You’ll find diverse landscapes, interesting weather, wild history, and plenty of tourist destinations in the Southwest part of the United States. Know what else you’ll find if you look hard enough? Great colleges. Let’s put the spotlight on some Southwest schools you may not have heard of, but definitely should know about!
For the purposes of this list, we’ve included the following states as part of the Southwest: Arizona, Colorado, Hawaii, Nevada, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Southern California (anything south of San Jose) Texas, and Utah.
To qualify as a College Raptor Hidden Gem, schools must meet the following criteria:
Receive 5,000 or fewer applications
Have 7,000 or fewer undergraduate students
We’ve included the top three highest ranking gem Southwest schools for each state; but if you see only one or two, it just means those were the only schools to meet our criteria.
If you live in the Southwest, or are interested in studying there, be sure to check out the Southwest schools featured on this Hidden Gems list. You’ll be glad you did.
If you’re interested in the aeronautical field, you may want to consider Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Prescott. The campus offers up to a master’s degree, with a focus on aeronautics and aerospace science. Thus, it’s not surprising that the most popular major is Aerospace, Aeronautical and Astronautical Engineering.
Prescott College is a bit unique, offering resident and limited residence degree programs to their students. Prescott offers Master's and PhD degree programs as well. The college has a cozy 9:1 student to faculty ratio, and the most popular major offered on campus is Environmental Studies.
Colorado Christian University was originally named the Denver Bible Institute, until it changed its name to the current title in 1989. The university’s motto is “χαρις και αληθεια.” Translated, it means “Grace and truth.” Their school colors are navy blue and gold, and their teams are known as the Cougars.
Class sizes are slightly larger at this university, with approximately 13 students for every 1 faculty member. A majority of freshmen students attending the university come from the state of Colorado. The top three most popular majors include Foodservice Systems, Parks & Recreation, and Culinary Arts.
Every year, Western State Colorado University receives almost 2,000 applications, and accepts 89% of those who applied. Students attending the university can expect a medium class size, with 14 students to every faculty member. The school’s official colors are crimson and slate.
Chaminade has one of the highest acceptance rates in the country---97.9%. It’s a diverse school, with the majority of students being Asian and Pacific Islander in descent. Their official school colors are blue, white, and silver, and students compete athletically as the Silverswords.
Brigham Young University -- Hawaii is a sister school to Brigham Young University in Utah and Idaho. It offers only bachelor’s degrees. BYU Hawaii’s motto is "Enter to learn, go forth to serve." The campus is also involved in the Polynesian Cultural Center, with many students from the school working there.
The University of Hawaii at Hilo is one of ten University of Hawaii campuses. With over 30 majors and programs to choose from, many students end up majoring in Psychology. UH Hilo’s beautiful school motto is “Pulelo haʻaheo ke ahi a nā lehua aʻo Hilo” which means: “The flame of Hilo's lehua blossoms leaps triumphantly with pride.”
Given its proximity to the Diamond Peak Ski Resort, it should come as no surprise that Sierra Nevada College is known for skiing and snowboarding. SNC competes as the Eagles, and their mascot is Eli the American Eagle. Unlike many colleges, SNC has more graduate students than undergrads, though the split is relatively even---55% / 45%, respectively.
The first state college in Nevada, Nevada State College was established in 2002. The college’s motto is “Omnia Pro Patria,” translated to “All For Our Country.” Nevada State College has an 81% acceptance rate, and students can find a relatively larger class size of 18 students to every 1 faculty member.
St. John’s College has dual campuses---one in Annapolis, Maryland, the other in Santa Fe, New Mexico. The campus in Santa Fe is located between the Atalaya Mountain and the Sante Fe National Forest. The school has an acceptance rate of 67%. It offers only one major, a general Liberal Studies.
The New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology is quite selective, only accepting 23% of applicants. Students applying to the institute typically score between 23 to 29 on the ACT and 1,210 to 1,400 on the SAT. The most popular majors include Mechanical Engineering, Petroleum Engineering, and Electrical Engineering.
Established in 1934, Eastern New Mexico University is one of the newest universities in the state. Their motto is “Student Success—That's What It's All About,” and the school colors are green and silver. Eastern New Mexico University is also an HSI, or Hispanic-serving Institution. Students have the choice to live on- or off-campus.
At this university, undergrads outnumber the graduate students---almost 63% are studying for their bachelor’s degree. Registered Nursing, General Studies, Dance, Acting, and Music Teacher Education are the most popular majors on campus. The official school colors of OCU are blue and white.
Oral Roberts University is the home of the Golden Eagles, who compete in a number of sports, including: track, basketball, golf, soccer, and tennis. ORU’s campus is located to the east of the Arkansas River. The university has a 83% first-year retention rate, and a student-to-faculty ratio of 16:1.
Oklahoma Christian University offers multiple special learning opportunities, including study abroad and teacher certification. Class sizes, on average, are 13 students for every 1 faculty member. Popular majors include Nursing, Mechanical Engineering and Liberal Studies. The university is classified as a member of the NCAA (Division II without football).
Harvey Mudd College holds a focus in engineering and science and is a part of the Claremont Colleges. The average ACT and SAT scores for accepted applicants is between 34--35 and 1,490--1,560 respectively. The men’s athletic teams compete as the Stags, while the women are called the Athenas.
Soka University of America has a unique and noble school motto: “Be philosophers of a renaissance of life; Be world citizens in solidarity for peace; Be the pioneers of a global civilization.” Which fits their mission of pacifism and human rights very well. Soka has three school colors: blue, white, and gold.
Scripps has school colors of green and white. The college also possesses a unique mascot named Athena, called Athena La Semeuse, which means “She who sows.” The mascot is fitting to the school, as Scripps has always had a focus on educating women to prepare them for the professional world.
Southwestern University offers up to the bachelor’s degree, which means there are only undergraduate students on campus. Over 90% of the students come from Texas, but most others come from the nearby south. Southwestern’s latin Non Quis Sed Quid, translate to mean “Not Who But What.”
Austin College has a rather intense school motto---Nil nisi per aspera---which means
“Nothing but the fierce.” About 82% of first year students decide to return to Austin College following their freshman year. Almost 90% of this college’s first-year students call Texas their home state.
The majority of students applying the school call Texas their home state. This school has class sizes of approximately 11 students for every 1 faculty member. Popular majors include Biology, Business and English. Approximately 79% of students decide to return to the university after their first year.
Easily one of the youngest colleges in the United States, Neumont College was founded in 2003. It’s located in downtown Salt Lake City. There are 5 total majors offered---Computer Programming, Network and Systems Administration, Webpage Digital / Multimedia Information Resources Design, Modeling Virtual Environments and Simulation, and Information Technology Project Management.
Soccer, skiing, volleyball, and golf are some popular sports played on campus. Students of Westminster College compete as the Griffins, and wear purple and copper to support their school. Registered Nursing, Marketing, Finance, Public Health, and Accounting are the top five majors studied on campus.
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.
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