37 Liberal Arts Colleges In or Near Cities

I wrote this post on Friday, but since then I’ve gotten some more suggestions to add to the list of liberal arts colleges in or near cities including Trinity University in San Antonio, TX.  A Trinity alum provided some fascinating history about schools that technically should no longer be considered liberal arts colleges, such as the University of Richmond, but keep the designation anyway.

Fascinating stuff!

Lynn O’Shaughnessy

Many students want to attend schools in or near big cities.

It’s particularly a challenge, however, to find liberal arts colleges that are located in urban areas. I periodically get questions from students and parents asking for the names of liberal arts that aren’t located in the sticks.

My daughter Caitlin attended one of these remote schools. She graduated two years ago from Juniata College, in Huntingdon, PA, which is a great school, but it’s a pain to get to.

The summer before her senior year, my son and I visited Caitlin in Huntingdon and had a lovely time. We picked blueberries, bought awesome produce at the amazing farmer’s market, poked around at resale shops, hiked in the mountains and soaked up the scenery on the patio as the sun set.  After reluctantly saying good bye, it took my son Ben and I 13 hours to get back home to San Diego.

During the plane ride back, I compiled a list of liberal arts colleges that are in cities or are only a short distance from a metropolitan area. I was really surprised at how few liberal arts colleges are in cities in the Midwest. What’s with that? I have added a few schools on the list since then.

I’m sure that I must have missed some schools so if you see a liberal arts college that should be on this list, please let me know.

33 Liberal Arts Colleges In or Near Cities

East Coast

  • Barnard College, New York City
  • Bryn Mawr College, Bryn Mawr, PA, near Philadelphia
  • Drew University, Madison, NJ, near New York City

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    Swarthmore College

  • Goucher College, Towson, MD, a Baltimore suburb
  • Haverford College, near Philadelphia
  • Sarah Lawrence College, Bronxville, NY, near New York City
  • Simmons College, Boston
  • Swarthmore College, Smarthmore, PA, near Philadelphia
  • Trinity College, Hartford, CT
  • Wheaton College, Norton, MA, near Providence, RI

Midwest

  • Lake Forest College, Chicago suburb
  • Macalester College, St. Paul

South

  • Birmingham-Southern College, Birmingham, AL
  • Eckerd College, St. Petersburg, FL

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    University of Puget Sound

  • Fisk University, Nashville
  • Morehouse College, Atlanta
  • Oglethorpe University, Atlanta
  • Millsaps College, Jackson, MS
  • Rhodes College, Memphis, TN
  • University of Richmond, Richmond, VA

Southwest

  • Trinity University

West

  • Colorado College, Colorado Springs, CO
  • Lewis & Clark College, Portland, OR
  • Mills College, Oakland, CA
  • Occidental College, Los Angeles
  • Reed College, Portland, OR
  • St. John’s College, Santa Fe, NM
  • St. Mary’s College of California, Moraga, CA (San Francisco Bay)
  • University of Puget Sound, Tacoma, WA
  • Whittier College, Whittier, CA. Los Angeles suburb
  • Westminster College, Salt Lake City, UT

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    Claremont McKenna College

  • Westmont College, Santa Barbara CA (Not a large city, but awfully fun.)

These five Claremont (CA) colleges are on the outskirts of the Los Angeles metro area:

  • Claremont McKenna College
  • Harvey Mudd College
  • Pitzer College College
  • Pomona College
  • Scripps College

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29 Responses to 37 Liberal Arts Colleges In or Near Cities

  1. Bond July 12, 2013 at 6:12 pm #

    Trinity University is a great small liberal arts and science university in San Antonio. San Antonio is a fun city with plenty to do. The airport is just 10 minutes from the school.

    • Lynn O'Shaughnessy July 12, 2013 at 9:02 pm #

      Thanks for your suggestion, but Trinity University is not a liberal arts college.

      Lynn O’Shaughnessy

  2. Stuart July 12, 2013 at 9:01 pm #

    Bard and Vassar are fairly close to NYC and Oberlin is within 45 minutes of Cleveland.

  3. Lynn O'Shaughnessy July 12, 2013 at 9:39 pm #

    Hi Stuart,

    Bard and Vassar are about 1 1/2 and 2 1/2 hours away from NYC. That’s stretching it. I would say most liberal arts colleges are within that distance from a major metropolitan area.

    Lynn O’Shaughnessy

    • Stuart July 13, 2013 at 3:17 am #

      But Bard and Vassar are in communities served by the Metro North commuter railroad. The trip to NYC by train might even be shorter than it is from Madison, where Drew University is located. Passengers who take the train from Madison to New York must change trains in Hoboken while those who take trains from the NY towns go directly into the city.

  4. Linda July 12, 2013 at 10:10 pm #

    Lynn, thanks for once again providing such useful information in one handy place.

  5. JimB July 12, 2013 at 11:07 pm #

    It probably depends on what someone considers a “city.” But just to add, since you mentioned Fisk in Nashville, there are also Aquinas, Trevecca, and Lipscomb within the Nashville metro area.

  6. Donna July 13, 2013 at 11:29 am #

    Rollins College is in Winter Park, FL which is part of metropolitan Orlando

    • Lynn O'Shaughnessy July 13, 2013 at 1:26 pm #

      Thanks for the suggestion Donna. I don’t think Rollins College is technically a liberal arts college. The designations of “college’ and “university” can be misleading.

      Lynn O’Shaughnessy

  7. Mike July 13, 2013 at 12:02 pm #

    No need to change trains from Drew University (Madison, New Jersey) to NYC (Penn Station). NJ Transit commuter trains run direct with no transfer in Hoboken. A transfer was necessary some years back, but no longer.

    You can walk to the commuter station in Madison from the Drew campus in perhaps 10 minutes time. The train ride to Penn Station is under one hour. For those not familiar with NYC, Penn Station is located at 34th street and seventh avenue literally right beneath Madison Square Garden. Passengers can access many NYC subway lines at Penn Station along with the Long Island Rail Road (commuter line) and Amtrak.

    • Lynn O'Shaughnessy July 13, 2013 at 1:30 pm #

      Thanks Mike for filling us in on the trains from Drew University to NYC. It’s nice to have blog visitors from across the country to fill us in on these kinds of details!

      Lynn O’Shaughnessy

      • Mike July 13, 2013 at 7:10 pm #

        I’m a proud alum!

        As a consequence of its close proximity to NYC, Drew offers three Manhattan semesters (United Nations, Contemporary Art and Wall Street). My understanding (which may be a bit imperfect) is that Drew students take the train into the city (from Madison) three days each week when participating in one of the semesters.

  8. Lynn O'Shaughnessy July 13, 2013 at 2:34 pm #

    Southwestern University is 30 minutes from downtown Austin, 10 minutes from Round Rock and it’s already pretty contiguous development from Austin to Georgetown. Randolph-Macon is in the suburbs of Richmond, VA.

  9. Celeste W July 13, 2013 at 6:27 pm #

    My son will attend Kalamazoo College in Kalamazoo, Michigan after his gap year this year. While it is in a very small city, and not a large city like some of the other cities mentioned here, that small city nonetheless provides a very different surrounding environment as compared to other midwest LACs that he considered. Moreover, there is also a large state university there, Western Michigan University, so that, too, offers more options in terms of activities.

    He also considered Lawrence in Appleton Wisconsin, which is another small city.

    Clark University is not an LAC per se, but it has many of the qualities of one. And it is about an hour away from Boston. The school provides a weekly bus to Boston, as well.

  10. Trinity U Alum July 14, 2013 at 9:10 pm #

    I am a graduate of Trinity University, and Carnegie classification aside, it is very much a liberal arts college (LAC), much in the way the University of Richmond is (and similar schools). Richmond offers masters and professional degrees, but petitioned Carnegie for US News ranking purposes to be classified as a liberal arts college. http://news.richmond.edu/releases/archives/dec04/Carnegie.html

    Trinity’s reference institutions are LACs, as are the schools with which it is aligned athletically (Colorado and Austin Colleges, and Southwestern University, for example). Trinity has not petitioned for a change in order to maintain its higher ranking in the Masters category.

    The Inside Higher Ed article below discusses how other LACs, which used to be classified as baccalaureates (Wesleyan, Bryn Mawr, Smith, and numerous others who previously received exemptions to their classification), were reclassified as Masters schools because of their graduate and professional programs (like Trinity’s) and how Miidlebury argued its graduate programs took place off-site to avoid a similar fate. Many of those same schools have
    re-petitioned to maintain baccalaureate status, yet offer professional and graduate degrees in far higher numbers and proportions than Trinity (Washington and Lee is another).
    http://news.richmond.edu/releases/archives/dec04/Carnegie.html

    To say Trinity is not an LAC deprives prospective students the opportunity to search for a school with the criteria you listed. Trinity IS a liberal arts college in the middle of the seventh-largest US city.

  11. Trinity U Alum July 14, 2013 at 9:19 pm #

    I see the link for the inside higher Ed article is the wrong one. I will resend; you can delete that comment and this one to post the correct link with the comment

  12. Trinity U Alum July 14, 2013 at 9:20 pm #

    I am a graduate of Trinity University, and Carnegie classification aside, it is very much a liberal arts college (LAC), much in the way the University of Richmond is (and similar schools). Richmond offers masters and professional degrees, but petitioned Carnegie for US News ranking purposes to be classified as a liberal arts college. http://news.richmond.edu/releases/archives/dec04/Carnegie.html

    Trinity’s reference institutions are LACs, as are the schools with which it is aligned athletically (Colorado and Austin Colleges, and Southwestern University, for example). Trinity has not petitioned for a change in order to maintain its higher ranking in the Masters category.

    The Inside Higher Ed article below discusses how other LACs, which used to be classified as baccalaureates (Wesleyan, Bryn Mawr, Smith, and numerous others who previously received exemptions to their classification), were reclassified as Masters schools because of their graduate and professional programs (like Trinity’s) and how Miidlebury argued its graduate programs took place off-site to avoid a similar fate. Many of those same schools have
    re-petitioned to maintain baccalaureate status, yet offer professional and graduate degrees in far higher numbers and proportions than Trinity (Washington and Lee is another).
    http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2006/02/27/carnegie

    To say Trinity is not an LAC deprives prospective students the opportunity to search for a school with the criteria you listed. Trinity IS a liberal arts college in the middle of the seventh-largest US city.

    • Lynn O'Shaughnessy July 15, 2013 at 1:38 pm #

      Thanks Trinity U Alum. I agree that Trinity deserves a spot on this list.

      It seems that the liberal arts college category isn’t as precise as you might assume. Thank you for sending the link to the article on Inside Higher Ed that discusses how some schools have kept their liberal arts designation even as they have added some graduate programs.

      I also got an email from my friend Michelle Kretzschmar of Do It Yourself College Rankings, a former, long-time Texasn, who also argued that Trinity should be on the libearl arts college list. And she adds a few more suggestions below. Lynn O’Shaughnessy

      From Michelle:

      As for the LACs, I know Trinity isn’t listed as an LAC, it has an general engineering program, Masters in Accounting, Health Administration, some education programs that students do in five years for teacher certification. However, if you are looking for a LAC, you should consider Trinity, we did. We went there for multiple visits and Ethan took lessons from one of the Trinity baseball coaches. Nobody in Texas thinks about it as a masters level program, most who have heard of it probably don’t realize it has master level programs. For all intents and purposes, it’s an LAC with some extra programs despite its Carnegie Classification. But by that definition, it’s not a LAC.

      Other schools to add are Millsaps in Jackson, Mississippi, Birmingham Southern in Birmingham, Alabama, Oglethorpe University in Atlanta, and I believe that Davidson is in the suburbs of Charlotte.

  13. Mary July 15, 2013 at 3:44 pm #

    University of St. Thomas is in St. Paul, just down the street from Macalester; as is Hamline University, St. Catherine University, Gustavus, Concordia, and Bethel. And across the river in Minneapolis is Augsburg.

  14. MYOS July 15, 2013 at 9:01 pm #

    Agnes Scott College in Atlanta

  15. Donna Aizuss July 16, 2013 at 12:53 am #

    Willamette in Salem OR

    • Lynn O'Shaughnessy July 16, 2013 at 12:57 am #

      Donna, I was thinking about Willamette, but Salem doesn’t strike me as a metropolitan area. It’s a wonderful school though. My only complaint about Willamette is that it requires students (who don’t arrive with enough language classes) to take FOUR language courses. That was a nonstarter for my child and for the son of a friend of mine.

      Lynn O’Shaughnessy

  16. JohnM July 16, 2013 at 5:18 pm #

    The College of New Jersey (TCNJ) 37 mi from Philly and 60 mi from NYC and close to train stations on the Northeast Corridor that serve both cities is a competitive public liberal arts school that is not as ridiculously priced as most schools on the list. Also features highly successful D III sports programs for both women and men.

  17. phoebe July 17, 2013 at 12:39 am #

    I grew up in Norton, MA, home of Wheaton College, and its inclusion on this list makes me LOL. It’s true that it is not that far from Providence. It sure felt like the middle of nowhere.

  18. College Focus July 17, 2013 at 5:58 pm #

    Awesome list, I will definitely be checking out these while searching through colleges. Thanks for sharing!

  19. Carita Del Valle July 18, 2013 at 3:02 pm #

    Elon?, Furman?

  20. Jamie Cartwright March 17, 2014 at 2:51 am #

    Hi!
    I just wanted to note that Lawrence University, a highly ranked liberal arts college in Wisconsin is located in the small city of Appleton. Appleton has 72,000 people, plus it’s the de facto capital of the Fox Cities area, a much larger metropolitan area. More significantly, Lawrence is right downtown, giving it a very in-the-city feel.

    Thanks!

  21. James Bowers June 6, 2014 at 4:51 pm #

    Shimer College is a very small liberal arts college with a Great Books core curriculum. Shimer is located in the heart of Chicago just south of the Loop and across the highway from the Sox stadium.

  22. LeeJ. September 6, 2014 at 6:40 pm #

    Wellesley College (MA) should be on this list – it’s proximity to Cambridge/Boston was a major factor for me. Close enough to take advantage of other schools, to have internships and to socialize. Fifteen miles away and Wellesley runs buses frequently.

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