By CVO Staff
In the divisive age in which we live, it can be challenging to find the right college. After all, we’d all like to be around like-minded people who share our core values and beliefs. That’s why College Values Online went on the hunt for the 30 best colleges for young Democrats. Fortunately for young liberals, academia tends to lean to the left, so we narrowed down our list based on the following factors:
- Inclusive Campuses: Democrat-friendly campuses tend to be inclusive of all types of people, and have the social services to prove it.
- On-Campus Clubs and Organizations: The colleges and universities on our list offer on-campus clubs and organizations that appeal to those students who are politically minded. Clubs that might appeal to young liberals include College Democrats, Pride Alliance, Students for a Democratic Society, and more.
- Environmental Awareness: The schools on our list have taken steps to reduce their carbon footprint and form habits that contribute to the betterment of the environment.
- Other: We also considered other factors that might appeal to the young Democrat, such as notable alumni, curriculum, majors and minors offered, special events that occur on campus, and historical significance.
Reviewing the Most Liberal Colleges in the US
Young politicos come from all over the country to attend American University, and for a good reason. Conveniently located in Washington, D.C., American fosters students who tend to be incredibly active in national politics. Said students frequently attend:
- political protests
- intern with powerful people and organizations
- simply soak up the local political culture
Political passion is just as apparent on campus. The student body is diverse, with various student-led groups catering to everything from LGBTQ+ to the Ethiopian and Eritrean Student Association to the AU Texans Club. College Democrats also have an active club on campus.
A whopping 82% of current Amherst College students report they have a political affiliation. Most of those students declare themselves to be liberal and/or progressive, so young Democrats are sure to feel right at home on campus. Despite Amherst’s relatively small size — the student body consists of approximately 1,800 students — there are more than 140 student-led groups on campus. These include:
- the College Democrats
- Amherst Feminist Alliance
- Amherst College Pride Alliance
Besides clubs, politically inclined students are invited to participate in on-campus debates, various public service events, and publications. Some of Amherst’s notable alumni include President Calvin Coolidge, a former Chief Justice of the United States, three former Speakers of the House, and even the current Prince of Monaco.
Annandale-on-Hudson, New York
Like so many other schools on our list of the best colleges for young Democrats, Bard College embraces many of the things valued by liberals and progressives. No wonder it consistently ranks as one of the student bodies with the highest percentage of liberal students. Bard’s professors and staff members receive special training to monitor the holistic health of their students, and those who need it are offered a variety of professional emotional support services. Bard is well on its way to its goal of becoming entirely carbon neutral by 2035 and even boasts a sustainable college farm that is considered one of the best in the nation.
Home to Bernie Sanders, Vermont is well-known as a liberal enclave, and Bennington College is no exception. In fact, Bennington has one of the highest percentages of student Democrats of any college in the country! Bennington’s focus on the arts is certainly part of the reason for such a strong liberal presence. The college boasts a top-ranked Master of Fine Arts program that has produced a number of notable authors, actors, and artists over the years. Students who would like to gain hands-on political experience can do so through Bennington’s unique Center for the Advancement of Public Action program.
Like the other schools on our list of the best colleges for young Democrats, Brandeis University boasts a student population that is remarkably active in liberal politics. Students report that the on-campus culture is diverse and open-minded, with students of all races, religions, and orientations coming together and getting along. Brandeis students are especially passionate about environmental issues. The university is home to the Mandel Center, which, thanks to its water runoff-reducing pavement, solar trash compactors, rooftop garden, and solar panels, is one of the most environmentally friendly campus buildings in the world. Brandeis is also a top choice for many progressive LGBTQ+ students. Triskelion, an umbrella GLBTQA student-led group, also includes the subgroups Shalem (for LGBTQ+ Jewish students), Queer People of Color Coalition, TransBrandeis, and Sex and Sexuality Symposium.
Providence, Rhode Island
Young Democrats who would describe themselves as extremely socially liberal would do well to consider Brown University. Besides being an excellent choice of alma mater in terms of academics, Brown boasts a campus culture that’s known for its “anything goes” mentality. Activism and inclusion are emphasized here, as evidenced by events such as Consent Day and SexPowerGod, the latter of which is a party hosted by the Queer Alliance in which students are encouraged to wear as much or as little clothing as they’d like to make a statement about being comfortable in one’s own skin.
If young Democrats have any doubt about the political values of Carleton College, they should consider this: The Carleton Student Association recently ended the college’s contract with Coca-Cola due to political concerns and disagreement. Nearly 88% of Carleton’s student body is politically affiliated, and not surprisingly, the majority of that percentage leans to the left. Student-led campus organizations such as:
- College Democrats
- Men of Color
- Native People’s Organization
- Coming Out Support Group
They encourage their peers to vote and participate in various political endeavors. Some of Carleton’s notable alumni include former Meet the Press host Garrick Utley, former editor-in-chief of Politico John F. Harris, journalist Jonathan Capehart, and former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Pierce Butler.
Columbia College Chicago
With students from all 50 states and 41 countries, Columbia College Chicago (CCC) is one of the most diverse institutions on our list. Thus, it’s quite notable that 89% of CCC’s student body reports being politically active, with the majority of those describing themselves as “liberal” or “Progressively liberal.” Student groups are very active on campus. Popular groups include:
Students Supporting Israel
- Asian Student Organization
- Columbia College Association of Black Journalists
- Common Ground
- International Student Organization
Students who are interested in getting their political feet wet are encouraged to participate in the Student Government Association of Columbia College Chicago, a popular organization that gives students the chance to actively govern just about every aspect of campus life.
New York, New York
Columbia University has enjoyed a reputation for being politically active practically since its founding in 1754. Today, the university is home to a student body of which 76% report being politically affiliated. Though Columbia does have a fairly large population of conservative students, the majority of Columbia Lions are liberal. Still, the political diversity makes things interesting. Two college journals, The Columbia Political Review, and The Current offer students a place to publish political commentary, while the unique World Leaders Forum provides students the opportunity to listen to political speakers from all over the world. A variety of student-run political organizations also exist on campus. Over the years, Columbia has graduated five Founding Fathers, nine Supreme Court Justices, three U.S. Presidents, and 26 other heads of state from around the world.
Located in downtown Boston, Emerson College is an excellent school choice for the young Democrat. According to Niche, 59% of Emerson students describe themselves as “Progressive/very liberal,” while 34% call themselves “liberal” and only 7% say they are “moderate” or “not sure.” The private college certainly seems to have a liberal-leaning on-campus culture. Recent headlines celebrated the young men of Phi Alpha Tau fraternity after they started a fundraiser for a fraternity brother’s sexual reassignment surgery.
Evergreen State College
Life on campus at Evergreen State College embodies many of the same things valued by young Democrats. For example, the college places a huge emphasis on environmental issues and environmental responsibility, and every inch of the campus has been deemed a nature reserve. There is even an Evergreen Organic Farm, at which students can learn about and take part in composting and organic farming. Regarding academics, Evergreen State College isn’t quite your typical institution with traditional grading scales. Instead, students receive written feedback on their work.
Of the 91% of Grinnell College students who report being politically affiliated, nearly all of them describe themselves as “liberal” or “radically liberal.” Many of these students participate in Grinnell’s Student Government Association, a unique school-sponsored program that allows elected student officials to oversee a budget of more than $360,000 annually. Undoubtedly, this influence contributes to the progressive campus culture. A number of active student-run organizations exist on campus, including:
- an LGBTQ+ support group
- College Democrats
- College Republicans
Political Science is one of the college’s most popular majors, and interestingly, Grinnell has more Peace Corps volunteers among its alumni (per capita) than any other college in the country.
Just about everything about Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts, is progressive. Hampshire’s on-campus vibe thrives on an open-minded approach to social issues. Recently, Hampshire administrators canceled entire days’ worth of classes to have campus-wide discussions on issues such as sexual assault and racism. This mentality extends into the classroom as well. Many Hampshire students pursue courses of independent study, and grading is usually done on a pass or fail rubric, as opposed to the more traditional grading scale. Young Democrats are sure to enjoy the long list of student-run campus organizations, including:
- the Center for Feminisms
- Civil Liberties and Public Policy
- Friends of Tibet
- Gender Resource Network
Humboldt State University
Young Democrats are sure to love the fact that Humboldt State University in California is included on The Princeton Review’s list of Colleges With a Conscience. This unique recognition is the result of the university’s dedication to a variety of issues, including the support of its LGBTQ+ students. Most notably, however, is Humboldt’s passion for environmental issues. There is a huge dedication amongst students and staff for sustainability on campus, and student fees are used to create energy-efficient projects on campus, thanks to the Humboldt Energy Independence Fund (HEIF). One of the many student-run organizations at Humboldt State is the Waste Reduction and Resource Awareness Program (WRRAP), which works hard towards the goal of making the university a zero-waste campus.
St. Paul, Minnesota
If you pay attention to national headlines, then you’re probably already well aware Macalester College is a great choice of school for young Democrats. The college routinely makes the news as a bastion for student protests and activism, as its students have a national reputation for being passionate and overwhelmingly liberal. Prominent speakers are frequently invited to the Minnesota campus to discuss hot political topics such as race relations, the environment, and gender rights.
Marlboro is home to just 300 students. Thanks to such a small student body, the Vermont-based college enjoys a unique type of intimacy that provides a one-of-a-kind college experience to every student. The average class size at Marlboro is seven, though it’s not uncommon for one or two students to have one-on-one access to a professor. Students interested in gaining first-hand leadership experience have plenty of opportunities at Marlboro. Students, faculty, and staff members work together on different committees to make hiring decisions, curriculum changes and make various other decisions.
Mount Holyoke College
South Hadley, Massachusetts
Despite a pretty vocal conservative faction, the majority of Mount Holyoke College’s students identify as either “liberal” or “very liberal.” Student-led clubs such as the Student Coalition for Action are very active, and frequently plan rallies meant to show support and solidarity for various hot-button political issues. The campus culture is one in which anyone should feel comfortable. Indeed, there exists a wide range of on-campus minority groups, including:
- African and Caribbean Student Association
- Asian American Sisters in Action
- multiple clubs for the college’s LGBTQ+ community
There is also a designated safe space on campus, the Jeannette Marks house, which is open to everyone.
Oberlin College has a long history as a proudly progressive institution. Only a few years after its founding in the early 1800s, Oberlin began accepting African-Americans as students and remained a major center of abolitionist thought throughout the years surrounding the Civil War. Today, Oberlin remains just as dedicated to its progressive values, as evidenced by the fact that it recently adopted an all-gender bathroom policy. Experimental education, sexual openness, and student activism are all things Oberlin’s liberal student body values. Additionally, students have a slew of on-campus political clubs in which to participate, including:
- College Democrats
- Students for Energy Justice
- Peace and Conflict Studies Connection Group
- Students for a Free Palestine
- Transgender Advocacy Group
Portland State University
Though only 73% of Portland State University’s student body reports being politically affiliated — a percentage significantly less than many of the other colleges on our list — Portland State University consistently ranks as one of the most liberal and progressive schools in America. A variety of factors contribute to this reputation. A Queer Resource Center actively ensures that the LGBTQ+ community is represented and accepted on campus. Students interested in sharing their thoughts on current issues and events can contribute to the many student-run political publications that exist, while those who prefer to get their feet wet in local politics are invited to join the Associated Students of Portland State University, the university’s student government.
Reed College’s self-proclaimed (read: unofficial) motto is “Communism, Atheism, Free Love.” Need we say more? A whopping 91% of Reed’s student body declare themselves politically affiliated, with nearly everyone identifying as some kind of liberal. Myriad student-led groups on campus are political in nature, while the Queer Alliance ensures Reed’s LGBTQ+ community is represented. The college also boasts active partnerships with Planned Parenthood and Oxfam.
San Francisco State University
San Francisco, California
Over the last half-century or so, San Francisco has practically become synonymous with liberal politics. San Francisco State University enjoys a reputation that is consistent with that reputation. Eighty-eight percent of SFSU students report being politically affiliated, and not surprisingly, most students declare themselves to be on the left. Protests, rallies, social justice demonstrations, and even sit-ins are common occurrences on campus — just as they have been since the 1960s. The university has graduated a number of political figures over the years, including:
Sarah Lawrence College
Bronxville, New York
Made up predominantly of women, Sarah Lawrence College is an academically rigorous school known for its politically active student body. Gender relations and diversity are topics about which Sarah Lawrence students seem to be especially passionate. For example, policies are in place to ensure LGBTQ+ students feel safe and comfortable. Thanks to the college’s close proximity to New York City, students have a ton of opportunities to participate in major political events.
Smith College is a private liberal arts college located in Northampton, Massachusetts. Though Smith is a women’s college, the school recently voted on whether or not to remove the pronoun “she” in an attempt to remain inclusive and recognize those who do not identify as female. Perhaps not surprisingly, gender and LGBTQ+ issues are topics about which Smith students are especially passionate. Young Democrats will be happy to know that The Smith Democrats political club has on more than one occasion been voted the country’s best chapter. Some of Smith’s notable political alumni include:
- Gloria Steinem
- Yolanda King
- Tammy Baldwin
- Nancy Reagan
State University of New York, New Paltz
New Paltz, New York
Seventy-eight percent of students at SUNY New Paltz report being political, with the majority identifying as liberal. Issues about which New Paltz students seem to be especially passionate include gender issues and women’s rights, the latter of which is almost certainly a reflection of the school’s large female population. Several student-led groups are dedicated specifically to women’s issues, while Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies is one of the university’s most popular majors. Various state senators, mayors, local politicians, and political analysts are included among SUNY New Paltz’s alumni.
State University of New York, Purchase
Harrison, New York
Like New Paltz, SUNY Purchase has a large liberal student body (though there is also an active conservative presence here). Two popular on-campus political groups exist to provide interested students with hands-on experience in the political realm. PUSH: Ideas Into Action organizes discussions and activist events relating to global topics, while the New York Public Interest Research Group connects students with various political campaigns and internship opportunities. SUNY Purchase is incredibly diverse, and student-led organizations include:
- Latinos Unidos
- Student Organization of Caribbean Ancestry
- Organization of African People in America
University of California, Berkeley
Ask any American to come up with the most politically liberal city in the country, and you’ll very likely receive Berkeley, California, as an answer. Berkeley, and its UC campus, have long been associated with liberal issues. Today, hot-button issues on campus and among UC Berkeley’s student body include:
- gender issues
- the environment
- women’s rights
- sexual violence
Therefore, Berkeley boasts a number of green and environmentally sustainable buildings, sexual violence support services, and healthcare services for students.
University of California, Santa Cruz
Santa Cruz, California
UC Santa Cruz, another school in the University of California system, is known for its diversity, open-mindedness, and of course, politically liberal culture. Protests and rallies are common occurrences here and tend to relate to such issues as:
- women’s rights
- labor conditions
- workplace intimidation
- gender issues
UC Santa Cruz is a great choice of school for LGBTQ+ students. The campus includes a variety of clubs, including Queer and Questioning Women’s Group, Queer Book Club, Queer Writers, Queer Geeks, and Queer Coffeehouse, to name but a few.
University of Vermont
Vermont may be a tiny state, but its universities are well represented on our list of the best colleges for young Democrats. This time it’s the University of Vermont, where 85% of students declare themselves politically affiliated and mostly to the left. Many of the campus’ student clubs revolve around politics and/or social activism, though the university seems especially passionate about environmental issues. The University of Vermont has pledged 100% carbon neutral electricity and 100% carbon neutral heating and cooling by 2020, plus promised zero net emissions by 2025. The campus is also home to the Dudley H. Davis Center, the first student center to receive LEED Gold certification by the U.S. Green Building Council.
Poughkeepsie, New York
Of the 85% of Vassar College students who say they are politically affiliated, the vast majority declare themselves “liberal” or “progressive.” Perhaps then, it’s not so surprising that political science remains one of Vassar’s most popular degree programs. Students interested in politics are invited to write for The Vassar Chronicle, the college’s political journal. There are also a number of student-led political organizations on campus, including the Vassar College Democrats, the Vassar Greens, and even the Vassar Conservative Libertarian Union.
Wesleyan University may be best known for its rigorous academics and “very selective” admissions process, but this “Little Ivy” is also characterized by its politically liberal and inclusive campus culture. LGBTQ+ students have long made Wesleyan a top choice of college thanks to the fact that the university boasts all-gender restrooms, a Queer Studies program, and a vast LGBTQ+ alumni network. Various student-led clubs revolving around minority groups, political interests, and/or social activism also exist. Those interested in sustainability and environmental issues will appreciate Wesleyan’s dedication to the topic. The university’s focus on food sustainability means vegans and vegetarians have lots of tasty food options on campus, and much of the students’ food is grown on the university’s very own organic farm.
Interested in more conservative campuses? Click here for the 30 Best Colleges for Young Republicans.