Hidden Gem Colleges in the Plains Region | 2021 Rankings

Don’t underestimate America’s heartland. It’s home to a number of incredible colleges, including some you might not have heard about before. This list aims to highlight Great Plains colleges.

To qualify as a Hidden Gem, a school must meet the following requirements:

  • Receive fewer than 5,000 applications
  • Have fewer than 7,000 undergraduate students
  • Have an acceptance rate higher than 10%

The following states are included in the Plains: Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, and South Dakota.

We’ll highlight the top 3 Hidden Gems per state. So if a state has fewer than 3, it just means no other schools met our criteria.

Check out the best Hidden Gems Great Plains colleges!

IOWA

Luther College celebrates its Norweigian roots. Founded by Norweigian immigrants, Luther’s sports teams are known as the Norse, there’s an a capella group called the Nordic Choir, and the logo is a horned helmet. The school is exclusively undergraduate and its student-to-faculty ratio is 11:1.
Location Decorah, IA
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 2,005
Though based in Iowa, only 20% of Cornell’s incoming class come from the state -- the rest come from all around the country. Biochemistry, History, Computer Science, Kinesiology, and Creative Writing are the top 5 most popular majors at the school. Cornell has a student-to-faculty ratio of 12:1.
Location Mt. Vernon, IA
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 1,028
Dordt University offers its students a wide variety of resources for both sports and academics. From the NHL-sized hockey rink to the university’s impressive library, it’s no wonder that over 1,400 students apply to the school every year. Typically, incoming students scored between 21 to 28 on the ACT and 1,070 to 1,330 on the SAT.
Location Sioux Center, IA
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 1,564

KANSAS

Benedictine College was created in 1971 when an all-men’s and all-women’s college merged together. The college’s official colors are black and red and its athletes are the Ravens. Accepted students typically had a score between 21 to 28 on the ACT and 1,070 to 1,320 on the SAT. The college has a student-to-faculty ratio of 13 to 1.
Location Atchison,KS
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 2,124
Baker University is the oldest four-year university in Kansas, having been founded in 1858. Today, almost 2,800 students attend and the school receives 840 applications every year. The incoming class mostly comes from Kansas. Students can expect a 9 to 1 student-to-faculty ratio. The university’s official school color is cadmium orange.
Location Baldwin City, KS
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 2,769
Newman University was initially a women's-only school before admitting men in 1959 and becoming completely coed in 1965, though women still make up the majority of the student body today. Popular majors at Newman University include Elementary Education and Teaching, Registered Nursing, and Biology. Around 96% of all students will receive institutional aid.
Location Wichita, KS
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 3,373

MINNESOTA

The sister school of the all-men’s Saint John’s University, the College of Saint Benedict is an all-women’s liberal arts college. The school has an acceptance rate of 80% and does not require an application fee. Registered Nursing, Biology, Nutrition Science, Elementary Education, and Psychology are the most popular majors.
Location Saint Joseph, MN
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 1,782
Saint John’s University is an all-male college and the brother school to the College of Saint Benedict -- an all women’s college. Of the entire student body, 94% are undergraduates and 6% are graduate students. Business Administration is the most popular major, followed by Accounting and Economics.
Location Collegeville, MN
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 1,777
Maroon and gold are the colors of the University of Minnesota Rochester. The highest degree offered at this school is the bachleor’s degree, which is why you’ll only find undergraduate students on campus. 77% of the first-year class call Minnesota home, though many other students come from neighboring states.
Location Rochester, MN
Institution Type Public
Student Enrollment 533

MISSOURI

Also known as TSU or just Truman, this university chose the Bulldog as its mascot. Incoming students to TSU score, on average, 24 -- 31 on the ACT and 1180 -- 1430 on the SAT. 81% of first-year students come from the state of Missouri, though many others come from surrounding states.
Location Kirksville, MO
Institution Type Public
Student Enrollment 5,853
“Sapientia Aedificavit Sibi Domum” is the Latin motto of Rockhurst University, which means “Wisdom has built herself a home” -- an apt phrase for an institute of higher learning. 75% of the students on campus study at the undergraduate level. Rockhurst does not require application fees from prospective students.
Location Kansas City, MO
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 3,145
The College of the Ozarks was founded in 1906. Since its opening, students at the College of the Ozarks aren’t charged tuition -- instead, students participate in the college’s student work program, as well as working two full-time weeks during breaks. The College of the Ozarks is a highly selective school, however, and only accepts 10% of all applicants.
Location Point Lookout, MO
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 1,565

NEBRASKA

As a private university, Nebraska Wesleyan University focuses on a liberal arts-style education. Popular majors offered by the university include Business/Commerce, Registered Nursing, and Biology. The student-to-faculty ratio is 10 to 1. The university’s official colors are black and gold and its athletes are known as the Prairie Wolves.
Location Lincoln, NE
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 2,095
Bryan College of Health Sciences, as its name suggests, only offers health science-related majors. By far and away, most students choose Registered Nursing. With a small student body, with 710 students currently attending, the average student-to-faculty ratio is 9 to 1. The school does not require application fees for neither undergraduates nor graduates.
Location Lincoln, NE
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 716
Concordia University -- Nebraska was founded in 1894 and only offered teaching degrees. Over 100 years later, in 1998, the school officially became a university and joined the Concordia University System. Over 1,600 students apply every year, and incoming students generally score between 20 to 27 on the ACT and 1,040 to 1,280 on the SAT.
Location Seward, NE
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 2,424

NORTH DAKOTA

Also known as UMary or simply Mary, the campus is located near the Missouri River. Its athletic teams are known as the Marauders and play sports such as basketball, track, volleyball, wrestling, and soccer among others. UMary has a 14:1 student-to-faculty ratio and first-year retention rate of 82%.
Location Bismark, ND
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 3,796
Not only is Valley City State University one of the eleven schools in the North Dakota University System, it’s also recognized as a historic district. Of the incoming class, the vast majority are from North Dakota. Popular majors at the university include Elementary Education, Business Administration and Management, and Physical Education Teaching and Coaching.
Location Valley City, ND
Institution Type Public
Student Enrollment 1,547
Minot State University has a student body of 3,189, making it the third-largest university in North Dakota. Even with a larger student population, class sizes are typically 12 students to 1 faculty member. The university’s official school colors are red and green and their mascot is Buckshot the Beaver.
Location Minot, ND
Institution Type Public
Student Enrollment 3,189

SOUTH DAKOTA

Registered Nursing, Biology, Business Administration, Elementary Education, and English are the top 5 most popular majors on campus. At Augustana, blue and gold are the official colors of the Vikings. 100% of the students receive institutional aid to help pay for college. The student-to-faculty ratio is 12:1.
Location Sioux Falls, SD
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 2,133
The motto for the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology is “Advancing the frontier of innovation.” To that end, the school primarily offers engineering-related majors and a few other science majors. The three most popular majors offered by the school include Mechanical Engineering, Civil Engineering, and Computer Science.
Location Rapid City, SD
Institution Type Public
Student Enrollment 2,654
Almost 2,000 students apply to the University of Sioux Falls every year. Students who are accepted and choose to enroll typically have ACT scores between 20 to 25 and SAT scores between 1,040 to 1,220. The university has an average student-to-faculty ratio of 16 to 1. Around 98% receive some form of institutional aid.
Location Mitchell, SD
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 1,024

Interested in any of these Great Plains colleges? Check out College Raptor’s free match tool to see if they’re a good fit for you!

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.

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