The top 5 liberal arts colleges of 2021, according to U.S. News—and what it takes to get in

On Monday, U.S. News & World Report released its annual ranking of the best colleges in the country, from large research universities to small liberal arts schools. 

U.S. News calculates its ranking based on six categories which are each weighted differently: student outcomes (40%), faculty resources (20%), expert opinion (20%), financial resources (10%), student excellence (7%) and alumni giving (3%).

For the first time, U.S. News considered student debt in their ranking. The student outcomes category now takes into account the average amount of accumulated federal loan debt among full-time undergraduate borrowers at graduation and the percentage of full-time undergraduates in a graduating class who borrowed federal loans.

This year's top liberal arts colleges all boast small classroom sizes, including top-ranking Williams College, where 75% of classes have fewer than 20 students and just 3% of classes have 50 or more students. 

Getting into one of these schools isn't easy. Admitted students boast strong high school records and high standardized test scores. However, many of these prestigious liberal arts schools have higher acceptance rates than similarly top-ranking universities.

For instance, while the top-ranked national university, Princeton, accepts just 6% of students, Williams accepts closer to 13% of applicants. Wellesley College, which tied for fourth place on U.S. News' ranking of liberal arts schools, has an acceptance rate of 22%. 

The top-ranking liberal arts colleges also tended to score better than the top-ranked national universities on comparative measures of social mobility, that are designed to represent a school's likelihood of helping students improve their circumstances by considering the graduation rates and post-graduation performances of students who qualify for federal Pell Grants.

Here are the top 5 liberal arts colleges of 2021, according to U.S. News — and what it takes to get in. 

1. Williams College

Average SAT score: 1410-1550

Share of first-year students in the top 10% of their high school class: 85%

Acceptance rate: 13%

2. Amherst College

Average SAT score: 1410-1550

Share of first-year students in the top 10% of their high school class: 88%

Acceptance rate: 11%

3. Swarthmore College 

Average SAT score: 1380-1540

Share of first-year students in the top 10% of their high school class: 87%

Acceptance rate: 9%

4. Pomona College (tie)

Average SAT score: 1390-1540

Share of first-year students in the top 10% of their high school class: 93%

Acceptance rate: 7%

4. Wellesley College (tie)

Average SAT score: 1360-1530

Share of first-year students in the top 10% of their high school class: 79%

Acceptance rate: 22%

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