s 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.
They boast 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. Barbara Walters, Alice Walker, Ann Patchett, Yoko Ono, Carly Simon, Jordan Peele, and Louise Gluck all attended Sarah Lawrence.
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. This liberal arts school is located in San Francisco, California and is known for having a diverse student population.
This school 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. Notable alumni include Danny Glover, Dana Carvey, Annette Bening, Rebecca Solnit, and Kirk Hammett.
Choosing From the Most Liberal Colleges in America
From coast to coast, there are myriad 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.