Hidden Gem Colleges in the US | 2021 Rankings

Sometimes the best things are hidden in plain sight. That’s true for colleges as well. The best college for you might be one you haven’t heard of before! That’s why we wanted to celebrate schools that could be considered underrated colleges, or as we like to call them, Hidden Gems.

This list in particular highlights the best Hidden Gems in the US! We’ve found the top Hidden Gem school in each state — including DC!

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 above 10%

Curious about the most underrated colleges of your state? Check out our map and our list below!

Hidden Gems US Map

ALABAMA

Initially called Howard College, the university changed its name to Samford in 1965. Students wear blue and red while cheering on their Bulldogs at sporting events. Golf, tennis, football, and basketball are just a few of the athletics offered. Samford is the alma mater of many successful people, including professional athletes, actors, politicians, writers, and musicians.
Location Birmingham, AL
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 5,619

ALASKA

Alaska Pacific University was founded in 1957 as a liberal arts and sciences college. Students attending can choose from 11 fields of study -- popular ones include Parks, Recreation, and Leisure Studies, Business Administration and Management, and Marine Biology and Biological Oceanography. Several Olympic skiers are alumni of APU.
Location Anchorage, AK
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 502

ARIZONA

Did you know that the Arizona State University West campus is almost entirely powered by solar energy? Business, Psychology, Biology, Speech Communication, and Social Work are the most popular majors at ASU West. There is a 12:1 student-to-faculty ratio at the school. 76% of the incoming class call Nevada home, but many other students come from California.
Location Glendale, AZ
Institution Type Public
Student Enrollment 4,445

ARKANSAS

Hendrix College’s motto is “εἰς ἄνδρα τέλειον,” which translates to “Unto the whole person.” Over 1,600 students apply to this private liberal arts college every year. Students who were accepted have a typical ACT score between 26 to 32 and an SAT score between 1,240 to 1,450. The most popular major at the college is Psychology.
Location Conway, AR
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 1,208

CALIFORNIA

Harvey Mudd College is part of the Claremont Consortium, which means that students are free to use the resources the other schools in the consortium offer. Many students choose to major in fields such as Engineering, Computer Science, or Mathematics and Computer Science at Harvey Mudd.
Location Claremont, CA
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 902

COLORADO

Psychology, Business Administration, Registered Nursing, and Organizational Behavior Studies are some of the most popular majors on campus. 32% of the incoming students come from Colorado, but many come from all over the country. 99% of the students at CCU receive financial aid from the university to help cover costs.
Location Lakewood, CO
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 7,625

CONNECTICUT

The United States Coast Guard Academy is the smallest service academy and the only one that doesn’t require a student to have a congressman’s nomination. However, like the others, this academy is highly selective, only accepting 19% of its applicants. Though students only have a few majors to choose from, majors have their own tracks.
Location New London, CT
Institution Type Public
Student Enrollment 1,071

DC

Trinity Washington University was originally an all-women’s college before becoming mostly coeducational. To this day, the university’s College of Arts and Sciences remains women-only, but men can enroll in the other four schools the university offers. The school’s official colors are purple and gold.
Location Washington, DC
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 1,782

DELAWARE

Founded in 1886, Goldey-Beacom College has over 1,400 students currently attending -- over half of the student body are undergraduates. The college receives over 800 applications every year and has a 57% acceptance rate. The most popular major at the college is Business Administration and Management, with Accounting and Finance coming in second and third.
Location Wilmington, DE
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 1,493

FLORIDA

The New College of Florida is the official honors college of the state. The college doesn’t assign letter grades or GPAs. Students also conduct independent projects and must complete a senior thesis. Most students major in Liberal Arts and Sciences, General Studies and Humanities, followed closely by Biological and Physical Sciences.
Location Sarasota, FL
Institution Type Public
Student Enrollment 837

GEORGIA

Berry College offers a wide variety of academic programs, with over 30 majors for students to choose from. Popular majors at Berry College include Zoology, Psychology, and Kinesiology. Outside of academics, Berry College is known for its beautiful campus, spanning 27,000 acres and providing outdoor recreation to both students and non-students.
Location Mount Berry, GA
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 2,014

HAWAII

Chaminade University of Honolulu was founded in 1955 and officially became a university in 1977. Today, over 2,100 students attend this private university and the school receives 1,500 applications annually. Around 98% of all attending students receive some form of grant aid. Criminal Justice/Safety Studies is the most popular major at the university.
Location Honolulu, HI
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 2,150

IDAHO

New Saint Andrews College doesn’t offer majors, but instead one Liberal Arts program to its students. The school has a 13:1 student-to-faculty ratio and a first-year retention rate of 86%. 28% of the incoming class comes from the state of Idaho. New Saint Andrews College has a rather high acceptance rate, 98%.
Location Moscow, ID
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 198

ILLINOIS

Wheaton College was once a stop on the Underground Railroad. Today, the college has a student body of almost 3,000 attendees. Incoming students have a typical ACT score between 26 to 32 and an SAT score between 1,250 to 1,450. Popular majors at the college include Business/Managerial Economics, Speech Communications, and Health Services.
Location Wheaton, IL
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 2,944

INDIANA

For students who want to focus on engineering, science, or math, take a look at the Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology. The institute only offers majors in those three areas, with the most popular ones being Mechanical Engineering, Chemical Engineering, and Computer Science. Almost all students attending receive some form of grant or institutional aid.
Location Terre Haute, IN
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 2,142

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

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

KENTUCKY

Centre College was named because it was in the “centre” of the Commonwealth when it was first established. Incoming students have an average ACT score of 27 to 32 and an SAT score of 1,280 to 1,470. With the small student body, class sizes are also proportionately small -- the student-to-faculty ratio is 11 to 1.
Location Danville, KY
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 1,434

LOUISIANA

Centenary is both the oldest college in Louisiana and the oldest chartered liberal arts college west of the Mississippi River. Over 99% of all students receive both grant and institutional aid. Popular majors at the college include Biology, Psychology, and Business Administration and Management.
Location Shreveport, LA
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 585

MAINE

Located on Penobscot Bay, the Maine Maritime Academy offers a total of 7 major programs -- Naval Architecture & Marine Engineering, Marine Science, Engineering Technologies, International Business, Biological & Biomedical Science, Systems Engineering, and Interdisciplinary Studies.
Location Castine, ME
Institution Type Public
Student Enrollment 997

MARYLAND

St. John’s College has two campuses, one of which is in Annapolis, Maryland. Students attending the college can only study in one field: Liberal Arts. Accepted students typically have an ACT score between 25 to 31 and an SAT score between 1,230 to 1,440. Around 91% of all first years will return for their second year at the college.
Location Annapolis, MD
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 527

MASSACHUSETTS

Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering is unique in that it has an extremely small student body and only three majors: Engineering, Mechanical Engineering, and Electrical Engineering. Additionally, students who attend have half of their tuition covered by the Olin Scholarship. The school has an acceptance rate of 16%.
Location Needham, MA
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 390

MICHIGAN

96% of students at Hillsdale receive some form of institutional aid and 96% of students receive some form of grant aid. Around 1,500 students attend the college, which means that class sizes are also relatively small -- typical classes have about 9 students to every 1 faculty member. Hillsdale’s highest degree offered is the doctoral degree.
Location Hillsdale, MI
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 1,521

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

MISSISSIPPI

Mississippi College is the oldest college in the state and the second-oldest Baptist college in the US. The school motto -- “Veritas et Virtus” -- means “Truth and Virtue.” Mississippi College has a 42% acceptance rate and 99% of students receive financial aid from the school to help pay for their attendance.
Location Cliton, MS
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 5,103

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

MONTANA

“Non Scholae Sed Vitae” or “Not For School, But For Life” is the motto of Carroll College. Halo the Saint Bernard is the official mascot of this baccalaureate school. Located in the state capital, Carroll College has an acceptance rate of 69%. Registered Nursing, Health Services, Biology, Business, and Elementary Education are the most popular majors.
Location Helena, MT
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 1,327

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

NEVADA

Almost 900 students currently attend Sierra Nevada, and the university receives over 800 applications every year. 64% of the 800 applicants are accepted. Around 99% of all students receive grant aid and 98% receive institutional aid. A third of the freshman class is from California. The university’s mascot is Eli the American Eagle.
Location Incline Village, NV
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 889

NEW HAMPSHIRE

Saint Anselm College was established in 1889, making it the third-oldest Catholic College in the New England area. Students who were accepted typically scored between 23 to 28 on the ACT and 1,140 to 1,310 on the SAT. Popular majors offered by the college include Registered Nursing, Business, and Criminology. Saint Anselm College’s athletes are known as the Hawks.
Location Manchester, NH
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 2,024

NEW JERSEY

Drew University was founded in 1867. Its motto is “δωρεὰν ἐλάβετε, δωρεὰν δότε,” which translates to “Freely ye have received, freely give.” The university is known for its forested campus. Around 98% of all students receive some form of grant and institutional aid. Business Administration and Management is the most popular major at Drew University.
Location Madison, NJ
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 2,263

NEW MEXICO

Liberal Arts and Sciences is the only major offered at the Sante Fe campus of St. John’s College. It should come as no surprise, then, that St. John’s has an extensive reading list for students that can include the Odyssey, Hamlet, the Divine Comedy, Paradise Lost, and Faust among many other famed pieces of literature.
Location Santa Fe, NM
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 371

NEW YORK

Webb Institute was founded by William Henry Webb, a shipbuilder who saw the importance of science and engineering, rather than art, in ship design. Today, Webb Institute graduates all earn a degree in Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering. Students who attend this highly selective school have their tuition covered while they study.
Location Glen Cove, NY
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 104

NORTH CAROLINA

Since the University of North Carolina School of the Arts is a bit of a mouthful, most people shorten it down to UNCSA. The school is comprised of 5 major programs -- Cinematography & Film, Technical Theatre, Dance, Drama, and Music Performance. Jada Pinkett Smith, Anthony Mackie, and Mary-Louise Parker are just a few of the notable names associated with UNCSA.
Location Winston-Salem, NC
Institution Type Public
Student Enrollment 1,042

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 Bismarck, ND
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 3,796

OHIO

As an institute of music, CIM has a very focused selection of majors -- Music Performance and Music Theory, primarily. Entry into this school isn’t easy, since it has an acceptance rate of 37%. Of the students who do make it in, 98% of them receive institutional aid to help pay for college. The student to faculty ratio is a tight-knit 5:1.
Location Cleveland, OH
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 402

OKLAHOMA

Blue and white are the colors of the Oklahoma City Stars. A star also features in their school logo. Additionally, the mascot is named Starsky the Ram. OCU has over 250 student-athletes that participate in NAIA Division I sports, including basketball, rowing, soccer, golf, and wrestling. 39% of students on campus study at the graduate level.
Location Oklahoma City, OK
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 2,773

OREGON

Willamette University has a long and colorful history as the oldest university in western America and the first university to establish a medical and law school in the Pacific Northwest. The campus is located next to the Willamette River and the Oregon Supreme Court. The school does not require an application fee.
Location Salem, OR
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 2,363

PENNSYLVANIA

Haverford College is part of the Tri College Consortium and the Quaker Consortium. As a liberal arts college, Haverford requires students to take a wide variety of classes. The school also upholds the Honor Code, run entirely by students. Some of the more popular majors at Haverford include Psychology, Economics, and Political Science and Government.
Location Haverford, PA
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 1,310

RHODE ISLAND

Often called RISD, this school has 19 art-centric majors to choose from. Among RISD’s notable alumni are actors, writers, sculptors, painters, architects and more. 81% of the students on campus study at the undergraduate level, though RISD offers up to a master’s degree. The acceptance rate is 26%.
Location Providence, RI
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 2,467

SOUTH CAROLINA

Wofford College’s motto -- “Intaminatis Fulget Honoribus” -- means “Shines with unsullied honors.” Biology, Finance, Psychology, English, and Accounting are the top 5 most popular majors at Wofford. The school has an 88% first-year retention rate and a 4-year graduation rate of 82%. 55% of the incoming class comes from South Carolina.
Location Spartanburg, SC
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 1,666

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

TENNESSEE

Of the nearly 3,550 applications sent into the University of the South every year, the school will accept about 2,380 of them, giving the school an acceptance rate of 67%. Anyone applying to this university will be happy to know that there is no application fee. On average, the incoming class scores between 24 -- 30 on the ACT and 1200 -- 1380 on the SAT.
Location Sewanee, TN
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 1,785

TEXAS

“Nil nisi per aspera” or “Nothing but the fierce” is the official motto of Austin College. Students interested in applying to Austin College will be happy to know that there is no application fee. Additionally, 100% of students receive institutional financial aid to help pay for college. The school also has an interesting mascot, the kangaroo.
Location Sherman, TX
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 1,299

UTAH

Purple and gold are the school colors of Westminster College. Competing in NCAA Division II sports as the Griffins, Westminster student athletes enjoy soccer, skiing, lacrosse, and basketball among other sports. Alumni of Westminster have gone on to become professional athletes, politicians, musicians, and scientists.
Location Salt Lake City, UT
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 2,477

VERMONT

Saint Michael’s College was initially an all-men’s school before becoming coeducational in 1970. Today, there’s a near even split of undergraduate men and women attending the college. Purple and gold are the school colors. Business is the most popular major at the college, followed by Biology and Psychology.
Location Colchester, VT
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 1,950

VIRGINIA

The Virginia Military Institute is the oldest public Senior Military college and is the only one to enroll exclusively undergraduates. While all students are required to participate in the ROTC, students have the choice to not enroll in the US military after graduating. The most popular majors offered at the institute are International Relations, Civil Engineering, and Economics.
Location Lexington, VA
Institution Type Public
Student Enrollment 1,685

WASHINGTON

Whitman College was founded in 1859 and was the first college in the Pacific Northwest to have a Phi Beta Kappa Chapter, as well as the first school in America to require comprehensive exams if students wanted to graduate. Today, almost 1,500 students attend Whitman College, many of whom major in fields such as Biology, Psychology, and Economics.
Location Walla Walla, WA
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 1,475

WEST VIRGINIA

Shepherd University was established in 1871 as a teacher’s school before becoming a college in 1930. Incoming students will find that the average student-to-faculty ratio is 16 to 1 and that the majority of their classmates are from West Virginia. The school’s official colors are blue and gold and their athletic team is known as the Rams.
Location Shepherdstown, WV
Institution Type Public
Student Enrollment 3,648

WISCONSIN

Lawrence University was the second American college to become fully coeducational. Around 3,400 students send in an application to the university every year. Students who were accepted typically scored between 25 to 32 on the ACT and 1,220 to 1,460 on the SAT. Around 85% of freshmen return to Lawrence University for their sophomore year.
Location Appleton, WI
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 1,463

*WYOMING

Known also as simply UW, the school is a large research college. There are two mascots -- Pistol Pete and Cowboy Joe, who is portrayed by a real horse. Brown and gold are the colors worn by over 400 student-athletes when they compete. Wrestling, football, swimming, track, and golf are popular sports.
Location Laramie, WY
Institution Type Public
Student Enrollment 12,450

*Note: While Wyoming did not have any colleges that qualified under our Hidden Gems criteria this year, we included the closest match. In the spirit of Hidden Gems, we feel it’s important to include schools from all states so students and families know about the opportunities around them.

Interested in any of these underrated 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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