Amherst, No. 3 on our top liberal arts school list, has many qualities that set it apart among small elite colleges. For one, unlike most top schools, which dictate a variety of basic classes that lower classmen must take, Amherst has no required courses apart from a first-year seminar emphasizing writing and critical thinking. The school allows students, at no extra cost, to take classes offered by the other nearby colleges: Hampshire, Mount Holyoke, Smith, and the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. It is also one of a tiny group of schools that pledge to meet 100% percent of every student’s demonstrated financial need. As a result, the majority of students—approximately 70%—graduate from Amherst without taking out student loans.
An Amherst diploma appears to help in the job market. Grads report salaries averaging about $53,000 within five years, higher than average salaries reported by colleges with similar student bodies. Sports have always been extremely popular on campus, especially those between Amherst and friendly rival Williams College (No. 2 on the liberal arts school list). The annual football game between the two Division III schools is known as The Biggest Little Game in America, a hat tip to The Big Game played annually by D-I rivals Stanford and UC-Berkeley. Williams has won more games overall (71-52), but Amherst aced last year’s meeting, 20-7.