Hidden Gems in the Midwest | 2019

Hidden Gems in the Midwest

This list features the best colleges in the Midwest that might get overlooked, but should definitely not be underestimated. There are a bunch of great schools in America’s heartland, and we want to give them the recognition they deserve.

For this list, we’ve included the following states as part of the Midwest: Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Michigan, Missouri, Minnesota, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, and Wisconsin.

At College Raptor, we help students find colleges that fit them financially, socially, and academically–which means looking at more than just big name universities. That’s why we’re drawing attention to smaller colleges across the nation which deserve consideration, but may be initially overlooked because of their size.

To qualify as a College Raptor Hidden Gem, a school must have the following requirements:

  • Receive fewer than 5,000 applications a year
  • Have fewer than 7,000 undergraduate students enrolled

Here are College Raptor’s picks for hidden gem colleges in the Midwest!


Wheaton College (IL)

  • Flickr user Teemu008

    Location: Wheaton, IL

  • Student Enrollment: 2,901
  • College Type: Private

A private Christian school, Wheaton College was actually a stop on the Underground Railroad and later saw one of the first African-American college graduates in Illinois. Focusing on academics and faith, almost all students choose to stay at the school after their freshman year (95%). Wheaton College also boasts a high four-year graduation rate (81%).

Illinois Wesleyan University

With over 80 majors and programs available on the campus, Illinois Wesleyan University has a student-to-faculty ratio of 10:1. With the motto “Scientia et Sapientia” (“Knowledge and Wisdom”) students tend to focus on Business or Nursing majors, but Accounting, Biology, and Psychology are also top choices at the liberal arts school.

Illinois Institute of Technology

  • Flickr user Michael Senchulk

    Location: Chicago, IL

  • Student Enrollment: 7,730
  • College Type: Private

Illinois Institute of Technology is a technology-focused research university that offers undergraduate and graduate degrees in Applied Technology, Engineering, Business, Design, Science, Law, and Human Sciences. It is located right on the famed Lake Michigan, south of Navy Pier.


Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology

  • Wikimedia Commons user Cejeiler

    Location: Terre Haute, IN

  • Student Enrollment: 2,278
  • College Type: Private

Also known as RHIT, the Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology focuses on teaching math, science, and engineering. It has a first year retention rate of 94%. A majority of students tend to study Mechanical Engineering with Chemical Engineering coming in second. The first Chemical Engineering degree in the US was awarded at RHIT in 1889.

Wabash College

  • Wikimedia Commons user Nyttend

    Location: Crawfordsville, IN

  • Student Enrollment: 842
  • College Type: Private

One of only 3 remaining traditional, all-male liberal arts schools in the US, Wabash College has one official school color—Scarlet. As much as 80% of Wabash students compete in one or more club or intramural sports, while 40% compete in intercollegiate athletics. Wabash’s teams are known as the Little Giants.

Saint Mary’s College

Saint Mary’s College is a women’s college affiliated with the Roman Catholic Church. To further encourage women to go to college, 100% of incoming students are offered scholarships and/or grants. Registered Nursing is the most popular major, followed by Communication Sciences and Business Administration.


Luther College

  • Wikimedia Commons user Bobak Ha’Eri

    Location: Decorah, IA

  • Student Enrollment: 2,169
  • College Type: Private

A fairly selective school with a 65% acceptance rate, Luther College sports the colors white and blue and their athletic teams are known as the Norse. Students have more than 60 majors, minors, and programs to choose from and enjoy lots of exciting traditions, from snowball fights in winter to outdoor movie nights in summer.

Dordt College

  • Flickr user David Mulder

    Location: Sioux Center, IA

  • Student Enrollment: 1,522
  • College Type: Private

Established in 1955, Dordt College offers more than 40 majors and 11 pre-professional programs of study, the most popular of which is Elementary Education. Dordt’s official school colors are black, white, and gold, and they compete as the Defenders. Around 39% of students come from Iowa, many others come from California, Minnesota, and Colorado.

Cornell College

  • Wikimedia Commons user ArtisticAbode

    Location: Mt Vernon, IA

  • Student Enrollment: 978
  • College Type: Private

This school follows an unique One Course At A Time Curriculum, where students focus on just one academic discipline for a 3 ½ week block. Students have more than 40 academic majors and pre-professional programs to choose from, the most popular of which is Economics, followed by Psychology and Exercise Science.


Benedictine College

  • Flickr user Tony Unruh

    Location: Atchison, KS

  • Student Enrollment: 2,312
  • College Type: Private

Benedictine College offers students a unique cultural experience by giving them the opportunity to study at their campuses at Florence, Italy and Dublin, Ireland. Students may also choose to study abroad at colleges in 50 other countries. Affiliated with the Roman Catholic Church, this college is located right on the Missouri River.

Baker University

  • Flickr user Bhall87

    Location: Baldwin City, KS

  • Student Enrollment: 2,726
  • College Type: Private

Established in 1858, Baker University was the very first university in Kansas. Their official school color is orange, and they play as the Wildcats. Baker has quite a few notable alumni, including Panda Express founder Andrew Cherng, Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy, and writer Candice Millard.

Pittsburg State University

  • Flickr user Chauncey Huffman

    Location: Pittsburg, KS

  • Student Enrollment: 7,102
  • College Type: Public

“By doing, learn” is the motto of Pittsburg State. The school colors are a bright crimson and gold, and their mascot is Gus the Gorilla. They participate in NCAA Division II sports including baseball, basketball, football, and volleyball among others. A majority of students (over 60%) come from Kansas, but nearly 30% come from neighboring Missouri.


Kalamazoo College

  • Wikimedia Commons user Gotanero

    Location: Kalamazoo, MI

  • Student Enrollment: 1,443
  • College Type: Private

A smaller school, Kalamazoo College has a high first-year retention rate of 88%. Kalamazoo features the K plan, where they focus on experiential education, study abroad opportunities, and community involvement. Students must submit a work intensive project or demonstrate a skill, such as proficiency in another language, in order to graduate.

Hope College

  • Flickr user Kymberly Janisch

    Location: Holland, MI

  • Student Enrollment: 3,234
  • College Type: Private

Hope College is a 4-year Liberal Arts College offering 51 majors, the most popular being Business, Psychology, and Speech. Orange and blue make up the school colors, and they compete as the Flying Dutchmen (or Flying Dutch). Located on Lake Macatawa, it’s no surprise that an anchor is featured in Hope’s seal.

Calvin College

  • Wikimedia Commons user Rememberdefcow

    Location: Grand Rapids, MI

  • Student Enrollment: 3,918
  • College Type: Private

Calvin College’s mascot is Joust the Knight and the school colors are maroon and gold. A vast majority (97%) of students on campus study at the undergraduate level. Calvin has a student-to-faculty ratio of 12:1 and a first-year retention rate of 85%. The most popular major on campus is Engineering.


Gustavus Adolphus College

  • Wikimedia Commons user Jlencion

    Location: St Peter, MN

  • Student Enrollment: 2,250
  • College Type: Private

Founded by Swedish Americans in 1862, and affiliated with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Gustavus Adolphus College retains both, its Swedish and Lutheran heritage. Black and gold are the school colors, and the mascot is Gus the Lion. Incoming freshmen score an average of 24–30 on the ACT and 1180–1400 on the SAT.

College of Saint Benedict

  • Wikimedia Commons user Bobak Ha’Eri

    Location: St Joseph, MN

  • Student Enrollment: 1,958
  • College Type: Private

Founded by the Benedictine Sisters in 1913, the College of Saint Benedict is a women’s only Liberal Arts College. It shares the curriculum and school resources with Saint John’s University–the brother school. Saint Benedict’s school motto is “Sic Luceat Lux Vestra” meaning “So let your light shine.”

Martin Luther College

  • Flickr user J. Stephen Conn

    Location: New Ulm, MN

  • Student Enrollment: 937
  • College Type: Private

Martin Luther College is located on a bluff near the Minnesota River. The school colors are red, black, and white and their sports teams are known as the Knights. Elementary Education is the most popular major on campus. Martin Luther College has a 12:1 student-to-faculty ratio and an 87% first-year retention rate.


Rockhurst University

  • Wikimedia Commons user Jzsj

    Location: Kansas City, MO

  • Student Enrollment: 2,854
  • College Type: Private

“Sapientia Aedificavit Sibi Domum” translates to “Wisdom has found herself a home” and serves as Rockhurst’s official school motto. Registered Nursing, Business, Biology, Psychology, and Kinesiology are the most popular majors on campus. They participate in NCAA Division II sports as the Hawks.

Maryville University of Saint Louis

  • Wikimedia Commons user Americasroof (Note: Image is of Maryville Courthouse, not MU)

    Location: St. Louis, MO

  • Student Enrollment: 6,828
  • College Type: Private

Maryville University of Saint Louis offers students more than 90 full-time degree programs, 19 master’s programs, 5 doctoral programs, and 25 online degrees. The student-to-faculty ratio is 14:1. The school’s mascot is Louie the Saint Bernard. There are more graduate students studying at Maryville than undergraduate—57% and 43% respectively.

College of the Ozarks

  • Location: Hollister, MO

  • Student Enrollment: 1,517
  • College Type: Private

The College of the Ozarks is extremely selective, accepting only 13% of students. Nearly 92% of students who are accepted go on to attend. The College of the Ozarks has a 73% six-year graduation rate. The campus is located not far from Table Rock Lake. Seventy-five percent of all students come from Missouri.


Bryan College of Health Sciences

  • Wikimedia Commons user Hanyou23 (Note: Image is of Bryan Medical Center)

    Location: Lincoln, NE

  • Student Enrollment: 703
  • College Type: Private

This college offers a grand total of 5 specialized majors—Registered Nursing, Cardiovascular Technology, Diagnostic Medical Sonography, Pre-Med, and Health Sciences/Services. Students are predominately female, with 91% of the undergraduate class and 75.5% of the graduate class being women.

Clarkson College

  • Wikimedia Commons Procellalkaline

    Location: Omaha, NE

  • Student Enrollment: 1,219
  • College Type: Private

Clarkson College offers undergrad, grad, and post-grad programs in a wide range of health sciences, including Radiologic Technology, Medical Imaging, Health Information Management, Nursing, Imaging Informatics, and more. 55% of students on campus study at the undergraduate level, with the remaining 45% being graduate students.

Nebraska Wesleyan University

  • Flickr user Ali Eminov

    Location: Lincoln, NE

  • Student Enrollment: 2,059
  • College Type: Private

Students can choose from 119 majors, minors, and pre-professional programs, and more than 40 active student organizations. The average class size is 19, with a student-to-faculty ratio of 13:1. The school is fairly selective with a 71% acceptance rate. Black and gold are the school colors, and NWU competes as the Prairie Wolves.


University of Mary

  • Wikimedia Commons user Jerald F Anderson

    Location: Bismarck, ND

  • Student Enrollment: 3,260
  • College Type: Private

A Christian, Catholic, Benedictine school, the University of Mary welcomes all students regardless of faith or background. Nearly 76% of applications submitted to UM are accepted. There is a 15:1 student-to-faculty ratio on campus. Their sports teams are known as the Marauders.

Minot State University

  • Wikimedia Commons user Goldenpaw2000

    Location: Minot, ND

  • Student Enrollment: 3,412
  • College Type: Public

Minot State University has 4 main academic divisions – Arts & Sciences, Education & Health Sciences, Business, and Graduate School, through which it offers more than 60 undergraduate courses of study, and 10 graduate fields of study. The mascot is named Buckshot the Beaver, and the school colors are red and green.

University of Jamestown

  • Flickr user Jimmy Emerson, DVM (Note: Image is of Jamestown, not UJ)

    Location: Jamestown, ND

  • Student Enrollment: 1,137
  • College Type: Private

Students at this university are known as the Jimmies. Initially founded in 1883, the school had to close during the Panic of 1893, but fortunately reopened for classes in 1909. Jamestown has an acceptance rate of 65% and sees over 1,150 applications annually. Over 42% of students hail from North Dakota, but others come from Minnesota and California.


Cleveland Institute of Music

  • Wikimedia Commons user Daderot

    Location: Cleveland, OH

  • Student Enrollment: 431
  • College Type: Private

The Cleveland Institute of Music is one of only 7 independent conservatories of music in America, and one of only 3 devoted exclusively to classical music performance. Students get plenty of opportunities to perform at venues throughout the greater Cleveland area. Regular visits by world-renowned artists and conductors are highlights of the academic calendar.   

Franciscan University of Steubenville

  • Location: Steubenville, OH

  • Student Enrollment: 2,759
  • College Type: Private

The Franciscan University of Steubenville offers 40 undergraduate, and 8 graduate programs. Forest green and vegas gold are the school colors, and students compete as the Barons. Rugby, tennis, and cross country are just some of the sports played on campus. It’s located right on the Ohio River.

John Carroll University

  • Wikimedia Commons user Wilson Delgado

    Location: University Heights, OH

  • Student Enrollment: 3,523
  • College Type: Private

A Jesuit Catholic school, John Carroll University’s mascot is a wolf named Lobo. JCU has a 14:1 student-to-faculty ratio and a 73% six-year graduation rate. Most students come from Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New York. Speech Communications, Psychology, Biology, Finance, and Accounting are the most popular majors.


Augustana University

  • Wikimedia Commons user David Huebner

    Location: Sioux Falls, SD

  • Student Enrollment: 1,937
  • College Type: Private

Augustana University is a liberal arts college affiliated with the Evangelical Lutheran Church. The school offers over 100 major, minor, and pre-professional programs with extensive study abroad, undergrad research, and internship opportunities. The top 5 most popular majors are Biology, Psychology, Elementary Education, Nursing, and Business Administration. This is a fairly selective school with a 68% acceptance rate.

South Dakota School of Mines and Technology

  • Flickr user Elizabet Gojcoj (Note: Image is of Black Hills, not SDMT)

    Location: Rapid City, SD

  • Student Enrollment: 2,809
  • College Type: Public

“Invent tomorrow” is the motto for SD Mines, fitting since it’s well known for the numerous STEM programs offered. Mechanical Engineering, Civil Engineering, Chemical Engineering, Industrial Engineering, and Electrical Engineering are the five most popular majors on campus. Blue and old gold are the school colors.

Mount Marty College

  • Image provided by Mount Marty College

    Location: Yankton, SD

  • Student Enrollment: 1,164
  • College Type: Private

Located on the banks of the Missouri River, Mount Marty College is rooted in the theory and practice of the Catholic Benedictine values of community, hospitality and life-long learning. Registered Nursing is the most popular major on campus. They compete as the Lancers in NAIA division. Sports include basketball, baseball, soccer, archery, and shotgun sports among others.


Lawrence University

  • Flickr user Roman Boed

    Location: Appleton, WI

  • Student Enrollment: 1,582
  • College Type: Private

A liberal arts college and conservatory of music, Lawrence University offers students an engaged learning experience that helps students hone their ability to communicate effectively, work collaboratively, resolve problems, and thrive in a rapidly-changing world. Lawrence has an 8:1 student-to-faculty ratio. The school is focused exclusively to undergraduate education.  

Saint Norbert College

  • Flickr user stnorbert

    Location: De Pere, WI

  • Student Enrollment: 2,211
  • College Type: Private

“Docere Verbo et Exemplo” is the Latin motto of Saint Norbert College, which translates to “To teach by word and example.” The college has an average class size is 19 and the student-to-faculty ratio is 13:1. They compete in sporting events as the Green Knights, and, fittingly, their school colors are green and gold.

Ripon College

  • Wikimedia Commons user MadMAxMarchxHare

    Location: Ripon, WI

  • Student Enrollment: 793
  • College Type: Private

Students at Ripon College benefit from small class sizes and a 12:1 student-to-faculty ratio. Every student enrolled in Rippon College is expected to complete a major in addition to taking 5 Catalyst Courses that focus on solving real-world problems. Students who complete the Catalyst receive a certificate in Applied Innovation, which can be compared to a minor in other colleges.

About our methodology

Colleges are ranked based on a combination of factors, including graduation rates, campus diversity, endowment per student, and other data as reported via the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) for the most recently-available enrollment year. Some colleges may have been excluded from rankings based on certain criteria, including specialization and classification. Learn about our full methodology.

Interested in any of these schools? Check out College Raptor’s free match tool to see if they’re a good fit for you!

College Raptor Staff

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