Davidson College may not have the name recognition of some New England liberal arts colleges or behemoth institutions with a multitude of academic and sports programs, but this small college competes with schools of both stripes. Its selective admission standards, magnanimous financial aid awards and high four-year graduation rate make it the top-ranked school on our list of private liberal arts colleges.
Many of the school's roughly 2,000 students are attracted to Davidson for its broad-based liberal arts curriculum, its commitment to leadership and public service, and a campus culture that emphasizes mutual trust, responsibility and respect. "Our economy and world are changing so rapidly that the best education for this time is one that focuses on deep talents and broad abilities—such as problem solving, analytical reasoning, communication and collaboration—rather than narrow sets of skills," says Davidson's president, Carol Quillen.
Located in the town of Davidson, N.C., where historic homes and locally owned businesses line the streets, Davidson blends a classic liberal arts education with big-name athletics. Expansive athletic facilities are steps away from academic buildings, and roughly one-fourth of students compete in team sports. Unlike most schools of its size, Davidson's Wildcats run with the big dogs, with 21 sports competing at the NCAA Division I level.
The school's 10-to-1 student-faculty ratio ensures that students get plenty of face time with their professors. The close relationships also help professors identify students who are good candidates for research projects or other résumé-building opportunities. Because Davidson is a small town, it's not unusual for professors to chat with students while they're running errands off campus.
- How We Rank the Colleges
- Best College Value Snapshot: Davidson College
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- SLIDE SHOW: 10 Great Colleges That Won't Make Students Take Loans
- TOOL: See, Sort All 300 Best College Values
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While Davidson remains committed to a classic liberal arts education, it is also focused on preparing graduates for life outside its close-knit campus. Drawing on the Charlotte area's start-up culture, Davidson helps students combine their course work and other interests with the region's budding entrepreneurial scene. There are fledgling companies scattered throughout the town of Davidson, including one that's located behind a burrito restaurant and another above a bookstore. The school is converting an old textile factory into nearly 23,000 square feet of work space where students can launch their own projects and collaborate with companies in the community. It's scheduled to be open for business by fall 2018.
Like many of the schools on our best-values list, Davidson posts an annual sticker price of more than $60,000. But its financial aid programs have kept costs in check. Nearly half of students receive need-based aid, and the average award cuts the school's sticker price by 65%, to $22,905 a year. A robust merit-aid program awards funds to 14% of students who don't receive need-based aid; those awards average $25,572 a year. And since loans aren't part of the deal at Davidson, the average debt of the 26% of students who do borrow is $20,431, compared with the national average of $32,000. "The no-loan program is our way of telling talented students of all financial backgrounds that we want them here and will do what we can to make it possible for them to attend," says Quillen.
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