Hidden Gems in the Northwest | 2019

Hidden Gems in the Northwest

The Northwestern region of the United States is known for unique landscapes and lifestyles, but there’s one aspect that doesn’t get the attention it deserves—colleges! Which is why we decided to highlight some of the best hidden gem schools in the Northwest.

For this list, we’ve included the following states as part of the Northwest: Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Washington, and Northern California (anything north of San Jose).

We’ve included the top three hidden gem schools for each state. However, this year Wyoming did not have any colleges that met College Raptor’s requirements so it is not featured. Additionally, some states may not have had three colleges that qualified.

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 Northwest!


Alaska Pacific University

  • Hidden Gems in the Northwest - Alaska Pacific University

    Wikimedia Commons user Zaereth (Note: Image is of Anchorage)

    Location: Anchorage, AK

  • Student Enrollment: 541
  • College Type: Private

An extremely small school, Alaska Pacific University recently started a partnership with the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium in order to better focus on the state and needs of Alaskan natives. Home to the Nordic Ski Team, the center was designed to be an Olympic cross-country skiers training facility. Each year, APU regularly sends at least one skier to the Winter Olympics.

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University of Alaska Southeast

  • Hidden Gems in the Northwest - University of Alaska Southeast

    Flickr user MeRyan

    Location: Juneau, AK

  • Student Enrollment: 2,563
  • College Type: Public

Part of the University of Alaska system, Southeast is one of four campuses and accepts 70% of applicants. In addition to courses in Arts and Sciences, Career Education, and Education, the university also offers an Outdoor Skills and Leadership Certificate. This is a nine month program that helps students understand the natural world, their relation to it, and the skills needed to survive in the wild.


San Francisco Conservatory of Music

  • Hidden Gems in the Northwest - San Francisco Conservatory of Music

    Wikimedia Commons user Carlin Ma.

    Location: San Francisco, CA

  • Student Enrollment: 401
  • College Type: Private

Founded in 1917 initially as the Ada Clement Piano School, the San Francisco Conservatory of Music now offers a broader music education. There are seven total majors: Stringed Instruments, Voice and Opera, Brass Instruments, Keyboard Instruments, Woodwind Instruments, Music Theory and Composition, and Percussion Instruments.

Saint Mary’s College of California

  • Hidden Gems in the Northwest - Saint Mary’s College of California

    Flickr user Franco Folini

    Location: Moraga, CA

  • Student Enrollment: 3,908
  • College Type: Private

Saint Mary’s College is grounded in the liberal arts and the life and work of Saint John Baptist de La Salle. Last year, the average percentage of acceptance was 82% out of almost 4,700 applications. Red and blue are the school colors, and students compete athletically as the Gaels.

Mills College

  • Hidden Gems in the Northwest - Mills College

    Flickr user Curtis Cronn

    Location: Oakland, CA

  • Student Enrollment: 1,345
  • College Type: Private

Mills College is an all women’s undergraduate college, but allows men and women to participate in graduate programs. It was the first single-sex college to accept transgender students. Recently, the college offered a “tuition reset” where the cost to attend was reduced by about 36%. With 961 applications received, they have a high acceptance rate of 87%.


College of Idaho

  • Hidden Gems in the Northwest - College of Idaho

    Flickr user Jimmy Emerson, DVM

    Location: Caldwell, ID

  • Student Enrollment: 971
  • College Type: Private

The oldest private liberal arts college in Idaho, the College of Idaho was founded in 1891 with only 19 students. Today, it boasts nearly 1,000 and has dozens of majors, minors, and programs available. About a third of students are in an athletic program and the school is known for its skiing, basketball, and track. The Outdoor Program is a popular student organization which includes activities like hiking, fly fishing, stargazing, rafting, and more.

Northwest Nazarene University

  • Hidden Gems in the Northwest - Northwest Nazarene University

    Wikimedia Commons user Tamanoeconomico

    Location: Nampa, ID

  • Student Enrollment: 2,157
  • College Type: Private

Northwest Nazarene University is a Christian and private liberal arts college in Idaho with the motto “Seek Ye First the Kingdom of God.” The school focuses on transformation of the entire student. Business Administration is the most popular major at the university, but Nursing, Elementary Education, and Social Work are also common choices.

Lewis-Clark State College

  • Hidden Gems in the Northwest - Lewis-Clark State College

    Flickr user J. Stephen Conn

    Location: Lewiston, ID

  • Student Enrollment: 3,924
  • College Type: Public

In 2017, the Lewis-Clark State College accepted all students who applied to the school. Part of the Frontier Conference and with about 200 athletes, the teams are currently known as the “Warriors.” However, in the past they were also known as the Pioneers and the Loggers.


Carroll College

  • Hidden Gems in the Northwest - Carroll College

    Flickr user Cromley

    Location: Helena, MT

  • Student Enrollment: 1,308
  • College Type: Private

“Not For School, But For Life” is the motto of Carroll College. A private liberal arts school, the college is well known for its Pre-Med and Nursing majors. Although many students study Nursing and Health services, Biology is also a common choice. The school’s Neuman Observatory is the oldest observatory in the state.

Montana Technological University

  • Hidden Gems in the Northwest - Montana Technological University

    Wikimedia Commons user Tracy (Note: Image is of Butte, not MTU)

    Location: Butte, MT

  • Student Enrollment: 2,032
  • College Type: Public

Part of the University of Montana system, Montana Technological University is commonly called Montana Tech. Almost all students who apply to this school are accepted. The most popular major at the school is Petroleum Engineering, but many also choose to pursue degrees in Engineering, Business, and Occupational Health. Montana Tech is also known for its Ph.D. in Materials Science.

Rocky Mountain College

  • Hidden Gems in the Northwest - Rocky Mountain College

    Wikimedia Commons user David Michael Pennington (Note: Image is of Billings, not RMC)

    Location: Billings, MT

  • Student Enrollment: 1,000
  • College Type: Private

Rocky Mountain College got its start as the Montana Collegiate Institute in 1878. Although Business is the most popular major choice at the school, the college also offers unique programs in Aviation and Equestrian Studies. Almost a third of the students take part in athletics where they are known as the Battlin’ Bears.


Willamette University

  • Hidden Gems in the Northwest - Willamette University

    Flickr user Max Rae

    Location: Salem, OR

  • Student Enrollment: 2,556
  • College Type: Private

The Willamette Bearcats sport cardinal and old gold for their school colors, and are cheered on by their mascot Blitz. Willamette participates in 20 varsity sports, including baseball, basketball, and lacrosse among others. Biology is the most popular major on campus, followed by Economics and Political Science.

Pacific University

  • Hidden Gems in the Northwest - Pacific University

    Flickr user Tim Lauer

    Location: Forest Grove, OR

  • Student Enrollment: 3,909
  • College Type: Private

At Pacific University, the student experience is about more than academics. They receives about 2,590 applications and accepts around 84% each year. Business Administration and Management in General is their top major with a total number of 50 students.

George Fox University

  • Hidden Gems in the Northwest - George Fox University

    Wikimedia Commons user George Fox University

    Location: Newberg, OR

  • Student Enrollment: 4,139
  • College Type: Private

George Fox University was originally a school for Quakers and known as the Friends Pacific Academy in 1885. It didn’t receive its current name until 1949, which honors the founder of the Quakers. Business Administration is by far the most commonly chosen major, with Nursing, Social Work, and Elementary Education also being popular.


Whitman College

  • Hidden Gems in the Northwest - Whitman College

    Flickr user Chuck Taylor

    Location: Walla Walla, WA

  • Student Enrollment: 1,493
  • College Type: Private

“Per ardua surgo” is the motto of this college, translating to mean “Through adversities I rise.” Whitman accepts just over half of all the applications they receive. On average, incoming freshmen score between 26 and 31 on the ACT, or between 1240 and 1430 on the SAT. Whitman has a cozy 8:1 student-to-faculty ratio.

Whitworth University

  • Hidden Gems in the Northwest - Whitworth University

    Image provided by Whitworth University

    Location: Spokane, WA

  • Student Enrollment: 2,634
  • College Type: Private

The average ACT score of Whitworth applicants is between 22 and 28, and its SAT score ranges from 1,110 and 1,330. About 89% of the applicants were accepted. Biological and Physical Sciences, Elementary Education, Psychology, Biology, and Computer Science are the most popular majors on campus.

University of Washington – Bothell Campus

  • Hidden Gems in the Northwest - University of Washington - Bothell Campus

    Flickr user J Brew

    Location: Bothell, WA

  • Student Enrollment: 5,734
  • College Type: Public

One of the three campuses for the University of Washington, the Bothell Campus is fairly new: It was established in 1990 and actually shares a campus with Cascadia College. The largest campus out of the three, Bothell sees over 3,000 applications each year and out of the 80% accepted, just over 30% go on to attend.

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!

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