Ever heard the phrase ‘Great things can come in small packages’? Colleges don’t have to be massive or well-known to be special. That’s why we wanted to highlight the hidden gems in the US.
College Raptor is dedicated to helping students find colleges that fit them financially, socially, and academically–which means looking at more than just well-known schools. That’s why we’re drawing attention to smaller colleges across the nation that deserve a spotlight, but may be initially overlooked because they may not be household names.
In this, our most prestigious Hidden Gems list, we feature the highest ranked gem school in each state–including Washington DC.
To qualify as a College Raptor Hidden Gem, the school must meet the following requirements:
Receive fewer than 5,000 applications
Receive fewer than 7,000 undergraduate students
Note: This year, Wyoming did not have any hidden gems schools that met our criteria, so it has not been included.
Curious to see the best Hidden Gem in your home state? Check out our map and list below!
Most incoming students at Samford University come from either Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee, or Florida. Graduates of Samford include Emmy and Grammy award-winning artists, Nobel Peace Prize winners, sports legends, and notable politicians, among many other successful careers.
Originally established in 1957 as the Alaska Methodist University, the school was renamed to Alaska Pacific University in 1978. Every year, around 419 students apply to Alaska Pacific University and about 84% are accepted. APU has graduated a number of Olympic skiers.
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.
Hendrix College awards up to the Master’s degree level, though almost all current students are undergraduates. Hendrix College’s motto is written in Ancient Greek. Translated, it reads “Unto the whole person.” The school offers multiple majors and programs, with the most popular ones being Biology, Psychology, and Economics.
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.
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.
Like the other US military academies, the US Coast Guard Academy does not have an application fee. USCGA has an acceptance rate of 19% and a four year graduation rate of 81%. Many of the first year students come from Virginia, California, and Florida. Their mascot is Objee the Bear, named after a famous Coast Guard ship.
Gallaudet is a university established for the deaf and hard of hearing. As such, classes are taught in both English and ASL. Popular majors include Speech Communication and Deaf Studies. Their school motto---Ephphatha---means “Be opened” and is a reference to a Bible passage where Jesus cures a man’s deafness.
All of the first-year students attending this college are originally from the Northeast, the majority being from Delaware. Class sizes are relatively large, with approximately 20 students for every 1 faculty member. Business Administration is the most popular major, followed by Accounting and Finance.
The majority of students currently enrolled at the New College of Florida as undergrads are women---62%, to be precise. Class sizes are approximately 8 students for every 1 faculty member. The campus is located right on Sarasota Bay. 81% of the incoming class is from Florida.
The average ACT and SAT scores of students accepted into Covenant College range from 23--30 and 1,120--1,350 respectively. Popular majors at the school include English, Biology, and Psychology. Outside the classroom, Covenant college competes as the Scots. They have nearly 230 student athletes.
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.
The College of Idaho does not require students, at any level, to pay an application fee. C of I’s student body is overwhelmingly undergraduate, at a whopping 98%. The college offers 26 different major programs---the most popular of which is Business. College of Idaho graduates include NFL players, governors, and Rhodes Scholars.
Wheaton has a high acceptance rate of 83%, accepting a relatively equal percentage of men and women. Popular majors at the university include Business / Managerial Economics, English and Health Sciences. The school has a four year graduation rate of 77% and relatively smaller class sizes with 10 students for every one faculty member.
This institute has a significantly smaller graduate class, with only 57 graduate students compared to over 2,000 undergraduates. The school has a six-year graduation rate of 81%. Mechanical Engineering is by far and away the most popular major on campus. Students are known, fittingly, as the Fightin’ Engineers.
Luther College runs on a four-one-four academic plan. The school does not require students to pay an application fee. Popular majors at the college include Biology, Business, Music, and Psychology. Luther is also a member of the NCAA Division III (with football), with a total of over 470 athletes.
Benedictine College is the home of the Ravens. Additionally, the college is a part of the NAIA, or the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics, with over 500 student athletes. The campus is located right on the Missouri River. Of all the students on campus, 97% of them study at the undergraduate level.
This college’s motto, translated from Latin, means “Learning is the Light of the Mind.” It’s fitting, then, that their official school colors are white and yellow. Since the bachelor’s is the highest degree offered, you’ll find only undergraduate students on campus. They have 510 student athletes competing at the college.
At Loyola University’s New Orleans branch, 99% of the student body receives grant aid. Popular majors include Psychology, Music Management, Business and Public Relations. The student to faculty ratio is 12 students for every 1 faculty member. Their mascot is Havoc T. Wolf, and students compete as the Wolf Pack.
Located on a peninsula between Wadsworth Bay and the Bagaduce River, the Maine Maritime Academy offers 6 majors. These include: Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering, Marine Science / Merchant Marine Officer, International Business, Engineering Technologies, Systems Engineering, and Biological / Biomedical Science.
St. John’s College offers a unique education through the Program. Students are expected to read and discuss Western literature of all subjects, and the majority of their other classes are discussion-based, including labs. St. John’s College deemphasizes the traditional grading scale.
Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering is a small but impressive school. It is known for its focus on STEM-based academics and project-based curriculum. Olin only offers Bachelor’s degrees, and does not possess any graduate programs. The school’s mascot is a Phoenix named Frank. The original school colors, before changing to a gradient of bright tones, were blue and silver.
Around 2,200 students apply to Hillsdale College annually, but only 36% of them are accepted. Hillsdale College also boasts an impressively small student to faculty ratio, with 9 students to every 1 faculty member. Out of the 34 majors offered, the most popular majors include Economics, History, and English.
The College of Saint Benedict is a women’s college that has a partnership with Saint John’s University---a men’s college. Students at CSB compete as the Bennies and wear red and white to represent their school. CSB offers up to a bachelor’s degree level, therefore, you’ll only find undergraduate students on campus.
Ad Excellentiam---in pursuit of excellence---is a great motto for any school, but is the official phrase for Millsaps College. Business Administration, Biology, Psychology, Accounting, and Biochemistry are the top five most popular majors on campus. They have a 9:1 student-to-faculty ratio.
Truman State University is named for the Missouri-born President Harry Truman. Business Administration, Biology, Psychology, Kinesiology, and Accounting are the top 5 most popular majors studied on campus. Their school seal features two bears and the US motto “United We Stand, Divided We Fall.”
Carroll College students go by the nickname of Fighting Saints. Students can be seen at the various sports games, supporting over 360 of the college’s student athletes. Carroll’s top majors all happen to be health related, examples being Nursing, Health Services, and Biology.
Part of a non-profit healthcare organization, the Bryan College of Health Sciences has just over 700 students---84% of which study at the undergraduate level. They offer only 5 healthcare related majors: Registered Nursing, Cardiovascular Technology, Diagnostic Medical Sonography, Pre-Medical Studies, and Health Sciences.
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.
Saint Anselm College was founded in 1889, and still has a fully running Benedictine abbey today. Students attending the college are required to take three philosophy and theology courses to graduate. Not only that, the vast majority of students take on an internship at some point.
Known as the “University in the Forest,” Drew University is indeed located near a 186 acre forest reserve. Fittingly, their sports teams are known as the Rangers, and their colors are blue and green. About 60% of Drew’s incoming students hail from New Jersey, though many other students come from neighboring states.
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 United States Merchant Marine Academy is one of the five service academies in the US. Its motto is “Deeds not Words” and the official school colors are blue and gray. There is no undergraduate application fee and the academy is on a trimester calendar. The US Merchant Marine Academy offers six residence halls, and students are required to live on campus.
UNSCA is a truly unique school. It’s a coeducational conservatory that offers degrees to high school, undergraduate, and graduate students. It has a total of 5 professional schools---the Schools of Dance, Design & Production, Drama, Filmmaking, and Music. UNSCA is one of the younger universities in the US---founded only in 1963.
The University of Mary was originally a women’s college when it was established in 1959, but quickly became co-ed in the 1960’s. Out of 1,300 applicants, almost 1,020 students were accepted into the university. Their mascot is named Maximus. UMary’s campus sits to the east of the Missouri River.
The Cleveland Institute of Music may be small, but their graduates go on to become skilled musicians, composers, and performers. They offer only one major---Music Performance. CIM is a relatively selective school, with a 37% acceptance rate. They have a very close-knit 5:1 student-to-faculty ratio.
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.
Though a beaver features on the seal of Willamette University, their students are known as Bearcats. WU’s mascot is named Blitz, and their school colors are cardinal and old gold. 100% of Willamette students receive grant aid to help fund their education. Believe it or not, more first-year students on campus come from California than Oregon.
On average, Haverford College has 8 students to 1 faculty member on campus. Incoming freshmen score, on average, between 32 and 34 on the ACT, and for the SAT between 1370 and 1530. Biology, Economics, English, Political Science, and Psychology are the top five most popular majors. The college has an acceptance rate of 19%.
Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) is well known for their artistic programs. They’ve graduated many notable alumni, including actor James Franco, animator Michael Dante DiMartino, writer/illustrator Bryan Konietzko, and comedian Seth McFarlane. Illustration is the most popular major on campus.
Wofford College’s latin motto is Intaminatis fulget honoribus, translating to mean “Shines with unsullied honors.” 100% of the students on campus study at the undergraduate level, as the bachelor’s is the highest degree offered. On average, incoming freshmen score between 27--30 on the ACT 1180---1350 on the SAT.
Augustana University has gone through multiple name and location changes over the years, before settling on AU and Sioux Falls. Augustana has a six year graduation rate of 70%, and a retention rate of 85%. Their school colors are navy blue and gold. Augustana competes in NCAA Division II athletics as the Vikings.
Sewanee’s school motto may be long, but it is powerful. Ecce quam bonum et quam iucundum habitare fratres in unum: “Behold how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!” Economics, Psychology, English, International Studies, and History are the most popular major on this campus.
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.”
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.
Saint Michael’s team, the Purple Knights, is partially named after the school’s colors---purple and gold. Their campus is located not far from Lake Champlain. The college offers over 30 majors, the most popular of which are Business Administration, Biology, and Psychology.
The Virginia Military Institute certainly has an interesting mascot---Moe the Kangaroo. VMI also has a total of three school colors: red, yellow, and white. The Institute has a 51% acceptance rate, and a first year retention rate of 89%. While about 60% of the first-year students do come from Virginia, many come across the country as well.
Whitworth University is home of the Pirates---unofficially known as the Bucs. The school has just under 420 student athletes and is a part of the NCAA, including a football team of 110. Students wear crimson and black to cheer on their athletes. 97% of students receive grant aid to help pay for their higher education.
Shepherd University’s campus sits near the historic Potomac River, which acts as a natural border between West Virginia and Maryland. The school is home to the Rams, whose official colors are blue and gold. Though 69% of the first-year class comes from West Virginia, many other students are from around the East Coast.
Many of the students who graduated from Lawrence University have gone on to do incredible things. Among their alumni include award-winning actors, politicians, athletes, authors, singer-song-writers and more. Lawrence University is located on the Fox River. Their student-to-faculty ratio is a cozy 8:1.
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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