College campuses are generally some of the most prominent bastions of liberalism in the United States. Young people and college professors alike tend to lean left politically, and gathered together, they bring a melting pot of liberal ideas, thoughts, and rhetoric to campus.
Over time, some schools have established more liberal campus identities than others. Whether through a reputation for student activism, novel policies, or a curriculum that inherently attracts liberal-minded students, several schools are particularly famous for their left-leaning politics.
Defining the Most Liberal Colleges
By examining which colleges and universities most embody progressive values – including LGBT rights, environmental sustainability, easy access to healthcare, local food options, and unique education methods — we can identify the most left-leaning colleges in the country. Often, these progressive colleges have a reputation that allows them to attract even more liberal thinkers and activists, perpetuating long-standing campus cultures for generations to come.
Oberlin University - Oberlin, Ohio
Oberlin College has been one of the most historically inclusive institutions of higher education since its inception in the early 1800s. It was a hotbed of the abolition movement in Antebellum America and admitted African American students years before the Civil War. Oberlin was also the first coeducational college in the U.S.
Oberlin has maintained a sterling track record of social justice and inclusion across gender, ethnic, racial, and sexuality lines, as recently seen in its early adoption of an all-gender bathroom policy. Oberlin also has a history of experimental education, student activism, cooperative student housing and businesses, and sexual openness.
Hampshire College - Amherst, Massachusetts
Hampshire College was created as an experimental school in the 1960s. The brain-child of several prominent local liberal arts schools—including Smith College, Mount Holyoke College, Amherst College, and the University of Massachusetts—Hampshire was designed as an alternative to traditional college learning. Students aren’t graded on traditional rubrics, and education methods vary, focusing on long term independent study and encouraging students to ask questions at every turn. Hampshire has one of the highest percentages of alumni who eventually pursue graduate degrees.
Aside from its unique learning environment, the school has adopted the same open-minded, deliberative approach to social issues. In the past, Hampshire has closed classes for the whole campus community to discuss issues of racism and sexual assault. The school also strives to make the school climate-neutral.
Evergreen State College - Olympia, Washington
Evergreen State University was also founded founded as an alternative higher education option in the mid-1960s. At this experimental education college, students receive written narrative feedback back on their work rather than traditional grades. Evergreen State is remarkably diverse and inclusive, and has built a Longhouse Education and Cultural Center to help make indigenous students feel right at home.
Environmental studies and issues are a major focus at Evergreen. The entire campus, including its beaches, is a nature reserve with areas for recreation and study. The campus is also home to Evergreen Organic Farm, which allows students to learn about everything from farm history and compostings to planning an organic farm. Produce from the farm is sold to the community in Olympia.
Bard College - Annandale-on-Hudson, New York
Each year, Bard College has one of the highest percentages of liberal students among all colleges in the U.S. Like many other liberal schools, Bard does not have fraternities or sororities, but is home to a thriving arts and music scene. Professors and staff on this inclusive campus monitor the holistic health of their students, ensuring that everyone receives the emotional support they need to thrive in school and as young adults.
Bard, which features both graduate and undergraduate programs, is planning to make its campus carbon neutral by 2035. The campus also features the Bard College Farm and is at the forefront in sustainability research and policymaking.
Bennington College - Bennington Vermont
Originally a women’s school, Bennington College has long been coeducational and even allows coed dorm rooms. The picturesque school has a strong focus on the arts, with many famous authors, actors, and artists; Bennington also features a well-regarded MFA program. The school offers small class sizes and focuses on community learning and building. Programs like the Field Work Term and the Center for the Advancement of Public Action at Bennington give students a greater connection to the public.
Bennington traditionally has one of the highest numbers of liberal students. Bennington also shares the state with many other prominent liberal schools, including Marlboro College and the University of Vermont.
Sarah Lawrence College - Bronxville, New York
Most of Sarah Lawrence’s students are women, and the college is renowned for its exemplary gender relations. Aside from excellent LGBT policies on campus, the school is also geographically, racially, and culturally diverse.
Sarah Lawrence has a prestigious academic profile, with most classes split between larger lectures and small groups of students meeting with the professors. Many students are involved in national and local causes, which helps build community. Students value their proximity to New York City’s cultural offerings, while enjoying a safe campus 15 miles north of Manhattan.
Wesleyan University - Middletown, Connecticut
This well-known Connecticut little Ivy takes food sustainability seriously. Not only do Wesleyan’s students eat top quality grub at their dining halls, but they can rest assured knowing that many of their meals are grown locally (possibly on Wesleyan’s own organic Long Lane Farm) and made fresh. Wesleyan also includes a variety of vegetarian and vegan meals, along with more than a dozen composting areas for students around campus.
Wesleyan has many other ways students, faculty, and staff can work toward campus sustainability. The school is also a renowned academic powerhouse with a thriving arts scene.
Smith College - Northampton, Massachusetts
Whether it’s reducing traffic to its beautiful Northampton campus through carpooling and public transit or increasing composting and recycling, Smith College is determined to be green. In recent years Smith has improved its local food intake as well, getting coffee from just down the road in Florence, dairy from New Britain, and dozens of other ingredients nearby. Other sustainability initiatives on campus focus on reducing energy use and improving student involvement.
Aside from its green focus, this prestigious women’s college has excellent gender relations, strong academics, and a history of notable liberal activists, including Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinem. Students will also enjoy the artsy, diverse city of Northampton and nearby colleges including Hampshire and Mount Holyoke, where students are allowed to take courses.
University of California Berkeley - Berkeley, California
With the Free Speech Movement in the 1960s and other student activism, UC Berkeley cemented itself as one of the nation’s preeminent liberal communities. Today, the city is still a home to a variety of liberal causes and the school has undertaken several new projects of its own.
UC Berkeley currently has more than a dozen cooperative housing options for students. The campus also includes standard health services, as well as sexual violence support and wellness services. The locally sourced dining areas are green buildings that allow students to compost and reduce waste. Berkeley also has a strong arts community.
Macalester College - Saint Paul, Minnesota
This midwestern liberal arts school has become one of the most vocal small colleges in the U.S. Student protests and activism on campus have given the school of about 2,000 students a national reputation. With its beautiful campus and strong academic background, Macalester also has a long and proud track record of compassion on LGBTQ issues.
In addition to gender rights and protests, Macalester students are involved in the community in a number of ways. Students frequently invite speakers to campus to address hot button political issues, such as race. Macalester also focuses on campus sustainability, providing a range of vegetarian and vegan meals to students, along with easy access to healthcare.