No one will deny that college is expensive. College Raptor is dedicated to showing students and their families affordable college options. As part of that mission, we wanted to highlight schools where students had the lowest average of federal student loan debt!
In this list, we’ve ranked schools by the lowest average federal student loan debt amounts, limiting our results to the top 500 schools in the overall College Raptor rankings. We have excluded schools that guarantee to cover the complete cost of attendance, however colleges that are tuition-free but require students to pay other fees (such as room & board) were considered. Some of the colleges on this list are work colleges—where tuition is covered because students participate in work programs on campus.
To qualify as a College Raptor Hidden Gem, schools must meet the following requirements:
Receive fewer than 5,000 applications
Have fewer than 7,000 undergraduate students
Want to learn more about schools that won’t break the bank? Check out the list below!
Hidden Gems with the Lowest Avg. Federal Student Debt
Known as “Hard Work U”, the College of the Ozarks offers tuition-free schooling since the students participate in work programs. Of over 30 possible majors, Business, Public Relations, Registered Nursing, Elementary Education, and Criminal Justice are the five most popular.
Founded in 1855, Berea College was the very first coeducational, non-segregated college that admitted both white and black students in the South. Of the nearly 1,580 applications sent in, Berea College accepts about 600 of them---giving them an acceptance rate of 38%.
“Macte virtute sic itur ad astra” is the official school motto of the Manhattan School of Music, meaning “Those who excel, thus reach the stars.” A number of notable musicians have graduated from the school, including Harry Connick Jr, Charlie Puth, and Herbie Hancock among others.
With only a 5% acceptance rate, the Curtis Institute of Music is one of the most selective schools in the country. They offer one major---Music Performance. One notable alumni of the institute is composer Leonard Bernstein. Curtis has an incredibly cozy 2:1 student-to-faculty ratio.
Pitzer College was originally a women’s college, before becoming coeducational in 1970. Their mascot is Cecil the Sagehen. Pitzer offers a wide variety of programs and majors despite being a small school. The most popular majors include Mass Communication / Media Studies, Psychology, and Environmental Science.
Students at Webb Institute all graduate with the same degree---Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering. The marine-focused institute is located right on the Hempstead Bay. Students are known as the Webbies. Webb’s Stevenson Taylor Hall has been used as the Wayne Manor exterior in a number of Batman films and shows.
Unlike other schools, Thomas Aquinas practices the Great Books and seminar educational method, focusing on reading books focused in Western culture in small class sizes. Thomas Aquinas has only one degree program, a BA in Liberal Arts. The school has a class size of approximately 11 students to every 1 faculty member.
The top 5 most popular majors on the UW Bothell campus are Business Administration, Registered Nursing, Computer Science, Mass Communication, and Accounting---in that order. The Bothell branch of the University of Washington system, is one of the younger universities---founded in 1990.
The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art is more commonly called Cooper Union. It’s located on Manhattan Island, and their official school colors are maroon and gold. Cooper Union offers seven total majors: Fine Arts, Mechanical Engineering, Electrical Engineering, Architecture, Chemical Engineering, Civil Engineering, and General Engineering.
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.
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.
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.
Students at Bennington College don’t choose traditional majors. Rather, Bennington lets students choose their own academic path. Students are expected to produce some work their senior year that fits within Bennington College’s disciplines. Bennington College has a 57% acceptance rate.
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.
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.
Principia College’s motto is “As the Sowing, The Reaping.” The school’s colors are blue and gold. Principia College is nonselective, with a 92% acceptance rate. The college offers a range of majors and programs. The most popular ones include Education, Business Administration and Management, and Mass Communication/Media 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.
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%.
Mount Holyoke is the oldest of the Seven Sisters schools, initially formed to offer women an Ivy League education. Today, Mount Holyoke is one of the five Seven Sister schools who are still women-only schools, and the first to offer admission to transgender women and non-binary students.
Mills College was the first women’s college west of the Rocky Mountains when it moved to Oakland in 1871. The undergraduate class is composed entirely of women, though there are male graduate students who study there. The school’s motto---Una destinatio, viae diversae---means “One destination, many paths.”
Petimus Credimus---We seek, we trust---is the motto of Bob Jones University. 89% of the student body studies at the undergraduate level. BJU accepts a majority of the applications sent in to them---86% to be precise. Only about 28% of the incoming students on campus come from South Carolina, the rest mainly come from the eastern portion of the US.
While the highest concentration of incoming students come from Arkansas (37%, in fact), other students come from all over the country---including 41 different states. Both undergraduate and graduate students study on JBU’s campus, though there are far more undergrads. Incoming freshmen score an average of 23--30 on the ACT, and 1110--1365 on the SAT.
Incoming students to Earlham College, on average, score between 26 and 31 on the ACT, and between 1160 and 1380 on the SAT. Numerous notable alumni have graduated from Earlham, including NASA computer scientist and engineer Margaret Hamilton and actor Michael C. Hall.
The University of Minnesota -- Morris is classified as a Native American-serving institution. As the bachelor’s is the highest degree offered, you’ll only find undergraduate students on campus. 78% of the first year class comes from the state of Minnesota. UM Morris’ school colors are maroon and gold. Their mascot is Pounce the Cougar.
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.
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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