Best Liberal Arts Colleges on the West Coast of USA

Getting a liberal arts education can be one of the best decisions you can make as it offers a comprehensive and well-rounded educational opportunity. In a previous article, I highlighted the East Coast as a place to look for some great liberal arts colleges. While the West Coast is often associated with STEM-oriented colleges, there are some amazing choices in liberal arts as well.

To come with a list of the best liberal arts colleges, Stoodnt looked at a number of factors including:

  • National and international rankings
  • Curriculum
  • 20-year Return on Investment (ROI), as determined by PayScale
  • Freshman retention rates
  • Notable faculty and alumni

We also limited the West Coast to the following areas:  Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii Idaho, Montana, New Mexico, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming.  Here are the colleges we selected in alphabetical order:

Claremont McKenna College

Claremont McKenna College is a private liberal arts college in Claremont, California. It has a curricular emphasis on government, economics, public affairs, finance, and international relations. CMC is a member of the Claremont Colleges consortium.  Students at Claremont McKenna have the unique opportunity to customize their education by studying courses at any of the schools in the consortium.

Colorado College

Colorado College is a private liberal arts college in Colorado Springs, Colorado. The college enrolls approximately 2,000 undergraduates at its 90-acre campus. The college offers 42 majors and 33 minors.  U.S. News & World Report. Says it is the 2nd most innovative liberal arts college in recognition of the school’s “curriculum, faculty, students, campus life, technology, and facilities.” Speaking of curriculum, Colorado College follows a unique block plan in which students study only a single subject for an intensive three-and-a-half week period.

George Fox University

George Fox University is a private liberal arts college located in Newberg, Oregon. Founded as a school for Quakers in 1891, it has more than 4,000 students combined between its main campus in Newberg and its centers in Portland, Salem and Redmond.  The University now offers bachelor’s degrees in nearly 40 majors. Interestingly, George Fox participates in the Richter Scholars program, in which 15-25 students per year are chosen to conduct original research in an area of interest.

Gonzaga University

Gonzaga University is one of the most selective and prestigious liberal arts colleges in the country, and especially in the West. Gonzaga students study a liberal arts-rich core curriculum which includes courses in:

  • the natural and social sciences
  • literature
  • religious studies
  • mathematics
  • philosophy
  • writing

The university grants bachelor’s degrees, master’s degrees, and doctoral degrees through its seven colleges: the College of Arts & Sciences, School of Business Administration, School of Education, School of Engineering & Applied Science, School of Law, School of Nursing & Human Physiology, and the School of Leadership Studies.

Harvey Mudd College

Harvey Mudd College is a private college in Claremont, California, focused on science and engineering. It is part of the Claremont Colleges, which share adjoining campus grounds and resources.  The college excels in science, engineering, and mathematics. As the school’s mission states, “Harvey Mudd College seeks to educate engineers, scientists, and mathematics well versed in the humanities and the social sciences. . . .” Such a mission is important to the school’s tradition of “science with a conscience.”

Linfield College

Linfield University is a private university in McMinnville, Oregon. It also has a campus in Portland and an adult degree program online and in eight communities throughout the state.  The school is known for its strong and well-rounded curriculum. No matter their choice of major, students take a variety of general education courses, and can even become involved in faculty-led research projects as undergraduates.

Loyola Marymount

Loyola Marymount University is a private Jesuit and Marymount research university in Los Angeles, California.  Loyola Marymount is made up of seven schools, one of which is the Bellarmine College of Liberal Arts. All students, regardless of major, are required to complete a core curriculum comprised of science and humanities courses.

Mills College

Mills College is a private women’s liberal arts college in Oakland, California. Mills is an undergraduate women’s college for women and gender non-binary students with graduate programs for students of all genders.  The college offers more than 60 majors and minors. Besides the usual liberal arts degrees in the humanities, students can choose to major in, among others:

  • nursing
  • psychology
  • biology

Mount Saint Mary’s University

Mount Saint Mary’s University is a private, Catholic university primarily for women, in Los Angeles, California. Women make up ninety percent of the student body.  Mount St. Mary’s students study a well-organized core curriculum before ultimately choosing one of 30+ degree options. Interestingly, Mount St. Mary’s University boasts a student population of which over 3/4 are minorities. The university is also proud to admit a large number of first-generation college students each year.

Occidental College

Occidental College is a private liberal arts college in Los Angeles, California. Founded in 1887 as a coeducational college by clergy and members of the Presbyterian Church, it became non-sectarian in 1910. It is one of the oldest liberal arts colleges on the West Coast of the United States.  Much of Occidental’s reputation for excellence has to do with its core curriculum. Students must successfully complete a series of classes in:

  • writing
  • geography
  • math
  • history
  • foreign language

Pitzer College

Pitzer College is a private residential liberal arts college in Claremont, California.  Considered to be one of the “West Coast Ivy-League” equivalent schools.  As part of the Claremont Colleges consortium, Pitzer allows its students to cross-register in classes at:

  • Claremont McKenna
  • Harvey Mudd
  • Pomona
  • Scripps

Pitzer excels in fields relating to social and behavioral sciences.

Point Loma Nazarene University

Point Loma Nazarene University is a private Christian liberal arts college with its main campus on the Point Loma oceanfront in San Diego, California.  As a true liberal arts university, Point Loma Nazarene’s mission is to educate students “as whole people.” This includes a well-rounded core curriculum, plus more than 60 options for pursuing a Bachelor of Arts or Bachelor of Science degree.

Pomona College

Pomona College is a private liberal arts college in Claremont, California.  Established in 1887 as one of the founding members of the Claremont Colleges consortium.  Pomona itself offers more than 48 majors and 600 classes. Students are able to cross-register at any of the other schools in the consortium. Students can also choose to design their own major. Though the variety of classes included in Pomona’s core curriculum makes it a liberal arts college, it’s interesting to note that the college’s most popular majors include:

  • computer science
  • economics
  • mathematics
  • neuroscience

Reed College

Founded in 1908 in southeast Portland, Oregon, Reed College are a coeducational, independent liberal arts and sciences college.  As part of the core curriculum, each ‘Reedie’ completes a humanities program that consists of courses such as:

  • Introduction to Western Humanities
  • Early Modern Europe
  • Modern Humanities
  • Foundations of Chinese Civilizations

Reed College has produced more than:

  • 90 Fulbright Scholars
  • 67 Watson Fellows
  • 3 MacArthur Fellows
  • 32 Rhodes Scholars

Scripps College

Scripps College is a private liberal arts women’s college in Claremont, California.  Scripps College is one of the seven schools making up the prestigious “Claremont Consortium.” Though Scripps students have a wide selection of options for their major, each student must complete a series of courses in the humanities.

St. John’s College

Like many other top liberal arts colleges, St. John’s College in Santa Fe, New Mexico has a core curriculum that focuses on the Great Books of the Western Heritage. Like the 17th century King William’s School, students at this top liberal arts college work towards a bachelor’s degree in Liberal Arts by reading and discussing the most acclaimed works of western civilization.

University of San Diego

The University of San Diego is a private Roman Catholic research university in San Diego, California. Chartered in July 1949 as the independent San Diego College for Women and San Diego University, the academic institutions merged in 1972 into the University of San Diego.  The university offers more than 40 baccalaureate degrees. However, each student, whether majoring in nursing or the arts, receives an education solidly built on the core principles of the liberal arts and sciences.

Willamette University

Willamette University is a private university in Salem, Oregon. Founded in 1842, it is the oldest university in the Western United States. Willamette is a member of the Annapolis Group of colleges and is made up of an undergraduate College of Arts & Sciences and post-graduate schools of business and law.  Students pursuing a degree in the university’s College of Liberal Arts receive a solid education in all things liberal learning. They’re even given the unique opportunity of designing their own courses of study, conducting their own research, and even potentially publishing their work.

Hope this article will help you.

If you are facing problems on choosing the right college, career paths or If you need any help on the college application process, essay/SoP/or reviews, please schedule a 30 or 60 minutes online 1-on-1 interactive session with any of our experienced counselors OR send an email at

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Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4.

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