Hidden Gem Colleges in the Great Lakes Region | 2022 Rankings

The Great Lakes are so impressive that they get an section of the US named after them. While the area is clearly well-known for the waters, some of the attention should be on the little but mighty Great Lakes colleges within the area.

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

  • Receive fewer than 5,000 applications per year
  • Have fewer than 7,000 undergraduate students
  • Offer 5 or more unique majors
  • Have a 10% acceptance rate or higher

States include Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, and Wisconsin.

Here are the Hidden Gem colleges of the Great Lakes!

Hidden Gems in the Great Lakes


Wheaton College was founded by evangelical abolitionists in 1860 and would become a stop on the Underground Railroad. Business is by far the most popular major at the school. Athletic teams are known as The Thunder. They wear blue and orange and compete in the NCAA Division III in the College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin.
Location Wheaton, IL
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 3,004
Known as the Titans, athletes attending Illinois Wesleyan University wear green and white. The university has an 11 to 1 student to faculty ratio and a 78% four year graduation rate. The liberal arts college’s motto is “Scientia et Sapientia” or “Knowledge and Wisdom.” Illinois Wesleyan does not charge students an application fee.
Location Bloomington, IL
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 1,629
Also known simply as Prin, Principia College is liberal arts school that offers up to the bachelor’s degree. Its campus is located on the Mississippi River along the border of Illinois and Missouri. Students of Principia have gone on to win prestigious awards, such as Academy Awards and Pulitzer Prizes. Actor Robert Duvall is one notable alumni.
Location Elsah, IL
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 407


Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology focuses on math, science, and engineering. It was originally founded as the Terre Haute School of Industrial Science in 1874 in an effort to teach technical training to assist with railroad construction. It would get its current name in 1971 after financial support from the Hulman family. The top major is Mechanical Engineering.
Location Terre Haute, IN
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 2,038
Wabash College is a small undergraduate men’s school. They accept just under 63% of applicants and have a 10 to 1 student to faculty ratio. The student paper, The Bachelor has been in publication since the early 1900’s. Economics, Rhetoric and Composition, History, and Political Science and Government are among the popular majors.
Location Crawfordsville, IN
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 867
Saint Mary’s campus is located along a river named after another saint, Joseph. 92% of students on campus are undergraduates, and all are women. Saint Mary’s College has an 82% acceptance rate and does not charge application fees. Registered Nursing is the most popular major among students.
Location Notre Dame, IN
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 1,580


Hillsdale’s motto is “Virtus Tentamine Gaudet” or “Strength Rejoices in the Challenge.” The school has a 96% first year retention rate and a 9 to 1 student to faculty ratio. All students who attend are required to take courses on the “Great Books,” the United States Constitution, and science courses. 88% of students will graduate within 6 years.
Location Hillsdale, MI
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 1,526
Also known as K College, Kalamazoo College is the leading producer of Peace Corps out of small liberal arts colleges. Their motto is “Lux Esto”, which is Latin for “Be Light.” The most popular major is Biology, followed by Psychology and Business. Kalamazoo College has an 88% first year retention rate.
Location Kalamazoo, MI
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 1,286
Student athletes at Hope College are known as the Flying Dutchman. The school’s logo also features an anchor, a nod to the famous ship, a bible verse, and the campus’ location by Lake Michigan. There is an impressive 91% first year retention rate at Hope, and a six year graduation rate of 76%.
Location Holland, MI
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 3,056


John Carroll University has 70 programs available to undergraduates, with Finance, Marketing, and Biology being popular choices. The school was founded in 1886 and became coeducational in 1968. Alumni include Brian P. Cleary, Wade Manning, and Jack Kahl. 86% of the student body are undergraduate students.
Location University Heights, OH
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 3,506
“Fortitude and Prudence” is the motto of the Franciscan University of Steubenville. Located along the Ohio River, this school has a first year retention rate of 88% and a six year graduation rate of 77%. Believe it or not, only 24% of the incoming class calls Ohio home. Others come from all around the country to attend.
Location Steubenville, OH
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 3,039
Ohio Northern University, also known as ONU, offers up to the doctor’s degree level of education. 24% of the students on campus study as graduates. ONU does not charge application fees. Mechanical Engineering is the most popular major, followed by Registered Nursing and Accounting.
Location Ada, OH
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 2,958


Lawrence University was the second coeducation institution (founded in 1847) in the US. The three most popular majors are Music Performance, Economics, and Biology. Many alumni went into careers in politics, music, and sports. The campus sits along the winding Fox River. The bachelor’s degree is the highest level of education offered.
Location Appleton, WI
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 1,442
Beloit College’s campus is located next to the Rock River, just north of the Illinois and Wisconsin border. 58% of applicants are accepted. With an 11 to 1 student to faculty ratio and a six year graduation rate of 78%, Beloit’s most popular major is Psychology. Their colors are orange, black, and white, and their mascot is a polar bear.
Location Beloit, WI
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 1,143
Also known as MSOE, the school offers 16 bachelor’s degree programs and 9 master’s programs. MSOE runs on a quarter academic calendar instead of a semester system. Located on the Milwaukee Bay, MSOE has over 370 student-athletes known as the Raiders. Popular sports include ice hockey, lacrosse, rowing, and soccer.
Location Milwaukee, WI
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 2,746

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


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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