Top Liberal Arts Colleges for Science

Small liberal arts colleges excel at preparing scientists for the rigorous work of graduate school.
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The United States has established itself as the world leader in science, producing more patents and funding more research than any other nation, according to “Scientific American.” The country’s top liberal arts colleges produce future Ph.D.s in science at twice the rate of higher education institutions generally, and they run neck-and-neck with elite research universities like Berkeley, MIT, Harvard, CalTech, and Stanford for the number of Ph.D.s per 100 students that they produce, according to Thomas Cech.

1 Selectivity

One advantage that top liberal arts colleges have over other colleges is their selectivity. Because they admit only a small number of students, the best liberal arts colleges assemble student bodies that are more consistently talented. Outstanding scientists are more likely to have been educated at a liberal arts college, as Thomas Cech points out. Though only seven percent of the nation’s colleges and universities are liberal arts colleges, 19 percent of the leading scientists elected to the National Academy of Sciences are liberal arts college graduates. This means scientists who studied at liberal arts colleges excel a two-thirds the rate of normal college graduates in science. The colleges that admit the fewest applicants are the U.S. Naval Academy (7.5 percent), the U.S. Military Academy (10.6 percent), Amherst College (13.3 percent), Pomona College (14.0 percent) and Claremont-McKenna College (14.1 percent).

2 Quality of Teaching

Another key advantage liberal arts colleges have over other institutions is their focus on quality teaching. While professors who teach at a large university are typically more focused on research, professors at liberal arts colleges enter these learning communities in part because they deem quality teaching essential. Class sizes are typically a fraction of those at large universities, which enables undergraduate students to become involved in professional, open-inquiry research as early as their freshman years. The best colleges for teaching are, according to surveys of administrators conducted by “U.S. News & World Report”: Davidson College, Carleton College, Grinnell College, Oberlin College and Centre College.

3 Number of Ph.D.s

Several liberal arts colleges rank in the top ten in the country for the sheer numbers of science Ph.D.s they produce. According to the National Science Foundation, the liberal arts colleges that produce the most life science PhDs include Reed, Swarthmore, Harvey Mudd, Kalamazoo and Carleton. The colleges that produce the most physics and physical science Ph.D.s are Harvey Mudd, Reed, Carleton, Wabash, Grinnell, and Lawrence. The colleges producing the most chemistry Ph.D.s are Harvey Mudd, Wabash, Reed, Carleton, Wooster, Kalamazoo and Transylvania.

4 Grant Money and Research

The oldest foundation in the United States devoted wholly to science, the Research Corporation for Science Advancement, has found a way to gauge the quality of science education at the top liberal arts colleges: it tracks which colleges attract the most research funding and grants. According to The Huffington Post, the liberal arts colleges that are “richest” in science are Hope College, Williams College, Amherst College, Carleton College, Reed College, Occidental College, Wellesley College, Pomona College, Swarthmore College and Franklin and Marshall College.

Laura Holland Fletcher has graduate level training in ESL, linguistics and the teaching of writing. She taught ESL and college writing for more than 10 years in both the US and Asia. She also writes for local and national magazines that cover legal, educational and social justice issues.