Top 25 Best Urban Hidden Gem Colleges | 2021 Rankings

Cities are known for many great things—incredible architecture, art scenes, performances, industries, diverse populations, and amazing history. Many are also known for incredible urban colleges. But in the hustle and bustle of the city, some things can get glanced over instead of explored.

That’s why we created this list highlighting some amazing urban 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%

Top 25 Best Hidden Gem Urban Colleges

Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art was founded with the idea that higher education was for every qualified individual and should be free. Staying true to their ideals, Cooper Union admitted students regardless of their gender, race, or religious beliefs. Around 2,400 students apply to this highly selective college every year, though only 400 of them are accepted.
Location New York, NY
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 952
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
Muhlenberg is a liberal arts college with cardinal red and gray as its colors. Though an eagle features on the school’s official seal, its mascot is the Mule. Muhlenberg has a 10:1 student-to-faculty ratio, an 88% first-year retention rate, and a 4-year graduation rate of 80%. Graduates of the school have become politicians, authors, musicians, and more.
Location Allentown, PA
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 2,340
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
“Macte virtute sic itur ad astra” is the Latin motto of the Manhattan School of Music. In English, that means “Those who excel, thus reach the stars.” Located right on the Hudson River, this school offers up to the doctor’s degree. It has a competitive 36% acceptance rate. 75% of the students at MSM receive institutional financial aid to help cover costs.
Location New York City, NY
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 1,008
Located on the Harlem River, Yeshiva University is one of the oldest Jewish colleges in the United States. Unlike many schools, Yeshiva has more graduate students than undergraduate -- comprised of 58% graduate and 42% undergraduate. The doctor’s degree is the highest level of education at Yeshiva. Biology is the most popular major.
Location New York City, NY
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 6,479
As its name suggests, the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry focuses on having on environmentalism and natural resources. The college’s athletes are known as the Mighty Oaks and their mascot is Oakie the Acorn. The most popular major at the college is Natural Resources Management and Policy.
Location Syracuse, NY
Institution Type Public
Student Enrollment 2,220
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
Located between the Ashley and Cooper Rivers, the Citadel Military College of South Carolina is commonly called simply the Citadel. In addition to typical college applications, prospective students must also pass a physical test. The school has a 75% acceptance rate and a student-to-faculty ratio of 12:1.
Location Charleston, SC
Institution Type Public
Student Enrollment 3,763
Located in the state capital of Baltimore, the Maryland Institute College of Art is also referred to as MICA. 82% of all students on campus study at the undergraduate level, though MICA offers up to the master’s degree. The school has an acceptance rate of 64%. Given the artistic nature of the school, it’s no surprise many alumni have gone on to have success in various fine arts.
Location Baltimore, MD
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 2,178
“Nosse haec omnia salus est” or “To know all this is health” is an apt phrase for a university focused on health-related fields. Known as USciences, the university has 52 different programs to study. Pharmacy, Health Services, Biomedical Science, Biology, and Pharmaceutical Sciences are the top 5 most popular majors.
Location Philadelphia, PA
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 2,231
Maroon and gold are the school colors of the Calvin University Knights. Nearly 440 student-athletes play sports like track, basketball, ice hockey, lacrosse, soccer, and softball among others. Though students come from all over the country, 51% of incoming students call Michigan their home state.
Location Grand Rapids, MI
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 3,732
Numerous famous names have walked the halls of the New England Conservatory of Music -- among them, Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy and Coretta Scott King. NEC, as it’s often called, offers 8 total majors. Stringed Instruments, Voice & Opera, Jazz, Keyboard, Music Theory & Composition, Woodwind, Brass, and Percussion Instruments.
Location Boston, MA
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 838
Roary the Sea Lion is the mascot of Point Loma Nazarene; appropriate, given the campus’ proximity to the ocean. Students wear green and gold to show their school pride. 85% of first-year students return to continue their education at Point Loma. 75% of students graduate within 6 years.
Location San Diego, CA
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 4,592
MassArt, as it’s commonly called, chose the mighty Mastodon as its school mascot. 90% of the students there receive some form of institutional aid to help cover the cost of college. The school has a 10:1 student-to-faculty ratio. A majority of the students come from the New England area, with 75% actually calling Massachusetts home.
Location Boston, MA
Institution Type Public
Student Enrollment 2,087
Established in 1899, Simmons University brands itself as a woman-centered school and is inclusive of transgender and non-binary students without requiring government documentation. Volleyball, softball, field hockey, crew, and diving are just a few of the sports that the SU Sharks compete in. The school colors are blue and yellow.
Location Boston, MA
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 6,082
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
Initially founded as the Cartoonists and Illustrators school, SVA NYC now has a variety of fine arts programs to choose from. Web Page Design, Illustration, Animation, Computer Graphics, and Fine Arts are the five most popular. Rebecca Sugar, Steve Ditko, Gerard Way, and Michael Giacchino are just a few of the notable alumni.
Location New York City, NY
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 4,390
Expect the Transylvania sports teams to be called the Counts or the Vampires? They’re actually known as the Pioneers. However, Transylvania’s mascot is a bat -- specifically a Rafinesque's big-eared bat. The bachelor’s degree is the highest level of education, so only undergraduates are on campus. The school does not require an application fee.
Location Lexington, KY
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 987
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
“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
Canisius College does not require an application fee from prospective students. Additionally, 95% of Canisius students receive financial aid from the school to help cover tuition costs. A whopping 84% of first year students come from the state of New York. Blue and gold are the colors of the Canisius Golden Griffins sports teams.
Location Buffalo, NY
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 3,244
Also called UNH Manchester, this school is located on the banks of the Merrimack River. Business, Biology, Biotechnology, English, and Psychology are the top 5 most popular majors at UNH Manchester. There’s a rather high acceptance rate of 91% and a 10:1 student to faculty ratio. 96% of first year students come from the state of New Hampshire.
Location Manchester, NH
Institution Type Public
Student Enrollment 750
“Loyalty, Valor” is the motto of SUNY Maritime College. Given the nature of the school, it’s campus is located on Throggs Neck peninsula with easy access to the water. The school offers 8 major programs. Marine Science, Mechanical Engineering, and Business are the top 3 most popular of them.
Location The Bronx, NY
Institution Type Public
Student Enrollment 1,734
Since the California State University Maritime Academy is a mouthful, people often shorten it to Cal Maritime or CSU Maritime Academy. The school is located on the San Pablo Bay for easy access to the water. Marine Science is the most popular major, followed by Business Administration and Mechanical Engineering.
Location Vallejo, CA
Institution Type Public
Student Enrollment 1,046

Interested in any of urban 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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