Hidden Gem Colleges in the Southwest US | 2022 Rankings

Desert, sprawling cities, canyons, mountains, and more make up the rugged landscape of the Southwest. Many of the colleges in the area are as excellent as the geography is dynamic. We wanted to highlight some of the lesser-known Southwest colleges that deserve attention.

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

For this list, we’re including the following states as part of the Southwest: Arizona, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Texas.

Here are the Hidden Gem colleges of the Southwest!

Hidden Gems in the Southwest


Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University’s Prescott campus is located just north of a wildlife sanctuary and the Willow Creek Reservoir. Alumni of the school have gone on to have impressive careers as astronauts, scientists, military members, authors, athletes, and politicians. Embry-Riddle has an acceptance rate of 67%.
Location Prescott, AZ
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 2,946
Prescott College has a near even split between undergraduate and graduate students - 51% and 49% respectively. Prescott does not charge students application fees at either level. Environmental Studies is the most popular major. Most sports at the school are intramural, though Prescott does have a competitive cycling team.
Location Prescott, AZ
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 993
A for-profit school, the University of Advancing Technology offers 25 total degree programs. Game and Interactive Media Design is the most popular major, followed by Computer Game Programming, Computer Science, and Digital Arts. There is a 15 to 1 student to faculty ratio at UAT. Red, black, and silver are the school colors.
Location Tempe, AZ
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 789


Also known as New Mexico Tech, the school is focused on science and engineering. Mechanical Engineering is a popular major among students, followed by Computer Science and Electrical Engineering. The school has several activities including rock climbing and hiking, a biweekly newspaper (Paydirt), and an 18-hole golf course.
Location Socorro, NM
Institution Type Public
Student Enrollment 1,835
Often shortened to IAIA, the school is classified as a public tribal land-grant college. It offers 5 majors: Fine Arts, Cinematography, Creative Writing, Native American Studies, and Museum Studies. Silver and turquoise are IAIA’s school colors and the mascot is the Thunderbird. Many graduates have gone on to become celebrated Native American artists.
Location Santa Fe, NM
Institution Type Public
Student Enrollment 605
Offering up to the master’s degree, Eastern New Mexico University has 21.5% graduate students and 78.5% undergraduate students. ENMU does not charge application fees at either level and there is a 51% acceptance rate. Over 350 student-athletes compete as the Greyhounds in sports like track, basketball, football, soccer, and rodeo.
Location Portales, NM
Institution Type Public
Student Enrollment 5,685


Blue and white are the colors of Oklahoma City University’s Stars. Their mascot is a ram named Starsky. There are more female students than male students at both the undergrad and graduate levels - 67% and 60% respectively. 98% of all students on campus receive institutional financial aid to help pay for college.
Location Oklahoma City, OK
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 2,687
“Educate the whole man,” is the motto of Oral Roberts University. ORU’s campus is located by the Arkansas River, and is known for its unique architecture. There is an 81% first year retention rate. One notable alumni includes Kathie Lee Gifford, and many other ORU students have gone onto impressive careers in music, sports, literature, and media.
Location Tulsa, OK
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 4,160
A bald eagle features on Oklahoma Christian University’s seal, and also serves as mascot and namesake to the OC athletic teams. There is a 61% acceptance rate and 60% of students graduate within 6 years. Registered Nursing, Commercial and Advertising Art, and Liberal Studies are the most popular majors.
Location Edmond, OK
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 2,064


A small liberal arts school, Southwestern University has a 50% acceptance rate. Additionally, they do not charge students to apply. A whopping 98% of students receive institutional aid to help pay the costs of college. Business / Commerce is the most popular major, followed by Psychology and then Speech Communication.
Location Georgetown, TX
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 1,511
“Veritatem, Justitiam Diligite” is the motto of the University of Dallas. In English it means “Love Ye Truth and Justice.” The UD Crusaders compete in sports like soccer, lacrosse, track and field, and basketball. 60% of the students study at the undergraduate level, meaning the remaining 40% are graduate students.
Location Irving, TX
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 2,481
Austin College has a rather unique mascot - a kangaroo. The Fighting Kangaroo teams wear crimson and gold to represent the school colors. Alumni of Austin College have gone on to have impressive careers as musicians, politicians, educators, athletes, and authors. The school does not charge application fees.
Location Sherman, TX
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 1,314

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.