Choosing a School by Political Landscape
For many students, political identity and activism play a crucial role in their collegiate experience. The UCLA Higher Education Research Institute's 2016 Freshman Survey found that roughly 35% of first-year college students identify as liberal or left-leaning, while 22% identify as conservative or right-leaning. Additionally, a survey from the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) indicates college-bound high school students have also become more politically involved since the 2016 presidential election. Stemming from that shift in government, the current political climate has led to an uptick in political activism at more than half of the high schools surveyed by NACAC.
Many students choose the college or university they attend based at least in part on their personal politics. Due to the wide selection of campuses nationwide, most can find at least a handful of schools that correspond with their beliefs and ideologies. To that end, we created this guide by analyzing data from hundreds of colleges and universities to identify the most liberal and most conservative schools in the country. Our top 10 choices in each category are outlined below.
Most Liberal Colleges in the U.S.
Our list of the most liberal colleges was based on many factors. Inclusivity — of students who identify as female, those belonging to racial and ethnic minority groups, and members of the LGBTQ+ community — was one of the most important metrics. Other key variables include the environmental sustainability of the campus, clubs and organizations that promote progressive values, and the cities and towns where the schools were located. Our top 10 picks are listed below in alphabetical order.
Dutchess County, NY
Student body 2,200
Acceptance rate 32%
Established as a religious institution in 1860, Bard College transformed in 1933 when Dr. Donald Tewksbury was appointed as the school's dean. During his time at Bard, Dr. Tewksbury advocated for the school to become secular and heavily promoted the liberal arts and sciences. Bard became a leading progressive college within the next decade, as well as a sanctuary for political refugees fleeing the instability of Europe.
Students at Bard can choose from dozens of concentrations within the liberal arts and sciences, including interdivisional subjects like experimental humanities, gender and sexuality studies, and environmental and urban studies. Bard was also the first college in the country to offer a human rights major, still available today.
The college offers many student activism opportunities through the Bard Center for Civic Engagement. These include the Bard Sanctuary Fund, which supports undocumented students and refugees through scholarship aid, legal representation, and other resources. More activities and events can be accessed through the school's L&T Civic Engagement calendar.
Student body 3,900
Acceptance rate 98%
Founded as an experimental college in 1967, Evergreen State College has served as a hub of liberal activity and activism for more than 50 years. The school doesn't offer traditional majors; instead, students design their own degrees and complete multidisciplinary programs related to their area of study in place of individual courses. Additionally, Evergreen's students receive annual evaluations rather than formal grades. During these evaluations, professors determine how many credits, if any, students should receive. The college currently has a graduation rate of 76%.
Evergreen functions as a major hub for environmental studies and sustainability. The college pledged to be a carbon-neutral and zero-waste campus by 2020 and has managed to reduce waste by 15% since 2009. Evergreen also hosts a student-led bike-share program in addition to a RAD sustainability group that provides tips for composting, using eco-friendly lights, and other methods of promoting greener lifestyles.
Evergreen is highly accepting of all kinds of students. The school's Longhouse Education and Cultural Center promotes art, music, and other traditions of indigenous peoples. Evergreen also encourages inclusivity for people of color and LGBTQ+ students through the First Peoples Multicultural, Trans, and Queer Support Services Center.
Student body 1,300
Acceptance rate 70%
A private liberal arts school, Hampshire College first opened its doors in 1970. The institution features an alternative curriculum, emphasizing evaluations over formal grades. Students begin their program by completing courses in five core academic areas. In their second year, they design their concentration with the help of an academic adviser. Regardless of the specific subject chosen, their concentration must explore different cultural perspectives and address community concerns. Students dedicate their final year of study to an advanced project based on their concentration area.
Hampshire's areas of concentration run the gamut of liberal arts and science subjects. Available focuses include culture, brain, and development; environmental studies and sustainability; queer studies; and social change. During the 2016-17 academic year, Hampshire was one of 11 institutions identified as a top producer of Fulbright Scholars.
The campus is home to the R.W. Kern Center, which earned certification as a Living Building by the International Living Future Institute. Additionally, Hampshire became the country's first 100% solar-powered residential campus in August 2018. The school plans to be climate-neutral by 2020.
South Hadley, MA
Student body 2,200
Acceptance rate 50%
Mount Holyoke College was established in 1837 as the first school of the Seven Sisters, a consortium of liberal arts institutions for women that also includes Barnard, Bryn Mawr, and Smith. Mount Holyoke's founder, Mary Lyon, was highly progressive for her time. In addition to placing significant value on women's education, she advocated for intellectual stimulation and socioeconomic diversity on college campuses. She also worked to make Mount Holyoke more affordable by instituting work-study programs — a revolutionary concept at the time.
Mount Holyoke's curriculum emphasizes diversity studies, with schoolwide foreign language and multicultural perspective course requirements. Students may choose from interdisciplinary majors such as Africana studies, critical social thought, gender studies, and international relations. Alternatively, learners can focus their studies through a special major that integrates two or more concentration areas.
The school's 700-acre campus is known as a "living laboratory," featuring numerous sites for water and climate monitoring and ecological restoration, in addition to sustainable dining facilities. Mount Holyoke pledged for its campus to be carbon-neutral by 2037, a year that will mark the 200th anniversary of the school's founding.
Student body 2,900
Acceptance rate 29%
Founded in 1833, Oberlin College was the country's first coeducational postsecondary institution. The college's first president, Asa Mahan, held decidedly progressive views regarding slavery and abolition. Two years after its founding, Oberlin also became the first U.S. college to accept African-American students. More than a hundred years later, the campus was a hotbed of activity centered around civil rights protests and rallies against the Vietnam War.
Oberlin's tradition of liberal, progressive politics has continued to the present day. The most popular academic subjects available at the school include English, history, political science, and environmental studies. Roughly 600 learners study music through the Oberlin Conservatory of Music, the oldest continuously operated institution of its kind in the country. Oberlin students may also pursue self-designed, for-credit degrees through the school's student-run Experimental College.
Oberlin has received favorable environmental ratings in recent years. The college's bicycle co-op has operated for more than 30 years, and the school subsidizes rides for students through local public transportation companies. Additionally, Oberlin boasts an excellent track record for social justice. Recently, the school's nondiscrimination policy granted transgender students the right to use any bathroom of their choosing.
Student body 28,000
Acceptance rate 61%
Portland State University began in 1946 as a vocational training center for veterans returning from WWII. Since that time, the school has established a strong reputation for environmental sustainability. In 2006, PSU was named as the first "Salmon-Safe" university for its stormwater treatment efforts, and two years later was recognized by the Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter Partner Foundation for its work in watershed stewardship.
PSU's academic curriculum — dubbed the "University Studies" curriculum — features highly innovative elements. Students begin by taking freshman inquiry courses that explore multidisciplinary topics and include a heavy emphasis on peer discussion. Learners concentrate their upper-level studies in major-related coursework, and all students must complete a comprehensive capstone project.
The PSU campus hosts a food pantry that is open to all students. Other on-campus resources that promote inclusivity among students include the Queer Resource Center, the Native American Student & Community Center, and the Committee for Improving Student Food Security.
San Francisco, CA
Student body 29,000
Acceptance rate 68%
Following student walkouts in 1969, San Francisco State University opened a college of ethnic studies and increased its enrollment of students of color. The school has garnered a reputation for diversity and student inclusion ever since; U.S. News & World Report and Forbes listed SFSU as the sixth and 11th most diverse U.S. campus, respectively, in recent polls. The university also ranked 12th on CollegeNet's recent Social Mobility Index, which evaluates postsecondary institutions on affordability, the socioeconomic background of the student body, graduation rates, and early career salaries for graduates.
SFSU's curricular offerings reflect this emphasis on the importance of cultural diversity. Students may pursue majors in subjects like race and resistance studies through the university's College of Ethnic Studies, which is also home to the César E. Chávez Institute for social justice action. Additionally, SFSU ranks as one of the top U.S. schools for students pursuing careers in the film industry, according to The Hollywood Reporter.
In addition, SFSU serves as hub of student activism and volunteering. The university's student body has collectively logged more than 800,000 community service hours. Students can also get involved with local projects through the Humanitarians for the Homeless Club, the Society for the Advancement of Hispanics/Chicanos and Native Americans in Science, the Queer Alliance, and other student-run organizations.
Student body 1,700
Acceptance rate 53%
Established as a private liberal arts school for women in 1926, Sarah Lawrence College adopted a coed admissions policy in the 1960s. Low student-to-faculty ratios have served as a hallmark of Sarah Lawrence over the years, and the school currently boasts a 9:1 ratio. That characteristic enables each student to attend biweekly one-on-one meetings with their professors, where they receive individualized attention. Additionally, Sarah Lawrence placed first for "Best Classroom Experience" in a 2016 Princeton Review survey.
Many undergraduate majors at Sarah Lawrence emphasize multicultural studies. These include cross-discipline subjects such as ethnic and diasporic studies, health, science and society, LGBT studies, and nine foreign languages. Other majors center in the humanities, including dance, filmmaking, theatre, and writing. The school also offers dual bachelor's-master's degrees in the art of teaching, child development, and women's history.
Sarah Lawrence can also claim a long history of volunteer activity and political activism. The school's campus functioned as a hub for protests against McCarthyism and the Vietnam War in the 1950s and 1960s, and students have maintained a successful Upward Bound program for low-income students for over 50 years.
Student body 43,000
Acceptance rate 17%
Founded in 1868, UC Berkeley operates as the flagship research institution of the University of California collegiate system. Since the Free Speech Movement, a campus-wide protest that spanned the 1963-64 academic year, UC Berkeley has been synonymous with counterculture and left-leaning political ideology. Notable alumni include former Secretary of Labor and liberal journalist Robert Reich, progressive Chief Justice Earl Warren, and counterculture icon Timothy Leary.
The second-largest University of California institution, UC Berkeley enrolls roughly 43,000 students every year, and these learners can choose from a wide range of academic areas of study. The university breaks down undergraduate and graduate majors into 14 individual schools and colleges that focus on subjects such as environmental design, journalism, natural resources, public policy, and social welfare.
As part of its progressive nature, UC Berkeley boasts a reputation for environmental activism and research. Professors from the university co-founded the Sierra Club in 1892, and in 2007 the school was selected to spearhead a $500 million biofuels research project. A total of 15 buildings on UC Berkeley's campus have earned LEED Gold, LEED Silver, or LEED Certification.
Santa Cruz, CA
Student body 19,000
Acceptance rate 50%
Established in 1965, UC Santa Cruz is the second-newest member of the University of California collegiate system. Like fellow system member UC Berkeley (see above), UC Santa Cruz functions as a private research institution characterized by progressive education and anti-war activism. The clothing-optional First Rain celebration and other campus observances highlight the school's countercultural vibe, and in recent years the campus has become a hub of pro-marijuana advocacy. In addition, visitors can view a Grateful Dead archive on display in the university's McHenry Library.
UC Santa Cruz features a fairly diverse campus, with nonwhite students representing roughly two-thirds of those enrolled. Additionally, international students comprise more than 9% of the student body. The school's student-led organizations reflect this multicultural atmosphere, with more than 40 different clubs dedicated to various racial, ethnic, religious and identity-based groups.
UC Santa Cruz has been touted for its environmental advocacy and sustainability efforts. The school claims roughly 55% of the campus as protected natural landscape and hosts Formula Slug, an electric automobile racing team. In addition, the Sierra Club named UC Santa Cruz among the country's greenest colleges in a 2017 survey.
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Most Conservative Colleges in the U.S.
Like our list of the most liberal colleges, our selections for the country's most conservative schools stem from many different variables. Schools that actively promote right-leaning moral and social views, along with evangelical religious beliefs, appear to host the most conservative student bodies. Other key factors in our selections include an emphasis on individual liberties, availability of faith-oriented degrees, and smaller student bodies. Our top 10 picks are listed below in alphabetical order.
Student body 2,500
Acceptance rate 82%
Named for its Christian Evangelist founder, Bob Jones University has maintained a strong adherence to religious doctrine since opening its doors in 1927. Visitors to the school's website can see these values reflected in BJU's position statements. The university prohibits the playing of secular music on campus, requires students to abstain from alcohol, and promotes pro-life and traditional marriage stances.
In addition, the university concentrates the majority of its degree offerings in religious study. Undergraduates can earn bachelor's degrees in Bible or biblical counseling with a concentration in apologetics, biblical languages, pastoral ministry, women's ministry, or one of several other related field. BJU also features degrees in Christian ministries and cross-cultural service, and students who pursue liberal arts programs must complete biblical study courses.
As part of its religious focus, BJU features numerous student-led mission teams and religious clubs, along with several orchestras specializing in religious music. In addition, the campus has hosted many notable Republican politicians over the years, including Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bob Dole, and Alan Keys, and the school claims famed evangelist Billy Graham as a former student.
Student body 19,000
Acceptance rate 100%
Formerly known as Ricks College, BYU-Idaho has operated under its current name since 2001. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints owns and manages the university along with BYU-Utah (see next entry). Reflecting this religious ideology, all students at BYU-Idaho must adhere to an honor code that includes forbearance from alcohol or caffeinated beverages, regular church attendance, and abstinence from premarital sex. Single-student housing facilities at the university do not permit overnight guests of the opposite sex, and all students must abide by a nightly curfew.
Areas of academic emphasis at BYU-Idaho include physical sciences and engineering, agriculture, life sciences, and business. In addition, the school offers many associate and bachelor's degree pathways online. The university's learning model focuses on five principles of the Mormon faith, including "teach by the Spirit;" "lay hold on the word of God;" and "love, serve, and teach."
The Mormon Church prides itself on community service, and students at BYU-Idaho can get involved in various locally based service events and projects. The university also encourages students to lead prayer groups and promote virtuous lifestyles in off-campus residences and at social gatherings.
Student body 34,000
Acceptance rate 53%
Named for its founder, the second president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, BYU first opened its doors in 1875. Like students at BYU-Idaho, those attending BYU must adhere to an honor code that includes abstaining from alcohol, caffeinated beverages, premarital sex, and offensive language. Notably, the Princeton Review ranked BYU as the top "Stone Cold Sober University" for more than two decades running.
BYU primarily serves church members, with Mormons representing roughly 99% of the student body. More than 21,000 students — or roughly two-thirds of the school's population — have served Mormon missions. BYU also features a strong international presence with students from more than 100 countries.
In addition, the university boasts a positive reputation for business-related degree offerings — particularly its accounting, entrepreneurship, and MBA programs. The school's learning model emphasizes coursework in the teachings of Jesus Christ along with arts, letters, and sciences in order to provide a balanced educational experience for all learners. In addition to the school's academics, BYU's athletic programs — particularly the football and basketball teams — claim a strong following nationwide.
Student body 4,000
Acceptance rate 74%
Founded by the Reformed Presbyterian Church in 1887, Cedarville University now serves Baptist students as a private coed college. As a condition of their hiring, all faculty members and university employees must sign a doctrinal statement that attests to religious beliefs in alignment with the Baptist Church. Additionally, students at Cedarville must attend weekly church services.
The university features many pathways for students to participate in local, domestic, and international ministry. Discipleship Ministries, led by a student-run council, facilitates small-group events for students and offers premarital counseling. Another campus-based group, HeartSong, hosts gospel concerts and other local outreach events. Campus groups at Cedarville also sponsor numerous global mission trips during spring and summer breaks.
Cedarville's degree options include 14 undergraduate majors centered around biblical and theology studies, including Christian education, pastoral ministry, and women's ministry. The school also offers a wide selection of arts and sciences majors, including several accelerated pathways. A 15-credit Bible minor features in the school's general education requirements for undergraduates.
Student body 8,000
Acceptance rate 69%
Established as the Denver Bible Institute in 1914, Colorado Christian University operates as a private, interdenominational institution. All undergraduates must sign a lifestyle covenant and attend biweekly, on-campus chapel services, many of which feature guest speakers. In addition, students must complete a total of 180 chapel credits to graduate, and all faculty and staff must adhere to a statement of faith.
Undergraduates can choose from 10 Christ-centered majors, including church history, ministry management, and Young Life leadership. The university can also boast an excellent reputation for its liberal arts and sciences programs. Notably, the American Council of Trustees and Alumni ranked the university within the top 2% of U.S. schools and awarded an A grade to its core undergrad curriculum. At the master's level, CCU features degrees in biblical studies, Christian counseling, and theology studies, among other subjects.
Students may also participate in small-group discipleship, outreach ministry, and international mission trips throughout their time at CCU. Many of the university's student-run clubs and organizations ground their focus in religious and conservative ideology; these include Students for Life, Global Conversion Partners, and Christians for Israel.
Student body 2,000
Acceptance rate 79%
Founded in 1946 by Franciscan Friars of the Third Order, Franciscan University of Steubenville operates as a private school that primarily serves Catholic students. Roughly 97% of the student body and 94% of faculty members identify as Catholic, and the school offers daily Mass and round-the-clock Communion to all students.
Franciscan University requires all undergraduates to complete a core curriculum that emphasizes Catholic views and values in addition to their major studies. Notably, the university boasts more theology, catechetics, and philosophy majors than any other Catholic university in the country. In addition, the school offers several Christ-centered bachelor's and master's programs to both brick-and-mortar and online students.
More than 400 students at Franciscan University participate in mission trips each year. Additionally, the school features an annual study abroad opportunity where students reside and attend classes in an Austrian monastery for an entire semester. Franciscan university also hosts more than 40 student organizations and clubs, many of which focus on Franciscan teachings and fellowship.
Student body 1,500
Acceptance rate 50%
Freewill Baptists founded Hillsdale College in 1844 as the first degree-granting institution dedicated to their denomination. In recent years, the school — under the leadership of President Larry Arnn — has established itself as a hub of conservative and right-leaning ideology. Arnn, an outspoken critic of common core standards and diversity-based admissions, oversaw the installation of the Allan P. Kirby, Jr. Center for Constitutional Studies and Citizenship, a satellite learning facility in Washington D.C. In spring 2018, Vice President Mike Pence delivered the keynote commencement speech at Hillsdale's graduation ceremony.
All incoming freshmen at Hillsdale must sign the school's honor code. Academic offerings for undergraduates include a broad selection of degrees in the arts, sciences, and faith-centered areas of study. Additionally, students can complete master's programs in politics and doctoral programs in philosophy through Hillsdale's Van Andel Graduate School. These programs adhere to the same core curriculum, which focuses on history, global politics, and religious doctrine.
Hillsdale ranks third among the Princeton Review's ranking of U.S. colleges with the most conservative students. In addition, the school is home to a robust Greek program, along with dozens of other student-led clubs and organizations.
Student body More than 110,000
Acceptance rate 22%
Named the most conservative college in America in a 2018 Business Insider poll, Liberty University was founded by conservative activist Jerry Falwell in 1971. Since that time, the school has grown to become the largest private nonprofit university in the U.S., with a student body of more than 110,000 on-campus and online learners. Today, Liberty serves as a major center of conservative political ideology and activism, and President Trump delivered the commencement speech at the school's spring 2017 graduation ceremony.
All students at Liberty must adhere to the Liberty Way, an honor code that forbids consumption of alcohol, premarital sex, and private fraternization with the opposite sex. The university also requires Bible-themed courses for first-year learners. Degree offerings span the spectrum of arts, sciences, and Christ-centered subjects, and many bachelor's and graduate pathways are available online. Liberty's distance learners outnumber its on-campus students by roughly 6-to-1.
Liberty's main campus in Lynchburg, VA hosts the Jerry Falwell Library and the National Civil War Chaplains Museum. In addition to a well-represented Greek system, the university features many conservative-minded clubs and organizations, including Students at Liberty for Gun Rights, Christians 4 Freedom, and Freedom 4/24.
Student body 4,000
Acceptance rate 64%
Oral Roberts University originated in 1965 after its televangelist namesake and founder experienced a call to build a university based on Christian doctrine. All ORU students must sign a code of honor pledge promising to abstain from alcohol, tobacco, premarital sex, and cursing, and those under the age of 25 must live on campus. In addition, learners must attend weekly chapel services.
Through six academic colleges, ORU offers degrees focused on subjects such as business, education, nursing, and science and engineering. In addition to major coursework, students must complete a core curriculum that includes courses in biblical and Christian worldviews. The school also offers online degrees in several subjects, including biblical literature, ministry and leadership, and spiritual-empowered living.
ORU is home to Golden Eagle Broadcasting, a local television network that specializes in Christian programming. Anyone can access an archive of video-recorded, on-campus chapel services dating back to 2013 on the university's website. ORU receives its accreditation through the Higher Learning Commission and the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities.
Student body 300
Acceptance rate 95%
Named for the U.S. founding father who famously demanded liberty or death, Patrick Henry College functions as a private nondenominational college with a strong emphasis on conservative Christian values and viewpoints. Every student, faculty member, and trustee must sign a statement of faith. Additionally, staff must sign a statement of biblical worldview that attests to their belief in traditional marriage and limited government.
PHC features a total of seven arts and sciences undergraduate majors, including economics and business analysis, government, journalism, and strategic intelligence in national security. All students must complete the school's 63-credit core curriculum, which consists of coursework in mathematics, history, philosophy, and biblical teachings.
In addition, PHC offers internships to students. Past organizations where internships have been available include the Washington Times and other right-leaning publications, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and various think-tanks in the D.C. area. Student-led organizations at PHC include politically charged groups such as George Wythe Review, the Alexis de Tocqueville Society, and the International Justice Mission Club.