Hidden Gems in the Southwest | 2019

Hidden Gems in the SouthwestThe Southwest has some of the most well-known colleges in the US, but there are many schools that get left out of the hype brand-name schools generate. We wanted to highlight the underrated colleges of the Southwest here.

For this list, we’ve included the following states: Arizona, Southern California, Colorado, Hawaii, New Mexico, Nevada, Oklahoma, Texas, Utah, and Wyoming. However, this year Wyoming did not have any colleges that met College Raptor’s requirements for a hidden gem school, so it has not been included. (Additionally, anything south of San Jose is considered Southern California for this list).

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 Southwest!


Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University – Prescott

  • Wikimedia Commons user Embry-Riddle Prescott

    Location: Prescott, AZ

  • Student Enrollment: 2,439
  • College Type: Private

With many students studying majors such as aerospace, space engineering, aeronautics, and mechanical engineering, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University is known for its unique study and career opportunities. Courses allow the students to study both hands on and through theoretical analysis. Students come from all over the country and world to attend, where the university has a 84% first-year retention rate.


Harvey Mudd College

  • Flickr user CampusGrotto

    Location: Claremont, CA

  • Student Enrollment: 842
  • College Type: Private

Though small in size, Harvey Mudd has a strong reputation for academic excellence. They have a 92% six year graduation rate, and a first-year retention rate of 98%. Engineering, Computer Science, and Mathematics are the top three most popular majors on campus. Black and gold are the colors worn by the Stags and Athenas—the men’s and women’s sports teams.

Soka University of America

  • Flickr user Mark Weston

    Location: Aliso Viejo, CA

  • Student Enrollment: 430
  • College Type: Private

SUA has quite the noble school motto: “Be philosophers of a renaissance of life; Be world citizens in solidarity for peace; Be the pioneers of a global civilization.” Soka has an elder sister school in Tokyo, Japan. With a small student body, this university has a 8:1 student-to-faculty ratio.

Scripps College

  • Flickr user CampusGrotto

    Location: Claremont, CA

  • Student Enrollment: 1,057
  • College Type: Private

Scripps College is a women’s liberal arts institute founded in 1926. This is a highly selective private institution. Scripps College focuses on helping women with both professional career potential and personal growth. Their motto is “Incipit Vita Nova,” which translates to, “Here begins new life.”


Johnson & Wales University (CO)

  • Wikimedia Commons user Jeffrey Beall

    Location: Denver, CO

  • Student Enrollment: 1,278
  • College Type: Private

Johnson & Wales University offers degree programs in Business, Arts & Sciences, Health & Wellness, Culinary Arts & Food Service Management, and Hospitality Management. This is a non selective school with an acceptance rate of 84%. Though a griffin is featured on their school seal, the official mascot of JWU is the Wildcat.

Western State Colorado University

  • Wikimedia Commons user Orschstaffer

    Location: Gunnison, CO

  • Student Enrollment: 2,908
  • College Type: Public

Western State Colorado University is a liberal arts college nestled in the Rocky Mountains. Given the rugged location, it’s not surprising that Recreation & Outdoor Education is among the most popular majors in this school. The average class size is 18 students and the acceptance rate is 86%. The school’s mascot is Mad Jack the Mountaineer, and the colors are crimson and slate.

Fort Lewis College

  • Flickr user Jmcclurken

    Location: Durango, CO

  • Student Enrollment: 3,600
  • College Type: Public

Located on a mesa above historic Durango, Fort Lewis College is considered to be at the crossroads of education and adventure. Adventure Education, Exercise Science, Environmental Studies, Business Administration, and Biology are among the most popular majors. The average class size is 20 with a 15:1 student-to-faculty ratio. The school’s mascot is Skyler the Skyhawk.


Chaminade University of Honolulu

  • Flickr user Markus Jobstl (Note: Image is of Honolulu)

    Location: Honolulu, HI

  • Student Enrollment: 2,277
  • College Type: Private

Located not far from Waikiki, a majority (63%) of Chaminade students come from Hawaii–others come from Texas, California, and Guam. Chaminade’s colors are blue, silver, and white, and their sports teams are known as the Silverswords. Criminal Justice is the most popular major on campus, followed by Psychology and Registered Nursing.

Brigham Young University – Hawaii Campus

  • Flickr user Daniel Ramirez

    Location: Laie, HI

  • Student Enrollment: 2,866
  • College Type: Private

Brigham Young University – Hawaii integrates both secular and spiritual learning into its curriculum. The school offers programs in liberal arts, mathematics, and management. This is a highly selective school with a 37% acceptance rate. The campus is located on the island of Oahu and is not far from the ocean.

University of Hawaii at Hilo

  • Wikimedia Commons user Vreed

    Location: Hilo, HI

  • Student Enrollment: 3,666
  • College Type: Public

One of ten schools within the University of Hawaii system, UH Hilo is located on the Big Island, not far from Hilo Bay. Red and black are the school colors, where students are known as the Vulcans. There is a 13:1 student-to-faculty ratio on campus. Psychology is the most popular major, followed by Pharmacy and Kinesiology.


St. John’s College (NM)

  • Flickr user Josh Parrish

    Location: Santa Fe, NM

  • Student Enrollment: 400
  • College Type: Private

St. John’s school motto is “Facio liberos ex liberis libris libraque” or “I make free adults from children by means of books and a balance,” a noble phrase for a liberal arts college. The average incoming freshman scores between a 24 and 30 on the ACT, or between 1180 and 1400 on the SAT.

New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology

  • Flickr user Rudy R.

    Location: Socorro, NM

  • Student Enrollment: 2,135
  • College Type: Public

The New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology’s most commonly chosen subjects all surround engineering: mechanical, petroleum, electrical and electronics, and chemical. However, it is fairly difficult to get into this New Mexico school: Only 22% of applicants are accepted. Out of those students, 91% went on to attend.

Eastern New Mexico University – Main Campus

  • Location: Portales, NM

  • Student Enrollment: 6,010
  • College Type: Public

Eastern New Mexico University is all about student success–in fact, it’s part of the school’s official motto. 76% of the students on campus study at the undergraduate level, while the remaining 24% are graduate students. Green and silver are the official school colors, and students compete in NCAA Division II sports as the Greyhounds.


Sierra Nevada College

  • Flickr user Ken Lund

    Location: Incline Village, NV

  • Student Enrollment: 1,057
  • College Type: Private

Royal blue and white are the official school colors of Sierra Nevada. Their college mascot is a bald eagle named Eli. It’s located not far from Crystal Bay on Lake Tahoe. Finance is the most popular major on campus, followed by International Business. There are a total of 109 athletes at Sierra Nevada, participating in golf, skiing, golf, soccer, and track.


Oklahoma City University

  • Flickr user Matthew Rutledge

    Location: Oklahoma City, OK

  • Student Enrollment: 2,968
  • College Type: Private

Starsky the Ram is the mascot of OCU, where the school colors are blue and white. Known as the Stars, OCU athletes compete in NAIA Division I sports, including rowing, soccer, wrestling, and more. Oklahoma City University offers over 70 undergraduate majors, the most popular of which is Registered Nursing.

Oral Roberts University

  • Flickr user Kari Sullivan

    Location: Tulsa, OK

  • Student Enrollment: 3,852
  • College Type: Private

Navy and gold are the two school colors for Oral Roberts University. There are many interesting “futuristic” architectural structures and buildings on the ORU campus, and the architect considers them sculptures. They have a first-year retention rate of 82%. ORU competes in NCAA Division I sports as the Golden Eagles.

Oklahoma Christian University

  • Flickr user Ann W

    Location: Edmond, OK

  • Student Enrollment: 2,557
  • College Type: Private

A bald eagle adorns the official school seal of Oklahoma Christian University, and doubles as the school mascot and namesake of the sports teams–the Eagles and Lady Eagles. While many students do come from Oklahoma, 27% come from neighboring Texas. Registered Nursing is the most popular major on campus.


Southwestern University

  • Flickr user Matthew Rutledge

    Location: Georgetown, TX

  • Student Enrollment: 1,489
  • College Type: Private

Southwestern University is a liberal arts college affiliated with the United Methodist Church. Students choose from 40 bachelor’s degree programs in the arts, sciences, music, and fine arts, in addition to interdisciplinary and pre-professional programs. This is a highly selective school with an acceptance rate of 43%. The school mascot is the Pirate.

Austin College

  • Wikimedia Commons user Michael Barera

    Location: Sherman, TX

  • Student Enrollment: 1,278
  • College Type: Private

Austin College offers students more than 55 areas of study. The school actively promotes study abroad programs. 70% of students who graduate from Austin College have had at least 1 international study experience during school. About 82% of students are involved in research. This is a fairly selective school with a 52% acceptance rate

University of Dallas

  • Wikimedia Commons user Wissembourg

    Location: Irving, TX

  • Student Enrollment: 2,357
  • College Type: Private

Students with SAT scores of 1,160 -1,400 or ACT scores of 24 – 30 (or more) have a higher chance of getting accepted into this selective school with a 47% acceptance rate. 60% of the students studying on campus are undergraduates. Biology is the most popular major, followed by Business and English.


Neumont College of Computer Science

  • Wikimedia Commons user Rob Duane

    Location: Salt Lake City, UT

  • Student Enrollment: 442
  • College Type: Private

The school offers 3-year degrees in Computer Science, Web Design and Development, Information Systems, Software & Game Development, and Technology Management. This is a somewhat selective school with an acceptance rate of 84%. It is one of the younger schools in the country, founded in 2003.

Westminster College (UT)

  • Wikimedia Commons user Daver1956

    Location: Salt Lake City, UT

  • Student Enrollment: 2,694
  • College Type: Private

Westminster College UT comprises of four schools – Arts & Sciences, Business, Education, and Nursing & Health Sciences, through which they offer about 40 undergraduate majors and 13 graduate programs. The average class size is 16, and the student-to-faculty ratio is 9:1. The college mascot is the Griffin. This is a non-selective school with an average acceptance rate of about 93%

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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